For the best part of 130 years, G . F Smith has been obsessed with the simple beauty of paper. From generation to generation, the company has strived to source and supply the very finest textures, colours and finishes from around the world, and has developed a reputation as the go-to supplier for the creative industries or, indeed, for anyone wanting to use paper to make something unusual, special and of unparalleled quality.
On 12 December, a door on Eastcastle Street, W1, will open into a fascinating new space dedicated to celebrating the visual and tactile experience of paper. Housed across two floors in an elegant dark-grey building just off Oxford Street, the striking multipurpose Show Space will provide a place to meet G . F Smith Paper Consultants, act as an event and exhibition venue, and offer an immersive insight into the company’s remarkable products and history. For the papermakers and curators of G . F Smith, Show Space marks the beginning of a new chapter in its 131-year story, and gives the company a unique central London venue to explore and share the possibilities of paper with its audience of designers, luxury brands and anyone passionate about the creative power of print.
G . F Smith’s modern-day ethos can be traced back to its founder, George Frederick Smith. An indomitable Victorian entrepreneur, George spent several years travelling the globe selling stationery to printers and publishers before founding G . F Smith with his son Thomas Brooks Smith in 1885, setting up offices in London and Hull.
Over the following century, George’s paper merchants built a reputation for quality and service, and became renowned as passionate pioneers of the paper industry. They maintained close and long-standing personal relationships with their clients, and the company’s staff were famously, fiercely loyal – often many generations of the same family would work at G . F Smith. (Even today, 36 of the company’s employees have been there over 20 years.)
This unusual emphasis on passion and people above profit and mass production has served the company well. By 1972, when the company’s design consultant Bill Mackay and managing director John Alexander launched the revolutionary Colorplan range of coloured papers, G . F Smith had become Britain’s foremost supplier of specialist papers to designers in search of beautifully crafted paper for print projects and packaging. It still holds that position today – thanks to both the astonishing breadth of its range and to its focus on providing innovative bespoke services geared towards the needs of working designers – such as Make Book, which allows people to create hand-finished photo books of their own specification, and the Paper Smith, which lets people source small quantities of G . F Smith’s paper or card – ideal for craft projects and one-offs. While many other companies think big, G . F Smith takes pride in thinking small and applying a personal touch. And despite the impressive array of machinery to be found in its Hull factory (making possible things like embossing, duplexing or digital coating), much of the company’s work – from sourcing papers to stitching spines – is still done by hand and in person, just as it was in George Frederick’s day.