The Art of the Handwritten Note
with Lauren Marrus of Dempsey & Carroll
Right now, as we all spend more time at home than ever (and the holidays fast approaching), it seems the sentiment of a handwritten note seems more relevant than ever. But elegant stationery is nothing new, especially to the team at Dempsey & Carroll, the stationery purveyor who has been in business since 1878.
With the holiday season fast approaching, we sat down with Lauren Marrus, the brand’s CEO, to get the scoop on her amazing career, handwritten note ideas, and more.
1. Have you always loved stationery?
I grew up in a time of letter writing – we’d go away to summer camp and look forward to letters from home. I had a pen pal in grade school – her name was Carole. We’d send postcards every time we went anywhere. Letters were and are a way of capturing a moment in time and recording a tiny bit of history. I hold onto all the handwritten notes I receive – I have them in boxes on the shelves above my desk – organized somewhat chronologically – when I fill one box, I start another.
Dempsey & Carroll, New York City
2. Your Personal Mantra:
Be gracious and be kind.
3. How do you decide when to text, call, or send a handwritten note to a friend?
It’s almost never an either or – after dinner with a friend, I’ll usually text, of course. And, if it was an especially fun, fancy, or intimate dinner I will send a short handwritten note the next day – recalling key moments of the evening. Likewise, when a friend shares really good or really bad news, I’ll usually respond immediately with a text and a call – and follow it up with a note to emphasize my message.
With job interviews, I always recommend an immediate email thank you / follow up – and then get a note into the mail ASAP as further reinforcement of your interest in the position.
There is never a reason NOT to send a handwritten note. They are always welcome and it is always special that you took the time to write it, stamp it, and mail it!
4. Do’s and don’ts of the handwritten note?
There are so few ‘don’ts! People are so happy to connect in any way possible these days especially – a handwritten letter on a scrap of printer paper is better than no note at all. Of course, I take every occasion I can to write a note – and always because it makes me so happy to make someone else happy and to use my beautiful papers.
The Do’s are really just to have a stack of cards or papers that you like to write on, a pen and stamps – set them up on or near your desk, a table or your favorite corner in the living room. Pour yourself a cup of coffee (or something stronger) and take a few minutes to enjoy the process of connecting with a friend through your note. Think about how they’ll feel when they open it and when they read it – make it memorable for you in the writing and for them in the receiving.
5. What do you use for your own personal stationery? Favorite pen and ink color?
Of course I have a ton of personal stationery – and during quarantine, I have been fulfilling online orders from my dining room – so I have access to everything. My favorite is my 4-ply (heavy stock) cards, with a gray painted edge and my simple monogram L W M also in gray. The envelopes are hand-finished with a delicate gray tissue lining. It’s simple, clean, and chic.
As for pens, we carry amazing fountain and rollerball pens from Faber-Castell – but true confession – I am a sharpie girl. I love a fine tip navy sharpie – it creates a crisp line on our delicious papers.
6. Your favorite treasure at the Dempsey & Carroll office?
There are a few! I have been collecting old Dempsey & Carroll books since I took over - we have more than two dozen - in various conditions dating back to 1878. Owning a part of history and keeping it alive and fresh is an honor and a responsibility. Similarly, we have engraving dies dating back decades and more. Just this week, a client emailed asking us to order more of her monogrammed stationery. We had made the monogram for her in 1966. We actually found the die in the archive and look forward to creating new stationery for her - assuming she does not have a heart attack when she sees our 2020 pricing compared to the 1966 price she paid.
7. What's your advice for other women in business?
Assertive women are often labelled bossy simply because our culture doesn't know how to react to strong women. Be confident. Stand up for yourself. Don't always say 'yes'. And most importantly, be gracious and be kind.
8. If someone is beginning to build their own stationery collection, where should they start, a Dempsey & Carroll classic design or a bespoke style?
The easiest, most cost-effective way to start is with our basic bespoke correspondence card. We have created a tightly curated set of color, typestyle, and format options to make it easy for first-time clients to purchase something tasteful and gracious online. And, the cost per card for these personal, engraved notes is much less than the cost of a traditional card store card.
If this financial commitment seems too large, start with a set of ten cards paired with ten hand-lined envelopes. Choose a motif that speaks to you and reflects who you are in some way – whether it be a summer motif or a winter pine tree – you choose it and make it your own.
Many people think it’s not a thank-you note unless it says thank you on the front. Any note can be a thank-you note as soon as you sit down to write it and express your gratitude to the recipient. A note, personalized with your name, monogram or other motif is the ideal thank you note – unique to you.
As for a folded card vs a flat card, I prefer a flat card – to me – it feels more modern. That said, we just introduced a fabulous folded card in collaboration with Jonathan Cohen that is perfect for all occasions – thank you, happy birthday, and more.
Really, you can’t go wrong – anything goes as long as you start writing!
9. Thoughts on holiday cards for 2020?
This year, reaching out with a handwritten greeting is going to be more special and more personal than ever before. We are going to be a lot less likely to meet up in person. I plan to write a short note on each card - we send over 300 - to people we have gotten to know over the years. I am going to take extra time this year to try to connect with each of them. As for our message this year: Happy Holidays just didn't feel right - instead we are using an engraved sentiment featuring hand calligraphy with the message: wishing you peace and good health.
10. Which holiday cards do you usually send?
I always take a design that is new and fresh in our collection and adjust it to accommodate a photo. My daughter insists that we have a photo. In recent years, I've agreed to a family photo, but for the most part, the cards feature a photo of my children. Sometimes I print the photo right on the card, other times we apply a photo to the finished card. My favorite one was one we did in 2011 when both kids were at boarding school. On the front of the card, we used a photo taken when they were small children playing on the steps of the library and inside was the same background showing them as students. It was really special to see how they had changed in the 10+ years between photos.