I took my daughter out a few days ago to buy some new drawing supplies at Hyatt’s — our local art store that happens to be a massive warehouse of pretty much any creative tool one might find themselves in need of (they also have a pretty good pen section). While browsing some paper and ink, this Art Déco themed letter writing set from Pepin Press caught my eye. I immediately loved the box’s look (c’mon, that airplane print is ridiculously cool looking) but had never heard of the brand before. I asked the staff, did a quick search online to see what I could find, and even asked in a few online groups I was in, but could not get a definitive answer on what the paper quality was like and if it was fountain pen friendly.
Usually, I’m a fastidious researcher when it comes to spending. I like to know what I’m buying and if it will be worth my time and money — but now and then you have to take a chance. So with an emboldened spirit and the tacit approval of my four-year-old, I decided to take one home (though it was a very close tossup between this and 1960s themed one — my daughter made the final call)
I was pleasantly surprised to find the box itself is hinged, giving you an excellent presentation of everything inside. I plan to keep this box long after I’ve depleted the stationary inside — most likely for paper storage, but maybe to hold pens in if I can find a tray to fit it. The attached pocket is a nice touch that might spark some later ideas for re-use (since I cannot seem ever to bring myself to throw a nice box away)
The first thing that I found inside the box was two stacks of twenty envelopes each — sized for a folded A5 sheet. The first featured red and white line art in an Art Déco motif. The second stack was in the same print featured on the box — red and gold airplanes flying against blue clouds casting rays of sunlight. Of the two, I prefer the planes, but both have their charm. The line art of the red and white envelopes is intricate and pulls you in despite being a much simpler palette, while the blockier printing and bolder colors of the plane print are attention-grabbing. I like having both subtle and more thrilling envelope options in the set.
Next is the paper itself. Now, before we get to a discussion about how the paper feels and how it takes ink, let’s talk about the look and vibe. There are four patterns in the set, with ten A5 sheets of each included — all four feature repeating all-over patterns in the Déco style. I wish I could do them justice in words, but trying to describe something abstract and non-representational seems far less effective than just letting them speak for themselves, as I have in the pictures below. (tying to brush up on the history of Art Déco patterns and textiles did, however, lead me down a rabbit hole until I found this fascinating article from The Met on the topic for those interested in some further reading).
The options offered lean a little too much in favor of colder and more reserved tones — with only the red pattern offering a more exciting vibe. If I were to change anything about this set, it would include at least one other pattern option that featured stronger and warmer colors to give the group a little more balance. One does feature a pale orange, but it just doesn’t do enough to break up the collection. Greens, blues, and creme tones are lovely and anchor the palette here, but that red print is just so striking that it makes me yearn for another choice in that vein.
Finally, the collection also includes a few stickers and label sheets broken down into two distinct categories. The first is two pages of rectangular mailing labels. I like the variety of options offered here. You are offered four different label styles that run the gamut from patterns to florals, representational forms, and finally, fashion illustrations. All feel very in line with the period and style of the box. The second type of sticker is circular and perfectly suited for sealing envelopes or using a bit of flourish in a letter. Some of these repeat motifs are presented in the labels, while others are unique.
The stickers’ surface is matte and has a similar if not identical feel to the included writing paper. In some tests with various pens, I found that wetter inks and juicier nibs feathered relatively easily — so do consider sticking to gel pens and finer nibs for your addressing needs. A TWSBI Diamond 580 with a 1.1 mm stub inked with Herbin Emeralde De Chivor feathered noticeably while a Sailor Pro Gear Slim with a medium nib inked with Pilot Iroshizuku Ama-Iro showed none with the naked eye (but did show a little when viewed with a loupe).
I find it odd that while the set contains forty envelopes, it only includes twenty-four mailing labels. This is the classic “hot dogs come in packs of 10 and buns come in packs of 8” puzzle. A look at Pepin Press’ website shows that they sell separate label and sticker books — but sadly, I didn’t see any in a similar Déco style, the closest being packs themed as Art Nouveau and Vintage Fashion.
But is the Paper Any Good?
It is good, but not quite great — and that’s ok; I wasn’t expecting it to perform like Tomoe River or Life L. The paper doesn’t have that super smooth feel so indicative of many well-known fountain pen friendly papers (you know… really friendly… friends with benefits type paper that goes away with ink for “weekend trips” but always denies being “a thing”). It has some tooth and texture to it that made me worried that feathering would be a big problem. In that regard, however, I was pleasantly surprised.
For this test I used four pens.
- A Zebra Sarasa Gel Pen in Purple (for comparison purposes)
- A Ranga Monterey with a broad nib — loaded with Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-Yo.
- A TWSBI Diamond 580 with a 1.1 mm stub nib — loaded with Herbin Emeraude De Chivor
- A Pilot Custom 823 with a medium nib – loaded with Sailor Tokiwa-Matsu
In most of the tests, feathering was minimal and really only visible under magnification. The one exception may have been the TWSBI — the wettest pen I used. When looking at this writing sample under a loupe, what I initially thought to be more visible feathering actually looked more like occasional thorns — tiny sharp offshoots of ink flowing from the main line into some of the valleys of the texture of the paper rather than a consistent spread of ink into the paper fibers themselves. It certainly didn’t read as soft, and the line kept a great deal of crispness regardless.
Bleed-through wasn’t a major factor either — though the fact that the paper is printed on one side helps with that. In a close inspection of lighter colored areas of the prints, I noticed only the faintest bleed through, and that was only from marks made with the very wet TWSBI with a stub nib. The other pens/inks showed no discernible bleeding.
if friendly isn’t the right word, I think, at least, I can confidently say that this paper is fountain pen “acquainted.” They see each other a couple of times a year at family parties, and while they aren’t close enough to hang out every day, they enjoy their time together when they do. That is to say, while this paper isn’t PERFECT for fountain pens, it is perfectly usable, and the decorative aspects of it certainly make up for what I perceive as minor flaws. I would wholly enjoy writing a letter to someone with this paper; I just wouldn’t be expecting sheen out of my ink and would be conservative with my nib choice (though you’ll find you can get away with a lot more than you may initially believe with this paper).
I purchased this set for $29.95 at Hyatt’s and plan on picking up another — I think they are pretty impressive and love the presentation. When I got home and had a chance to dive a little bit more into Pepin Press and its offerings, I was excited to see that there were many theme options available for these letter writing sets — much more than I saw at my local shop. A few that appealed to my tastes are the Bauhaus, Art Forms in Nature, and Japan sets. They also have some enticing looking greeting card sets based on different art movements and some writing paper pads that I hope to try out soon.