Stationery: The quirky stories behind what’s lurking in your pencil case

Stationery – sound boring enough for you?

It turns out your office drawer, pencil case or supply closet contains enough juicy, sticky and colorful back stories to fill a book.



The Post-it Note

American chemist Spence Silver was working for 3M’s adhesives division on a project to create a very strong glue.

Luckily for organized people everywhere, he flubbed the formula and ended up with an extremely weak glue.

That might have come to nothing, though, if it weren’t for his choir-singing colleague Art Fry.

Fry often used loose bits of paper to mark pages in his hymn book.

‘If only there was some sort of weak glue I could use,’ thought Fry, and the Post-it Note was born.

If you ever wondered, Post-it notes are yellow because there happened to be some yellow paper lying around in the 3M lab in 1977.

The Glue Stick

Legend has it that there was a guy called Wolfgang Dierichs who had a breakthrough (not a breakdown) on a plane.

He noticed a woman applying lipstick.

‘Wouldn’t the lipstick form would be improved if you replaced the lipstick with a stick of solid glue,’ though Dierichs (probably).

Fast forward nearly 40 years and enough Pritt Sticks (the original glue stick) have been sold to leave a sticky trail from Earth to Mars and back.

The Pritt Stick was originally called “Pretty Sticky”,  but was changed after the inventor’s young child couldn’t pronounce it.

In 1987, a character called Mr. Pritt appeared.

He seems to lead a troubled life, openly encouraging people to smear Pritt Sticks on paper despite himself being a Pritt Stick.

The Pen

When pens were invented in the 19th century, quill enthusiasts were horrified.

Author Victor Hugo refused to use one.

French writer and critic Jules Janin called it “the true root of all evil“, saying:

‘The steel pen, this modern invention, makes an unpleasant impression upon us. It is as though one fell in love against one’s will with a little, hardly visible dagger dipped in poison…Its point is as sharp as a sword, and it cuts both ways like the tongue of a slanderer.”

The Paper Clip

During the years of Nazi occupation, the paperclip became a symbol of resistance.

It was a subtle sign – the binding action of the paperclip symbolized that the Norweigan people were united together against occupying forces.

Why the paperclip?

In part, because many people believed Johan Vaaler, a Norwegian man, invented the paperclip.

In fact, he didn’t.

He’s been dissed by the Early Office Museum Website.

(Not a claim many can make.)

They sniffed that his paper clip designs were “neither first nor important”.

When the Germans caught on to the fact that the paperclip as a symbol of resistance, they naturally made wearing one a criminal offense.


Foolscap Paper

Foolscap is taken from the 15-century watermark which was most commonly used for this size of paper.

This ancient watermark was in the shape of a court jester wearing his distinctive bell-tipped multi-pointed cockscomb cap.

There is an (enjoyable but untrue) story that Oliver Cromwell order the royal arms on parliamentary paper be replaced with a mocking jester’s cap.

Today’s foolscap paper is still the same size.

Sans Jester.


Celebrate your stationery every April 25th on Stationery Day.


Thanks to the fascinating book, “Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case” by James Ward.


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