Please enjoy the original writing, Christian travel journal, and photography by a hapa haole named Gail Rhea.

Original Writing & Photography

by Gail Rhea






After you get a nice pen, are you planning to still use that ruled notebook paper or cheap stationery that you got from the drugstore or supermarket, or are you interested in acquiring an appropriate stationery wardrobe? What terms might help you select your stationery? Which are the best papers and which ink colors are acceptable for social correspondence? 

"A stationery wardrobe?" Your eyebrows go up.

Yes, just as you have a wardrobe of clothing for different activities, a stationery wardrobe is a variety of stationery suitable for different types of writing needs. Expecting that the person who invests in a nice pen will also want suitable writing paper, I went through my social and business etiquette books by Miss Manners and Letitia Baldrige and pored through books from the public library by such recognized experts on social civility as Charlotte Ford, Emily Post, and Amy Vanderbilt to save you the time of looking up the information for yourself.

At the minimum, a stationery wardrobe consists of a supply of three items with matching envelopes for personal business, informal correspondence, and formal social correspondence:

1. Known as house stationery, standard sheets (8-1/2" x 11" in the U.S., A4 elsewhere) and matching business envelopes (#10 in U.S., DL elsewhere) are for everyone in your home, including houseguests, to use for business or personal letters except for extending or replying to invitations or writing condolences. These sheets are white, off-white (buff, cream, ecru), or pale gray and may be plain or have the name of your house or your address engraved, embossed, or printed on them. Business letters are best typed or printed off of your computer's word processor in black ink while personal correspondence needs to be handwritten. Plain sheets should be used as second sheets. 

2. Correspondence cards (about 6-1/4" x 4-1/4") in any color for both men and women are for shorter correspondence such as short letters, notes, extending and replying to informal invitations, thank-you notes, notes of congratulations, or as gift enclosures. Correspondence cards may be plain or bordered, engraved, embossed, or printed with monogram, initial, name, or a motif in any color. 

Please note that paper sellers tend to say that you should write on only one side of the card. Since etiquette mavens say you may write on both sides, please feel free to follow the advice of those who don't have a monetary stake in how much stationery we use and who are quite practical in recognizing that card stock is heavy enough that fountain pen ink doesn't show through to the opposite side. 

Be aware, however, that there are correspondence cards that aren't made of good, heavy, card stock. The thinner, lighter-weight cards, suitable for computer printing, may or may not allow fountain pen ink to show through to the other side. You'll just have to try it, yourself.

If the card is fountain pen ink-friendly and you have more to write than will fit on one side, simply flip the card over, bottom to top, and continue writing after the ink has been blotted or is dry on the first side. 

Also, when your correspondence fits on one side, you may forego the envelope, stick a stamp on the back side, address it, and mail it as a postcard as long as your message isn't potentially embarrassing.

In addition to correspondence cards, there's the option of fold-over notes (about 3-13/16" x 5-5/16" with a horizontal fold at the top) usually used by women. Please don't confuse fold-over notes which are used for the same occasions as correspondence cards with informals that are engraved. (Hey, I didn't make up these terms!) Don't write on the outside front if there's something already there and don't write on the second page, either, when the engraving or embossing on the front side leaves an indentation. With those exceptions, the order of writing on a fold-over note is page 1 (front outside), page 2 (inside top above the fold), page 3 (inside bottom below the fold), page 4 (outside back - when you've completed page 3, just flip it up, bottom up, like with a correspondence card); or pages 2, 3, 4; or pages 2 and 3, or just page 3, depending on the length of your message. An informal invitation goes on the third page, the inside bottom.

3. Good quality single sheets and matching envelopes for personal correspondence with matching plain sheets for letters that exceed the first page. You may write on both sides if the paper is thick enough to avoid show-through or bleed-through of your ink. You should have at least one box of plain sheets in white or off-white for condolences.

