A love affair with stationery

A love affair with stationery

Humanity has had an abiding love affair not just with representation but with the technologies that help produce representation of different kinds. People have been variously entranced by rock art, outlines of creatures carved into the landscape, inscriptions on steles, on monuments and memorials, also slates, paper, pencils, dip pens, fountain pens, biros, mobile phones with text capabilities and so on and so on. For some of us, stationery is the thing, the pinnacle, what is to be most cherished among these. Some of us, indeed, hold these things dearer than precious jewels! Post-it notes, hand-made writing paper, hardback notebooks, lead pencils, propelling pencils, all these things make the heart beat faster.

In this context, a recent contribution to the brilliant BBC radio series called ‘50 things that made the modern economy‘ caught attention. It explores the pencil, often omitted from such lists because so taken for granted. For those of us who are archive workers, not so, for the pencil is usually legislated as the only writing implement permitted in these sacred places apart from computers and word processing. The marks of pencils are delible rather than indelible, for they mark but do not deface permanently. The screenshot here shows the earliest known pencil, discovered in a timber-framed house in Britain and dating probably from the 1630s.

And at this point let’s celebrate the equally humble rubber, even more taken for granted, and also those substances used earlier to remove the mark of the pencil. Hooray for the pencil and rubber, the French-squared notebook, and the pleasures of scribbling.

Last updated:  25 July 2019