The Art of Letter Writing: Stationery

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 10, 2009 · 28 comments

in A Man's Life, Hobbies, On Etiquette

stationery

We previously began a series of posts on the lost art of letter writing. In hopes of resurrecting this splendid tradition, we will be presenting various posts on all the ins and outs of classic correspondence. Today we cover the foundation of the art of letter writing: stationery.

If you are writing a casual letter to a friend or family member, quality stationery is a nice touch, but definitely not necessary. Your friend is not likely to take note of the excellent texture of your paper and respond with, “Handsome stationery, Dude!”

But for some kinds of correspondence, only real stationery will do. If you are writing a love letter, a sympathy note, a thank you card, or a letter of congratulations, you don’t want to send such meaningful musings on paper you tore out of your spiral notebook. Quality stationery adds a weight of sincerity to your words.

Quality stationary makes writing a true pleasure and creates a distinct impression on those lucky enough to receive your letters. If you have only bought mass-produced stationery, this point may seem dubious. But quality stationery is truly an artistic luxury. Quality stationery is still made in small batches by manly craftsmen toiling in their studios. And surprisingly, there’s a lot to know when picking out a set to purchase. So here is a guide to investing in paper you’ll be proud to put your ink to.

Stationery

Since quality stationery forms the foundation of a man’s letter writing arsenal, investing in quality, personalized/monogrammed cards, papers, and envelopes is a wise decision. Your recipient will know a letter from you has arrived the moment they open the mailbox. Choose stationery with simple, classic style: white or ecru paper with black, blue, or gray ink. Having a few sets of the following types at hand will ready you for the writing of any kind of letter, both formal and long and short and casual.

Correspondence Cards

correspondence cards2

From Classic Communication

Men have traditionally used the correspondence card over folded note cards or letter sheets for their communications. Letter writing need not always involve the writing of long tomes; the task of filling a large sheet of paper may seem too daunting and keep you from ever getting started.  Instead, try sending off shorter notes more frequently. The correspondence card, simple, flat, heavyweight, and typically 4×6 in size, is ideal for this purpose.  Correspondence cards often have a colored border, and while it’s appropriate to put your name across the top, having your initials in the corner in the classiest way to go.

Social Sheets

social

From William Arthur

Slightly larger than the correspondence card (usually about 6×8), social sheets also make excellent stationery for shorter notes. You simply fold them in half and place them in an envelope. You may add just your name, or your name, address, and coat of arms to the top of the sheets. They can be used for longer missives too; just order plain sheets for additional pages. As with all stationery, the first page can be embellished with a monogram or design while additional sheets should be plain. Do not write on the back of these sheets; if you need more room, continue onto a new page.

Monarch Sheets

monarch

From Crane and Co.

Monarch sheets, which are also known as executive stationery, typically measure around 7×10 and are used for longer correspondences. You can embellish them similarly to the social sheets, keeping in mind that adding one’s address makes the stationery appear more formal and business-like. When purchasing embellished monarch sheets, also order blank sheets for letters than go beyond the first page.

Stationery Embellishments

When purchasing stationery you will likely wish to embellish it with your name, address, family coat of arms, or some combination of these things. Basic stationery will print these embellishments in the conventional way, and are acceptable for the man on a budget. But if you’re thinking about investing in higher quality stationery or asking for stationery as a gift, you should look into printing methods which lend the embellishments a more formal and distinctive texture and appearance. There are several options for this, and you should choose the one that best suits your aesthetic desires and budget.

Engraving

If you want to give your stationery the most distinctive look and feel possible, and you’re willing to pay top dollar to get it, then engraving is for you. Engraving, which dates from Medieval Europe, is the oldest process for creating embellishments. It is still done much like it was centuries ago. For each order, a new copper plate must be made. The copper plate is engraved with the text or design desired. Ink is spread over the plate, then wiped off, leaving only the ink in the engraving. Paper (and only the highest quality paper will suffice) is then forcefully pressed against the plate; so forcefully that the paper enters the etchings and the ink is transferred. The force of the impression leaves the lettering with a raised effect you can feel on the front of the paper and a “bruise” on the back. The result is the most handsome, formal, and sharpest possible embellishment. It’s also the most expensive. But while the price for your first engraved stationery is quite steep, much of that cost is from the making of the copper plate. Once you purchase your own plate, re-ordering the stationery becomes less expensive.

