In 1887, when Frank Smythson opened his first store on London’s posh New Bond Street, he had dreams to transform the humble stationery business a into luxury one. It didn’t take him long to scale extraordinary heights.
By the 1890s, Smythson, the brand he founded (also referred to as Smythson of Bond Street), was making stationery fit for Queen Victoria, soon to acquire an august line of clientele from the Who’s Who of the intellectual and entertainment worlds—Sigmund Freud, Madonna, Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Vivien Leigh, you name it. More recently, Smythson had Samantha Cameron (wife of the former UK prime minister) as its creative director, who brought in a certain oomph to its products, which, since the 1900s, have included handbags and other lifestyle accessories, and frequently featured at the London Fashion Week, among other premier luxury events. (Most of Smythson’s leather products are manufactured in Italy now.)
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Owning a Smythson good, as the brand’s message puts it, is like having a “secret social passport”. To think of it another way—carrying around a Smythson product in circles that would know its value is tantamount to tooting your wealth with a megaphone, though the actual products are understated and classily stylish. A typical Smythson notebook costs between ₹4,000 and ₹27,000 (add postage to that if you are shipping it to India). For lesser mortals who may be tempted to get a Smythson notebook out of curiosity, these price points could be a deterrent to unboxing the thing and actually writing in it. Better to leave it lying on your living room table as sign of your social status, eh?
Jokes apart, the uniqueness of Smythson notebooks, at least in the days of yore, was their “featherweight paper”, introduced in 1916 (every page of a Smythson notebook still bears a watermark to ward off counterfeiters). True to its name, this paper is incredibly light, but also has enough heft to hold fountain pen ink. So, each notebook can take several hundred leaves, without being bulky or becoming too cumbersome to carry around.
Another distinguishing feature of Smythson notebooks is the floppy leather binding, which makes them flexible, pliable and hardy at the same time. There’s plenty more to admire and covet as you scroll through the Smythson website—their latest line in blue, for instance, is a thing of electric beauty. A good place to start your journey with the brand, if you are a stationery addict willing to push your wallet that extra mile, would be their classic notebooks, especially the ones in the Portobello series.
Fine Writing is a monthly column that looks at luxury writing instruments and stationery.
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