lamy pens are cool

Lamy Pens Are Cool

lamy pens are cool

The appreciation of a fountain pen gift - by Ivo and Delilah

We have many friendly and loyal customers, and amongst them is one customer down in Bristol. John is something of a pen enthusiast and he has been a regular customer and communicator with Mishka and Jo.

He recently bought Lamy Safari fountain pens for his grandchildren. They were so happy with their new pens that they wrote a thank you letter. To say thank you. And of course, they wrote their letters with the very same fountain pens.

John was so taken with this that he shared it with us, and said we could share it with you. So thank you Ivo and Delilah (and John) for sharing your love of Lamy pens.

Thank You letter from Ivo, aged 7
Thank You letter from Ivo, aged 7
Thank You letter from Delilah, aged 10
Thank You letter from Delilah, aged 10

It’s always wonderful to see the younger generation pickup a pen instead of spending their days flicking through endless distractions provided these days on a tablet.

At the end of the day it’s up to all of us to inspire the next age of humanity to keep on writing, thank you John for your little bit to keep it going!

our man in parliament

What People Do All Day – Our Man In Parliament

our man in parliament - stationery reviews on the inside

Stationery reviews from inside the house

This post was written by Richard

Inspired perhaps by Richard Scarry’s “What do people do all day?” and the adventures of Farmer Alfalfa, Stiches the Tailor and Grocer Cat, our good friends at Bureau asked me to write a short piece about what I do all day. I can only imagine that this is the beginning of a soon to be much anticipated occasional blogpost about the goings-on—stationery related or otherwise—of the cast of thousands who call themselves Bureau’s happy customers.

My remit, such as it was, was to paint a brief but fascinating picture of my working day and to talk a little about where stationery fits into that. So…what do I do all day? Well, I work in Parliament. There are many, many things to enjoy about working there—the staff, the riverside location, the history—but, oddly, the thing I enjoy the most is the tourists. Sure, getting through the door in the morning can feel like facing off against the New England Patriots, but it’s buzzy and people are enjoying themselves just being there. Which is nice.

And what do I do once I actually get into the building? Well, all that talking, all that arguing, all that shouting you see on television—and all that sensible discussion you probably don’t see on television— gets written down somewhere. By someone. And that someone is me and my colleagues. We sit in on debates. We make sure all that talking gets recorded. And we make sure it all gets written up and checked. Throughout it all, we come and go quietly, trying not to draw attention to ourselves. In fact, one chairwoman even joked we were a bit like MI5—“only better.” High praise indeed. Perhaps it could be our motto.

lamy aion fountain pen

Finally, I said this blog was about stationery, and so it is. I do a lot of writing at work, and I use a lot of stationery. Mostly, I use a Lamy Aion fountain pen with a beautiful turquoise Pilot Iroshizuku ink and an extra fine nib. Partly, I like the Aion’s unusual brushed black aluminium finish; partly, I like its impressive bulk. Oddly, though, the Aion’s not a heavy pen; quite the opposite. Its aluminium body makes it surprisingly light and easy to hold. And it’s well balanced, so it rests comfortably in my hand. The ink flow is great, too, which is really important, because I do a lot of writing under pressure.

pilot iroshizuku ama iro turquoise ink
Iroshiuzuku Ama-Iro ink
viking rollo a4 dot grid pad
Viking Rollo Dot-Grid Pad

I also use a Viking Rollo dotpad. The whole design shows an incredible attention to detail. The cover is beautifully minimal, the dots are subtle and unobtrusive, and sheets are really easy to detach. Most important of all, however, the paper is incredibly smooth.  Combined with the Aion and the Iroshizuku ink, it makes for a really lovely writing experience.

So, there you have it: my day. Perhaps less energetic than Farmer Alfalfa’s, but petty fun all the same—and with better stationery.

buckle files in Spiral TV drama

Spiral – French Buckle Files In Action

french buckle files in Spiral TV drama

Aka 'Chemise Dos Extensible'

Spiral, the addictive French thriller, has recently finished its sixth series on BBC4 with storylines clearly left open for a seventh. The gritty French police and legal drama is set in the parts of Paris you rarely see and gives an interesting insight into the way the French justice system works as well as being a brilliant if gruesome watch.

Why am I talking about this? Because all the characters, from Police Captain Laure Berthaud through to investigating magistrate Judge Roban, carry their documents around in Buckle Files. This piece of standard French stationery, essentially an expanding document holder, is a staple of all French offices from schools to, well, police stations and law courts.

french buckle files in Spiral TV drama

The name Buckle File is actually an invention of ours here at Bureau since the correct name is Chemise Dos Extensible which translates literally as stretch backed shirt and doesn’t really help much. They were one of the first items we imported back in the dark days of the mid-90s when exotic stationery was still something you had to acquire on a trip abroad. The brightly coloured folders with their distinctive buckle straps were both unusual and practical and like nothing we had seen over here.

french buckle files in Spiral TV drama

The USP of these files is their expanding spine which has several folds scored to allow for different widths. The extendable part tucks into the back cover which means that if you have but a few papers to carry, it is virtually flat but if you need to hold say a weighty and complex legal case about people trafficking in the Banlieues, then no problem. And they really do use them extensively. During a Spiral scene where Judge Roban is required to clear his office, large piles of these folders are stacked on desks and being handed over by clerks. And spiky flic Laure also keeps her grim autopsy pix safely stored within a smart dark blue file ready to torment the villains of Clichy during their surprisingly physical interviews.

If you missed Spiral then its probably been whipped off iPlayer already to make room for a show about buying bric-a-brac to make a £5 profit. Still you can console yourself with a chic French Buckle File and carry your documents around with a swagger and a sense of Parisian style.

history of papermaking

The History Of Papermaking Part II

Fourdrinier paper-making machine

Papermaking from the 18th to the 19th century


In an earlier blog, we looked at the development of paper from its origins, in 1st century China, when T’Sai Lun developed the first true paper from seeing how bees and wasps converted materials, such as leaves, into a paper like substance. From that start, the making of paper gradually swept westwards, through the Arab countries of the Middle East and north Africa and then, from the 11th century, Europe. For the next five hundred years, despite becoming increasingly refined, there was no change to the laborious, hand processes. Then, in the 19th century, two sudden and dramatic bursts of activity changed everything and not only was the making of paper revolutionised but the whole basis of the industry changed with the introduction of a new base material. In this blog we will look at these transformations, events which created the contemporary paper industry, and the paper we use, today.

