At this time of year and having received a multitude of extraordinary and thoughtful gifts my mind turns to how to say “Thank You” in the most appropriate fashion. Sending an email is out of the question and most certainly beyond the pale. The only way to express one’s gratitude properly is in a personalized written communication on customised stationery.
There is a marvellous little enterprise located on the Bd. Malesherbes in Paris’ tony 8th arrondissement called Benneton Graveur-nothing to do with the similarly named Italian mass production clothing company. Benneton Graveur makes some of the most beautiful and delicious stationery that I have ever encountered.
The art of “graveur” the French word for engraving the mirror image of a design in a hard material to make prints of the design has been practised for millennia, as evidenced by seals found in Upper Egypt. But it wasn’t until 1565 that a Frenchman, Martin Schongauer raised engraving from a craft to a true art form.
Schongauer, the trailblazer, taught his art to the German master, Albrecht Dürer, and was even admired by Michelangelo. He left 115 burin-work copperplates.
His disciple, Dürer, did most of his engraving on wood and some on metal (early 16th century). After that, some of Europe’s greatest artists perpetuated the art, and improved on it as new technologies appeared.
Europe’s greatest engravers in the 17th century were Jacques Callot, and Rembrandt, in the 18th, Fragonnard and Goya and in the 19th century, Gustave Doré, and more recently Picasso (with his renowned scenes of bullfights).
The most renowned contemporary engravers include Alechinsky and the Catalan Tapies.
By the early 19th century, the emergence of a Bourgeois class, a taste for fine craftsmanship and an intense social life created the need for “Job Printing,” i.e., paper products (personal announcements, calling cards, greeting cards, stationery products, etc) so necessary to high society. They were made from hand engraved tools and dies by master artisans.
In 1880, Emile Benneton, a French carver and engraver set up shop in Paris and founded the Benneton House in the Madeleine church quarter.
Benneton’s taste for beautiful things and his love of delicate workmanship made him a success, and soon he was supplying products by appointment to the courts of many European countries. The intellectual and artistic elite were frequent visitors to his “Maison” on Boulevard Malesherbes.
Since then, the company, which has always remained in Benneton family hands, has been able to preserve its heritage of savoir faire and still supplies a discerning and elegant clientele the world over with the same carefully crafted engravings, with the same taste in the choice of colors and papers, and always, the same quest for elegance and detail.