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The Times Shopper: London

Some Stationers Worth Writing Home About

May 15, 1988|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer .

Long before Benjamin Franklin noted his fascinating experiences at home and abroad, diaries have been invaluable companions for tourists and business travelers.

Each diarist, it seems, has a different style and individual purpose for keeping notes and records. Some prefer to scribble poetic first impressions quickly while flitting from hill to vale. Others neatly list the day's doings, meetings and expenses before retiring each night.

Some seek the spontaneity of slender, disposable pocket notebooks. Others enjoy the heft of hard-cover volumes that will last long after they've finished the journey.

Top London stationery shops have a broad selection of diaries and record books. They vary not only in size and shape but in style, system, content and price range.

Top of the Line

Smythson of Bond Street (at 54 New Bond St.) is the most famous of the London super stationers. The name Smythson spells tradition. This dignified and highly respected shop celebrated its 100th anniversary last year.

Founder Frank Smythson, who died more than 50 years ago, is credited with having developed the blue paper (known as Bond Street blue) that is used frequently in diaries and as distinguished writing paper.

When it was invented, this prettily tinted paper soon replaced the then-standard Victorian white stock and significantly changed the stationery business. Bond Street blue is less transparent than white paper and may be used in thinner sheets for less cumbersome diaries and lighter-weight stationery.

Smythson's offers an extraordinary variety of diaries with Bond Street blue paper, and others with white or cream-colored paper. The number of Smythson diaries is just about equal to the number of years the company has been in business. There are desk-top and briefcase diaries, and some for pockets and purses, in every type of leather, fabric and color.

The smallest and most portable Smythson diary is called Wee- Blue. It measures just 2 by 2 1/2 inches and costs about $8. There are also skinny little Wafer Diaries ($15 and up) covered with crushed morocco leather in various colors, white lambskin or fine silk. These supple books fit easily into pockets and they have no hard edges.

Diaries for Horse Bettors

Smythson publishes dozens of attractive pocket-size and larger record books designed to meet specific needs of travelers and/or hobbyists with special interests.

They sell for $10 and up and include diaries for wine tasters, tennis players, golfers, stock traders, international car and horse race enthusiasts, dieters, joggers, walkers, antique collectors, gift givers, entertainers, book club members, tourists, bird watchers, card players and others.

These books are usually bound in black, navy or red leather and titled with gold lettering. One is labeled "Little Black Book," and another is named "Blondes, Brunettes and Redheads" (about $10 each).

Larger diaries include the "Businessman's Organizer," "The Hourly Engagements Rememberancer" and "The Cosmic." These substantial volumes (about $90 and up) are too heavy to be taken on the road, but each is a valuable desk-top aid for office or home record keeping and personal planning. Smythson also publishes attractive address books ($10 and up).

The British invented the Filofax personal planner system, with its attractive and conveniently sized leather loose-leaf binder and a substantial selection of record-keeping aids, including agenda, expense records, receipt envelopes, address forms, maps, telephone logs, foreign contact and city fact sheets, score paper for musicians and graph paper for artists.

Filofax diaries (and many less expensive imitators) are widely available in the United States, with prices on standard calf binders and a basic selection of fillers priced at about $200. This basic set costs much less in Britain at top stationery shops (Paper Chase, with shops at 213 Tottenham Court Road and 167 Fulham Road, sells the pigskin binder for about $70, with packages of fillers at about $2 or $3 each) and department stores such as Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.

Half the U.S. Price

Fancier Filofax editions with ostrich or tapestry binders are also less expensive in Britain. Fillers are about half the U.S. price.

Last year Smythson's came out with its own attractive crushed goatskin binder and personal planner inserts. Priced at about $135, this is a handsome alternative for those who have tired of Filofax. Customers may make standing orders for new fillers for this diary and/or any of Smythson's other diaries to be delivered each year. All Smythson diaries, notebooks and address books may be personalized with name or initials in gold letters.

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