Thermography

For those who cannot afford engraving but desire something nicer than digital printing, adding thermography to the a conventional wet-ink printing process is a welcome option. Thermography involves placing resin power on the printed ink and then baking the embellishment. The baking raises the ink, giving it a texture that can be felt on the front of the paper. It can’t quite touch the look and feel of engraving, but it certainly approaches it.

Here’s a video from Crane’s explaining the difference between engraving and thermography and giving you a look at the complex process that makes engraving so expensive:

Letterpress

letterpress

From Greenwich Letterpress

Letterpress printing is the oldest kind of printing, and it is also enjoying quite a renaissance these days. Involving moveable type or images, it’s a process of relief printing in which a plate with a reversed, raised surface is inked, and then paper is pressed on top of the raised surface, transferring the ink. Think of letterpressing as the opposite of engraving; the resulting lettering is indented into the paper instead of being raised. The look is less sharp than engraving but can be quite texturally and graphically interesting. Letterpress is typically done by small studios, using hand-operated presses, and thus can only be done in small batches. It is therefore only a little less, or just as, expensive as engraving.

Here’s a short documentary about a guy who takes letterpressing very seriously:

Where to Buy

Update: We now offer our own line of quality, Art of Manliness letterpress stationery. 25 manly designs to choose from! Check it out!

There are many companies out there that produce high-quality stationery. Be sure to check out examples of their work and get a feel for their reputation before investing in your new stationery. If you want to buy the cream of the crop, and you’ve got some cash to burn, check out Crane and Co., Dempsey and Carroll, and Piccolo Press (for those in the UK). They’re some of the oldest and best in the biz. If you’re looking for letterpress stationery, there are lots of small companies out there that make graphically interesting designs like Elum Designs and Page Stationery. If you’re on a budget and just want some stationery to get started, American Stationery has some options that are not too shabby.

Remember, many companies will send you a sample of their stuff before you buy, so you don’t have to make your purchase sight unseen. And you might want to simply check out your local fine stationery store, where you can get some personal attention and see and feel everything before you buy.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bruce Arnold July 10, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Another way to embellish stationery that is very classy is with an embosser. The cost of an embosser does not have to be terribly high. You can get one for under $50, which over a lifetime of use is a great bargain. You can use it to emboss books as well as stationery, which is a nice touch also.

I find that the better the paper, the better the embossing looks.

2 Biggyrat July 11, 2009 at 2:18 am

I’ve been using Crane Co. for a couple of years now. Plain ivory colored paper, with envelopes, perfect for the weekly love letter to my Honey-Bunny.

3 Greg July 11, 2009 at 11:49 am

I appreciate good stationery, but the pst seems to have edged into affectation rather than manly practicality. I opine that the modern man can do just fine with 5″ x 7″ and 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper, with matching envelopes of course. The extent of stationery described is more appropriate to a late-Victorian or Edwardian gentleman. And Brett & Kate, you left out the single most important caveat to using high quality stationery.
If you have children who are into “crafting” and drawing, HIDE THE GOOD PAPER! Children instinctively prefer the highest quality paper for their artwork.

4 Greg July 11, 2009 at 11:51 am

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I just spotted the misspelt word “pst” for “post”! Ugh!

5 bob July 11, 2009 at 12:27 pm

seems to be more about style than substance. the more a man is a man the less “style” he will need: he himself will become his style. best way to write a letter is straight and to the point, doesn’t matter if its written on butcher’s paper if the integrity is in it, I reckon.

6 David July 11, 2009 at 12:54 pm

bob – I agree entirely that substance is much more important than style. However, people still judge by appearances and in some instances (resumes come to mind) our substance may be tossed aside before it has a chance to influence anyone.

Bruce – I’m not ready for an embosser, but the idea intrigues me. Would you give us more information about it?