For women, half sheets (about 6-1/4" x 8-1/2") are customary although they may opt for the larger room to write that men's Monarch sheets provide. While the strict traditionalist uses folded letter sheets for extending or replying to formal invitations, condolences, and other formal correspondence, white or off-white half sheets are also appropriate. Although condolences should be written on plain sheets, your formal paper may otherwise be engraved. Please don't compromise with thermographic printing because it's not in the same class as engraving; use plain paper if engraving is not feasible. As for informal correspondence such as letters to friends, thank-you letters, informal invitations and replies, and all other informal social correspondence, you may use paper of any color or pattern that is plain or engraved, embossed, or printed, with or without a border and/or a motif in any color.

For men, the larger Monarch (about 7-1/4" x 10-1/2") sheets in white and off-white are appropriate for formal correspondence such as formal invitations and replies, and condolences. Other colors such as beige, tan, gray, light blue, and light green are appropriate for informal correspondence with or without a contrasting border. These latter may be plain or engraved, embossed, or printed with your name. Address, home phone number, email address, and personal fax number are optional. 

There, those few items aren't so much, are they? If you're a paper hound, please allow me to suggest the following optional items:

1. For women, folded double sheets (about 5-1/4" x 7-1/4" with a vertical fold on the left) for correspondence of various formality. As with half sheets that substitute for folded double sheets, formal paper should be white or off-white when used for condolence letters and extending and replying to formal invitations while less formal paper may be gray or pastel for any other correspondence. 

If you decide to use these, the proper order of writing, unfortunately, isn't the same as reading a book. The order is: page 1, 3, 2, then 4. (If your reader isn't used to letters on double sheets, you may number the pages to assist her with the order the pages are to be read.) You also have the option of writing on page 1 normally then opening and turning the paper sideways to write on the inside pages 2 and 3 as if they are a long letter sheet and then closing and rotating the paper back to finish up page 4 as you did page 1. If you're certain the letter will be four pages long, you may write in logical order: pages 1, 2, 3, and 4. Although Emily Post approves of writing on page 1 then 4, and then going back to write on the inside 2 and 3 as a long letter sheet, please think of the effect this order will have on your poor reader. Really, it's a lot simpler all the way around if you stick to using single sheets and they're less expensive, too.

2. Informals (about 5" x 3-1/2" with a horizontal fold at the top) are formal fold-over notes, similar in shape and slightly smaller in size to the notes mentioned above. Engraved in black ink on white or off-white paper, informals are used for short notes, gift enclosures, extending and replying to informal invitations, reminders, or for replying to a formal invitation. To tell the difference between an informal and a fold-over note, it might be easier to think of it this way: if an informal isn't engraved in black and if the paper isn't white or off-white, then it's a fold-over note. 

3. Gift enclosure cards with matching envelopes - Great with gifts for all occasions and less expensive than correspondence cards or fold-over notes, keeping a pack of gift enclosure cards at home gets you out of having to swing by the Hallmark store at the last minute to buy an expensive greeting card on your way to the party. Just write your short sentiment or "Happy Birthday!" or whatever with your fountain or rollerball or gel pen and sign your name. Easy! Calling cards with only your name engraved in black on white or ecru also serve as enclosures for gifts or with flowers. Putting the name on the envelope isn't necessary if you're delivering or mailing it yourself, but the name (only) is necessary if the store is sending it. Leave the envelope unsealed unless the message is very personal. 

4. Calling cards, also modernly known as contact cards because they may include your address, phone number, email address, website, blog, and instant messaging, Facebook or Twitter names; may also be used as gift enclosures. What's great about them are the various sizes, colors, and designs available to express your personality. The main things to bear in mind are that this is a social card, not a business card, and to keep it uncluttered to make the best impression by selecting a few lines of contact information instead of listing all the various ways one may reach you. 

While a man's card should have his home phone number, a woman's card should not for security reasons unless her card is a couple's card, with both their names, that she shares with her husband. A woman's phone number may be written by her or by the recipient when she gives it to the recipient if she chooses or she may have another set of cards made up with her phone number to give to female acquaintances and trusted males.

