This renaissance made the UK stationery and drawing materials market worth almost ?430m in 2012 alon

On Valentine’s Day a few years ago my friend Sally received a card. She was pretty sure it was from the man she’d been dating for six months or so but she couldn’t be certain because, she realised, in all that time she’d never actually seen his handwriting.

Their communication had all been technological and, she now reflected, less than romantic on account of that. Instead of a bundle of love letters, she had nothing but an intangible collection of texts on her iPhone and a few (entirely lower case) emails. By sending the Valentine card the bf confirmed how remiss he’d been.

Mind you, Sally wasn’t fairly Virginia Woolf herself. Searching for writing implements at home she found just a stubby pencil that had fallen into her pocket on a tour to Ikea. “The only thing I actually write by palm now is my shopping list,” she lamented. “When I had to write a truly long list at Christmas I practically got RSI from the strain of it.”

Sally resolved to re-engage with the joys of putting pen to paper instead of fingers to keypad. And she’s not alone. It’s a welcome irony of the digital age that as technology advances many seem to be reverting to more old-fashioned methods of communication and record-keeping.

We’re rediscovering the joys of stationery in particular – elementary paper and writing products we can touch and smell and keep.

Shopping for stationery is a relatively guilt-free retail therapy

This renaissance made the UK stationery and drawing materials market worth almost £430m in 2012 alone. It’s why in 2011 John Lewis reported a 177 per cent rise in sales of premium stationery, why business is flourishing at Ryman and Paperchase, why Liberty of London opened a dedicated stationery department with packets of pencils evidently flying off the shelves at £16.95 for six.

It’s also why Smythson has reported annual profits of almost £Two.Five million. Even costing £200 a pop, that adds up to an awful lot of calf leather-bound Portobello diaries they’re selling.

The reason? Perhaps it’s relatively guilt-free retail therapy we get from buying things that are actually useful. Perhaps it’s the primitive sensory pleasure induced by choosing and using beautiful things. Or maybe it’s more the potential that fresh stationery seems to hold – the fresh Moleskine notebook, which promises to inspire the excellent novel within us, the empty box files that we tell ourselves will turn us into an organisational genius, the deckle-edged writing paper that will make our letters read more like poetry.

The power we invest in these creative contraptions can border on the superstitious. “For some reason, I much choose writing with a black pen than a blue one, and in a ideal world I’d always use ‘narrow feint’ writing paper,” says JK Rowling.

And let’s face it, it seems to work for her.

Perhaps it’s also the fact that so much of our private history is evident in our stationery. My father died Ten years ago but I still feel moved when I see his address book – the leather cover, pages packed with his backward-slanting italics and crossings out where friends predeceased him.

My introduction to correspondence was the thank-you letter. These were written on my mum’s watermarked Azure Basildon Bond. This came in A5 pads with a ruled sheet to place underneath each page as a guideline. The spacing of the lines was mercifully broad so it was effortless to cover a duo of pages which, once folded into their matching envelopes, made a satisfyingly thick missive.

My career as a writer continued when I secured a duo of pen friends via the ads in magazines such as Jackie. Both of my pen friends lived within driving distance, but that wasn’t the point. I’d discovered a range of stationery called Hunkydory with paper in a nomable range of suitably 70s colours – tangerine, crème de menthe, banana yellow – so vibrant that its brightness made up for what I wrote.

I reminisce the stationery at school better than most of what I learnt there. The shelves in the art room packed with sugar paper that set one’s teeth on edge and which we cut using the enormous guillotine. The ink station where the ladies who used decent Parker fountain (as opposed to Paper Mate cartridge) pens packed them up with Quink.

Thirty years on I still receive Christmas cards from a particularly classy school friend, who still uses the latter. Her envelopes are instantly recognisable and it’s become a Christmas highlight when “Emma’s card” arrives. Which is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Being tweeted is never going to make us feel like a million dollars.

We’re unlikely ever to flick back through the pages of our online iCalendars and reminisce about years gone by. So maybe it’s time to invest in that personalised writing set. Smythson here I come.

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