The limits to production of a highly skilled hand process were not limited to paper, but whereas the processes of making products, such as cotton cloth, had become industrialised during the 18th century, by 1800, and with just one exception, paper was still made by hand, one sheet at a time, manually dipping a frame with a sieve into a vat of pulp, which was then drained and the resulting sheet of paper dried, usually hung over frames. This process was also restricted in that sheet size was limited by how large a sieve a man could handle.

Papermaking - The First Mechanisation

However, as the 18th century drew to its close, there were many in the paper industry who were looking at how industrialised methods might be applied to papermaking and at one mill in France, and despite the turmoil following the French Revolution, they had had some success. Nicholas-Louis Robert, who worked for the then famous Didiot papermaking company in Essonnes, just south of Paris, invented a machine which introduced the first aspects of mechanisation into papermaking. Robert’s machine, a replica of which is in the Frogmore Paper Mill Museum, and shown here, had a moving screen belt that would receive a continuous flow of stock and deliver an unbroken sheet of wet paper to a pair of squeeze rolls. This still had to be collected manually, hung over a series of cables or bars to dry and then had to be cut, but for the first time it introduced elements of mechanisation. Robert obtained a patent for this, in Paris on 9 September 1798, the original of the machine you see here being completed in the following year.

Nicholas-Louis Robert paper machine
A Replica Of Nicholas-Louis Robert's Paper Machine (circa 1799)

Papermaking Comes To Britain

Robert quarrelled with his employer over the further development of this machine. The patent had been registered in the name of St Leger Didiot, and he felt that with the then instability, and lack of the support, skills and finance for manufacturing ideas in France, it would be better to further develop the ideas in England. But the political situation in France meant he could not travel there. So, he invited his brother-in-law, John Gamble, who at that time was working in Paris on repatriating British nationals, to use his connections in England. Gamble had no papermaking experience but back in London, he was introduced to the brothers, Sealy and Henry Foudrinier, skilled Huguenot paper makers whose father, Paul, had migrated from Groningen in the Netherlands, and who agreed to finance the venture. Together they further developed the machine, and John Gamble was granted a patent in London in 1801.

This machine was more complex than the Robert machine and incorporated a full drying process but its practical application was hampered by technical difficulties. The Foudriniers brought in a skilled mechanic, Bryan Donkin, who worked on the problems and in 1807 Donkin registered the patent, in his name, for an improved ‘Foudrinier’ machine. This became the machine which transformed paper making and even today basic paper making machines are still often referred to as a ‘Foudrinier’. Although there have been many improvements over the two hundred years since the first Foudrinier was created, a lot of them significant, all paper making machines have remained essentially the same as the original Donkin-designed machine, which is shown in the box below.

The Foudrinier Paper Making Machine

The drawing below shows the four distinct operations of a Foudrinier paper making machine:

1 – The ‘Wet End’, or Forming Section, where the pulp, usually with between 5 and 10% solids, is filtered out from the water, as it moves along on a continuous wire mesh;

2 – The Wet Press Section, where the now formed fibre sheet is squeezed in large, felt covered rollers to remove most of the liquid;

3 – The Drying Section, where the pressed sheet is passed around heated rollers, completing the drying process and reducing the moisture content to somewhere close to 5%;

4 – The Calender Section, where the paper is smoothed by, again, being passed around rollers.

Foudrinier paper making machine
Workings of the Foudrinier paper making machine

The drawing shows all these processes clearly, though one point not covered in the description is the dandy roller, above the belt at the wet end. The dandy roller, invented in 1826, allowed for the impression of watermarks, literally just a thinning of the sheet at a chosen point, which had previously only been possible with hand-made papers. Why ‘dandy’? No one knows for sure!

The first of these improved machines was installed at Frogmore Mill at Apsley in Hertfordshire, today a working museum of paper making, and it was close by, also at Apsley, that John Dickinson installed one of the improved Donkin, though Dickinson-modified, machines in 1809. Dickinson went on to make further improvements, registering many significant patents in his name, but it was Donkin who became the central character in this first key phase of industrialisation, such that by 1851 there were some two hundred Donkin-made machines in operation throughout the world.

Donkin & Dickinson - Is Paper Mightier Than The Sword?

Bryan Donkin is one of the great engineering characters of the 19th century and it is surprising that he is not better known. Originally a land surveyor in his native Dorset, he became interested in paper and got himself apprenticed to a paper machinery manufacturer, John Hall, in Dartford, Kent.  He went on to set-up his own business, making moulds for papermakers, then in 1801 he was invited in by the Foudrinier Brothers and John Gamble to tackle the problems they were experiencing with the development of their machine. By the following year, he had established his own company in Bermondsey to exploit his developments, the Bryan Donkin Company, still in existence today but no longer in the paper business or in Bermondsey, and went on to become the pre-eminent engineer in the field.

But that was not all. Donkin went on to invent the tin can, which he patented, to work with Charles Babbage on perfecting the first differential machine, for combining calculations and printing, and with Thomas Telford and Marc Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, on many of their great engineering achievements. He was the ‘go to man’ of the age when you hit an engineering problem.

He overshadowed John Dickinson, no mean inventor himself, who even before he became involved in developing and greatly refining paper machinery, had developed cartridge paper for shells – yes, the same as you might use for drawing today – which cut out the risk of smouldering after discharge, the cause of many accidents, and improved the firing rate of guns, a factor which greatly contributed to the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. So, it wasn’t won on the playing fields of Eton, after all, and given that Wellington described it as “a damned near run thing”, perhaps paper made the difference. Is it paper that is mightier than the sword?

