Statutory holidays are always welcome. They are usually given a hook, sometimes tenuous, like Queen Victoria’s birthday, or Labour Day, or Memorial Day.
When it comes right down to it, we are happy just to have a day off, and aren’t really fussed about what it’s called. Look at the UK: two long weekends in May! Early May Bank Holiday and Late May Bank Holiday!! Because really, it’s all about the bankers, and the civil servants.
So, Monday 21 February is Family Day in Ontario. The shop will be closed on that day, but I wanted to address the importance of family-run businesses in the world of pens, paper, and ink.
We have long-standing relations with many, many suppliers. And often those suppliers and manufacturers have family stories behind them. Some of them go back generations, and some are newly formed by life partners.
Here are a few of their stories:
Faber-Castell, (and its luxury brand, Graf von Faber-Castell,) is the oldest family-run business in Europe. They began making pencils in 1761, and today the ninth generation of the family business are still at the helm of the privately held company, and still have a castle in Stein, Bavaria.
Our ‘house brand‘ of fountain pen ink is made by De Atramentis, another German family-run business. In a village between Cologne and Frankfurt, Dr Franz-Josef Jansen makes ink in the basement of his house. I was very excited to see production in person, since Dr Jansen is a robotics engineer. It turns out he mixes the ink by hand and fills the bottles one at a time. When orders build up, his entire family makes time to fill bottles and pack boxes.
One of our recent successful finds is the London-based ‘Before Breakfast’. The name of the brand comes from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Nicki began the riso-printed paper goods company, and soon her partner, Chris, left his career in the law to make notebooks by hand. Nicki’s father, who makes metal findings for the furniture industry, spent 5 years collaborating with her to hone the design and develop their brilliant line of pens.
The Pinetti family have produced an exquisite range of products for home and office in Bergamo, Italy for more than 35 years. Alberto, trained as an architect, began designing furniture. His wife Ezia, and their sons, all worked together to build a wonderfully creative business who make some of our favourite leather goods.
Emma Field has taken over the day-to-day managing of Imperial Yard (makers of Yard-o-Led) from her father Robin. This company has a long history of management by generation after generation, and it’s lovely to see the tradition continue.
At Spiegl Press, Hugo Spiegl took over the printing business started by his father in the beautiful town of Stamford, England. As the business of local printer changed, Hugo leveraged their bookbinding capabilities to produce a beautiful range of notebooks. Now Hugo, and his wife Jo, manage both the Spiegl Press and The Stamford Notebook Company, a fantastically flexible concern that we love working with to develop exciting new products.
The iconic Geneva-based pen and pencil manufacturer, Caran d’Ache, is also family-owned and run. Carole Hubscher, the president of the board, is fourth generation to be involved in running Caran d’Ache. I first met Carole when she visited my shop as Export manager about 25 years ago. We reconnected in 2018, when I was invited by the Canadian distributor Morton Clarke (another multi-generational family business) to visit Geneva for a product launch and factory tour! And she remembered me!
We like letterpress greeting cards. The people who make them are creative, resourceful and personable. Many of them are family partnerships, husband and wife, wife and wife, and often somebody’s mom or dad is shipping boxes, writing orders at shows, or helping with childcare. These printers are awe-inspiring, running small businesses with their wits, ingenuity, know-how and passion. That’s why we like letterpress.
These people have all have one very important thing in common: commitment. They have lived the past, the present and the future of their companies. As progeny, they honour those who built and sustained a business, and who entrusted it to them, for future generations who may want to pass it on to their children. They see the long game, the heritage and value of continuity.
We choose to work with family-run businesses whenever possible. It allows us to develop relationships, and build connections. We know the folks who pick up the phone, who stand in the booths at the trade shows, and pack the boxes in the shipping department. These folks are the creative force and the problem-solvers. Even when a family business grows to a large operation, its culture is still familial. Feel free to share some of your favourite family businesses in the comments section below.
Happy Family Day.
Thanks for sharing! I would be curious to see the handwritten version of this charming post.
I always answer this question “what would you do if you won a million bucks?” with “I’d spend it at Laywine’s buying good pens and paper, obvi.”
Happy Family Day to you, too. May you be well for hundred of years.
I have always loved fine papers and pens. Until they gave notebooks the title of Journals and called keeping a diary, “Journaling” I never took this passion seriously.
I now offer Journaling workshops, and Sketching and Watercolour workshops at my Boutique Bed and Breakfast here in Prince Edward County.
I too grew up in a family business, and when my marriage fell apart, I decided to take my home and turn it into a Bed and Breakfast so that I could share this beautiful and special place with others.
I hope one day, now that COVID restrictions have been lifted to visit your fine shop in Toronto.
It may be a day-long outing – I’ll pack a lunch!
I love your beautiful selection of everything – from notebooks, to fine pens, to sketchbooks – all of it.
Thanks for doing what you do.
The Empty Nest Bed and Breakfast
Dear Mr. Laywine:
It was a joy to read your Family Day e-mail about the family businesses with whom you do business. I love your shop; there is something special about a small business and the personal service that comes with it. Although I am now retired and on a budget, I love ordering my leather-bound Personal Pocket Datebook every year — one of life’s little luxuries. Thank you for being there, and Happy Family Day!
- Lindsay Shaddy, Peterborough, ON
What a charming post! I had no idea that family businesses are behind so many of the products I know and love from Laywine’s. (Just at this moment, I can reach out and put my hands on three of the products from companies named in the blog.) Well done to all those generations, and well done Peter and crew for giving us access to their lovely work!
Happy Family Day to all of you,
What a wonderful letter, Peter.
I live in Stratford now, and miss Laywine’s as much or more as I miss a few other things.
Excluding family and friends.