Hotel Stationery

With summer vacation season upon us, I turned my thoughts to hotel stationery. This week’s blog post comes with a soundtrack, so feel free to listen to Chilly Gonzales’ Hotel Stationery while you read (https://soundcloud.com/chillygonzales/interlude-1-hotel-stationery).

There was a time that in the desk drawer of every hotel room nestled beside the phone book, Gideon’s Bible, and in the case of Lethbridge, Alberta hotels, the Book of Mormon, you could find hotel stationery. Usually it would be a few sheets of nice paper with the logo and address of the hotel as well as an envelope or two, and in some cases, a postcard of the hotel. This was provided for promotional reasons presumably so that you would write to friends back home wishing they were here. Other people kept these as souvenirs only to show up on Etsy years later. As people stopped writing letters in general, hotel stationery began to disappear as well, leaving only a skimpy notepad and stick pen in its place. These seem to be provided for in-room use only as I can’t imagine anyone wanting to pocket them as a souvenir. Apparently high-end hotels still provide nice stationery but, as I don’t stay in high-end hotels, I cannot independently verify that.

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An example of hotel stationery from the early 1980’s. Even though this is from a modest airport hotel, it is still excellent creamy paper with a watermark that says “Classic Laid”, referring to the texture of the paper.

There are examples of famous people using hotel stationery. Last year a note written by Einstein on hotel stationery was auctioned. According to the story, he gave it to a courier in lieu of a tip saying that he hoped it would be more valuable in the future, as it indeed proved to be. He wrote in German on the paper, “A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest.” Wise words for all of us.

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Examples of the current paltry offerings found in Canadian hotel rooms in the past year.

If hotel stationery were a person, they would only hang out in exclusive places. Although they are initially quiet, given the chance they love to brag about where they have been.

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Palomino Blackwing Pencils and Sharpener

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Next up in my leaving work goody bag is a lovely box of Palomino Blackwing pencils and a long point sharpener. As the box came with twelve pencils, I would like to give one (plus some other goodies) to a lucky reader. Keep on reading to find out how you could win.

Believe it or not, but the Blackwing is a controversial pencil. From 1934 to 1998, the Eberhard Faber Company manufactured the Blackwing. When these pencils were introduced, long before ballpoint and other cheap pens were available, pencils were in their heyday. They were used daily by professionals such as draftsmen, engineers, and journalists, as well as students, so people noticed quality and found it in the Blackwing. They were known to write smoothly and keep their point. Their attractive hexagonal design with the clamp-like ferrule and matte black paint probably added to their appeal. Author John Steinbeck, animator Chuck Jones, composer Stephen Sondheim, and jazz musicians Duke Ellington and Wynton Marsalis are just a few of the well-known users of the original Blackwing pencils. So when the California Cedar Products Company acquired the Blackwing trademark and began manufacturing pencils modeled after the originals in 2010, some pencil aficionados that had stockpiled supplies of the originals cried foul. This kind of controversy is not unheard of in the stationery world. For example, moleskine notebooks were originally not a brand-name but a kind of traditional oilcloth binding for notebooks. This type of notebook was also very popular with famous artists and authors but couldn’t compete with cheaper, mass-produced notebooks. A company called Modo & Modo began producing Moleskine branded notebooks in 1997 but advertised them as if they were the same as those used by the greats. Of course, stationery products are not the only ones to try to capitalize on nostalgia. The Indian motorcycle brand is another one where a new company has branded their product with an old name.

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I don’t have an original Blackwing to compare with so I am just judging it on how it works for me. This pencil does write smoothly however the large metal ferrule and eraser made it a bit top heavy, especially when I tried writing with it for a few pages in my journal. The pencil is longer than average (20 cm, including the eraser) so maybe as it gets shorter, and pencils always do, it will feel more balanced. The eraser did a fairly good job of erasing but I found the black crumb residue a bit messy. I think a regular white vinyl eraser would do a better and neater job. Interestingly, you can get replacement erasers in a variety of colours for the pencil if you use up pencil erasers faster than the pencil.

