An Ode to Correspondence Writing and a Review of the G. Lalo Writing Kit

This is a guest post from local artist Werner Ungerer. He uses pens, inks, and handwriting in many of his art pieces. He became a customer of ours awhile back when we had no idea who he was and over time we got to know him, see his works and even have him speak at our last Fountain Pen Day Meetup. We are privileged to have his creativity and ponderings here on our blog. You can find his work here: http://wernerungerer.yolasite.com/

A Case for Correspondence

(a) Letter writing is a modern act:

Who is left that writes these days?” PJ Harvey sings on “The Letter”.  Before going further in our exploration of this letter writing kit, this is a question we need to acknowledge.  It is entirely tired to write a catalogue of woes about the negative impact of technology on culture.  Technology is awesome.  We are grateful for, and we comply with how things are.  We must admit that an email could do the job far more efficiently (and with instant gratification pretty much guaranteed) than dropping a letter in the mail.  My aim is to claim writing as an act of now.  Not against technology, but in a balancing partnership with it.

(b) Letter writing – deepening your experience, rounding you out:

Efficient as it is, email and texting diminishes our engagement with our experience, and with each other.  If you think about music, for instance – I find that downloading music has obliterated to a great extent my appreciation and experience of listening.  Most certainly I have been exposed to a wider range of incredible artists by having this kind of monstrous access. But there is also this insidious thought that some vital thing has gone missing.  This is a subtle loss.  Complex, hard to define.  Like the proverbial 21grams of weight that we apparently lose when we die.  Could this be a spiritual thing?

In a sense, what I am saying is that technology expands our worlds dramatically while at the same time, it shrinks our experience of that world, often making us feel disconnected and alienated. Writing can address this successfully, round us out again, make us engage with each other in a more real and intense way. 

(c) Letter writing – defying insincerity bred out of social media persecution:

There is another aspect that I would like to touch on that writing (on good paper?) can rectify: the fear-culture of social media.  The fear of not being ‘woke’ enough, of being bullied and ridiculed, causes us to filter ourselves into utter flat, insincere lifelessness. I think writing a heartfelt note could do much to restore sincerity, to connect with what we really value, what we’re really like.  Kill that fearsome editor and open up a bit more.

(d) Letter writing – the Holy Institution, vandalised:

There is a certain mystical thing about letter writing that I wish to vandalise here: that only literary types write letters.  Not all of us are witty.  Most of us lead dull, mediocre lives.  So what? Even the most obtuse among us have a spiritual dimension and an inner world.  Things hoping to find ways out of our minds. Longings. Loves.  Experiences. Hopes. A joyful release comes when you just share yourself honestly, wherever you are in your journey. There are people in our lives that are going through extraordinary painful situations.  Could a well-considered card or note, a tactile object that they can hold in their hands, provide an often much-needed anchor?  How many times has it happened that I spontaneously scribbled a card or a note, only to discover later on that it arrived during a time of crises, and that it genuinely mattered.  Maybe disengaging from technology for half an hour could return instinct to you and acting on it could have a beautiful impact where it is needed.

e) Letter writing – generosity of spirit:

Efficiency is great.  Picking up a pen, uncapping it, claiming an hour for yourself, for your correspondent, this is an entirely different thing: this is possibly the punk of now: a spiritual and radical act of defiance.  This is you saying, “I acknowledge my gratitude for decent plumbing, advances of sciences and good coffee, but my spirit wants to do this thing which is inexplicable, but that gives me satisfaction.  I must write a note and be generous with myself and my time.  I must make a humble thing of beauty, let my soul out for a bit and share it truthfully”.

A Case for Good Writing Paper:

For this task, ordinary office paper would do just fine.  Use what you have and make the best of it.