Papermaking Crosses To America

Developments were slower In the United States, where the first mechanised paper mill was opened in 1817, at Brandywine Creek in Delaware, and the first Foudrinier machine was imported in 1827. Doubtless, these developments meant that John Dickinson’s cartridge paper, see box on Donkin & Dickinson, was freely available to both sides in the later civil war, facilitating greatly a parity of mutual destruction!

This new process revolutionised the production of paper of all sorts, with costs tumbling by up to 75% but the very success created a new problem, a shortage of raw material. Rags of cotton and linen were still the major source, supplemented by ‘linters’, the short fibres around the cotton seed and too short for use in fabric. As demand grew, longer cotton fibres began to be used, creating shortages in the cotton fabric industry and pushing up prices, a scarcity exacerbated during the American Civil War. Although it was known that the cellulose structure of wood was similar to the raw materials then in use, no one had seriously studied taking this forward until, in 1845, an ocean apart and quite unknown to each other, though inspired by the same original tract, two inventors developed a process for converting wood bark into pulp for making paper – Charles Fenerty in Nova Scotia and Friedrich Gottlob Keller in Saxony.

Both Fenerty and Keller were influenced by an 18th century French scientist, René Antoine Ferchault de Réamur.  Réamur had made a study of insects, and from these he observed, as had T’sai Lun seventeen hundred years earlier, that wasps and bees made a paper like substance in a way which totally altered the structure of the raw material. He wrote a treatise on this, though, to his own regret, he never pursued his idea, writing in 1741, “I am ashamed not yet to have tried this experiment since it is more than twenty years since I have realised the importance of it and since I have announced it.” It was this treatise which a hundred years later was to have a direct bearing on the next transformative stage in paper making.

An 18th Century Polymath

Though the study of insects was Réamur’s principal interest, as a true polymath of the time, he also received a handsome reward from the state for his work on manufacturing iron and steel and invented the first temperature scale, the 0-80 Réamur Scale This was cast aside from most use during and after the French Revolution by the 0-100 Celsius Scale, but is still used in the manufacture of the most famous of parmesan cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggio and Gran Padano.

Paper Made From Trees

Charles Fenerty’s family were in the lumber business in Nova Scotia, felling and converting trees, but Charles was something of a romantic, he left some thirty-five poems for posterity, and presumably it was his detachment from the everyday business, whenever he could, which led him to read widely, including Réamur’s paper, and to experiment with wood as a basis for a paper pulp. Sadly, although he made some paper, he did not take out a patent and his ideas were stillborn.

Friedrich Keller achieved better success, mainly because he persevered despite a similar initial lack of interest. A weaver in the small town of Hainichin in Saxony, he was dissatisfied with his occupation and read and experimented widely, and it was through this that he came upon Réamur’s writings, working on developing this for seven years before producing an acceptable result. He sent samples to the government, though they were not interested, but then in August, 1845,  he filed a patent in the names of both himself and a local paper specialist, Heinrich Voelter, who had helped him, not least with funding. It was not until 1848 that they built their first machine and, even then, they had problems with commercially grinding the bark, a problem not solved until four years later when Voelter commissioned some grindstones suitable for the task. By this time, the patent had run out, but Keller was too poor to contribute his portion of the renewal fee, so Voelter bought him out, for a sum of around £80, becoming the sole patent holder. By 1852 ground-wood pulped paper was being produced regularly in the mill of H. Voelter & Sons, in Heidenheim, and the wood-grinding machine was a success, too, selling widely throughout Europe and the Americas. It made Voelter a very rich man but left Keller unemployed and penniless.

Chemical Pulping

Over the next decades, the development was both widespread and furious, especially in the United States and in Sweden, not least with the development of chemical pulping, invented in the US but first used commercially in a pulp mill in Sweden in 1867. Mechanical pulping leaves the lignin in the fibre, making for a weaker structure because it keeps the fibres apart. Chemical pulping dissolves the lignin, producing a stronger paper and later, thanks to the further improved Kraft process, paper with long chains of cellulose molecules which are stronger still, making excellent printing and writing papers.

The ability of the Kraft process to accept a wide variety of materials, including recycled material, meant that it became the dominant process by the middle of the twentieth century, though mechanically ground paper is still the principal component in newsprint today. There are now also many hybrid processes that allow for even greater variety of both base material and finished product.

Cotton and other such materials are still used in papermaking for specialised uses, such as bank notes and security papers, and other ingredients can be almost any fibrous substance, for example sisal grass, old clothes – denim paper is made from old denim trousers! – and even dried elephant droppings, since their digestive systems have already done much to break down the base material!

Many of the firms we see as the dominant players in the paper industry today were formed during the latter half of the nineteenth century, firms such as Wiggins Teape in England, now Arjo Wiggins, in 1850, Appleton Paper in the USA in 1853, Clairefontaine in France, in 1858, but these developments are for part three.

Where Did All The Money Go?

There is a sad side to this story; few of those early inventors went on to make much, if any, money from their vision and effort. The Didiot’s were left adrift in France and went bankrupt a few years later, having invested a great deal in trying to make their invention commercially viable; John Gamble faded from view with little recognition and no money from his work; the Foudrinier Brothers, having spent £60,000, received no royalties and went bankrupt in 1810, though Henry Foudrinier was granted a special award of £7,000 in 1841, by a House of Commons committee in compensation for the original patent. Charles Fenerty, as we saw, found little interest, see below for a reproduction of his rather sad letter to his local newspaper, and went on to write more poetry. Whilst Keller fell into poverty, in 1870 several German paper makers donated a small sum of money, which he used to buy a house, and later, from further collections abroad, enough for a worry-free retirement. He did, at least, receive several awards in recognition of his invention.

Messrs. English & Blackadar,

Enclosed is a small piece of PAPER, the result of an experiment I have made, in order to ascertain if that useful article might not be manufactured from WOOD. The result has proved that opinion to be correct, for- by the sample which I have sent you, Gentlemen- you will perceive the feasibility of it. The enclosed, which is as firm in its texture as white, and to all appearance as durable as the common wrapping paper made from hemp, cotton, or the ordinary materials of manufacture is ACTUALLY COMPOSED OF SPRUCE WOOD, reduced to a pulp, and subjected to the same treatment as paper is in course of being made, only with this exception, VIZ: my insufficient means of giving it the required pressure. I entertain an opinion that our common forest trees, either hard or soft wood, but more especially the fir, spruce, or poplar, on account of the fibrous quality of their wood, might easily be reduced by a chafing machine, and manufactured into paper of the finest kind. This opinion, Sirs, I think the experiment will justify, and leaving it to be prosecuted further by the scientific, or the curious.

