The London Stationery Show 2019 is the UK’s only trade show dedicated completely to stationery, and it takes place every April at the Business Design Centre in Islington, North London. I go every year, sometimes as a buyer, sometimes I’m a judge for the awards. This year I was just a visitor really, meeting old friends and checking out all that is new in the world of pens and paper. So what did I see?
Well first up, this year it had definitely shrunk. Last year the balcony was full of small niche little entrepreneurs and start-ups, possibly given free or discounted space but interesting to see. The 2019 show had none of that and a few less exhibitors generally which is perhaps not surprising since there is clearly a general slowdown in retail at the moment. Lamy always have a big stand to showcase their special editions but this year they decided not to attend, preferring to exhibit at the gift-focused Top Drawer show instead. This is apparently because they see themselves as moving towards being a design accessory rather than a simple pen manufacturer and want to attract the attention of upmarket gift and fashion stores rather than small traditional stationery shops.
So is this the start of the decline of stationery? Have we moved on from pen and paper and consigned writing instruments to being merely objects of desire to match our iPhone? Paperchase have announced they are going into administration as have Office Outlet, or Staples as they used to be known. And of course our own stationery online store Bureau fell at the beginning of the year. The death of writing is endlessly predicted, young people don’t read books or write, only type etc etc.
The answer I think has to be no. New, albeit designer-edged stationery shops are springing up all over the place and seemingly doing well, and the show still managed to get across the excitement that stationery can generate, not least with its themed displays of new and interesting product. The show is determinedly trade only so the public sadly don’t get to wander around and enjoy the full-on stationery experience (you’d all keep asking for free samples apparently) so here are a few of the highlights that I saw.
Fruit & vegetable paper
Actually my favourite thing was possibly not for sale, it was hard to tell. German company Veggiepapyrus make paper out of fruit and vegetables, so thinly sliced carrots, cucumbers, oranges, star fruit – you name it, they make it. It’s quite mad and definitely not fountain pen-friendly, or any pen-friendly for that matter: what you do with it is not clear. Look at it I think. But it is very beautiful and we all stopped in our tracks and took lots of photos, none of which do it justice. You can visit their website but good luck with trying to buy anything.
Kartotek is a beautiful Danish company selling some lovely journals and planner pads. They do some rather beautiful notebooks with geometric swirls on them and the wall calendars are smart and simple. Their fabric covered journals have a spot varnished dot design which is again simple and plain, like a Cos dress somehow. They also do lovely greetings cards.
Backpocket were a brand we sold at Bureau, their Day of the Dead and Night Sky notebooks a discovery at last year’s show. This year they have produced a box set of Solar System themed books with nine pocket books all featuring a planet plus the sun (Pluto is not a planet as you know). Whilst the sun book is all yellow with just a hint of a curve at the edge, the other eight books all feature an illustration of their planet to scale! Even the axial tilt has been carefully worked in. Justin, their designer, has spent ages researching everything and each book comes with a series of planetary facts. It all comes packed in a nice kraft box and is brilliantly and unapologetically nerdish.
Something old, something new
Makers Cabinet are a small start up owned by Central St Martin’s design students taking a year out from their studies to make beautiful objects. Their Høvel is a brass pencil sharpener which you use to traditionally sharpen your pencil giving, if you do it correctly, a perfect finish. It is not a quick or simple method (they were running a demonstration/training session at the show), rather an time-honoured skill which takes care and thought but is immensely satisfying to learn. It is also a beautiful desk accessory in its own right. Proper old-fashioned stationery.
100 years of Bauhaus
Leuchtturm were showcasing their new Bauhaus-inspired range – ‘Everything starts from a dot’ designed to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the famous German art school. This has been out since the beginning of March so not a launch as such but still new-ish and very smart. The bold blue, red, black and yellow notebooks with their contrasting page edges and ribbon markers looked crisp and clean. There are matching pencils and pen loops and the series has already won a RedDot design award. They told us that yellow has unexpectedly sold out (more are in production) as they thought it would be the slowest seller of the four.
Other items of interest included some smart limited edition Caran d’Ache pens, an interesting new development in the Bullet Journal area from Leuchtturm and a very expensive ink mixing set from Pneider for a bit of home ink brewing. More details of these to follow at a later date.
So if you want to be kept up to date on all that is good in the stationery world, make sure you stay in touch!