Saturday, 26 May 2012

HM Stationery Office Supplies

“The Plan to reform the abuses found to subsist by extravagant charges of stationary [sic] is to Establish an Office under the management of a Comptroller from which every Office and Person entitled to be supplied with stationary is to be served.”
Thus spoke John Mayor of the Treasury, who was instructed in 1783 to find out all he could about “stationary. The government was intent on dispensing with “several useless, expensive and unnecessary Offices” and the extravagant charges made for stationery were among the abuses William Pitt who came to power in 1784 was keen to remove.

John Mayor Plan was to establish a “Stationary Office” (S.O.) which would provide the civil service with office supplies. Until then, stationers had contracts with the different government offices; they bought cheaply from the makers and sold at high price in the safety of their monopoly. Under the new system, the S.O. would buy from the maker and charge the buyer “at prime cost; no arbitrary price to be permitted.”

The S.O. was established in 1786 and started supplying public offices in 1787. Its customers included the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Business grew and in 1812 the Treasury ordered that buying by the S.O. of all stationery would be by open competition, and that preference would be given to the lowest tender. In 1823 it was made obligatory that all public Departments should buy all stationery from the S.O. The list of items S.O. was to provide was as follows:

Binding, Ruling, etc.
Parchment & Vellums
Court Calendars
Court Guides
Wafer Boxes – Tin
Wafer Boxes – Paper
Despatch Boxes
Bramah’s Pens & Holders
Memorandum Books
Black Ink
Seal Engraving
Ink stands – Glass
Copper Plate Printing
Packing Cases
Ink stands – Lead
Ink stands – Ebony
Ink Casks
India Rubber
Leather Bags
Ivory Folders
Army & Navy Lists
Lead pressers
Files – Pasteboard
Pounce & Boxes
Files – Wire
Card Boards
Silk Cord
Pens & Quills
Marking Ink
Japan Ink
Leather Straps
Sand Boxes

Instead of collecting payments from each department it was ruled in 1823 that the S.O. would buy all stationery and printing from an amount of money to be provided to it annually by Parliament. This system replaced the previous one under which the S.O. collected payments from individual departments. The new arrangement rested in place for 156 years.

Source: Hugh Barty-King, Her Majesty's Stationery Office  1786-1986, HMSO 1986.

All S.O. supplies bore the initials of the Stationery Office and a crown. 
See Palimpsest's growing S.O. collection on Flickr.


  1. Don't mean to step on toes, but has anyone noticed Alison Cathcart's paragraph on pens, ink, and HM Stationery Office in "Londoners", by Canadian Craig Taylor?

    I picked up "Londoners" at my local McKinley Memorial Library in Ohio, a nice pile of Greco-Roman architecture built, I think, by a combination of public subscription and Andrew Carnegie's moneys. Jack/USA

  2. Thanks, Jack, for this. I've checked out the book on Amazon, it looks quite interesting, and yes, I've found the reference you've mentioned about the blue-black ink. I didn't know that issuing of "special ink" was still the case. Here's the link from Amazon, if anyone wants to have a look:

  3. As a civil servant, I enjoyed this; thanks Lito.

    If only the current stationery purchased by my Department was as good as some of the HMSO stuff, I'd be delighted.

  4. Thanks, Palimpsest. I hadn't yet read the Amazon UK reviews of "Londoners" when I commented. I haven't forgotten your invitation below to a guest post. I'm trying to think of something that'll fit with Palimpsest, and maybe offer a novel glimpse of America for your UK and Continental readers. Jack/USA

  5. Great Information.. Thank you for sharing....

  6. Does anyone know of a source of SO semi-absorbent paper. It is watermarked with SO and crown. My wife was given some and finds it excellent for art work she's doing that is very paper-sensitive (doesn't work with most modern papers).