I remain, Gentlemen, your obdt. servant,


The Acadian Recorder
Halifax, N.S.
Saturday, October 26, 1844

history of writing - mesopotamia

A Brief History of Writing

history of writing - mesopotamia

Or why all roads lead to Mesopotamia


If you’re ever asked where something originated, always say Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago, that’s what I always do. And today is no different.

Writing began in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago.

In fact, the whole of civilisation seems to zoom in on those clever people from the city of Sumer around 3,100 BC. They transformed a system of clay tokens for counting sheep into a fully operational language.

Cuneiform Script

history of writing - mesopotamia
Ancient writing from Mesopotamia

Cuneiform was made up of pictographs and wedge-shaped impressions pressed into soft clay tokens. It started simply, being able to tell if livestock were coming or going to the temple, or whether they were dead, was all that was needed.

Since there’s only so many novels you can write about a sheep dying on its return from a temple, the language expanded. At one point, there were up to 1,000 characters available. Fortunately for the Sumerians, the symbols were simplified over the years as the language evolved.

The Egyptians weren’t far behind.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs

history of writing - hieroglyphics

Scholars like to argue but, one affable day, they agreed that Egyptian hieroglyphs came into existence a little after the Sumerian language. The language is very different but the idea of writing, it is suggested, came from Sumer.

The language comprised of phonetic glyphs representing the alphabet, characters that represented whole words and other symbols that alternated the meaning of the first two.

It was a sophisticated writing system.

Chinese Writing

The earliest recorded evidence of Chinese writing was in the Shang dynasty, which (as you know) was 1,200–1,050 BC.

There have been carvings found dating back to 6,000 BC. But scholars, one not so affable day, disagree on whether these symbols are sophisticated enough to be called a language – exactly the words my teacher used after my GSCE Spanish exam.

But language really took off when the Phoenicians started trading about 1,000 BC.

The Phoenician Alphabet

history of writing - phoenician
The Phoenician Alphabet

The Phoenicians traded all around the Mediterranean and spread their Phoenician alphabet wherever they went. It was based on Egyptian hieroglyphs but had 22 letters, all consonants – you made up whatever vowel sounds you liked, which they still do in Liverpool today.

It was an easy language to write so the language spread rapidly.

The Phoenician alphabet spawned the Greek alphabet, the Aramaic alphabet, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew and a load of others. It was slow start, but for the next 1,000 years writing prospered.

It was the Greeks who got things going in Europe.

European Writing

history of writing - script
Medieval manuscript

Greek is the starting point for all modern European writing. From this, Latin developed and the Romans forced it down the throats, or more correctly, out of the throats of most western civilisations.

Here in Britain, when the Romans got sick of the drizzle and left, we were immediately over run by the Jutes, Angles and Saxons. They brought with them futhorc. Not a sneeze, a simple language based on Old Latin and Greek. 24 runes were used to create the language. This was massaged using the Latin alphabet and Celtic into the beginnings of English.

Modern English started with Caxton’s printing press in 1,476. At the time, the English language had lots of different spellings and dialects, so Caxton thought to hell with this and picked an East Midland/London variety of English and printed that out. That was the beginning of English writing standardisation.

The Future of Writing

Thank you Sumerians of Mesopotamia for starting things off. You created the idea of written language and that changed the world. But it’s not over yet. Languages are continually changing to suit the needs of the population, and they will continue to change, whether we want them to or not, lol.

With thanks to Linda Firth from for this brief look at the history of writing.

With such a remarkable history, spanning so many civilisations, it would seem a shame if the art was lost forever with the rise of computing. So, keep writing alive, with the pen and ink collections that can be found here at Bureau Direct.

the journal shop stand

London Stationery Show 2017

the journal shop stand

The London stationery show has been a staple of the Bureau calendar for many a year now.

It’s situated in the functional Business Design Centre where once a year, stationery geeks gather to share the best and newest in the biz. This event also coincides with National Stationery Week which quite simply celebrates what we all love – stationery 🙂 #natstatweek

It is a trade show so unfortunately not open to the public. So Mishka, Emma and Faisal were tasked with being your eyes and ears 🙂 Here is what they have to report.

business design centre

Our expectations

We all had differing expectations. Mishka now has two Stationery Shows under her belt, Faisal’s second time out and rookie on the block Emma.

Mishka: Half of our team visited on Tuesday, me and Faisal went on Wednesday. This was my 3rd show in a row, so I knew what to expect – lots of amazing stationery! 🙂 I knew time would be tight so I did my homework. Carefully clicking through all the exhibitors (100+), I made a list of stands I wanted to visit and products I wanted to see.

Some things never change – it is the same beautiful venue. This year there were a lot of workshops – I was particularly interested in trying Calligraphy. #writingmatters

Faisal: To be quite frank, I was feeling a little down on going to the London Stationery Show this year. I remembered enjoying my first time out to the show last year but would it be any different this time around? How much could really change over the course of the year? These doubts had begun to brew, possibly unfairly, as I am surrounded by the same old stuff on my desk.

With this mindset, I hadn’t actually planned to go around and explore the show floor too much, thinking there wouldn’t really be much new to see anyway. I settled on killing my time with a safe looking programme of seminars and workshops that would be running throughout the day.

Emma: I only joined Bureau Direct late last year, so this was my first London Stationery Show. I have been to trade shows before, but I have always wanted to go to a stationery trade show! Having heard all about it from the rest of the team, I was really excited to be getting a first look at some new products, meeting with some of my clients, and generally geeking out over lots of lovely pens and paper goods!


