We’re all suckers for beautiful stationery – even (or maybe especially) as the world goes digital. And London-based stationers Marby & Elm certainly delivers on that front with its letterpress cards, invites, notepads and tags; evidence of founder Eleanor Tattersfield’s artistic background. But it’s the wit and sense of fun – the cards featuring messages like ‘Sorry I’m Late. I Didn’t Want To Come’ and ‘You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Card Was Made For You’; the candles with names like ‘Victorian Brothel’ and ‘Downstairs Loo’; and the jewellery featuring Gummy Bears, Smarties and more of your favourite sweets – that really make Marby & Elm stand out. Named after Eleanor’s two sons, Marlowe and Elmore, it’s a family business – her sister works with her, her brother helps out with the website and her Dad has designed some of their lettering. So, we caught up with Eleanor to discover how it all came about...
The Stationary Brand Rewriting the Rules
First, tell us how Marby & Elm began?
It started when I did a search online to find some letterpress stationery for myself and I came across an advert for an old printer. I thought, ‘Why don’t I just buy it?’ So I met the man who was selling it, who I found out was a descendant of Caslon – he invented the Caslon OldFace type. He’d worked in print ever since his great, great, grandfather had. He showed me how to use it and off I went and set it up in my shed that evening. I printed a little set of stationery, which is still probably my favourite, even though the spacing isn’t perfect. There’s such a naïve wonkiness about it.
Have you always been creative?
Yes, in as much as my father was a lettering artist and we always used to make cards at home. We’ve never bought a card, nobody in my family has ever bought a card! But it’s one of those things where people ask, ‘So how did you get into it?’ and you find links with your past, which are so obvious. I studied art, as well as art history. I always did life drawing, and I’m quite good at drawing and painting, but I went to the academic side of art to start with. So I suppose yes is the answer, but not in a direct way!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Everywhere! I’m always looking at adverts and listening to teenage-speak to see if it’s funny. It could be little phrases that I hear or lines that I read in books. Sometimes it might be from watching a TV programme. I remember watching Taboo and there were lots of scenes down on the Thames Foreshore with Tom Hardy in nightshirts – which was quite memorable! I thought Thames Foreshore is quite a good neglected area of London, and that’s a great name and smell for a candle.
Is a sense of humour important to the brand?
Definitely! A lot of things come about from conversations in the shop with customers where we riff and then it goes into a card. It can be difficult to get that line right between something that’s funny, a little bit naughty, but not too crass, so people want to buy it. To get that right is quite satisfying. When comedians or comedy writers come into the shop, I always get them to critique the cards and I take notes. I’m quite serious about it, but I’m also really embarrassed that I’m doing it at the same time!
What’s the best letter you’ve ever received?
I have a particular pen pal in Japan and we write to each other frequently. It’s never anything but total joy to get her letter through the post. There are lots of stickers involved, there’s lots of rubber stamping involved, there’s lots of tape – it’s really fun. I’m completely obsessed by Snoopy, and in Japan, fortunately they’re also obsessed with Snoopy. So she sends me a lot of things with Snoopy on, which I completely adore. Anything that comes from her goes into a special treasure trove of her.
What’s next for Marby and Elm?
One of the things I recently did, and I’m going to do more of – you know how you might have some handwritten thing that is so precious, like your Grannie’s shopping list, and it’s such a fragile bit of paper and it’s so meaningful. I’m going to make a vector of that. It could be a poem or it could be anything – and then I’ll blow it up bigger and make a letterpress block out of it. Print it like an A4 poster and frame it.
Home is… lighting a proper fire and laying with my dog.
Guilty pleasure... naked attraction, just to see how little pubic hair the generations below me go for.
Book everyone should read... Someone At A Distance by Dorothy Whipple
The word that you overuse... Bollocks
Love of your life... My children.
Always in your bag… a really good fountain pen that works.
How do you take a moment for yourself... I take a lime bike and just cycle around
What’s the one thing people would be surprised to know about you... I learned mandarin for three years, have a full motorbike license and can do the flying trapeze.
Life motto? Done is better than perfect.
What’s next? Personalised candles, new totes, draw liners and some lavender bags that say ‘fuck off moths’.