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Along with the pencils, I got a special Palomino-KUM long point pencil sharpener. This pencil sharpener has two holes, not for different sizes of pencils, but to maximize the point. The first hole sharpens the wood and the smaller hole sharpens the graphite.

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It came with two small replacement blades tucked into the end for when the blades become dulled. I like the opportunity to extend the life of the sharpener.

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If this pencil was a person, it would be a celebrity, complete with idiosyncrasies and a fan club. Taller than average, they always wear black with some bling so you never mistake them for someone just as competent but with less fame.

Now for the prize. Personally, I love giveaways so I am offering one of my own. As well as a Palomino Blackwing pencil, I am giving away an assortment sample papers to try it out on including some Rhodia and Canson papers, Kyougi, Japanese stationery, and a penguin paperclip. To win, all you have to do is leave a comment on this blog before June 10. I will make a draw and contact the winner to get your address. Good luck!

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Fur trade era stationery supplies

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When I did my post on J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage ink, it made me wonder what ink Canadian fur traders used as this French company was established in 1670, the same year King Charles II of England granted a Royal Charter giving exclusive trading rights of the Hudson Bay watershed to “the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay.”  

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) has great archives so I emailed them with some questions about the stationery supplies used in the early days of the fur trade. I got a very thorough response from Ala Rekrut, Manager of Preservation Services at the Archives of Manitoba. She wrote:

“The vast majority of the records in the HBC Archives from before about 1930 are written in iron gall ink, which was the standard writing ink in Europe from the 12th century.  It made a very permanent ink and was cheap and relatively easy to make. The powdered dry ingredients were easily stored until fresh ink was needed and rainwater, wine, beer, vinegar or other liquids would be added. So ink powder (ground oak galls, iron sulfate and gum arabic) was most likely brought over to Canada along with writing paper and blank books, all supplied through stationers. In a pinch a soot-based ink could certainly be made with local ingredients, but it would be more work and we don’t really see any evidence of anything other than iron gall ink being used to create the records in our holdings. We have at least one example of some draft account records being used as a cover for a draft post journal, and coarse wrapping paper has been reused for drawing large plans and maps, so we know that paper wasn’t wasted. If drafts were written on other materials (i.e. bark, cloth) because of a shortage of paper they were likely discarded after “fair” copies were made once supplies had been renewed.

Some quill feathers were probably brought along on the journey – again supplied by stationers, but geese and other large birds were readily available so there would be no shortage of appropriate feathers for making writing quills once in Canada. (I feel I have seen quills including in lists of goods to be shipped to London, but am not sure exactly where/when.) The quill tips were hardened and cut and sharpened as needed, and we have found quill parings between the pages of post records.

For the most part the HBC bought good quality paper and ink to create their records and protected the records at their headquarters, and they are mostly still in very good and useable condition.”

This was very interesting to me as I have visited quite a few preserved fur trading posts and even participated in an archaeological dig at a North West Company site, but never got a lot of information about the ink and quills used in the early days. I remember going to Fort William, near Thunder Bay, Ontario, where a historical interpreter was allowing visitors to try writing with a quill. I quizzed him a bit about it but clearly it was not a topic he had been provided with a lot of background on.

I did a little research on iron gall ink and found out that it is made from iron sulfate and tannic acids (derived from oak galls) and all sorts of other things if you read the old recipes. Oak galls are sometimes called oak apples and occur when oak trees are infected by wasps. While it has good qualities, like being permanent and water-proof, it is hard on metal and traditional formulas don’t work in fountain pens. Apparently the modern version of iron gall ink is still the standard for official documents in the United Kingdom and Germany.

I hope you found this little history lesson to be as fascinating as I did!

Translucent papers

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I have been thinking about translucent papers recently. I went to an art exhibit called Can you See the Trees Through the Forest where much of the work had been drawn on vellum and then hung from the ceiling so the light could come through. When I looked up the artist, Phyllis Obst, it turned out that she was an engineer so it made sense that she was used to working with vellum as it is commonly used for things like technical drawings and blueprints.

