Seven fun facts about stationery

The paperless office will remain a myth, says James Ward, author of the book Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case. 
“No matter how efficient technology and apps and mobile phones get, there will still be a need for paper. If someone rings the officer and you need to write down a message, you’ll always do it on a Post-it Note. The new technology is a threat to stationery but not the end. The iPhone isn’t going to replace paper, not least because your phone runs out of charge,” says Ward.

“Here we are at 11am on a Wednesday at Hay-on-Wye and I’m already down to 62% of my charge. A bit of paper doesn’t need charging up, it’s good for the whole day. And when you are going through a tunnel, a pencil doesn’t lose signal and not work.”

In an entertaining talk, Ward, who is co-founder of the UK Stationery Club, also explained some interesting facts about our everyday stationary items:

Rub a dub dub
Rubbers have been used since about 1770 (the name was given by Joseph Priestley) and before that time the preferred method for removing pencil lines was to use stale bread. “They used to rub things out with stale bread,” Ward told the audience, “but draughtsmen and artists got sick of being chased by ducks.”

Paper clips helped fight the Nazis
In the Second World War, members of the Norwegian resistance used to wear paper clips on their lapels as a subtle sign that they were fighting Hitler.

Yellow is the main highlight …
Fluorescent highlighter ink (which was discovered in 1930 by the German Schwanhäusser family) comes in orange, red, green, purple and blue. But the pink and yellow varieties account for 85 per cent of all sales. Yellow is on the middle spectrum of visible light and is a good one for people with colour blindness.

… but is the main Post-it colour by accident
There were lots of accidents involved in the creation of Post-it Notes, which were first launched in 1977 when a scientist called Spence Silver made a glue that was too weak for commercial sale. But when it was added to paper by Spence’s colleague Art Fry, they found it could be used for peel-and-press notes.

Geoff Nicholson, the boss of Silver and Fry, later admitted that they were yellow because there just happened to be yellow paper in the laboratory for the first experiment.

From Lipstick to Pritt Stick
“Dr Wolfgang Dierichs is a man who revolutionised the world… of glue,” jokes Ward. In 1967 Dierichs, a researcher at German manufacturing company Henkel, went on a plane trip and saw something that inspired him: a woman applying her lipstick. He realised that you can the form of the twisty tube and fill it with glue.

“A cynic might question the story of whether the un-named woman ever existed. But I am not a cynic,” adds Ward.

Tipp-Ex led to MTV
Bette Graham Nesmith worked at a bank in Texas and made lots of mistakes on the electric typewriter. Working over Christmas, she noticed that artists painting the sign boards painted over their errors. With her son Michael (later of the music band The Monkees) she experimented with a tempura water based paint and small brush to type over mistakes.
After Nesmith died in 1980, Michael inherited $25-million, which she invested in the PopClips concept of a TV show playing music and inadvertently paved the way for MTV.

What’s in the perfect pencil-case?
When a member of the audience asked what’s in the ideal pencil case, Ward replied: “A couple of Bik crystal ball point pens. I prefer black because it gives my words more authority. A blue highlighter, a bit unconventional, I know, and Post-it Notes.”

By Martin Chilton, Culture Editor online

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