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We know stationery. It’s been our business since 1893 after all! Over the years, we’ve discovered there are masses of curiosities that make something as everyday as stationery really interesting. From stumbled-upon inventions to primeval cave paintings, the origins of stationery are miles from being mundane.
And more than that, stationery is essential. How would you manage if you never had a piece of paper handy? What if ink were never invented? Do you think you could’ve gotten through school if the pen hadn’t been invented?
Since there are few who know more about stationery than us, we’ve put together this Dictionary of Stationery. It’s packed full of little known facts and curious articles of stationery, to keep us all enchanted by the un-sung hero we know so well.
Flick through, share it with your friends and download a copy for yourself.
Just like the tool that a blacksmith would use to forge metals, the humble stapler also has an anvil. On a stapler, it is the metal plate on which the staple is struck and crimped into shape.
Adopted as part of an international standard of paper sizes in the 1970s, A4 is the most commonly used paper size around the world. It measures at 210mm x 297 mm, and is part of the A-series of paper sizes.
A type of ink that has the special property of drying quickly, making it a popular choice in industrial-scale printing. The oil based ink is used widely for printing on plastics, particularly with food packaging.
Founded in 1945 by Marcel Bich, the Bic Cristal became the best selling pen worldwide, selling over 100 billion. The MoMA in New York holds one in their permanent collection as an example of classic industrial design.
A type of pen with a metal ball in the writing tip, which uses viscous, oil-based ink, held within the pen’s barrel. First created and patented by John Loud in 1888, it was then developed by László Bíró from the 1930s.
Also called a Vent Hole, a breather hole is the small hole present on the nib of a fountain pen. It allows air to flow into the pen and reduces the tension caused by the pressure applied during writing.
A fastener that is inserted into hole-punched holes, usually along the margin of a piece of paper, to hold several sheets together. Available with a range of adornments, they are also popular in arts and crafts.
The circular disc of paper produced by a hole punch. In the 2000 US elections, ‘Hanging chads’, where the hole was not fully punched in voting cards, meant that some votes were incorrectly counted, possibly influencing the result.
A thin sheet of paper covered in carbon, used to produce duplicates of written documents. Placed between two sheets of paper, when the top sheet is written on, the carbon leaves an identical mark on the bottom sheet.
The section of exposed wood at the top of a pencil between the lacquered shaft and the graphite tip. The taxonomy of collars identifies such types as the ‘throat’, the ‘creeping collar’ and the ‘headless horseman’.
A type of pencil with a wax core, which allows you to write on glossy surfaces such as glass, ceramics and plastic. Sometimes referred to as ‘grease pencils’, they are often used by photographers for marking up contact sheets.
A key element in the process of making paper, a deckle can be found within a papermaking machine. It comes in the shape of a wooden frame, and its role is to control the size of the sheets of paper produced.
A metal nibbed pen that’s used by dipping the tip into a pot of ink. This style of pen was mainly used in the early to mid 19th Century, and fell out of popularity once the fountain pen was invented.
Earning its name from its original use, the drawing pin was initially used by draughtsmen to hold down their drawings. It is a metal pin usually made of brass, with a flat or domed head.
A piece of rubber used to remove pencil marks from paper. Before rubber became the accepted medium for the purpose, artists, and regular pencil users, would use chunks of stale bread to erase pencil marks.
A loop of elastic used to hold items together. The largest rubber band ball in the world was made by Joel Waul using 700,000 elastic bands. It is more than 8ft (2.4m) tall and weighs 9,032lb (4,097kg).
A special type of ink used during elections in many countries. The ink is usually applied to the forefinger of voters as a way to mark those who’ve voted, preventing instances of electoral fraud like double voting.
The small metal band that holds the eraser at the end of a pencil to the pencil’s shaft. Ferrules can be found on many stationery articles, such as pens and paint brushes, used to attach materials to the object’s shaft.
A size of writing paper that was once widely used in the UK, before A4 became the standard. It earned its name as paper of this size during the 18th Century bore the watermark of a jester, or a fool’s, cap on it.
Invented by Engle Frankmussler in 1884, the machine was designed to allow its users to pay for postage via Royal Mail, without the need for stamps. The first machine ever made had the literal name “Postage Stamp Affixing Machine”.
The material used to create the core of a pencil, often mistakenly referred to as “lead”. The core is made from a mixture of graphite and clay, allowing for varying hardness. The HB is the most common ‘hard’ pencil in the UK.
