I’ve got a pretty good sense that we’re in a bit of a mini golden age for stationery. New ink manufacturers are popping up all the time, from KWZ to Robert Oster, Birmingham to Noodler’s, Akkermans to Blackstone.
In paper, we’re spoiled by dozens of brands of pocket notebooks, following Field Notes and Calepino and Midori, and bigger formats following Moleskine and Leuchtturm and Rhodia — some of them from unexpected places, like Dingbats notebooks from Lebanon. We can import gorgeous Japanese papers like Tomoe River as in the Hobonichi planners, or buy plush writing sets from ancient European brands like Clairefontaine and high-end custom journals from William Hannah.
In pens, there are the German and Japanese classics, of course, like Pilot and Pelikan. But there are Kickstarter brands like Namisu, Karas Kustoms and Tactile Turn, innovative small manufacturers like Edison and Franklin Christoph, Kanilea, Desiderata and Fisher of Pens, Indian makers like ASA, and a constant stream of new releases by Lamy, Kaweco, TWSBI and more established brands that I’d never heard of, like Diplomat and Cleo Skribent.
And then there’s the rest of the stationery world — little brass paper clips, patterned pencil cases, Palomino Blackwing pencils and high-end sharpeners, washi tape and desk organisers… and even books full of photos of such stuff. Stationery has been subsumed into homewares as a kind of proxy for our identities, a hobby in and of itself instead of a tool for work, schoolwork and communication. It’s even available on subscription, like through Boxcitement or Spotlight Stationery.
And hell, I love it.
But where do we get all this stuff?
It’s not the high street. Sure, if I was in to gel pens and the like I could go to Tiger, or Smiggle, or Paperchase and a couple of other pop-culture, kid-centric stores. If I wanted a Cross, a Parker or a Lamy I could go to WH Smith or John Lewis (and that’s not to do those stores down — I got a killer deal on my Lamy 2000 from WH Smith). Some of the jewelers stock Mont Blanc and other high-end pens that are more about prestige than writing.
But my town has no “proper” stationery shop.
Good thing I have the internet, then.
So here’s my guide to my favourite web stationery shops.
OK, it’s a minefield of upcycled tat, but also a good place for handmade kit. I’ve bought a left-handed oblique nib holder in rosewood, a number of Tomoe River pocket notepads, various fabric pen sleeves, and my treasured tweed Hobonichi cover. Just be careful to choose UK shops if you want to avoid a shipping hit.
J-Subculture and various Amazon and eBay marketplace sellers offer Japanese stationery for half the price of UK sellers. I’ve bought Iroshizuku and Sailor ink for £12 that would have cost me £28 in the UK. I’ve bought Pilot pens for £100 that would have cost me £190 in the UK. Sure, it’s slow, and there’s the risk of customs charges — but sometimes that’s worth bearing for the amount of money you’ll save. And I just love the shipping labels with exotic Japanese cities, the Japanese newspaper wrapping, the Japlish covering letter, the origami swan and the sachet of green tea you get. It makes the whole experience much more special. Sorry UK sellers.
Pro-tip: watch out for alternative spellings. For example, the Pilot Elabo is — no kidding — sometimes listed as “Erabo”.
I’ve been a customer of Anna and Martin Roberts for more than 10 years. It’s a UK stockist of Edison (and separate nib units!), useful products like filling kits and micromesh, Aurora ink, R&K ink, and all the usual brands, at pretty reasonable prices and with very good service. And they do ink samples!
Bureau Direct has a great newsletter. Other pen shops: watch and learn. It stocks a load of unusual, even exclusive brands, like KWZ Inks and Coccoina glue — both of which I highly recommend. It definitely strays into the lifestyle end of stationery, stocking Fjallraven and Nava bags, and Loqi shopping bags. Service has been uniformly brilliant so far, over many orders.
I’ve ordered from Pure Pens only a couple of times. Standout stock items are the Noodlers range of inks and pens, as well as pretty much all the major brands, and as of very recently, KWZ inks too. It’s a good stockist of the Japanese big three.
I’ve ordered from Cult Pens more times than I can count since 2012. It’s got huge stock of all the brands you’d expect, including lots of art supplies, colouring books and the like — not just fountain pen stuff. There are a couple of unusual brands, including Karas Kustoms, Nock, Tomoe River paper, Diplomat and Cleo Skribent.
And now we’re on to some of the niche, more fashion-stationery stores. These are lovely places to browse — although on a daily basis there might not be so many purchases to make…
Just look at the planners, the books, the cases. Oh the style.
Blackwing pencils. Calepino notebooks. Midori. Hobonichi. Hundreds of glorious niche brands I’ve never heard of.
Coccoina glue. Brass scissors. Feather pens. Mini blackboards. The stationery office collection is a bit smaller, next to the rest of the homeware, but still some cute items.
And here’s some different stuff. Retro stationery — genuinely retro. Tins and sharpeners and paperclips. Dymo label writers. Posters and architecture books.