My time consulting for and working at The Paper Seahorse in Tampa has been an education in the best tools for writing and communicating non-digitally.
By that I mean exquisite pens, tactile papers, and other accessories unrelated to a device.
All pens are not created equally, and the same principles that excite minds about artisanal coffee or the most fabulous cashmere sweater apply to beautiful writing instruments and related accoutrements.
The Paper Seahorse stocks pencils from Blackwing (dreamt in California, made in Japan) and ballpoint pens from Midori, Delfonics, and Sierra. However, its selection of fountain pens from across the world is most impressive: J. Herbin from France, Faber-Castell, Lamy, and Kaweco from Germany, Midori from Japan, and Tools to Liveby from Taiwan.
My favorite so far has been the Kaweco AL Sport aluminum fountain pen in red. It’s vibrant, has a subtle brushed finish, and is weighty in the hand. And, its retro style is different than the archetypal fountain pen. Plus, German precision and engineering never disappoints.
At $91, it’s far more affordable than fountain pens more well-known brands.
The Lose-able Ballpoint Pen
I realize many people are fearful of investing in quality small things, since they are easier to lose track of (e.g. sunglasses, jewelry, pens). Thus, I propose, the beautiful Japanese ballpoint pen that isn’t a travesty to leave at the coffee shop.
Delfonics makes beautiful needle-tip ballpoint pens out of aromatic cedar wood. The $9 mini version comes in a natural finish, or covered in gloss black or silver lacquer, and clips easily onto your shirt, a pen pocket, or notebook edge.
Apparently, Palomino Blackwing pencils are quite the cult item. They are conceptualized in California, made in Japan, and are regularly released in limited editions, inspired by themes like raconteur Guy Clark, Lake Tahoe, The Exquisite Corpse movement, or early computer programmer Ada Lovelace.
The Paper Seahorse considers these pencils a core item, something we have had since the beginning and will have in perpetuity. The volumes sell out rapidly after they’re released, though the standard variations are always in stock: soft graphite (original), firm graphite (gray), or balanced graphite (pearlescent white).
I only use my Blackwings for writing in my calendar, since things change and the ability to erase is handy. And as the small eraser atop each pencil is on the soft side (wears down quickly), Blackwing also sells replacement erasers (10 for $3).
While Tomoe River, Clairefontaine, Life, and MD Paper are lovely, I fell in love with the G. Lalo Vergé de France paper pads and envelopes.
Together, they’re striking. Look beyond the sassy colors, though, and you’ll see they’re also meticulously treated and assembled. The paper is gently textured with horizontal lines, to help in more precise handwriting. The envelopes are lined in tissue on both sides, and have a self-sealing strip of glue, so no need to lick.
For more standard, everyday correspondence, a more subdued color combination may be better, but I loved the vibrancy of this candy combo.
Cherishing a vessel for my thoughts is nothing new (hey, this blog is nearly 10 years old!), but it’s rare to come across a notebook with paper and a cover that is just so elegant.
MD Paper is Japanese, made by Midori, which has a long history of designing elegant desk and life accessories, perhaps most notably the Traveler’s Journal, now spun off into its own brand (Traveler’s Company).
The MD Paper A6 notebook (grid or blank) is constructed of light cream paper, and folds completely open (180°) thanks to a unique binding technique. To it, I add the A6 goatskin cover, made of undyed leather with a grain pattern that is specific to the goat’s hide.
One doesn’t see untreated leather everyday, which will age gracefully with the marks and evolving patina from daily use, hand oils, etc.
Having something convenient at hand to jot notes, thoughts, or lists is invaluable when you’re on the go. I will never be caught tapping notes into my iPhone notes app, it’s just not the same as scribbling it with your favorite pen in a well-loved notebook.
The Memo Pad
We received these spiral-bound memo pads recently and I love them. They’re made of recycled leather from Spain, but born in the Japanese tradition of subtle details and affordable luxuries.
The World Meister’s Note Grain pads come in two sizes (B6 landscape or smaller, portrait), each with an equal number of white lined pages and unlined cream pages. Each also comes in black or brown. For $13.50 or $8 respectively, they’re a reasonable investment for something that is elegant for everyday use.
Of course, I also like that the leather cover is recycled leather. Way cooler than a Moleskine or Field Notes memo pad, IMHO.
Frankly I don’t know how often I will ever need to use a glue stick, but even as a prop, it is fun to look at the vintage Italian packaging. Coccoina is a respected glue brand, known best for its scent of mandorle, a.k.a. almonds.
Smells like marzipan, one of my mom’s favorite confections.
The Vintage Collectible
And just because it’s neat, if not practical, I wanted to mention this vintage U.S. Mail postal satchel, made by the Bona Allen tannery company in Buford, Georgia. Circa 1956.
It’s massive and made of thick calfskin. Weighs like ten pounds. The semi-circular logo on the flap is pretty rad too. A piece of American history from a time when postal work was noble (and stylish)!
Across months, I’ve encountered many customers at The Paper Seahorse, from near or far, who are super thrilled by the product selection and curation. It’s surprising that in bigger, more metropolitan cities (like Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Kansas City), similar types of shops, dedicated to the best tools for writing and corresponding, don’t exist.
We actually ship a ton of product to the Northeast, California, and Texas, including vintage typewriters.
I could go into great detail about the unfortunate decline of analog communication, like that kids aren’t taught cursive handwriting anymore, and how taking notes by hand actually improves retention. BUT, I won’t.
In the meantime, you can drool over some of the neat products out there that complete a desk.