7 Tyler July 11, 2009 at 1:03 pm

The argument that style is not manly is not very solid. I wonder if those men who believe that walk around in sweatsuits and have no furnishings in their apartment beyond a couch and bed. Style make the substance of our lives all the more enjoyable. If a man was given a choice between a Mustang and Corolla, and both had been given the same engine, he wouldn’t pick the Corolla. I could show up to a job interview wearing a burlap sack, but I probably wouldn’t get the job. And I could write my girlfriend a love letter on butcher paper, but I know that nice stationery would make the effect all the greater and make it seem like I gave it some real thought as opposed to dashing it off on whatever was handy.

8 Lou July 11, 2009 at 1:05 pm

An excellent article and I appreciate that you have selected American made products that are manufactured by environmentally sound practices.

9 Dan July 11, 2009 at 7:29 pm

While not actually stationary, a favorite of mine for writing love letters on, is the backs of playbills for play that my girlfriend go and see.

10 Sage July 11, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Writing isn’t an art, it’s a means of communication. If it was an art, it would be up there with cooking, photography, architecture, and painting – most of all of which have been considered art throughout history and within every culture in the world.

Before the computer, there was the pencil.
Before the pencil, there was the pen.
Before the pen, there was the brush.
Before the brush, there was the chalk.
Before the chalk, there was the dirt.

Might not be in that exact order, but you get my drift. Communication and the technology used for it changes as time changes. Greater knowledge brings an even greater potentionals for good. There is no reason to fear the computer, for even with typing, you can still communicate in a polite, elegant, and fashionable manner. The manner of communication depends more on culture and upbringing than on the means necessary, though means dose play a role too, for example, the instant gratification of the Internet has the possibility of leading to rushed and poorly thought out e-mails. But a proper upbrining and cultivation of virtue can prevent this!

11 Cameron A July 12, 2009 at 10:07 am

First, I would like to say I really enjoyed the article and I’d been thinking about buying some Crane Co. stationary but this article cemented it. I ran out to a fine paper store and bought some thank you notes for much belated Thank You cards and have been writing them non-stop. I can’t get enough of the feel of 100% cotton paper. It accepts ink so smoothly too.
Secondly, I agree with the others that a Man does not need style. There are many men who make themselves more manly in others eyes simply because of their style. If style wasn’t important, then it would have never progressed to the point that it is today.
Thirdly, writing is always an art. You must craft a letter carefully, with purpose, and with a certain flair for your audience otherwise your point is missed and you are dismissed. An even more extreme example is caligraphy. That is a writingstyle that is undeniably an art and has existed for thousands of years. Saying that simply because it is communication it is base and unadvanced is simply wrong. People have fought wars over letters and messages sent improperly. Saying that the internet is a good alternative is completely true, and millions of Americans use the interent. But as you also said, it has created a fallout in the thought that goes behind a letter/email. And it simply has less of a personal touch.

12 Stan Geronimo July 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm

We should rediscover the lost art of writing letters. A gentleman shouldn’t rely too much on electronic copies, don’t you think?

13 Ewan Pettman July 12, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Maybe this is only true in England, but it is never manly to use blue ink on a letter or greeting card. Black ink is for men, blue for ladies. Also, it is really annoying when Yours Faithfully or Yours Sincerely is used under the wrong circumstances–a real sign of carelessness bordering on disrespect.

14 Fraz July 12, 2009 at 10:39 pm

@Ewan While you may technically be correct, in this age of photocopiers and fax machines, I tend to the midnight blue ink just to ensure that my original signature is maintained on documents (particularly legal/contracts). However, I also use black in my day-to-day pen. Naturally, I also use refillable fountain pen(s)!

15 Jonathan Arnold July 13, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Dear Brett & Kate: Great article, and I appreciate the mention of Dempsey & Carroll at the end! We make manly stationery every day. Let me know if you ever need samples or photos! Jonathan

16 Brad Greenwood July 14, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Wow! I was blown away to see my own name as an example!

17 Isaac Arthur August 26, 2009 at 11:57 pm

If you’re interested in custom stationery, consider having a set designed specifically for yourself. This can extend out to letterhead, envelope, calling cards and even stickers and stamps — creating a beautiful, cohesive identity system.