A case for good quality paper and envelopes is hard to construct.  I suspect it boils down to snobbery, geekery – of being an aesthetete, all of which I am, unashamedly.  Here is what I think: I value well-made things.  I have deep appreciation for things with a strong tradition behind it.  It is beautiful and stabilizing to me that G. LALO paper has been produced since 1919. Also, it shows that note writing has endured through it all, wars, economic collapse, the birth of the internet, social media – and it is still thriving. 

A peculiar cannibalism also happens here: by using this paper, I enter civility, good taste, a tradition of careful correspondence – and romance.  A flow of dreams and passions that run like a golden thread, delicate, unbreakable through the ages. 

Here is what you have to make peace with: your values and loves. You like beautiful things.  You enjoy a beautiful pen laying down a lovey line of generous ink.  You enjoy sharing what you love.  You care about how you share yourself.  You extend this care to those that you value.  It would be tragic to deny yourself what you love.  You don’t think twice about your Netflix subscription fee.  The gloriousness of passive intake is not difficult to relate to.  Why not also care about playing an active part in connecting, sincerely with yourself and those you love? Get the good paper!

PJ Harvey’s song ends with these lines – very apt, I think:

Your blue eyes
on my words
Your beautiful pen –
take the cap off.
Give me a sign
and I’d come running

History lesson:

WWI had just ended.  A young soldier, Georges Lalo arrived in Paris, battle-shocked and without any prospects.  After a while he’d found a job at a printing and stamping company.  A dedicated and hardworking employee, he quickly drew the attention of his employers.  They were astonished by his inventiveness and knowledge of paper.  After a hard day’s work, at night, young Georges attended sketching and drawing classes. 

Georges was a passionate and ambitious man with a clear vision: to create luxury stationery, in Paris, infused with Parisian style and grace.  In the summer of 1919 he rented a modest studio on the Rue Richer and bought second hand stamping machinery.  This was the humble beginnings of  G.LALO, manufacture de papiers a lettres et d’enveloppes de lu luxe.

To this day, G.LALO remains a small personal stationery maker, protective and proud of its Parisian identity.  Their reputation for sophistication and quality is underlined by the fact that they provide the royal courts of Sweden, Holland, Monaco and Belgium with hand crafted stationery.

Packaging:

Your hard-earned money is not wasted on the pointless frippery of expensive and wasteful packaging.  This is really exciting to me.  The letter writing kit is presented in a clear plastic sheet, the sheets of paper carefully bound by a paper ribbon of sorts. All very understated, unassuming. The feeling is that this is to be used, not displayed, and I love that message.  In my kit was 10x A4 sheets and 5x DL-envelopes.

The envelopes:

Very few things in life thrill me as much as an envelope.  I make my own tissue lined envelopes and let me tell you, this is hard and precise work.  All the more reason to appreciate the workmanship here.  The Lalo envelopes are a gorgeous creamy ivory colour.  It is incredibly lovely to handle.  Because of the tissue lining, it has a slightly padded feel and a bit of weight.  You can just feel that this is not bog-standard stuff; I believe the word is luxe…You can be guaranteed that the recipient of this envelope will also sense this and love you for it.  The most beautiful detail: right under the flap on the left hand side, a tiny embossed G LALO – PARIS. If you appreciate subtle details, this will make you groan.

G. LALO Packaging

G. Lalo Emboss

The paper:

Laid paper is a word you often come across in the pen community.  In London last year, I treated myself to buying laid paper at Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly.  I purchased two Original Crown Mill laid paper pads, not knowing what it really meant. It looked rich and I liked the idea of buying fancy paper in London.  In reviewing this kit, I had to educate myself.

“Verge or laid finished paper was originally made by hand in large vats.  The wet pulp was lifted from the vat in a flat metal strainer.  While drying, the pattern of the mesh would be embedded into the newly formed paper.  The laid mesh pattern is characteristic of this paper.  It serves also as a line guide when writing”. 
– This information appears on the back of the packaging.

