Next month, graphic designer and engraving expert extraordinaire Nancy Sharon Collins will publish The Complete Engraver, an informative and elegant homage to the classic art. Seeing as how said classic art and our paper go together like Fred and Ginger, we thought Collins a perfect addition to our Post Script Q&A series. Here, the former New Yorker (and current Louisianan) shares stories of her parents’ notes, a New Orleans estate filled with paper and a small stack of treasured love letters.
When did your interest in social stationery engraving begin?
1976 during graduate school at the Hartford Art School. I was introduced to Lehman Brothers in New Haven and I fell in love with commercial engraving: going on press knocks my socks off; I love the smell of ink and paper and the sound of small presses (metal against metal, fly wheels, iron and steel.)
What inspired you to write this book?
My inspiration for writing this book was my love for social stationery engraving and realizing, over the years, that almost no one younger than me really knows about it anymore, even though it shares much of the same history as letterpress.
Why do you enjoy writing about letters and/or correspondence?
I enjoy writing about letter writing and correspondence for several reasons:
- I am a graphic designer by trade and most of graphic design is visual communication. Personal letters are just mini-bits of graphic design, so they’re fun and compelling subjects to compare to the principles of good graphic design and typographic practice.
- Growing up I had great difficulty learning to write — a current elementary teacher cousin of mine wonders if maybe I had dysgraphia; as a child I reverted to pictograms in my letters rather than suffering through trying to compose words and phrases. Overcoming and learning to write pretty much everything has grown to be a major fascination of mine.
- I love the technology of handwriting and paper. There’s a fantastic book, Hamlett’s Blackberry, by William Powell, in which he talks about the technology of paper.
- Both my mom and dad were big time note and letter writers. Not long letters, just enough correspondence to convey whatever message was on their mind. Up until the time they could no longer manage a pen or see well enough to compose a letter, they both dispatched personal correspondence every evening before starting dinner. I fondly remember this discipline and like to share the gifts that are letter writing and receiving letters.
What is your favorite step in the process of written correspondence?
The interaction of my writing instrument against the surface of the paper. I would say 60 or 70 percent of the card stock and letter papers I specify for clients is Crane’s Kid Finish. Currently my own correspondence cards are on Lettra. I enjoy the Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens for when I travel. At home I use a Namiki fountain pen.
If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
Edith Rosenwald Stern (1895-1980), wife of Edgar Bloom Stern and daughter of Julius Rosenwald, who became chief executive of Sears, Roebuck and Company. She was an outspoken supporter of civil rights and an intrepid promoter of pretty much anything in which she believed, helping to build many cultural institutions in her adopted home of New Orleans.
Both Edgar and Edith were inveterate letter writers. The extant archives in their gorgeous country-like estate, Longue Vue, hold boxes filled with their written correspondence. Many of the sitting and private rooms have padded stacks of parchment and onion skin paper on which to take copious notes and jot down thoughts. Edith appears to have been a very proper lady but in all endeavors, she forged her own way.
To whom do you most often write?
Friends and acquaintances, I write loads of thank you notes.
Describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received.
I have a small, lovely stack of letters tied with a red ribbon, on Crane & Co., hand-written from my late husband who courted me long distance before moving to New York for me. The small letter sheets are pale gray, laid finish air mail paper that is no longer made.
What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
The originality, thoughtfulness or sincerity of the message. Though I love fine papers and writing instruments — good ink, really — an earnest note, sensitively worded, is the most heart stopping, welcome and memorable.
Do you have a favorite stamp or stamp series?
At the moment, the “Forever” stamp with the Statue of Liberty’s face (though I am less fond of the American Flag that comes on the roll with it.) I also like the Purple Heart stamp when I can find it.
What makes your correspondence distinct?
My messy handwriting and that it doesn’t matter how messy it appears. To me, the most gracious form of personal correspondence is handwritten, on the envelope as well. I never engrave my address on any of my own envelopes and suggest that my clients to hand write their return addresses as well.
What is the one etiquette rule you will never break?
See below (there are 10).
What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
Pretty much the same as now. With the current trend back toward handwritten notes and cards and all things haptic, I think personal correspondence on card stock and letter paper, delivered in envelopes, will not significantly change.
1. The Complete Engraver by Nancy Sharon Collins. 2. A red ribbon ties together her most cherished letters. 3. Lehman Brothers in New Haven inspired her love of engraving. 4. A Kid Finish Crane & Co. note is perfect for correspondence. 5. As is a Namiki fountain pen. 6. 10 etiquette rules she never breaks. 7. The postage stamp she adores at the moment. 8. The home of her dream pen pal.