Taking its name from the notorious French method of execution, the paper guillotine is much less terrifying than its namesake. Guillotines are used to cut multiple sheets of paper at once with a perfectly straight edge.
The original and most popular design of paper clips, the classic, favoured design features a distinctive double loop. The design was never patented and still suffers dispute over whether the country of origin was Britain or USA.
A type of pen with a felt tip and flourescent ink, designed to highlight text without obscuring the words. First introduced in 1963 by Carter’s Ink Company, they were fist referred to and trademarked as the ‘Hi-Liter’.
Origami base folds are the starting points or foundations, from which you create more complex models in origami. The Helmet Base is one of these, and is the foundation for many hat constructions, such as helmets and party hats.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘hairs of life’, this is the tip and finest point of a calligraphy brush. The name comes from Japan where calligraphy has formed a predominant part of art and culture for centuries.
Indian Ink is commonly used for comic strips, but has been used in ancient civilisations like China and Egypt for centuries. It is a black ink traditionally made by mixing soot or ash with water, and a binding agent.
This stands for International Standards Organisation. The 216 refers to the ‘A’ and ‘B’ ranges of paper sizes, including A4. Most countries around the world adhere to this standard, chiefly excluding the USA and Canada.
The part on a pen cap that fastens the clip to the rest of the lid. The clip is held to the cap by a type of screw, while the jewel fits into the screw opening, hiding the hole and giving the cap a finished appearance.
Credited with bringing printing to Europe, Johannes Gutenberg was a German publisher who invented the printing press in the 15th Century. He is hailed for bringing literacy to the masses, at a time when only the rich had access to books.
A component of a traditional typewriter, concealed by the outer frame. It is responsible for returning keys back to their starting position after they have been pressed, which allows for smooth, unhalted typing.
A type of durable, tear-resistant paper, named after the German word for ‘strong’. Kraft paper is often used for packaging, and is produced from wood pulp by removing the elements that make standard writing paper much weaker.
The ruler found within a printer. These rulers have demarcations that you would not find on standard rulers, such as picas and agates, which denote ‘points’, or parts of an inch, as typographic units of measurement.
In Lascaux, near the town Montignac, evidence of the earliest use of glue was discovered. Neanderthals made cave paintings using paint mixed with glue, to help the paint withstand the moisture of the cave walls.
A small deciduous tree, which formed the chief component of the first piece of paper ever made, by a Chinese official named Ts’ai Lun in about AD 105. He also combined other fibrous material, old rags and hemp waste.
The type of adhesive used on Post-its, and similar adhesive notes. Having particles with a small surface area is the special property of microsphere adhesives, allowing them to stick lightly to many hard surfaces.
The name applied to all lowercase letters as opposed to uppercase or ‘majuscule’ letters. Not all languages place any distinction on these two types of letters, though languages based on Latin and Greek tend to.
The business end of a pen, which comes into contact with the paper or writing surface, to accurately distribute the ink. Depending on the type of pen, nibs are generally pointed with a small surface area.
The previous name of the brand now known as Filofax. The company, founded in 1921, decided to change its name in the 1980s, in favour of the name of their massively popular, hero product - the Filofax.
Before clay, wax or paper were adopted as our primary writing mediums, humans used stone, as still evidenced in Egyptian obelisks. These are tall pillars of stone, dating as far back as 2465 BCE, featuring hieroglyphics.
The art of forming objects strictly by folding single pieces of paper. The Japanese art form has never been traced to its precise beginnings, but the first known written document on the art form was produced in 1797.
A stamp collector, or individual who studies and is keenly interested in stamps and related postal items. This can be taken up as a hobby, or as a means of building long term investments, as stamps can become valuable over time.
Commonly mistaken as the first paper produced, papyrus differs greatly from paper in how it is made. Papyrus is derived from the pith of the cyperus papyrus plant, and is then treated. Paper, however, is wholly manufactured.
A key element within a printing press, the platen is a flat plate, which presses the clean paper onto the parallel plate featuring the inked message, transferring the copy onto the paper. This later evolved to a cylindrical roller.
The primary writing instrument used before the invention of pens, such as the first dip pen and later fountain pens. Quills are made from primary-flight feathers from birds, shed naturally during their annual malt.
Developed by the Parker Pen Company, quink is the name given to a type of ink that was exceptionally fast drying. The name was made by combining the words ‘quick’ and ‘ink’, and was initially sold in jars.