5. Black-bordered sheets or fold-over notes in white or off-white for condolences. Use these instead of buying the more expensive commercial sympathy cards in which you have to write a personal message anyway.

6. Red- or green-bordered cards with an engraved or embossed Christmas motif. Similar to correspondence cards, these may be sent instead of the typical Christmas cards.

7. For international correspondence, you may want some airmail letter sheets with matching envelopes especially designed to help keep postage costs down. Since airmail paper is so thin, write on one side only.

8. Thank-you notes - NOT! You can get better quality letter sheets, correspondence cards, and/or fold-over notes and don't need the extra expense for something as tacky and redundant as notes that say "Thank You" when you have to write your thanks yourself anyway. The same goes for notes that say, "Congratulations!" or anything similar. Simplify and declutter your life. If you don't spend your hard-earned money propagating this commercial enterprise, you'll have more to spend on stationery that's more versatile and will be able to afford better quality. 

REMEMBER: The purpose of selling is to move money from your wallet to their company's bank account whether or not you actually need whatever it is they're selling. 

Trust me, while you most certainly do need to write thank-you notes, you certainly do not need to buy notes that bray "Thank You" across their fronts when you can use a classier single letter sheet, correspondence card, or fold-over note, instead. If you're jonesing to spend money, go buy more letter sheets, correspondence cards, or fold-over notes in another color or with a motif or go buy another pen and let the Joneses try to keep up with you.

9. Hotel or ship's stationery - are to be used only during your stay in the hotel or on board the ship. If you take it with you to use at home, people will wonder what else you stole. Those little soaps, shampoos, conditioners, and lotions that you didn't open there? The towels? Light bulbs? Ashtrays? (Why are you smoking, anyway? Why are you committing slow suicide and taking others with you through your second-hand smoke? Aren't you waterlogged from soaking in that river in Egypt?)

Please buy the very best quality you can afford. Not only does your stationery speak volumes about you, it's simply more practical and easier to write on better paper that doesn't absorb ink or make it feather. The only exception to this might be paper made for inkjet printers because they also use liquid ink or if you use Noodler's black ink since it was developed with those in mind who do newspaper crossword puzzles. 

How can you tell if you're looking at quality paper? Hold it up to the light - you should be able to see a watermark; usually only the better papers have one. Also, it should be acid-free. Since acid is only used on wood to make pulp (and the acid continues to decompose the resultant paper during the subsequent years), the best stationery is made of 100% cotton or linen fiber. This is especially important for letters of sentimental value since they'll last longer. Cotton paper is also gentler on nibs than is paper made from wood pulp although with tipped nibs this may not be as much a consideration as in the heyday of the fountain pen when people expected to replace their cheaper points at somewhat regular intervals.


Return to top


Here are a few terms to acquaint you with some characteristics of the papers that are available:

Antique finish - a finish that gives the paper a natural rough surface.

Artificial or simulated watermark - an image that's printed in white or transparent ink or varnish that can be viewed from an angle on one side only, usually the back. Artificial watermarks are applied after the paper manufacturing process by either the paper manufacturer or the printer. 

Bleed-through - describes ink going through to the other side of the paper. It occurs when the paper's too thin, your nib is too broad, or your ink is too dark.

Bond paper - is strong and durable. Originally used for bonds, later adopted for use as stationery.

Chain lines - watermark lines about an inch apart that run parallel to the grain of the paper.

Crash finish - paper embossed to resemble coarse linen.

Eggshell finish - the surface is slightly rough resembling an eggshell.

Embossed finish - a design impressed into the paper that may or may not be an obstacle to a fountain pen.

Fine paper - a term for high-quality papers, best for fountain pens.

Finish - the type of finish describes the look and feel of a paper.

Laid finish or laid paper - paper watermarked with chain and laid lines.

Laid lines - closely spaced, shorter lines running between the longer chain lines.

