September 29, 1887. London’s Bond Street is the luxury shopping center of the Western world. Frank Smythson throws open the shutters of Number 133, setting up shop between the auctioneer Phillips at No. 101, which specialized in stringed instruments and sheet music, and the jewelers Asprey at Nos. 165-169. Smythson, a man who values above all meticulous craftsmanship, is determined to found a brand of high quality goods, carefully sourced and made by British artisans.
Over the following years, Smythson created the first portable featherweight diary—specifically designed to fit perfectly inside a gentleman’s breast pocket “without causing the least disfigurement”—the Bond Street bag, and bespoke stationary for royalty around the world. It wasn’t long before the name Smythson became a trademark of optimum quality, functionality, and exquisite craftsmanship.
Jump forward 128 years, five months, and four days, to the opening night event of Smythson’s new Madison Avenue store. Samantha Cameron, creative consultant for Smythson and wife of Prime Minister David Cameron, welcomes movie stars and society heavyweights, who get their initials monogrammed onto everything from travel journals to phone cases. A bulldog named Winston, wearing a jaunty top hat, paddles among the partygoers. This year, the British Invasion came in high quality leather.
To celebrate the new store at 667 Madison Avenue, researchers went through the brand’s extensive archives and pulled out some of the more remarkable pieces for an exclusive ‘Curious World of Smythson’ exhibition, including: Frank Smythson’s first-ever advertisement card for his new store in 1887, where he ‘begs to announce’ that he has opened a store which will provide London—and later the world—with ‘stationery and fancy articles of a high-class character;’ a Bond Street Bag from the 1900s; the first featherweight diary from 1908; personalized visiting cards, stationary, diaries, and other items from luminaries like Sir Winston Churchill, Vivien Leigh, Sigmund Freud, designer Sir Hardy Amies (official dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II), Katharine Hepburn, and Diana, Princess of Wales.
The company’s ties to the British Royal Family are extensive. They currently hold three Royal Warrents, a highly prized mark of recognition of individuals or companies who have supplied goods or services for at least five years to the Households of the British Royal Family. Her Majesty The Queen granted one in 1964, HRH The Prince of Wales in 1980, and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in 2002.
But you don’t need a crown to pick up a beautifully monogrammed diary of your own. Interestingly, the Smythson process of gold stamping has remained virtually unchanged from the 19th century. All gold stamping is carried out in-house where artisans use vintage presses sourced specifically for the quality they produce. One of these presses, chosen for its unrivalled classic design, was tracked down in a collector’s barn in the English countryside, restored to its former glory and installed in pride of place in the New Bond Street boutique. Each of the lettering stamps has been specifically created for Smythson and is individually applied by skilled craftsmen.
Tradition, quality, and practicality—Smythson has a winning formula that lasts through the ages.