Discretion is not only the better part of valor, but of stationery. We’d hoped to show the historic presses Dempsey & Carroll uses to produce America’s finest calling cards, invitations and letter-writing paper, but the Baltimore factory’s close proximity to Washington DC ensures it plenty of government work, and there are all sorts of confidential projects lying around too cumbersome to tidy up.
Confidentiality is one of the things D&C’s clients — many of whom are the world’s most powerful moguls — value most about its services. Founded in 1878 and the oldest still-extant engraver in the United States, New York-based Dempsey & Carroll has provided generations of prominent families with the finest stationery for every stage of life from the cradle to the grave (with a special emphasis on the nuptials that occur somewhere in between). Privy to the most private information — events, secret weddings, contact information — of the most private individuals, protecting client anonymity is a top priority. “The discretion we offer is rare in this age,” says president Jennifer Poole. “You will never hear us talk about who our clients are.”
In the era of acronym-heavy text messages, personal handwritten correspondence is refinding its place. After a steep downturn at the dawn of the new millenium, custom stationery is making a comeback as many rediscover the personal touch that only a handwritten note can provide. “The past three years we’ve seen people come back to a more personal way of connecting with each other,” says Poole.
Since the medium is as telling as the message, sending the note on the finest custom stationery certainly makes, shall we say, an indelible impression.is no ordinary printer, but an engraver that hand tools steel and copper dies with custom designs, with a separate plate created for each color. The dies are set in high-pressure vintage presses, where each piece of cotton fibre paper is placed one at a time. With a pull of the lever the dies impress the paper and leave their ink on the raised surface. The result is a card, note or invitation with unsurpassed visual and tactile distinction.
Although it sells readymade stationery around the world, custom orders are only available through Dempsey & Carroll’s small shop on New York’s Upper East Side. Clients work with the firm to create designs with a personal touch — depictions of estates from which notes are written are especially popular. Dempsey & Carroll’s finest paper is a six-ply, though it once created an unbendable 12-ply for a client who was a tad prone to overstatement. Options include hand-cut, gold-painted beveled edges. Prices can easily hit $20 for each card, and the labor and design for custom dies can easily run into the thousands. A wedding suite, which includes invitations, menu cards, thank-you notes and escort cards, runs $17,000 for a set of 250.
And while the digital age would seem to have erased the lines between our work and personal lives, a growing number of gents have found a subtle antidote: the calling card. “In an age when it seems like everything is transparent, calling cards give people the chance to give out only the information they want to,” says Poole. Some clients don’t want business contacts to have personal contact info, while others don’t want social connections to have business details. And many have so many irons in the fire a single company name or title is pointless. “If you’re working on five or six different projects,” says Poole, “maybe people just need to know a phone number or a secretary who can reach you, and that’s all.”