The Lost Art of Handwritten Notes

Bristol's Paper, Packaging & Panache makes note-writing fun


Susan Curtis is the co-owner of Paper, Packaging & Panache, a shop that has been a fixture in the heart of downtown Bristol for the past 18 years. Susan is an artist who formerly had her own card business, LaurelArts, for many years. The grandmother of two lives with her husband Cliff in Portsmouth. We talked about newly engaged couples, ways to encourage children to write thank you notes and easy-to-make valentines.

It’s not long after the holiday season, always a popular time for engagements. Where do wedding invitations fall on the “to do” list?
It is one of the first things the bride in particular will start working on. Those that are planning way ahead will pop into the store right after their engagement to see what is available. We get a surge in the winter months after the holidays and then more in late spring. And we always have some last minute couples looking in September for November weddings.

What’s in for wedding invitations?
We are in a trend of going back to basics right now. There was a period when everything was embellished with bows, very layered with pockets and lots of motifs and colors. This was partly due to the fact that technology caught up with the processes and was able to do more. Now the feeling is that those invitations were too busy; couples are getting back to a traditional style of an off-white invitation, with the font styles creating the design. Thermography, which emulates engraving, is very popular but also popular is letterpress, a very old process which has a warm homey, handmade kind of feel to it. Because it is simple, it doesn’t call for a lot of embellishments. More recent to the marketplace is the “blackboard” style, white printing on black paper for the less traditional.

A “Save the Date” card used to be an exception but now it seems part of
the wedding invite process.
It used to be something people would do when their wedding was on a holiday weekend or held at a busy place like Newport during the summer. It was a courtesy to guests to make their travel and accommodation plans well in advance. Recently the “Save the Date” card has been more than just to share a couple’s good news and date but to share their wedding website information.

Are Valentine’s Day cards still as popular as ever?
It is our busiest time of the year for card purchases. Children had gotten away from buying traditional valentines and instead were looking for their favorite character valentines. But with more children coming into the store for the toys we carry, we have exposed them to the world of cards and stationery. We carry everything you need to make old-fashioned valentines with dollies, glitter, rubber stamps and different papers. I’d like to see the Valentine’s holiday become more of an occasion, with families and friends creating their own cards, playing little games or making the Valentine paper chains we carry instead of it just being a card exchange.

The shop has started to become a local destination for toy gifts. What have been some popular choices?
After the Bristol Toy shop closed a few years ago we had a lot of last minute birthday gift shoppers looking to buy toys locally. It was an opportunity to service our customers. We try to stay out of the mass market variety. A lot of our toys come from our paper sources. Popular toys are puzzles and games. Parents and grandparents are very motivated to get children away from the iPad, the phone, the TV and video games and instead have children play the games people used to play. The response to our selection has been wonderful. And everyone appreciates that we include free gift wrapping. We know how busy parents are. We have become a place for artists who want to create a line of cards to come and discuss their work with me since I was on both sides of the busi- ness and am willing to share my knowledge. I will spend some time with them on how to present their work so it will sell. We try to give anyone a chance with their work and some of our artists have been very successful not just locally but nationally as well. Our shoppers like to buy locally made items and we like to encourage it by offering it.

What are some easy ways for parents to get children excited to write a thank you note?
Stationery needs to be readily accessible – if you have it available, you will have more luck getting them to enjoy using it. Parents need to buy age appropriate stationery for children. They love anything with their name on it and you can order personalized stationery in fun colors in kid-friendly designs. Or they can help their children make some from recycled cards that they have. It is a great activity on a snowy day to sit at the table and create some so you will be ready when the child needs to write a thank you. A box of personalized stationery makes a wonderful gift for any young person.

The industry has changed with email and yet there still is a need for stationery.
Email is great for quick responses but it doesn’t speak to emotion. You don’t get the intonation of the word in an email as you do in a note someone has written in a card that they have taken the time to select and send. It is always so exciting for a little one to receive a card in the mail or an older person who might be lonely to hear from someone they haven’t been in touch with. It cannot be said enough there is nothing like receiving a handwritten note, whether you are a child or an adult.