From the Dukes of Savoy to the young aristocrats on the Grand Tour, those with a taste for the finer things in life have always admired Italy’s handmade paper. Today, the country’s stationery still enjoys an acclaimed reputation. Much of it is manufactured using the finest traditional components, incorporating techniques that have remained almost unchanged since the early 18th century. From leather-bound journals and personalised, embossed writing paper to visiting cards and covered storage boxes, the range available is extensive and of the highest quality.
In Europe, the oldest known surviving document on paper (as opposed to parchment) is a housed in the state archive in Palermo. With text in Arabic and Greek, it dates back to 1109. Yet it is widely believed that it wasn’t until the 13th century that Italian stationers took the ancient method of papermaking and transformed it into a major commercial product, becoming internationally renowned for paper production in the process.
Few companies can boast a more illustrious legacy than Fabriano, with a heritage dating back to 1264. The company takes its name from the little town of Fabriano in the Marche where it is based. This became a successful papermaking centre largely because of its proximity to Ancona, a port with particularly strong ties to Arab trade routes. In the 15th century, fine arts papers made here were used and highly praised by Michelangelo. The town’s workshops pioneered techniques that are now commonplace in the papermaking industry, such as using watermarks, and surface sheet gluing with gelatine.
Fabriano the company developed from these artisans’ workshops and has remained successful thanks to its ability to adapt, responding to trends and catering to changing consumer demands. The product range has evolved beyond fine arts to include everyday office supplies and drawing pads as well as beautifully presented writing sets. Today, the company is also committed to renewable energy and makes extensive use of self-generated hydroelectric power in its production.
Artisanal Il Papiro
In contrast, the product range at Il Papiro is grounded in artisanal tradition and each of the company’s 18 shops has been designed to have a traditional air, reflecting the elegant atmosphere of its first store in Florence. Items on offer range from paisley-printed notebooks to leather-bound journals and stunning hand-marbled papers. The company’s owners, Francesco Giannini and Gianni Parenti, were born in Florence and are closely associated with the city’s artisan community, ensuring that their products retain historic charm and boast a timeless quality that defies passing trends.
Paper by Pineider
Pineider is one of Italy’s oldest paper manufacturers, having catered to a suitably discerning clientele since Francesco Pineider opened his first shop in 1774. ‘Our stationery is one of a kind and known internationally for the unique quality of the paper stocks and the exclusive printing techniques of our master hand engravers,’ explains company spokeswoman Linda Zamboni. ‘Our paper is all chlorine-free, the inks are natural, and we apply traditional Italian artisanal methods to make our papers perfect to the touch and wonderful to write on.’
The company has been able to survive and thrive for more than 240 years by maintaining the traditional production methods from which its first fortunes were made. Yet modern techniques have also been incorporated. ‘Of course, new techniques and new technologies have changed some procedures,’ Zamboni says. ‘But the colouring of the borders in some of our collections is still done by hand, as it used to be ages ago. It’s the same with the making of our paper boxes, which are handcrafted in house.’
From made-to-order visiting cards to writing papers featuring elegant, embossed characters and coats of arms, Pineider’s varied product range has always attracted a dedicated following. Former clients include literary heavyweights such as Lord Byron and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Hollywood stars from Marlene Dietrich to Elizabeth Taylor. ‘Our clientele is still the most refined in the world,’ says Zamboni. ‘We’re very thankful to all those who appreciate the unique quality of our made-in-Italy stationery products.’
Today, the company offers a wide range of stationery goods, from beautifully crafted pieces for a special occasion – papers featuring hand-engraved cursive lettering, and modern square cards and envelopes with printed coloured borders – to the Capri collection, which features hand-coloured borders made from natural pigments and envelopes with matching handmade tissue paper lining. The company is continually evolving. Zamboni reveals a development hitherto a secret: Pineider is about to launch a new engraving technique. It will, she says, ‘have the result of an embossed printing from a hand-engraved cast of a calligraphic text.’
In a world where communication is increasingly conducted electronically, it is heartening to see that demand for high-quality stationery in Italy has increased rather than diminished. Without losing touch with their roots, the companies that first catered to the literary elite and aristocratic adventurers have been able to develop their product selections to appeal to a modern audience. As Zamboni explains, ‘hand engraving dates back to previous centuries but, of course, now new technologies are involved. The precision of the master engraver, though, is the same as it used to be.’