The cover of a 1930s stationery sample-book.

My odd enthusiasm for old stationery has bled its way into my library, with the acquisition of a number of paper sample-books. One of the best is this collection of Writings (i.e. writing paper samples) issued in March 1936 by Lepard & Smiths Ltd., apparently one of the longest established paper-merchants in London. The book’s cover is in rather shabby condition, but the contents have aged much more gracefully. On the first page is the boast that “we believe this to be the best and most complete Sample Book of Writings issued by any house” and the claim that “fully 95% of the papers shewn are of British make.”

The introductory first page in a 1930s stationery sample-book.

To the contemporary letter-writer, who might do well nowadays to find even a few different types of writings in all but the most specialised retail outlets, the bewildering choice available to their forebears is much to be envied. Among the options offered by Lepard & Smiths, one curiosity is their Kalatex paper, made, as its name implies, with the addition of latex rubber to the esparto-based pulp. Of this paper, they claim that “the surface grips the ink, as there is not the slightest trace of greasiness”, and indeed its surface does have a ‘grippy’ feel about it - though I’ve not tried writing on the stuff.

Though the bulk of the papers in the book are of a plain ‘cream’ off-white colour, there are also some given in a range of shades, with, for example, their “Eleven” series of papers: available in Lilac, Yellow, Blue, Daffodil, Pink, Green, Buff, Salmon, Deep Blue, Moss, Cerise, Silver Grey and Old Gold. This paper is one of only a very few in the book which has suffered any significant deterioration over the last eighty-seven years, a testament to the fine quality of Lepard & Smiths' products.