National Stationery Show 2017 - hall


london stationery show at the business design centre


National Stationery Show

First Impressions

Emma: I have been to the Business Design Centre in Islington before; its a lovely venue with lots of natural light, and not too big.  I confidently told the rest of the team I would visit the show in the morning, and be back after lunch (needless to say, that didn’t happen. What was I thinking?!). When you first enter the venue, there is a smallish floor space at ground floor level, and then steps behind leading up to a central mezzanine where the bulk of the exhibitors were.  There were also additional exhibitors on the balconies surrounding the hall. Immediately, my eye was drawn to a central New Product Showcase display, with lots of new launches, and from there on in I tried to work my way up and down the aisles is a logical way, without being too distracted!

Mishka: Me and Faisal were in on the Wednesday, as soon as we entered we were met with the display of stationery award winners which were whittled down from the same stand a day earlier. There was a spectacular range of colour this year – lucky cat pencil pot immediately caught my eye. I love everything teal/mint, so I was glad to see #everythingteal

Faisal: Lucky for me then that the Stationery Gods (and Mishka) had other arrangements to my earlier pessimism. Walking through the open doors, you start to feel an extra bounce to your step with your eyes wide and ears pricked. We both took a deep breath and a good whiff of the scent of freshly opened stationery in the air. There’s no turning back once you’ve opened this Pandora’s box. Everything looked fresh and new but I felt right at home, ready to explore!

calligraphy workshop

Calligraphy workshop

Emma: I had wanted to go to the show on the first (Tuesday) morning, because there was a Modern Calligraphy workshop being held by Manuscript pens and Joyce Lee of Artsynibs. Its a tall order trying to teach a mixed ability group in the middle of a trade show, in 30 mins, but Joyce was incredibly patient (and fun!), teaching us to sit in the right position, hold the dip pens the right way, and most importantly, relax, and BREATHE.  We each came away with a couple of practice sheets and the basics with which to start practising; seeing examples of Joyce’s beautiful calligraphy has certainly inspired me.

Faisal: Having only amateurishly attempted calligraphy for a few minutes, a couple of months ago, hastily on some scraps of paper… this was a brilliant chance to get an initial step up to the table.

The one big thing I took away from that day was the posture. To help keep your writing steady you need a solid position for your arm on the table. Achieving this means angling your chair into the desk so your elbow has a good position on the table. I would have never in my life ever conceived this simple step would instantly improve all my strokes!

Mishka: I can proudly announce that by 10:35 our clean fingers were already splattered in ink 🙂 Joyce is an amazing artist and great teacher. Slowing down and being mindful about every stroke is what makes calligraphy almost zen like. I’d love to just sit there and play with flex dip pens all day… We were discussing printing paper templates at the table – you know you are in the good company when gsm comes up 🙂

Bureau’s Best Bits

Mishka: Paper Republic Grand Voyageur – notebook with leather cover. Similar to Traveler’s notebook which is incredibly trendy at the moment. Packaging, colours (green with red), presentation, sizes and functionality. Everything about this product presses all my stationery buttons…

The most fun stationery of the show award goes to the magnetic Polar pen. We probably spent an hour making shapes and launching magnets in the air and we continue to do so even as I write this 🙂 Andrew, the creator of the pen is a true inventor with plenty of ideas up his sleeve. I really hope to see his creations doing well…

I was eager to try out the Pentel Hybrid gel pens which Emma told me about the day before. These gels are rather magical. Believe it or not, but they look differently on white and black paper. Green turns into blue, black into red etc – whaaat?! Amazing! Imagine Emerald of Chivor ink in a gel pen 🙂 I salute you Pentel…Year in and year out you come up with new ideas, really well done!

Paper Republic - Leather!

Paper Republic stand leather covers

POLAR pens - Magnets!

polar pen magnet fun

Emma: Stabilo Boss Pastel Highlighters. They looked so pretty in the display, and gorgeously photogenic. I have a set of four, but now I realise there are actually six in the range. Two more for my shopping list…

The Karlbox. A collaboration between fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld and Faber-Castell, this is the ultimate art set. West Design had a box on display at the show, and I couldn’t help but drool a little over it. Designed like a lacquer jewellery box, each drawer is organised by colour with pencils, markers, pastels and art pens – the entire rainbow. It has a limited production run, and retails at least £2000, but its oh so covetable!

Getting to make my own pen on the Kaweco stand!  I got to choose a cap, grip section, barrel and fit them together. A couple of satisfying ‘clunks’ from their hand-operated machines, hey presto! My very own Kaweco Skyline was born.

Stabilo Boss Pastel

Stabilo Boss Pastel highlighters

The Karlbox

Faber-Castell The KarlBox

Faisal: As a veteran of one previous show so far this was also a must do event for me. Last year we had a whole plastic barrel of fun with the Studio Pen team and had an awesome collage of how we made them. This year me and Mishka wanted to step up our game and bring you a live demonstration! It was all going so well, we got the camera rolling and the machine clunking away.

It’s hard to pick my favourite but I will go out and say I had the most fun with the Polar magnet pen. Even though it will be rarely used to write with, it’s was just an absolute joy to have and play with! Perfect for a quick stress relieving break in the office.

Special mention

Mishka: The best writer of the show goes to Manuscript 1856 pen.
This was on my ‘must see’ list after browsing online the night before. Manuscript hosted the Calligraphy event in the morning so as soon I waved goodbye to Joyce it took all my strength to stick to my planned route instead of running straight to their stand.

Let me tell you…It was love at the first sight. Each pen is turned by hand. The materials look spectacular. They have a choice for everyone, starting with a professional pocket percher in black. I was a bit dismissive of the beige but looking at it closely I saw the subtle elegance of the material, showing up like the calm looking surface of Saturn. The real stars of the show were the pearlescent and swirly type acrylics. Purple and turquoise finishes for the chic and red and orange for the brave.

I ran home with one in my bag, eager to ink it up and boy oh boy… Smooth like butter. Steel nibs can be as smooth as gold and this pen is exactly that. Big win in my book 🙂

Manuscript 1856 fountain pen
Manuscript 1856 fountain pen

In conclusion

Mishka: I’m so glad that I could go to the show – my creative juices and love for stationery have been refuelled 🙂 Big thanks to the organizers, we had a great show!