If anyone’s interested, I’m a freelance designer and love designing stationery. Check out some of this work and email me at isaacarth@gmail.com if you’re interested in your own stationery set.

http://ica-design.net/index.php?/ongoing/codo-stationery/

http://ica-design.net/index.php?/project/the-mine-stationery/

http://ica-design.net/index.php?/project/skullys-gun-club/

http://ica-design.net/index.php?/ongoing/henry-horse-shoeing/

18 James Clark September 12, 2009 at 3:41 am

I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that style is unimportant. A man may make the suit, but you need a suit to make. It is much easier for a man to make a suit than for a man to make a sweat suit…

Also, I’d like to point out that regarding the letter versus e-mail debate, one must take into account that some of us might have handwriting deficiencies, and that in itself could cause frustrations for the sender and recipient (especially the writer, if you can’t read your own writing on Crane paper…)

A few lessons and a lot of practice in the art of handwriting (tangent: is cursive writing a lost art?) might be in order before placing the order for the stationary…

AND A TIP: if you use a 7 or 9h (drafting) pencil and a ruler, you can make the stationary lined, write on the lines with pen, and then genlty erase the lines. And since you used a 9H pencil, no-one will ever notice. They’ll be in awe of your perfectly straight writing – especially on heavy paper that you could not see through and put a lined paper behind it for shadow lines. anything darker than a 6H and you might be sorry, though – (and be gentle, please).

19 Denis September 27, 2009 at 12:01 pm

The are of letter writing is certainly falling away from society. As Sage said its taking a back seat to technology. Even the quality of email has gone down hill with thoughts and feelings reduced to emoticons and abbreviations, it makes me want to scream WTF! I fell into the habit of modern hieroglyphics for a while but now I’m back to writing proper letters right down to Dear_____ , along with indenting paragraphs. I also write thank you cards and send them out to clients and business associates. In this day and age people rarely get cards or letters let alone a “thankyou”. So I believe it sets me out from the competition. People have been reseptive and I know that even the ones how don’t say so, it means a great deal to them for me to have taken some time to write them. I fighting to bring back some of the fine things in life all while staying tech savvy. So there’s my two cents.

20 Cicero Murdock October 25, 2009 at 10:37 pm

I find most of my needs met with correspondence cards and monarch sheets. There’s a store in Augusta, GA that I get mine at. I buy plain 100% cotton sheets in boxes of 50 each, and they can be used for almost any occasion.

21 R. Stanley July 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Please note that Crane & Company and Stationery Studio are worthy sources of personalized stationery, and did deserve to be mentioned in the above discussion of personalized stationery. However, the thick cards offered at Giftsin24.com are of especially high quality. Please take a look at the Railroad Cards and Colonial Cards which are worthy of a man’s pen, are extra thick and reasonably priced.

22 Hilary August 5, 2010 at 2:15 pm

While I truly appreciate your instructional entries on letter writing (particularly the bit on Thank You Notes), I thought you might like to know that the stationary examples shown above do not properly display a male monogram. I suppose the manliness of a monogram in the first instance is debatable, although I do think it is an elegant touch on stationary. In any case, the correct format for a man’s monogram is First Initial, Middle, Last… all the same size. In the case of John Q. Smith, his monogram would read JQS.

23 Samara September 27, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Hilary,

I have to disagree with you. According to Emily Post’s Etiquette, a single man’s initials should be listed as first, middle, last when the initials are the same size. The initials should be listed as first, last, middle when the center initial is larger.

24 Trev February 1, 2013 at 8:48 am

If it helps anyone, found this great DIY design for at home relief print.

http://www.mossworks.com/docs/BottleJackPress.pdf

Not yet tested, but I surely intend to.

25 Joe February 13, 2013 at 10:13 pm

FWIW, my cheat for lined paper is to use a relatively thin, plain paper and a sheet underneath that I’ve lined in a fairly heavy black. Using a self-made line sheet also allows me to have custom rulings since I tend to write short notes at a roughly wide-rule spacing but long letters get narrow rule spacing. (1/4″, and near impossible to find in quality paper anyway.) It also lets me go to a new sheet without so much prep work as manually lining each page, and there’s no residue to erase.

26 Wasim March 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I always wrote to my pen-pals (who sometimes would take months to reply)with paper I ripped out of a spiral-bound notebook.

27 Kevin August 2, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Where can I get one of those stationary cases (the first picture above)? That is super classy.

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