As essential as the pen, writing paper reflects a style, an era, a milieu, and a trend. Catalogues sold different types of paper for various circumstances. In those published in the 1890s (Sears, Roebuck 1897; Eaton's, Fall/Winter 1888-1889), paper was sold by the quire, the unit of measure used to determine the weight of a package of paper. According to the catalogues, the sheets were always about 5 x 7 inches (13 x 18 cm). Only one side was to be written on and the sheet was to be folded in half lengthwise afterwards. However, despite the advice in letter-writing manuals that were meant to guide writers in their choice of words and in the presentation of letters, people cut sheets or wrote on both sides of the page so as not to waste paper.

According to the manuals, the colour of the writing paper was very important. Letters were to be written only on cream-coloured paper. Coloured paper supposedly lacked distinction, but it was widely used in personal correspondence and was found in numerous catalogues. In 1927, Eaton's introduced tangerine, a colour that displaced the more traditional pink, blue, and grey papers that were offered in the 1901-1902 catalogues.

The variety of writing instruments found in catalogues provides an indication of the range of objects needed to write a letter. Eaton's Winter 1925 and Spring/Summer 1927 catalogues featured all categories of instruments: penholders, fountain pens, pencils, paper cutters, bottles of ink, and inkwells. These two catalogues also offered several fountain pens and pencils made of luxury materials (gold, silver, or mother-of-pearl).

Starting in the 1920s, some catalogues, such as Eaton's 1923-1924, targeted women in their promotion of writing instruments. There were Waterman's Pens for Women, Waterman's Women's Chatelaine Style Pen (a fountain pen with a ring that could be attached to a chain), and Women's Eversharp Pencils. Eversharp was one of the many types of mechanical pencils available (men's models had a clip, women's had a ring). That was the first time the use of a ring was clearly associated with women. Before that, rings were promoted as a means of hanging the pencil from a watch chain.

The type of writing instruments sold in catalogues changed as technology and writing practices evolved. When the fountain pen was introduced, the ceremony of writing, which required patience and skill, was reduced to a common practice that was easy and risk-free. The tools needed for writing (inkwell, pen wiper, and penholder) disappeared. The First World War marked a turning point in the market as fountain pens improved in quality. The volume of mail exchanged between soldiers and their families increased. Eaton's 1918 catalogue featured The Soldier's Pen, a Waterman Ideal Safety Pen (fountain pen) that was specially designed for clean, leak-free writing.

A vast market opened up after 1918. The first pens made of coloured plastic appeared, but that did not rule out gold and silver plating. Fountain pens remained extremely popular until the 1940s, when the ballpoint pen was introduced.
by Bianca Gendreau

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