The name's Pens - Cult Pens - and that's mostly what we sell. But we've decided to be a bit brave in this new world of 2021… and expand a little more into art. As this is a largely new area for us, we've had to educate ourselves on a number of new brands, so we thought we'd share what we've learnt with you, our lovely customers.
LYRA was established in 1806 in Nuremberg, Germany, when Napoleon Bonaparte stripped the city's carpenters of the right to make pencils. They'd been doing it rather badly, because they'd had no competition, so when the market opened up LYRA's founder Johan Froescheis II leapt in and registered his business as a pencil manufacturer.
One hundred years later, LYRA was making over a million individual pencils a week, and another century on they are still going, with a reputation not only as one of world's oldest and most prolific pencil manufacturers, but also one of the best.
Strathmore might sound Scottish but it's not. It's American. It was founded in Massachusetts, USA, in 1892 by Horace Moses. Not long after establishing his paper mill, he visited the Valley of Strathmore in Scotland, and was so taken by its beauty that he named his company accordingly, and used the Scottish thistle as his logo.
Strathmore's fine art papers enable leading artists - as well as enthusiastic amateurs - to create lasting works of art. Norman Rockwell, Andrew Wyeth and Heather Rooney have all associated their names with Strathmore, and there is a paper for every type of creation, from graphite, charcoal and pastel to watercolour and pen and ink.
The Montgolfier name is associated most commonly with the invention of the hot air balloon, the maiden flight of which took place from the enterprising brothers' garden on 14th December 1782. But before they made hot air balloons, the Montgolfier family made paper. They established Canson in the Beaujolais region of France in 1557 and went on to develop a number of innovative paper-making methods. They created the Hollander beater, which tore up rags; they experimented with pulp dyeing to ensure uniform colour; they innovated with vellum and invented tracing paper in the early 1800s. Then in 1865 Canson obtained a patent for a photographic paper that simplified printing operations.
They are now present in over 150 countries, and are one of the most respected paper manufacturers in the world. Having been the preferred supplier for such greats as Picasso, Degas and Chagall, they are now the go-to brand for modern creatives such as photographer Gabriel Brau and abstract painter Anthony Chambaud.
Even older than Canson is another French paper manufacturer - Arches - who were creating paper by hand as far back as 1492. They supplied paper for 'incunables', which is what the first printed books were called, as well as the entire works of Voltaire (which involved 70 tons of Arches paper!) and the large 'Giant Joyce' version of the 1922 first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses. It was not just printers that swore by Arches paper though; artists did, too (and still do); among them Matisse, Picasso and Dali. And the Arches watermark is used as a point of reference when authenticating Dali's works.
Today, they are the only paper mill in France to make all their fine art and printing papers using cylinder moulds. This method takes a natural material - cotton - and transforms it into very high quality paper that's stable, watermarked, deckle-edged and has a beautiful natural grain.
Even if you're not an artist, you've probably heard of Daler-Rowney. What you may not know is that they've been 'inspiring creativity since 1783' and believe - quite rightly - that art is for everybody.
The company's roots lie with the Rowney brothers - apothecaries Richard and Thomas - who made coloured wig powder, back when wigs were the in-thing. But then King George IV did away with his, and fickle fashionistas followed suit, so - with the exception of lawyers and surgeons - nobody wore wigs anymore, and the bottom dropped out of the market. Undeterred, the enterprising brothers decided to take advantage of the burgeoning art market and switch their skills to making oil paints. They simply ground the wig powder more finely and added it to drying oil.
Their reputation grew; they became associated with fine artists such as Turner and Constable, and they added watercolour to their portfolio, which far out-performed other products available at the time. They were also instrumental in introducing new ways of storing colours - in squeezeable lead tubes. At the time, certainly a more practical method than the existing bladders and glass syringes but not great in terms of health!
In 1963, almost 200 years after their founding, the Rowney company - which was still very much a family affair - became one of the first companies in Europe to produce artists' acrylic. 'Cryla' - favoured by artists Peter Blake and Bridget Riley - heralded a new movement: Pop Art.
Four years later saw Rowney move out of London to Berkshire, where the company remains to this day. The family part of the company ended in 1969, when Managing Director Thomas Rowney, having no family members to follow him into the business, sold the company to Morgan Crucible, who in 1983 sold it to the Daler Board company. It was the perfect combination: superior quality colours and superior quality papers.
These days, Daler-Rowney offer pretty much everything anybody might need to create art. There are papers for every technique, from drawing, graphic art and illustration, to watercolour, oils and pastels; there are paints of all kinds, in an endless spectrum of colours, with all the accoutrements needed to apply them.
And all their colours are still made in England.
12 January 2021