I can say, emphatically that I am loving LALO more than Crown Mill. The “vergeures” (grid of parallel translucent lines made as the paper was laid to dry) on the Lalo is more pronounced than that on the Crown Mill.  Not sure, the Lalo paper feels lighter and softer, but with a slightly rougher texture, possibly due to the 25% cotton contend.

If you hold the sheet up to the light, you will also notice the watermark, the G.LALO logo and the word ‘Paris” appears, like a subliminal flash that your recipient most likely won’t notice.  I like this touch, this secret pleasure that’s there for the user alone. 

Using the paper:

I found it incredibly hard to get myself to desecrate this beautiful paper by writing on it. I left the review for days, procrastinating, dreading that first vandalistic stroke.  Write GEAR provided me with a sample of J.Herbin Rouge Grenat.  The paper and this devilish red colour made me think of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula – the format of the novel, Mina Murray’s letters to Jonathan Harker.  This was the key in overcoming the reluctance of “spoiling” the paper, this Victorian gothic passion.  I grabbed a dipping pen and just let rip with the red ink and the writing (a letter from Stoker to Walt Whitman) was copied in an urgent angular scrawl. The nib, quite fine, did not snag once. 

I’ve tried a number of inks, thirteen to be precise, fountain pens, gel pens, dipping pens and roller balls – the paper handled all of them without hiccup, feathering or bleedthrough. Fine nibs (in particular the Pilot Explorer Fine) wrote smoothly.  This, I’m sure you will agree, is a technical marvel. My finding is that a generous, wet ink is just more deserving of this paper.  In the sample, the Emerald of Chivor ink as well as the Sparkling Shadows just look incredible. Shading and sparkles abound, adding more to this feeling of glamour, romance and luxury.

I’m quite outspoken about how I dislike “showpiece” fountain pens, preferring worker bees to show ponies.  Using the paper I felt an unfamiliar urge to own a special pen, make an occasion of writing a nice note.  Luxury is seductive like that…

9 thoughts on “An Ode to Correspondence Writing and a Review of the G. Lalo Writing Kit

  1. Arja Salafranca says:

    I loved this post — and I loved the review of the G.Lalo paper, which I have been wondering about. I’ve kept journals since the age of eleven, and started using fountain pens to write in them at fourteen. I have rarely looked back. A few years ago I discovered Rhodia paper, and it’s like writing on butter. I don’t like the width of the lines so I now print my own 6mm lines on the white 80gm paper. I’m also looking to try to Clairfontaine 90gm paper. I love handwriting and it is perfect for journal and poetry writing.

  2. Werner Ungerer says:

    Arja – thank you for the feedback, and for taking the time to read.
    Re. the Rhodia – I do the same thing! Blank paper with a printed template at the back! Always nice to discover similarities…My ever-expanding wishlist definitely includes more Clairefontaine. I have a seyes notebook that works wonders for calligraphy practise. The quality of the paper is just on a whole different level.

  3. primitive.ziets says:

    Hi Werner,

    Thanks for a very well-worded reasoning for doing things in style. I saw the originals at Write Gear and they look stunning!

    I also use a lot of paper, but for a different reason. I study and am making notes to the tune of one A5 notebook per month. Having tried almost all of the paper available at Write Gear, I now use a speciality paper that is kind to my inks. The paper comes in white and ivory and paper shows up all the characteristics of all the inks I have. and is quite smooth. And costs a lot less.
    I use blank paper and have made books in A4 and A5. The idea of having a loose template, printed lined has merit. Perhaps then I shall also be able to write straight lines.

    But for doing things in proper style, given what is available to us, you can’t beat the G. Lalo paper.

    Thanks again for the uplifting blog post.

  4. Werner says:

    Hi there. Z…appreciate the feedback, thank you for taking the time to read and for sharing a bit about your writing preferences. Nothing in life is better than having options…and WG certainly helps with that. Best of luck with your studies!