Linen finish - the surface of the paper resembles linen cloth.

Paper weight - describes the heaviness of the paper in pounds per ream. Outside of North America, the metric system is used.

Satin or silk finish - paper that's very smooth, often with a sheen.

Show-through - a condition where the writing on one side of a sheet of paper can be seen from the other side under normal light.

Tooth - the texture of the paper surface is rough and not advisable for fountain pens. Paper with tooth is commonly found in sketch books or tablets.

Vellum - originally parchment made from calf, kid, or lamb skin, modern vellum is paper that either simulates parchment or is thin enough to be used as tracing paper by artists and architects.

Watermark - a design incorporated into paper originally to identify the papermaker and type of paper.

Wove paper - is smoother than laid paper. If you have an extra fine or italic nib, this may be your favorite. 

Writing paper - generally used for stationery and available in weights from 20 to 32 lbs.

Finally, a paper of particular interest to many users of fountain pens is blotting paper. This is a special, stiff, thick, absorbent paper that comes in various sizes to use by itself, with a rocker or rolling blotter, or in a desk pad. It's used to absorb excess ink when there isn't enough time to let it air-dry like when you sign something and want to immediately fold and insert it into an envelope. All you have to do is press the blotting paper onto the writing. If you have a desk pad, turn your paper over and press it with your hand onto the blotting surface.


Return to top


If you're reluctant to forego that tablet of lined writing paper that you got from Wal-Mart because you can't keep your writing from sloping up or down, or running up and down, you should use a ruled writing guide beneath your letter sheet. If the lines on your notebook or tablet paper are too faint to see through your good stationery, you could go over them with black ink or make your own guide on your computer's word processor with bold black lines spaced as closely or widely apart as you like. Also, Crane offers half sheets with faint lines that are 5/16" apart with matching envelopes.

Which are the best papers? While some papers do better with extra-fine and fine nibs than with medium or broad nibs, there are certain papers, brands, or types of paper, that have earned reputations for being among the best. If you happen to read somewhere that fountain pens do best with uncoated papers, don't let this become a major concern during your search for the perfect paper(s) for you because all papers graded as writing paper are uncoated. (Coated paper is typically used for magazines and will gum up your nib for sure.) The following are suggested for stationery, journals, or general writing purposes:


Ampad Gold Fibre


Copier, ink jet, and laser printer papers





Fox River

G. Lalo

Mead notebook filler paper and Five Star notebooks


Mohawk - Beckett Cambric, Strathmore, Superfine, and Via writing papers



Quill Premier Series



Tops Docket Gold



Return to top



As for ink, you'll never be wrong using black ink except with lawyers who want to be able to easily tell which is the original document that you signed amidst all those black and white copies that their office staff made. Blue-black ink may also be used for condolences.

While blue is a fairly universally acceptable color for less grave correspondence, Miss Manners says that brown ink is for less serious letters, Letitia Baldrige approves of any dark ink, and Emily Post suggests that the ink either matches the engraving or printing or complements the color of the paper.

Violet to lavender shades of ink move in and out of fashion and acceptability, mostly out, and light to medium green inks should be reserved for the holidays. Red is never acceptable for correspondence and you shouldn't use bright or kooky colors unless it's for fun or you don't mind appearing immature

Finally, although the pencil is an excellent utilitarian instrument, using one for correspondence is downright rude unless you're ill, in a moving vehicle, or it's somehow unavoidable which you'll explain so your reader won't be insulted by the unstated message that writing to her was so difficult a task that you needed an eraser. Even if that's the case, please be courteous enough to spare her feelings and restrict the pencil to working on as many drafts as you need before committing your words to your personal stationery in ink.


Return to top








Read the next page

Return to the table of contents for The Newbie's Guide to Fountain (and Other) Pens






Main Entrance Projection Room Reading Room Information Desk

Janitor's Closet



Copyright 1993- Gail Rhea.

All rights reserved.