This project started for us when we went to see local stationers and family run printing business Sinclairs. They have been in Otley since the mid 1800’s when the town was at the very heart of the British printing industry. Still here today, now in their 6th generation, they are a large producer of mostly school stationery. We talked to them initially about designing some artists sketchpads but soon discovered a project we simply couldn’t resist taking on.
Sinclairs are the owners of the iconic red Silvine note books, a distinctly British stationery brand that was once very prevalent but has been pushed by the wayside in the last few decades. These books hold a wonderful amount of nostalgia for many, having been used by everyone from housewives in the 1950’s to shopkeepers and bookkeepers in the 1960’s to school children in the 1970’s.
So on rediscovering these books we wanted wanted to find out if anyone else remembered them, and if they liked them as much as we did. To establish whether there was wider interest we delved into the factory archives, photographing the red books from different eras and posting them on the brand social channels alongside old photographs from the factory and other vintage stationery.
We found that not only did people remember the books but there was a real interest in bringing them back. Their simple design, distinctive red cover and classic wreath logo make them an attractive British alternative to the mainly American and European competitors in the world of notebooks. Sinclairs asked us to look at reinventing the books with a focus on a more quality product they could create interest with especially in the overseas market.
The most recent reincarnations of these red books had lost the subtlety in their design as computers and modern printing techniques took over. We wanted to go back to what made the vintage books so iconic and beautiful. The older books were much more tactile, so we looked at bring some of that back through the materials used. The modern shiny orange cover was taken back to it’s true red on a beautiful uncoated stock.
The James Cropper paper mill in Kendal – who are co-incidentally also in their 6th generation, matched the perfect shade of red, and wire embossed the paper to emulate the woven silk effect on the old books. They made the inner paper in a natural white rather than a modern bright white and created a soft, smooth finish that would make the books a pleasure to use.
We were keen that the books kept their 1960’s aesthetic, which had a wonderful balanced of form and function. The design on the front – a simple rectangular lock up with names in Gill Sans, and the names themselves – describing their individual purpose. We distilled their names down to the simplest word ‘Memo Book’ became ‘Memo’ ‘Exercise Book’ became Exercise and so on.
Great care was taken to bring back the subtleties that had made the design of these vintage books so special. Each was measured to decide the perfect proportions and the inks were colour matched to create the midnight blue printed on the cover and the light cyan inner markings. The Gill Sans was also tweaked to take it closer to the cut of the original typeface that would have been laid out on the printing machine in times gone by.
Using more hand finished techniques to produce the books required the factory to dust off a few of the older machines and re-establish some of the hand-made book making skills. New features were added to the design to make the books better than their predecessors. Features like exposed stitching on the spines, sewn by hand with ends that are properly finished so they won’t unravel.
To prevent the books becoming too precious for everyday scrawls, perforations were added to make removing an unwanted page easier. A bookmark describing the books purpose is inserted into each book before they are wrapped with a bellyband indicating the page count and print inside.
Finally they are packaged up in branded display boxes – based on the vintage brown paper packaging found in the Silvine archive.
By Karen Wood, Art Director