  5. Tomas says:

    Hi Werner,
    Thank you for the wonderfully worded article and review of the G. Lalo paper. As a fellow fountain pen and stationery enthusiast I too have a deep appreciation for good craftsmanship. This includes attractive penmanship as well as good quality pens and paper to write on. Sadly I don’t write as much as you do, but I do write daily in a journal and I use a manual diary and journal for my business meetings. Of course, this is paired with a good quality fountain pen, even for my personal business writing. So shame on you for writing such a generously glowing review of the G. Lalo paper, as this now means that I will have to stock up on some of those supplies.
    Seriously though, some of my cousins overseas have recently given birth and the G. Lalo cards look perfect for that purpose. Another deciding factor is that my cousins are predominantly non-English speaking, so the blank cards would work wonderfully well for that.
    Thank you again for the great article.

  6. Werner says:

    Tomas, one thing that is really exciting to me is connecting a bit with other writers/lovers of writing tools. So I appreciate the comment. Congrats to your cousins’ new arrivals! All I can say is that it is often surprising how much a note or a card is appreciated. I recently sent a very short little note (that I did not really plan or think about too much) to my 9 year old niece. I doubt that she’s EVER received anything in the mail, she was fluent in cell phone and iPad by the mature old age of 3 or 4…In any event, the note was written on Life Co, the letter writing pad with the pretty border on the pages. My sister in law told me that my niece was over the moon and wanted to frame the note! I think it’s a beautiful thing, not to think about things too much, but to follow through on instinct. I am rambling again – in short, send a little congratulatory something. It is such a lovely, mutually nourishing gesture.

  7. MARGUERITE VAN DER MERWE says:

    As an ‘average’ 80-year old, reverting to my education & upbringing iro pen handwriting letters, notes, cards , I have happenstance to come across all this inspiring-to-join-into-action community and materials – to enter back into a way of communicating in a most beautiful way. I have long been making small folded note-cards to friends , just including quotations from poets that I value . Tank you to all on the above – conveyors of THE HAPPINESS ARTS OF LIVING!

  8. Tracy says:

    Hi Werner, I am studying content heavy material and writing exams on standard UNISA issued paper is something of an annoyance to me. I have a few lovely FP’s that I’d love to use to write exams with but find I don’t get enough speed out of them for the exam situation – heaps to write, limited time. I usually write in an upright style with deep lower loops in normal everyday life. For exams I have adopted a quicker italic type cursive to write quicker. For some reason, I find all the pens I have – Mont Blanc, Lamy, Parker, Waterman and the very inexpensive Preppy (which I adore) become scratchy at high speed in italic – and slower. I use good ink in all the pens (mostly Lamy or MontBlanc – like butter…..) but to no avail. Any advice? Thanks for a super post.

    • Werner says:

      Hi Tracy – I have no idea what standard UNISA paper is like. I presume it is about as exciting to write on as single ply toilet paper? I have the same issue with office paper. I found office paper that is extremely fountain pen friendly though. It is called “Double A” – which I get from a local supplier. It’s made in Thailand and it is from sustainable sources. It feels slightly thicker than normal paper and is extremely smooth. It’s about R 68.00 per ream of 500 sheets. No bleeding/feathering – which is nice…This may not be relevant to your situation at all, but I do enjoy a chat… Fountain pens on terrible paper is a bit of a dark art. I would think your best bet would be an Extra Fine nib to prevent bleeding. My Lamy Vista in black extra fine nib is great for long writing sessions. Comfortable, light and can keep up well enough. Ink on crap paper is just going to feather. It’s just what it does. FP’s are the sport of the refined and often simply not very compatible with our ashtray times. Which is the very reason why we love FP’s, right? A roller ball might be an option, but in good conscience, I simply cannot recommend it. I detest rollers…I love writing with Unipin pens. As far as Fineliners go, they are robust, the ink is water and fade proof as well. For your kind of volume though? Have you tried gel ink pens?

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