Emma: The show was everything I expected, and more.  I ended up spending the whole day there, catching up with some of my contacts at Castelli, Moleskine and Caran d’Ache/Faber-Castell, playing with new products, and looking for stationery items that can be branded for our corporate clients.

Faisal: I was happily swayed by the end of the day, the Stationery show was great. These sorts of events just give you a breath of fresh air and sometimes that’s all you need. Actually, I wish I had more time to peruse the stalls. Unlike my colleagues I don’t think I even got around to seeing half of the stands really. Perhaps a bit too much time playing with magnets… 🙂

Faisal, Mishka and Emma

ps: we will see you again next year 🙂

polarpen smiley magnets
Taroko Design

An Interview with Steven from Taroko Design

Taroko Design

I have just finished my A5 Taroko dot notebook when it hit me…I don’t know a lot about the brand or the makers… Quick nosy Google search took me to their Etsy and Facebook page, but that did not satisfy my curiosity. The notebooks are incredibly popular (A5 dot is currently sold out), so I have set myself a mission to explore the brand, notebooks and paper in a 3-part blog 🙂

So we thought we would get Steven to share something of his background and love of stationery. I had a great time chatting and geeking out with him. Enjoy!

Interview with Steven Chang from Taroko Design

Tell me a little about your background.  What was the impulse to start making your own notebooks? We’re a small studio based in Taipei, Taiwan, and our story really started with the purchase of my first fountain pen, a Pilot Kakuno, several years back. With the fountain pen in hand, I was surprised at the difficulty of finding the right paper/notebook products in the market to use the fountain pen with. One thing lead to another (trying lots of different paper+pen combinations) and we’ve managed to secure three types of fountain pen friendly paper to make products with: Tomoegawa 52 and 68 gms, and our own Taroko Orchid paper at 80gsm. The mission is really to provide more choices to fountain pen users where most paper products cater to the rollerball/gel pen usages.

What’s the story behind your studio? After my earlier career in tech (product manager for notebooks and mobile phones), I decided to pursuit an industrial design degree. While taking the degree program, classmate at the time is my current studio partner Wenwen Liu. We decided to group up and start the studio a few months before graduation to keep the learning process going, by taking on projects as a team. Our past projects included graphic and floor plan design for photography exhibitions, souvenirs for tourist centers, and product branding and packaging. The creation of notebooks under the Taroko brand gives us the freedom of implementing our ideas (versus having to adhere to client design guidelines), as well as choosing the type of material that goes into our notebooks.

How did you come up with the brand name? Taroko is named after Taroko Gorge in my hometown of Hualien. Most people would think of Taiwan as an industrialized island packed with 20 million people, but there are still natural wonders on the eastern portion of the island. We will be incorporating elements from Taroko National Park into our notebooks in the future. 🙂 Here are some references on Taroko Gorge/National Park:

What would you be making if not notebooks? Leathercrafts. Love the experience of making things by hand that will age well with usage. An important lesson from design school days is to always make things with your hand, draw with pen and pencils, and suppress the urge to jump right into Photoshop or a 3D rendering program. So we are always cutting and binding paper during our prototyping stage.

What do you attribute the success and/or demand for stationery today to? The product has to deliver a kind of “experience” to the customer, from the weight of the notebook, suprisingly light to unexpected heft. The touch of the materials used, and the subtle feedback of the nib sliding across the paper. It is a difficult balance to hold between achieving that unique experience and manufacturing constraints in delivering products, but I believe that’s what most leading brands are striving to achieve.

What’s your favourite item of stationery in your personal collection? It’s a little folding hand knife I bought in Nishiki market in Tokyo, and I use it to sharpen pencils with. The knife is handcrafted by a Japanese artisan, and when I use it to sharpen pencils, it serves as a reminder of the trip, as well as liberate the aroma from the pencil wood.

And finally – what is your current paper+pen+ink combo? Tomoe River paper 68gsm (of course) with Pilot Justus 95 filled with Sailor Seasons Yama-dori (teal blue). The Pilot Justus 95, with its adjustable nib hardness, is perfect for when I need to write interchangeably between English and Chinese. And the Yama-dori gives a wonderful red sheen on Tomoe River paper.

Thanks to Steven for sparing his time to give this great interview. We wish you and Taroko Design best of luck.

Watch out for Part 2 of Taroko Trilogy – we’ll focus a bit more on their notebooks.

Part 3 will be all about Tomoe River paper. (Hint: it’s amazing!:) )

Taroko Design notebooks are available here.


The Lamy Noto Pen – An Unsung Hero

lamy noto pen by naoto fukasawa

Naoto Fukasawa – The man behind the Lamy Noto pen

At first glance, the Lamy Noto pen is a simple plastic ballpoint – in fact it is the cheapest Lamy pen we sell. But look a little closer, and you will see this pen is definitely more than the sum of its parts.  It was designed by award-winning Japanese industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa, who is known for his stripped-back design aesthetic.

Naoto Fukasawa

Other work

He has designed bathrooms, furniture, lighting, electronics and clothing, and you’ve probably seen some of his work in Muji – he designed their wall-mounted CD player, paper shredder, and more recently a kettle, toaster and rice cooker.  Fukasawa has won over 70 international awards, including the Japan Good design award, IDEA awards, 21 IF design awards, a Red Dot award, and a D&AD award, amongst others . His Muji wall mounted CD player, humidifier for Plus Minus Zero (Fukasawa’s own design brand), and Infobar and Neon mobile phones for Japanese telecoms brand KDDI all have a place in the MOMA permanent design collection.

kettle by naoto fukasawa
Muji Kettle
toaster by naoto fukasawa
Muji Toaster
rice cooker by naoto fukasawa
Muji Rice Cooker

What makes the Noto?

