Next year, Stationery Trends magazine will celebrate its fifth anniversary, a statement to the perseverance of the people who cherish the art of handwritten correspondence. For the magazine’s founding editor, Sarah Schwartz, stationery and letters were a natural extension of a feisty, book-fueled imagination. Here, the former summer camp letter writer extraordinaire talks about pen pals, lunch box notes and why we should think of Abraham Lincoln the next time we’re angry with someone.
When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
To me, writing letters and corresponding is a natural extension to the world of reading. From the time I learned to read at age four, I have loved entering and creating imaginary or past worlds. A great letter is just that, really — a little glimpse into another very personal world.
I was a faithful letter writer from overnight camp — based on those my mom saved, they are essentially lists of what I lost and how — and then in fourth grade, I had my first pen pal. I think I found her in Cricket magazine, or maybe it was Highlights.
Why do you enjoy writing about stationery?
I think the artistry involved in making fine papers, as well as the passion of those involved in the industry, is unparalleled and too often overlooked. It is a constant source of inspiration to me, and I feel like I am always learning something new. Those who appreciate stationery, whether consumers or in the trade, share a special bond and appreciation for, as one designer described it, “handmade things, things that take time.”
What is your favorite step in the process of written correspondence?
I really enjoy putting completed missives in the basket on our porch for the postman to collect, but then again, I really love seeing a hand-written letter peeking out from bills and magazines. It’s like a little treasure, and there’s always a brief mystery of who it’s from and what it’s about.
If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
That’s really hard to pick. Off the top of my head, I’d love to correspond with Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, John Lennon, Truman Capote, Pablo Picasso, Louisa May Alcott — and I’m sure I’ll think of about ten more. I’d pick their respective brains on a variety of topics, and for those who had hard lives or came to bad ends, I’d like to provide a laugh or two, probably at my own expense.
To whom do you most often write?
During the year, I put notes in my daughter’s lunch box at least once a week. It has been a really great practice as a way to develop her reading skills and just let her know I’m thinking about her. Last year while she was in kindergarten she wrote me back on the first one I sent, and I will cherish it always. Other than that, I write a lot of thank-you notes. Abraham Lincoln once recommended that when you are really angry with someone, you should write them a letter and then toss it. I wish I could say I continued that practice; if I had more time, I definitely would!
Describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received.
I wrote a letter to the editor of our local paper back in 2011, and some months later, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown personally wrote me back. As soon as I saw the return address from the “United States Senate,” I knew it was a letter since it was too small to be a solicitation for a campaign donation.
I was so eager to read it and see what kind of stationery a senator uses, I tore the envelope instead of using my letter opener! The paper features a gold engraving on top as well as his particulars in blue. It reads: Ms. Schwartz- Very good letter to the editor. Keep speaking out — your comments matter. Thank you, Sherrod Brown
What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
The best writing is always honest writing — I think the essence of genuine sentiments are distinctive as opposed to more rote or stiff sentences strung together.
Do you have a favorite stamp or stamp series?
I try to coordinate colors of stamps to the stationery I use, so I really like the William H. Johnson Forever Stamp. It is a gorgeous image in and of itself, and color-wise covers pretty much all the bases.
What makes your correspondence distinct?
Hopefully more than my rather sloppy handwriting! Generally speaking, I try to keep my correspondence genuine, articulate and succinct.
What is your favorite product created by Crane & Co.?
Pretty much anything engraved.
What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
Hopefully it will continue to be cherished as something precious in our rather automated, digital world, and as such, continue to evolve in visually interesting ways. The rise in letterpress over the last decade or so and continued appreciation of engraving alludes to a general appreciation of that which is created by the hand.
Sending letters — which are essentially incredibly personal items that pass directly from one hand to the other — will hopefully endure as a special connection that can be saved as savored over time.
Have a question for Sarah? Email our Crane Concierge at firstname.lastname@example.org.