Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Stationery Store Series: Smythson of Bond Street, London

Dare you enter? It feels like overstepping some invisible but ever-present class barrier of the old Empire – like soiling the rarefied air of an elite residence, depositing an undignified fingerprint on gilt-edged paper or on a handmade sterling silver fountain pen. Smythson, “the world’s foremost purveyor of luxury stationery,” at the heart of London’s Bond Street, sells excessive luxury and the allure of heritage to those who do not need courage to spend £165 on a “Brunches, Lunches, Suppers and Dinners Hardbound Book”  or £275 on a “Game Book”.

Far from me of course to prevent these moneyed persons from recording “formal or informal parties”, table plans, guests, menu and wines in hardbound books made of pigskin. I am ignorant of such matters and the categories “Place”, “Guns” and “Bag” in the brown Mara leather Game Book mystifies me. Fox hunting springs to mind, for instance, but perhaps I am wrong. There is of course the “Dreams and Thoughts” notebook for an astounding £240, for those with time to dream and think in the precious moments left over after brunches and hunts.

If Smythson brand was not enough distinction, there is the personalised service for an additional fee. Hallmarked sterling silver, handmade in England, pencil, Sir? £285 not rising to the occasion? What about our sterling silver fountain pen for £510 plus £50 to engrave it? Smythson ink retails at £16 a bottle. Apparently the likes of Queen Victoria, Grace Kelly, Katharine Hepburn, Edward and Mrs Simpson and Madonna have all bought diaries and address books from the venerable stationery shop. Samantha Cameron, wife of current PM, is the creative director. Enough said.

When I was in Bond Street last with the intention to step over the invisible barrier and review this “old English institution that a politician’s wife had revitalised,” Smythson had just closed for the day. Mahogany-dark bookcases half empty (for fear of book thieves?) glimmered darkly contrasting with the vanilla white Corinthian columns and imposing arches. A security guard emerged to monitor my photo taking of the exterior and once satisfied of my innocent intentions withdrew to Smythsons’ illuminated depths.  

Institutions such as these are useful to the historian who subscribes to the concept of historical empathy. Their existence can explain the causes of history’s great revolutions.

See also “An unauthorised history of Smythson’s” by The Guardian’s Ian Jack, 27 March 2010. Smythson trades also online.


  1. Excellent piece! I have had similar feelings and thoughts entering other venerable hallowed halls of commerce mostly reserved for those "who do not need courage to spend £165 on a “Brunches, Lunches, Suppers and Dinners Hardbound Book”, i.e. Cartier, Tiffany, etc. I loved the biting satire here. Thanks for a laugh to start off the day!

  2. what a marvelous comment, Lito!
    I appreciate your style (and topic) very much - this is my favourite line here:
    "...for those with time to dream and think in the precious moments left over after brunches and hunts." - well said!

  3. Thanks Erin and Blandine. In my view, the luxury sold is such places has a specific quality to it: it is construed to look unattainable and forbidding. Other luxury brands project more "inclusive" images.

  4. You know, my Game Book is nearly full and I was wondering where on Earth I was going to get a replacement, so thanks for the tip!

    (Yeah, right.)

  5. Happy to be of service, Sir. Perhaps the mock crocodile Mara calfskin "Shooting Records" this time? With categories such as grouse, pheasant, partridges, duck and hare and watermarked white wove paper it is bound to meet Sir's requirements.