In ancient times (this goes back more than a thousand years) vellum was made of calfskin that was split and treated so it became somewhat translucent. Modern vellum is paper that has been plasticized to obtain a similar smooth, translucent quality but you really could not confuse the two. Unfortunately, the word vellum gets used quite loosely so sometimes just ordinary writing paper is labelled vellum to connote smoothness or quality. I have an old pad of Zellers writing paper that purports to have a “vellum finish” but the only connection I can see is that the paper is so thin that you can almost see through it.

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My Canson paper sample book has a couple of examples of translucent paper. The first is the Canson Vidalon Vellum. It is a smooth, translucent paper that has a sturdy feel to it. I tried out pencil, pen, marker and pencil crayon. It was very easy to erase the pencil and all of the writing tools just glided over the paper. It is so translucent that I had to put a piece of plain paper underneath it to take the pictures otherwise you could see the writing from the next section.

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The second paper that I think fits this category is the Canson Pro Layout Marker paper. It is not quite as translucent as the vellum but is not completely opaque either. As the name implies, it is designed for markers but it also works with pen and pencil. There is no bleed through with any of the markers or pens I tried but because it is so smooth there was a lot of smudging.

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While none of the Canson paper samples are called tracing paper, the company has a place in tracing paper history. In 1809 while Napoleon waged war all over Europe, in the Beaujolais region of France, Barthélémy de Canson peacefully continued to experiment and improve the paper mill he inherited through his wife’s family. His innovative refining of paper pulp led to the invention of tracing paper.

I recently bought a pad of Strathmore tracing paper to help me in my efforts to learn calligraphy by using it over practice sheets. While not quite as old as the Canson paper company, the Strathmore Paper Company of the US goes back to 1892. They too have a wide range of papers, including a very nice transparent parchment tracing paper. Tracing paper has the benefit of not only being translucent but also very smooth so there is little bleeding or feathering of ink. If you have any concerns that since ancient vellum was made of animal skin that the modern equivalents have any animal by-products, fear not. According to Strathmore’s Frequently Asked Questions page, all Strathmore products are vegan, except for their Gemini Watercolor paper which is made with traditional sizing.

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If translucent papers were people, they would be a bit hard to figure out. Smooth but not slick, they can be very useful but you can’t clearly see what is going on with them.

Halloween Cards

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I know card giving is not a Halloween tradition (hey kids, you don’t want candy that will rot your teeth, why don’t you take one of my homemade cards instead) but I recently joined the Edmonton Calligraphic Society and at the meeting they gave the attendees a big pile of paper. I love paper but I already have a substantial stash myself so I needed to use some of it before the next meeting or it will get unmanageable.

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There was quite a bit of graph paper to practice our letters with but there were also strips of orange card stock, heavy yellow paper, and some pages from an old British children’s book. I know the president of the society is a volunteer at the Edmonton ReUse Centre so I suspect some of the paper may have come from there. From what I can tell from the two book pages, the story revolves around the unlikely plot that a leopard is on the loose in their town, a situation I am sure many children could relate to. The children are named Susan and Terry and they live with their Auntie May, Major (a basset hound) and a terrier named Snip. Here is an excerpt:  

“I’ve just had some disturbing news from Constable Simkins,” she informed her niece and nephew. “It appears a leopard escaped from Red Walls early this morning and is still at large.”

This terrifying scenario made me think of Halloween, as did the strips of orange, so I got to work.

First, I made trimmed the book pages and singed the edges, both to make them spookier looking and because I love burning things. Next I practiced my dip pen writing skills and wrote Happy Halloween on the orange strips and roughened up the edges before gluing it to the front of the card on top of the book pages. The writing on the inside of the cards is also on orange strips of paper.

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I didn’t have any envelopes the correct size for the finished cards so I made some out of paper from an old used Grumbacher sketch book. I had forgotten just how good this paper is. I am going to have to go back to my Canson paper sample book and compare.

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It was fun to practice my calligraphy on a project instead of just working on my letterforms on graph paper. I am looking forward to seeing if we get interesting papers at every meeting of the Calligraphy Society.