lamy noto pen
The Lamy Noto 283

The Lamy Noto is a pen reduced to the essentials. Its triangular barrel sits comfortably in the hand, and its matte surface offers a non-slip grip. The lapel clip is a clean slice out of the body of the pen, seamlessly blending into the overall silhouette. The Noto is a push-button style ballpoint, but the action is completely silent – no irritating clicking noises with this slick design.  It is available in two styles; the Noto 282 in white and black, as well as in four colours (white, black, navy and anthracite) with a silver coloured grip section (the Noto 283).


branded lamy noto pen
A branded Lamy Noto pen

Its softly triangular shape means it can be branded with your company logo on the body or the clip. Lamy’s commitment to sustainability means all their products are repairable, and refillable. The Lamy Noto pen comes with a medium refill as standard, but takes Lamy M16 giant refills in fine, medium or broad sizes; these are known as ‘giant’ refills because they will write for an astonishing 10,000m!

history of paper part one

The History Of Paper Part I

history of paper part one

From the 1st to the 18th century

The wasps and the bees

The history of paper provides a fascinating insight into the shifts in world power and industrialisation over the past two thousand years. Whilst paper in some form has a lineage which dates back to the 1st century, it may come as a surprise to many, given the role paper occupies in our lives – and despite the forecast of a paperless society – that paper, as we know it today, has been around for less than two hundred years. It may come as even more of a surprise to learn that the two great events that mark this, the original invention and the switch to an abundant raw material and, so, modern industrialised processes, were inspired by observations of wasps and bees. In this, the first of three blogs, we will look at the gradual development from its origin in China through to the great changes in the early-nineteenth century. In subsequent blogs we will then look at the rapid developments during the rest of that century, and finally look at the products you buy today, the people who make them – and what some of the terminology means.

Origins in China

The invention of paper is usually attributed to an official at the court of the Han Dynasty in China, T’sai Lun, in the Christian year 105. However, it is probable from references in ancient scripts to believe that the process T’sai Lun used had been known for a hundred years before but he was the first to refine, systemise and fix a recipe. He developed this from his study of wasps and bees, where he saw that the material they used to build their nests was by a process of maceration, chewing the fibres so that the raw material, plants or cloth, broke down and formed a paper like product. It is this maceration process, breaking down the molecular linkages of the raw material to form new linkages, that set paper aside from all the similar products that had been used, and – despite great changes, both in scale and ingredients – remains as the basis of all paper making today.

wasps nest frogmore paper mill
Wasp Nest, Frogmore Paper Mill, England

Prior to this – and outside of China for many more years yet – the materials used for writing had typically been skins, or from plants or bark pressed and dried or, as in China, bone or bamboo.  Although commonly treated to provide a better surface or as a preservative, the base product involved had not undergone any shift in structure – so, effectively a plant leaf was still a plant leaf.  Two of the most common forms were papyrus, as in Egypt, or amate, as in pre-Columbian central America. So, though paper derives its name from the Greek word papyrus, that is because there is a connection with use, not the product.

T’sai Lun settled on a mix of mulberry leaves, other bast fibres, fish nets, old rags and hemp waste. These were mashed up by hand and then left to ferment, the extent of this being one of the great skills, before being poured, with water, into a sieve which retained the fibres. This was the other great skill – moving the sieve around to get the fibres to form strong patterns and the new molecular linkages whilst the ‘paper’ was still wet. A small amount of paper is still made exactly that same way today. Originally, the Chinese used paper as a wrapping material for delicate objects and medicines and it would be another hundred years before it became used for writing. It went on to be used by them as toilet paper, ‘a curious Chinese tradition’ one Arab traveller remarked, as paper cups and napkins, envelopes and by the 14th century the world’s first paper money. Paper became so highly prized that it was often used, or demanded, as tribute to the emperor.

Paper comes to Europe

As Chinese influence spread west, so Chinese papermaking spread and eventually, when the Chinese suffered a stinging defeat at the battle of Talus in 751, captured Chinese craftsmen took advantage of an old Arab tradition, buying their freedom by passing on the skills to their captors. From then it spread across the Arab lands, and via Morocco, first arrived in Europe in the 11th century. When the Crusaders captured Toledo in 1085, they also took possession of what is often described as the first paper mill, though it was almost certainly still a manufactory, with no continuous water process as in a mill.  For many years, paper making, in what is modern day Spain, remained a monopoly of Muslims, though this was broken when the then king of Aragon established the first water mill, at Xativa in 1282, where water was used to power the pounding of the fibres, though even then Muslims retained the monopoly to make hand-made paper for a while longer.

map of fabriano
Historical map of Fabriano, Italy

"In 1268 the skills of papermaking became truly refined"

Meantime, papermaking had spread across Europe, to Sicily in 1102 and then north to Fabriano, near Bologna, in 1268, and it is here where the skills of papermaking, introduced by Arab prisoners-of-war, became truly refined, with improved maceration, sizing with animal glue, to give a decent writing surface, and the invention of watermarks. It is probable that the idea for sizing came from the tanneries, for which the town was then famous. Despite the growing spread of paper mills across Italy and northwards, particularly to France, the artisans of Fabriano remained famous for their skills and the quality of their product for many years.

At first, paper was still seen as a poor substitute for parchment, made from animal skins and the commonest form of writing material in Europe at the time, but with improving technique and quality and with costs falling dramatically, to about one-sixth the cost of parchment for quality products, paper became used virtually exclusively for writing and, together with the development of the quill pen and suitable inks, spurred the developments of the early retail stationery industry, a subject dealt with in an earlier blog.

Paper becomes widely available

It was not until 1490 that the first paper mill was founded in England, by John Tate at Stevenage but by then paper had begun to transform society in ways that would have seemed unimaginable to T’sai Lun at the Chinese emperor’s court. Without it Gutenberg’s press, invented in about 1440, would only have been just a dream. From this came the ability to make the written word available to anyone with basic education, a greater questioning of the truths, and in time the Enlightenment. With paper freely available, at least to those with some means, it also became possible to put thoughts into writing in ever increasing quantities, whether as tracts to spread ideas or as letters to pass on news of events and convey thoughts and feelings. Without paper, there is no widespread availability of the Bible, crucially in the vernacular and not just Latin, no Chaucer, no Shakespeare; paper is king!

gutenberg press
Gutenberg Press

But the sheet mould way of making paper, despite the refinements in quality and reduction in costs from the 13th century onwards, remained little changed between its invention in China and the late-18th century.  Mechanisation, as we saw in Spain in 1282 and subsequently in Italy, was confined to the processes of maceration, trip hammers to pound the fibres being driven by water being the most notable change, but the actual process of making the paper was still by hand. Once the fibres of the basic materials, such as rags, had been pounded they were allowed to ferment, how far being a matter of skill, then boiled, washed to remove impurities and then beaten to a pulp, dye added if required and, finally, transferred to a vat.  This pulp mixture, usually with between 5% and 10% solids, is then turned into paper through the sheet mould process.

