Being around for 128 years allows for ample opportunity to acquire curious tales. In celebration of our new flagship boutique on Madison Avenue, we decided to curate a few of the more extraordinary moments from our rather rich heritage for an exclusive ‘Curious World of Smythson’ exhibition.
Whilst the full exhibition is showing exclusively at 667 Madison Avenue, here are a few of the more intriguing exhibits to tempt you…
FIRST ADVERTISING CARD, 1887
Frank Smythson’s first-ever advertisement for his new store. Designed to grab the curiosity of his prospective customers, Frank introduces himself and his store to the discerning people of London. 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’.
THE BOND STREET BAG, 1900s
One of the first-ever Smythson handbags, it was advertised as the bag which would ‘always hold just a little more’. This dainty piece was the original owner of our signature striped cotton lining, which is now found in our Eliot Collection.
BEADED HANDBAG, 1900
Working intricately with beautiful coloured beads sewn onto delicate satin, Smythson created stylish evening bags for the season.
SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL, 1901 – 1906
A long-standing Smythson customer, Sir Winston Churchill first honoured the brand with his patronage in 1901 with the order of personalised visiting cards and a ‘fancy seal’. Due to his exceptional merit, Churchill was actually the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States.
“My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied with the very best.” – Sir Winston Churchill
CATALOGUE COVER, 1902
One of the brand’s earliest company catalogues, it epitomises Frank’s vision and creative flare. The quote on the front is from The Queen magazine and sets the tone for the brand going into the 20th century.
THE CHAUFFEUR, 1906
Advertised with the question ‘Have you seen the chauffeur?’ this silver pepper pot shaker became a fast favourite with our customers, due to the pure wit and charm of its character. With only a limited amount made, ‘The Chauffeur’ represented the height of luxury for any discerning dinner table.
THE FIRST FEATHERWEIGHT DIARY, 1908
Frank Smythson created the world’s first practical, portable diary. Known as ‘the Panama hat of books,’ the remarkable pliability of its hardwearing binding allowed it to be squashed, folded or rolled up without becoming marked or misshapen. The epithet quickly caught on, and was adopted as the name of the diary as well as the leather in which it is bound – both of which remain virtually unchanged to this day. The Panama diary was the first to contain our iconic pale blue Featherweight paper, and was specifically designed to fit perfectly inside a gentleman’s breast pocket ‘without causing the least disfigurement’.
WHISKY-SODA BOX, 1920s
Advertised as ‘the silent friend’, this quirky piece of boxwork was designed to discreetly sit in a gentleman’s study or office. Ingeniously disguised as a set of books, it is a perfect example of Smythson’s innovative craftsmanship coupled with wit and charm.
VIVIEN LEIGH, 1920s – 1940s
Celebrated English stage and film actress, Vivien Leigh was an avid user of Smythson diaries, notebooks and stationery. Her collection of books carried the personal touch of her intials, always angled in the top left corner. Within the pages one can find mentioned many other notable Smythson fans such as Katharine Hepburn, Cecil Beaton and Hardy Amies.
“Sometimes I dread the truth of the lines I say. But the dread must never show.” – Vivien Leigh
Founding father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud was a Smythson customer throughout the 1930s. His Featherweight Panama Notebook offers a remarkable glimpse into the life and mind of a man who was unquestionably one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. among its well-thumbed pages are Freud’s notes and encounters with the likes of Salvador Dali, H.G. Wells and Virginia Woolf.
“The virtuous man contents himself with dreaming that which the wicked man does in actual life.” – Sigmund Freud
SIR HARDY AMIES DIARIES, 1940s – 1980s
Savile Row designer Sir Hardy Amies was an avid user of Smythson’s Panama diaries and organisers. As official dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II, he appreciated the power of understated elegance, recognising that same quality in his diaries. Many were given to him by Lady Hulse, lovingly personalised with the words ‘Dearest Hardy’.
“A man should look as if he’s bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them.” – Sir Hardy Amies
THE BOOK BRIDGE SET, 1950s – 1970s
A beautiful example of Smythson’s imagination in games design. This bridge set was designed to look like a leather bound book, like many products throughout the brand’s history it was designed to look like one thing whilst actually being another.
KATHARINE HEPBURN’S ADDRESS BOOKS, 1955 – 1956
Screen legend and Academy Award winning actress Katharine Hepburn was a faithful fan of Smythson notebooks. In 1955 she ordered two special edition address books with ‘London, California, New York’ emblazoned in gold on the front cover, personalised with the addition of her initials.
“I don’t care what is written about me as long as it isn’t true.” – Katharine Hepburn
PERSONALISED STATIONERY FOR DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES, 1994
Inspired by the stationery of HH Prince Dhairyashilrao Gaekwar of Baroda from the 1920s, Diana, Princess of Wales commissioned her own private stationery. The princess chose Smythson’s cream wove paper, hand-bordered in red and engraved with her personal cypher and place of residence, complete with hand-bordered tissue lined envelopes to match.
SPECIAL EDITION ART DIARIES, 2009
Smythson collaborated with four highly acclaimed artists to mark the launch of our limited edition Art diaries. beautiful, bold designs and rich textures were created by John Baldessari, Gary Hume, Ed Ruscha and Rachel Whiteread.
Smythson Opens on Madison Avenue, 2016
The ‘Curious World of Smythson’ exhibition runs from the 14th to the 20th of March, exclusively at 667 Madison Avenue.