One of the greatest things to shop for while traveling abroad is stationery. I'm not saying this because I'm biased, but mostly because stationery items vary more than one might think depending on location and are an interesting study on the cultural differences of quotidian objects. Ever since I was old enough to travel on my own, stationery shops and pharmacies have been my go-tos for unique country-specific goods for that very reason.
London is a place especially close to my heart. It's where I went to college and also a place I'll always consider to be my second home. During my formative years there I became accustomed to certain things that could be found in my local family-run stationers in Bethnal Green that I was appalled to find non-existent upon my return stateside. The same could be said the other way around--I hoarded black USA made Ticonderogas, Mead composition notebooks and rubber cement every time I returned home for holidays.
As an adult person in the stationery industry, my recent visit back to my former home was dominated by the search for old favorites and the discovery of new things. Here's a comprehensive guide of where to shop, should you ever find yourself in the UK:
Present & Correct - If you follow us and are at all familiar with boutique stationery stores, this is one you've likely heard of. They've been online for years but only recently opened a physical store close to the Angel tube station in North London. Inside you'll find delicate and unusual vintage finds, notebooks you've likely never heard of and loose stock ephemera and paper that has been thoughtfully and carefully sourced from all over the world. Be sure to follow them on Instagram--their account is stationery porn at its finest.
Choosing Keeping - This is a shop that I've been a patron of since its opening in 2012, when I lived nearby. It's located on Columbia Road--also home to the famous flower market (go on Sunday to check out the flowers and the shops--many of which aren't open on weekdays). Here you'll find beautifully printed greeting cards, a small but thorough selection of pencils (including the discontinued original Craft Design Technology pencil) and hard-to-find Japanese classics. We buy the elegant, long paper scissors we use in the shop here. It's a great place if you're interested in stationery history and craft.
Paperchase - In the US we know Paperchase for their quirky stationery products once sold in Borders bookstores (RIP), but it's actually an empire of UK stationery stores that sell just about everything. The flagship on Tottenham Court Road is three stories tall and even contains a cafe and an art supply section. Most of the things are Paperchase brand, but you can also find some old standbys. Look for the well designed boxed thank you note cards and most importantly, the sticker carousels. Paperchase's stickers are usually that puffy sort we know from the 90s, are inexpensive and make excellent mail-able tourist gifts.
Nook - Stoke Newington is a neighborhood in North London that's a bit off the beaten path. It's worth a visit just for Stoke Newington Church Street, which is full of quaint and beautiful shops, cafes and a sprawling park on the end of the street. Nook is a shop tucked here that sells one of my all-time favorites: Coccoina glue, in stick form and in a little tin. It smells like almonds and has a particularly nostalgic, very Italian packaging design. You'll also find a terrific selection of locally sourced cards and Pentel markers. Keep walking down the street--there are a few other stationery-based shops to be discovered.
Rymans - What Staples is to the US, Rymans is to the UK. It may appear like any old generic big-box office supply store, but look a little closer and you'll find some real gems. I always buy Basildon paper goods here. They make excellent Air Mail envelopes, lovely watermarked white envelopes that are about the size of a US check and high-quality, affordable letter-writing pads in multiple delicate hues (the light blue with the Air Mail envelopes is the best!). Also look out for multi-colored striped paperclips.
Department stores - Unlike what we're used to in our American counterparts, department stores in the UK actually have departments for EVERYTHING. Including stationery. Check out Selfridges and Harrods, where you'll find the fanciest paper goods around, as well as a few classics. Selfridges stocks the full range of Ruth Jackson pencil shaving greeting cards for all occasions. If you're a fan of Liberty prints, the stationery department of the Liberty stores has just about everything you'd want in many of their iconic florals.
Local stationers - It's not unusual to find a local, family-run stationery shop in just about any neighborhood. They're usually messy and sell the basics and sometimes a few surprises. The stickers in these shops are usually great, but also be on the lookout for the red Silvine exercise notebooks (a classic made in the UK), Staedtler Noris pencils in multiple grades and Staedtler Tradition pencils.
Postcards - Any stationery-savvy traveler is well versed in postcard writing. My favorite places to score less touristy ones are the National Portrait Gallery where you'll find postcards of portraits of British icons (The Ian McKellen and J.K Rowling are my favorites) and the Tate Modern, whose shop sells an incredible assortment of contemporary art postcards and excellent souvenir pencils. As for postage stamps--an international postcard stamp will cost you 1.05 GBP but be sure to ask for the limited issue stamps, which are usually priced around what you'll need.
Very specific things:
Muji 2B Pencils - Though we've had Muji in the US for quite some time, there are certain things that haven't yet made it here. Their simply finished pencils are one of them. They're a soft-ish graphite and are a dream to sharpen--definitely pick some up (and a fire scented candle while you're at it).
Labour and Wait - Situated on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, this shop is full of perfectly designed, historically important utilitarian goods including a small selection of stationery, namely nicer, throwback versions of Silvine school notebooks.
With a foggy jet-lagged brain, I share these favorites. There are many many more to discover, but I'll leave that to you because that's one of the greatest things about traveling.
PS. Should you find yourself in Bristol, you must visit Papersmiths, one of the most perfect stationery shops around.
Pictured above, my favorite recent purchases: Vintage orange grid notepad, blue labels from Present and Correct, balloon card, Coccoina glue and Koh-i-Noor eraser from Nook, Silvine notebook from Labour & Wait, pencils from Muji, greeting card from the Tate Modern, postcard from the Natural History Museum, pencils, scissors and tiny paperclips from Choosing Keeping, striped paperclips from Ryman's, souvenir pencil from the National Portrait Gallery