A type of paper pad which features a continuous square grid pattern across the entire sheet, as opposed to lined paper or plain paper. This type of ruled paper is commonly used during the practice of mathematics.
Often confused with a ballpoint pen, the key defining qualities of a rollerball are that they use liquid ink, as opposed to oil-based inks. As such, rollerballs tend to write with a more fluid, fine line.
A style of handwriting developed by English writing masters during the 18th Century. It is typified by its rounded, sweeping curves, and the contrast between thin and thick lines. The style was created using metal pointed nibs.
Often confused with ‘stationary’ (which is the state of non-movement), stationery is the umbrella term applied to writing materials and related articles. The term can also be extended to cover arts and crafts items, plus office supplies
Sometimes referred to as a ‘silencer’, the stopper on a pair of scissors is usually found on the handle, helping the blades to align correctly when closed. It also acts as a buffer when the finger rings meet.
The process of coating paper or canvas materials with a gelatinous substance to reduce its absorbency, and to make it more robust. This occurs when producing writing paper, and when preparing canvas for painting.
Always present in pairs, two tines make up the narrowest part of the tip of a fountain or calligraphy pen. Tines are divided by a ‘split’ – the slit separating the two parts, allowing for greater resistance to pressure.
A type of ink that exists as a powder made of pigment and a type of plastic, which is used in laser printers and photocopiers. Via an electrical charge, toner will ‘melt’ and adhere to paper. Often confused as an ink.
The name given to the open cavity present within an envelope, between the top fold and the back face. It’s within this cavity that the contents of the envelope are placed and covered with the top fold, then sealed.
First developed in 1932 by a German chemist named August Fischer, UHU is both the name of a type of glue, as well as the company that manufactures it. It was named after a type of owl, and is actually pronounced ‘uw-who’
One of the ways a left-handed person will write using paper and pen. This technique allows the writer to avoid smudging freshly laid ink by positioning their hand under the text that is being written.
A small picture or decorative design often featured on stamps, title pages in books and other publications, or at the start or end of a chapter. These originally featured designs with vine tendrils, present on borders of books.
A type of fine parchment that was used widely throughout the 6th Century AD . It’s referred to as a delicate type of parchment as it was originally made from the skin of a calf, kid (a young goat) or lamb.
The process by which raw rubber, as was used for the first rubbers / erasers, was cured to make them more durable and non-perishable. This became the standard practice for manufacturing rubbers from 1839.
A type of offset printing, or mass production printing, where paper is fed into the machine as a continuous roll of paper as opposed to separate sheets. It’s used in high-volume printing, as with newspapers and magazines.
Noted as the inventor of the capillary dispenser in fountain pens. This new mechanism made fountain pens much more practical to use, as they removed the need for ink dipping, which often resulted in spills and blotches.
The measurement that defines the height of lowercase letters in a typeface. As demonstrated by the lowercase letter ‘x’, it is the halfway line between the ‘baseline’ - the line that all letters sit on, and the ‘cap height’..
Founded in New York in 1906, Xerox is an international company that is best known for their widely used photocopying machines and printers. Engineers at Xerox are accredited with inventing the computer mouse.
The innovative pen created by US based Waterman Pen Company in 1954. It was made in direct response to the Parker 61 – a revolutionary self-filling pen. Waterman’s pen improved on the Parker by simplifying the filling process.
A form of bookbinding using leather to cover a book, with edges that project further than the book’s sheets. This protects the paper from damage. The technique was named after William Yapp, who first made use of the style..
Similar to the colour ‘mustard’, Yellowstone is a unique and distinctive colour that was notably used with the Parker ‘51’ Vacumatic Filling pens with Blue Diamond clip. Made in the 1940’s, these classic pens are collectables.
The accepted standard system that outlines and describes the folds of origami models, via a series of clear and easy to understand diagrams. Devised by Yoshizawa and added to by Randlett, it endures as the accepted system today.
Known simply as Zebra Pen, the company was founded in New York, with headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. In 1897, the company’s founder Tokumatsu Ishikawa, manufactured and sold the very first domestically produced metal nibs.
Similar to smalt, zaffre is a mixture made by combining cobalt oxide and silica to form a blue pigment. This blue pigment has been historically used by painters, especially in Europe, as well as in pottery and ceramic decoration.
A type of magazine that is self-published and distributed, to a limited circulation of no more than 1,000. Zines can be handwritten and manually photocopied and stapled together. They usually feature content on a niche topic.