If these cards were people, they would be more kooky than spooky. They would dress up to pass out treats to the kids but the treats would be homemade. Unfortunately most would just be thrown out, but the few children who dared eat them would get lovely homemade fudge.  

 

 

Quo Vadis Habana Pocket Notebook

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During the summer, I won a Quo Vadis Habana Pocket notebook from Exaclair, the American distributer for some great French stationery supplies including some of my favourite papers like Rhodia, Clairefontaine, G. Lalo, and Quo Vadis.

A Quo Vadis blogger noted that this notebook had been mentioned a mystery novel, So Close the Hand of Death by J.T. Ellison. While product placement is common in movies, it seems it happens more and more in novels too. I listened to the audiobook of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes while travelling this summer and a Moleskin notebook showed up in it. I am not sure what I think of this trend. In one way it adds realism to the characters and setting, but it also seems like another way advertising is creeping into every area of our lives when we can’t even avoid brand names in books.

To get back to this particular notebook, it is a fairly small (4 x 6.38 inches or 10.16 x 16.21 cm), ruled notebook with a black “leather-like” cover, an elastic band closure, and a built-in ribbon bookmark. Although the notebook is made in the USA, the paper is French. I reviewed this creamy lined paper before in my blog post on Rhodia and Habana paper samples. The size of this notebook is not one I would normally choose for myself as it is a bit small for a journal but a bit fancy for just jotting down notes. It would fit well into a pocket or bag though and I like the expandable pocket in the back cover.

20171005_172038 At 162 grams it is lightweight too.

20171005_172250 Note the nicely rounded corners.

If this notebook were a person, it would be slim and elegant, taking note of others while revealing very little about themselves. You would always wonder, is this person just discreet or are they involved in espionage?

Chinese Calligraphy

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I have been interested in calligraphy for a long time and a trip to China in 2008 expanded that interest to include Chinese calligraphy. I was so fascinated that I purchased some calligraphy supplies while I was there.

One aspect of traditional Chinese calligraphy that I really love is the respect shown for calligraphy tools. They even call them the Four Treasures. These treasures are the brush, ink, paper and ink stone.

Brushes:  Calligraphy brushes are traditionally made with animal hair. As with paint brushes, different kinds of hair have different properties that affect the brush stroke. White hair in brushes is usually goat hair and are a bit softer so are good for large characters. I didn’t know anything about brushes when I bought mine in China and I actually like the slightly stiffer, brown haired brush (the one on the far right of the photo) I got when I took a Chinese calligraphy course from the Confucius Institute the following year. The course was advertised as being for all ages so I was a bit dismayed to discover most of the students were Chinese children. As I sat on my tiny chair I reassured myself that even though I may not understand Chinese like the kids did, I can sit still and listen like a pro so I had that going for me.

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Ink: Ink sticks are generally made of soot that is mixed with glue and then pressed into a mold. The type of soot (pine, oil, charcoal, etc.) and other additives create different inks. Ink sticks are often decorated, as mine is, on both sides. Liquid sumi ink works well too.

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Inkstone: The inkstone is a shallow dish (with lid) used to grind the ink stick in a small amount of water to make the ink. This process takes about 15 minutes (depending on how dark you want your ink) and is considered an important meditative step to prepare yourself for creating calligraphy or to paint. Not all inkstones are made of stone, mine is ceramic, and many are beautifully decorated although I like the simplicity of mine.

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Paper: For calligraphy, the best paper is slightly absorbent. I have some rice paper that was bought locally but made in Japan. For practice purposes my calligraphy instructor suggested using paper towels like the type found in public washrooms or newsprint. We were given thin paper with guide lines printed on them for learning the characters in class.

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There are other treasures too, like the seal and the seal ink. Seals (sometimes called a chop) are used like signatures. Typically made of stone, they are used with a thick paste-like red ink. I bought mine from a street vendor in Xian, China. It is supposed to be a translation of my name but I am not sure how well she understood me. There is something very aesthetically pleasing to me to have that small addition of red to the black and white of the ink and paper.

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If the Four Treasures were people, I image them as four ancient Chinese sages with long beards and silk robes that will impart their wisdom to anyone who will take the time to listen.