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Valentine’s Day: Finding the Right Type in a Digital Age

Perfect match: Your Valentine’s Day gem may have been handpicked at a show in west London’s Olympia Halls | SCRIBBLE & DAUB

PaperFest has become an enduring love of paper despite the onslaught of the all-conquering digital armada in all its disruptive forms; social media, smartphones, apps, email, tablets and emojis. The event, a greeting card and stationery showcase is at the heart of Top Drawer, the twice yearly gifts trade show at west London’s Olympia which attracts the who’s who in gifts retail from all over the UK and across the globe.

The show has become an international event and magnet for top buyers including over 1,500 carefully curated brands who attend. Held in January and September, it is timed to coincide with the busiest periods in the international buying calendar. Organisers claim it attracts over 100,000 buyers with an overall marketing reach of one million.

Keynote speakers from household brands such as paint and paper specialists Farrow and Ball, Selfridges, Harrods and Waterstones deliver workshops and masterclasses whilst buyers are acquainted with emerging talents and the latest trends in the sector. In a digital age, paper is still holding its own as the go-to gift for all occasions. Tactile, expressive, personalised, colourful and portable, the humble greeting card still reaches places where digital and e-cards struggle to touch.

Designers and retailers vye for awards in Emotive Design, Engaging Print and Exciting Use of Colour. Everywhere you looked there was a feast of letters, words, patterns and images, embossed, hand-painted, drawn, screen-printed or glued onto all types of paper stock.

As a beautiful handwritten envelope landing on the doormat becomes a new luxury in our digital lives, few things are more exciting – particularly if that envelope’s arrival coincides with Valentine’s Day.CAROLINE KENT

With buyers from independent and high street shops scouring the sprawling venue ticking off their must-haves in the cavernous hall, there is a distinct possibility that the choice of your greeting card or gifts for special occasions and the year’s most important dates from Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Easter to Christmas could have been selected here.

Sharon Little, chief executive of the Greeting Cards Association (GCA), an umbrella body for card manufacturers waxes lyrical about the healing powers of the humble greeting card. She says the value of cards is in the feelings they engender when we give and receive them. And the industry seems to be going from strength to strength notwithstanding the disruptive power of new media.

Vintage: A Victorian St Valentine’s Day card circa 1860 with a lace paperwork border | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Little says: “Greeting cards seem to be one of the few products that has held its own against digital. With over 2.4bn cards being sold annually in the UK, real greeting cards continue to excite and inspire the card-buying public.

“While social media is seen as a quick fix, receiving a handwritten card feels far more personal and special. Social media gives an instant hit, but a card gives lasting pleasure. Cards are real things given or sent from close friends that are kept, displayed and treasured.”

Little asks rhetorically: What would you prefer – a Valentine’s card or a Facebook message? And how would you feel if you didn’t receive any cards on your birthday?


The latest GCA Market Report shows that in 2016 the UK public spent more on greeting cards than ever before – taking the market value up to £1.75bn. The report, which covers sales January – December 2016, is the only research based on actual retail sales figures, with data confidentially submitted by UK publishers to market analysts Ebiquity.

The total retail value of single cards sales in the UK stood at over £1.526bn in 2016. Everyday cards are now worth £1.178.8bn an increase of £28.7m from 2015, with sales of ages, occasions and relations showing the greatest growth to £680.6m. Nearly 100m Christmas single cards were sold, bringing the total for the Christmas card market to one billion cards sold in the UK.

What would you prefer – a Valentine’s card or a Facebook message? And how would you feel if you didn’t receive any cards on your birthday?SHARON LITTLE, CEO GCA

In addition, an estimated 900m Christmas cards were sold in boxes and packs worth around £230m, as well as millions of cards bought from online operators, such as Moonpig. To further cement their enduring analogue world appeal, greeting cards are still bought in bricks and mortar stores, rather than online and they remain an important, highly-profitable product for all manner of retailers, being sold in one in six retail outlets.

Abigail Warner of  Abigail Warner Paper Goods and founder of PaperFest described the event as “a fantastic success”. “Our inspirational lineup, dynamic panels, lively talks and creative sessions proved to be a really great hit with both visitors and exhibitors.” Designers and retailers also vied for prestigious industry awards at the fourth Paper awards in Emotive Design, Engaging Print and Exciting Use of Colour. Caroline Kent whose Scribble and Daub was shortlisted in the last category is in the vanguard of designers taking the fight to digital with her ‘imperfect’ letterpress hand-painted drawings on premium Italian paper.


The cardmaking firm was founded in 2012 by Kent, a former curator of contemporary art more attuned to organising exhibitions with Turner Prize-winning artists than scribbling herself. But she has taken to her new craft like ink to paper. She enthuses: “As a beautiful handwritten envelope landing on the doormat becomes a new luxury in our digital lives, few things are more exciting – particularly if that envelope’s arrival coincides with Valentine’s Day.”

Roses are pink: Scribble and Daub cards are famous for being rough around the edges and the firm offers bespoke Valentine’s card designs and a postal service | SCRIBBLE & DAUB

She says Scribble & Daub’s letterpress-printed and individually hand-painted cards are created for discerning and stylish lovers, the antithesis of the cheap high street Valentine. Designs are simple and unisex, sometimes a smattering of wit – but always elegant. One of the firm’s bestsellers, Sign your name across my heart can be personalised gratis with a name or initials of a loved one.

Hidden at the back of an old fashioned toy shop and stationers on Rye’s historic High Street in East Sussex is a pale blue door with a sign that reads – Printing Works: Strictly No Admittance. Behind it is a relic from a world long forgotten; two vast workshops with ancient presses sitting on creaking wooden floorboards, towering shelves of old type and printing paraphernalia. Adams produces everything from tide tables to the local gazette in the virtually extinct processes of woodblock and letterpress, and makes prints for leading contemporary artists and designers.

Uncommon type: Scribble & Daub still uses traditional printing methods to produce its eye-catching designs | SCRIBBLE & DAUB

It is here that Scribble & Daub’s imperfect original pen and ink drawings are transformed into plates and printed onto thick, creamy Italian paper using an antique Heidelberg press. Once printed, each card is then individually hand-coloured back in Kent’s studio with Andy Warhol’s favourite brightly coloured inks so that every one is unique.

Kent also prides herself on playing cupid, offering a timely Valentine’s bespoke postal service for those who may have fallen out of the practice in the fine art of correspondence. Choose any Scribble & Daub’s Valentine’s card, and it can be personalised by Kent, hand-written and posted on your behalf (to arrive in time for Valentine’s day of course) thus preserving that all important air of romantic mystery.

  • Scribble & Daub are purveyors of bespoke and hand-made greeting cards stocked at leading UK shops and abroad

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