"Making paper remained little changed between its invention in China and the late-18th century"

In this process, a mould consisting of a flat frame holding a screen, made with a sieve-like material, such as an open weave cloth, with a further frame, called a deckle and just like a picture frame, and sitting atop the main frame, is dipped into the vat of wet pulp. The frame is then carefully withdrawn from the mixture and, whilst the deckle contains the water run-off and the water drains through the screen, the frame is carefully tilted to-and-fro to distribute the, by now reconstituted, fibres evenly, creating a layer of entwined fibres held together by natural bonding properties, the maceration process having created those vital new molecular linkages. Once the main body of water has drained away, the still wet material left on the sieve is carefully dried with a sponge, the deckle is removed and then the, by now, paper is transferred to a suitable surface to complete the drying process, often just by exposure to open air.

By the late-18th century, industrialisation was already transforming the world, first with water and then steam power, and in France, despite the turmoil of the Revolution and its aftermath, there were some who were turning their minds to radically developing the centuries old paper making process – but that is a story for our next blog.

* The picture of the wasps’ nest is of the exhibit at the Frogmore Paper Mill Museum, in Apsley, Hertfordshire. This museum is not only a treasure trove of exhibits and information on papermaking but has a working papermaking set-up. Be sure to take the guided tour.

By the way, the paper featured at the top of the blog piece was handmade by Kathy at the Frogmore Musuem using traditional paper-making techniques.

president trump signing executive order with cross pen

All the President’s Pens

president trump signing executive order with cross pen

Donald Trump's Choice

When Donald Trump recently started being photographed signing various Executive Orders, the Bureau Direct office took an obvious interest in the pen he was using. Turns out it was a Cross Century II rollerball which then prompted the question – what pen does the President usually use? And what about other world leaders? Do they choose a pen manufactured in their own country? Are they free gifts? Is it their own pen? Well after a little research, it seems the answers vary quite a bit but for sure, the pen has been present at many interesting occasions, often proving the maxim that the pen is mightier than the sword.

The Treaty of Versailles, which brought an end to the First World War, was signed by Lloyd George, British Prime Minister with a Waterman Ideal fountain pen. A Waterman was also the writing instrument of choice for King Edward VIII in 1936 when he signed his abdication. Neither of these men were presidents though and where presidents and top ranking generals are concerned, the Parker Pen is king.

parker 51 pen
The Parker 51 Pen

Parker Pens - Choice Of Presidents Past

Parker was the original pen of choice for US presidents. An American company (though now the pens are made in France) they pop up at many key moments in history. The Parker 51, considered by many to be the best pen ever made, was present in the hand of General Dwight D Eisenhower, later President Eisenhower, when he signed the treaty that brought about the end of World War II. Actually he had two of the pens and, such was his disregard for the Nazis, he refused to be in the same room as them and had the pens sent in alone to be used.

A Parker 51 was also used by Field Marshal Montgomery when signing the terms of Germany’s surrender. Later still, Parker pens were used on board the USS Missouri to agree the surrender of Japan. The Parker Big Red Duofold was used by General MacArthur though it was his wife’s pen. He had it specially sent for to use for the historic signing. Admiral Nimitz went with tradition and used a Parker 51 for his part in the signing.

parker duofold pen
The Parker Duofold Pen

Parker pens went on to be used to sign arms reduction and peace treaties into the seventies, eighties and nineties. The Camp David accords, signed at the White House with the ubiquitous Parkers, brought about the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty and earned President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin the Nobel Peace Prize. Camp David incidentally, was named after President Eisenhower’s grandson as he felt the previous name -Shangri-La – a little too fancy for his tastes.

Parker’s involvement with peace in the Middle East continued with the Oslo Accords of 1993. Though negotiated with Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s Yasir Arafat, the actual agreements were signed with a Duofold Centennial rollerball at the White House by Bill Clinton, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas. Peres, Rabin and Arafat also went on to gain the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts though Rabin was assassinated the following year for his support.

parker pens used by presidents
Parker Pens - The Choice Of Presidents Down The Years

The Ceremonial Use Of Pens

Pens are also used in a somewhat ceremonial capacity to sign bills in to law by the President. Because of the historical nature of the event, several pens are used and then donated to those who have helped create the bill. This is a White House tradition that dates back many years. Barrack Obama signed the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) with 22 pens and Bill Clinton used 40 pens in 1997 for the Taxpayers Relief Act, all the pens then being passed on as gifts. Astonishingly though Lyndon Johnson was said to have used as many as 75 pens to sign in the Civil Rights Act in 1964, all for one signature! Unsurprisingly perhaps, JFK would write out his name in full, to make the task of using all those pens a little easier. George W Bush however preferred to use just the one pen for signing, hanging on to it and then sharing the unused pens as souvenirs.

Cross pens for the president
Cross pens waiting to be used for signing

Lately though the Parker has been dropped as the go to pen. German manufacturers Montblanc were said to be very unhappy when Bill Clinton not only used a fake Montblanc to sign in a bill, but then gave out other fakes as souvenirs. American brand Cross (mostly made in China these days) has been the presidential pen of choice for a while now which brings us back neatly to Donald Trump. Whether Cross are happy that their pens have gone from signing in Obamacare to the current executive orders is anybody’s guess. No doubt they would say it isn’t about politics. But still, don’t be surprised if there is a change of pen sometime quite soon.

president obama signing pen
President Obama signs an executive order