florence | the 163-year-old pen & paper shop

by | Dec 3, 2019 | a slice of life, All Things Home, Antiques, Favorite Finds, Travel | 44 comments

Once we were settled in our room at the Piazza Pitti Palace, my mom and I decided to walk around and explore until we were scheduled to meet our guide at 4:00.  We didn’t have a specific destination but were just planning to meander and wander into pretty shops.  Just a couple of blocks from our hotel, I was drawn into a shop by a beautiful display of papers in the window.

There were old cabinets filled with hand-bound leather journals and rolls of colorful printed papers.

Of course, I was drawn to the dip pens and inks, but I didn’t see anything I felt like I needed to buy.

But then, some antique school notebooks caught my eye.  I was excited about seeing something old.  Perhaps they had more old things.  There were things in every nook and cranny and it would be easy to miss if you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for.

I asked the woman behind the counter, Maria, if they carried other old items and she showed me some dip pens from the 1920’s-40’s, old nib boxes, and some erasers from the same era.  I started making a little pile on the counter.

Maria’s uncle noticed my pile of old things and came to life.  He looks a little serious in the photo below, but he was warm, friendly, and enthusiastic to find someone who appreciated antiques.  He started showing me every old thing in the store and then disappeared into the back room.  Maria smiled and shook her head.  “He is going to his special stash.  I don’t even know what’s down there!”

While he was digging in his secret stash to find things I might like, she told me this shop has been owned by her family for 163 years!  The stash her uncle was digging through was old stock.  They were antiques in brand new condition, because they’ve just been sitting in their storeroom.  The gentleman came up from the basement with glass ink wells and Bakelite pencils, telling me I should buy this one over that one, because this one is hand-blown and that one is machine-pressed or this one is older and in better condition.

He told me, half in Italian, half in English, that he was in the last generation of Italians who used dip pens and learned calligraphy in school.  I realized I had met a kindred spirit, so I asked him his name.  “Guido!”

(Here’s a picture of Maria and Guido from the Giulio Giannini website.)

Guido then showed me around their back room where they have been binding books and printing papers since 1856.

Oh my goodness!  All of the cabinets!!

We must’ve spent an hour in the shop, talking with Guido and Maria, hearing about the history of the shop and their family.  It was better than any planned tourist experience!  Maria carefully wrapped all of my purchases in their printed papers, so it looked like I had a collection of gifts in my bag.

I ended up buying a couple of the old dip pens, one Bakelite pencil, an antique nib box, a wooden pencil case with a slide-on ruler, an eraser that fit in the wooden case, a couple of primers…

I loved the colors on the nib box…

Guido told me this pencil is for “collection only.”  I was instructed not to use it!  I only caught a portion of it, but I think the issue is finding lead to fill it once it’s used.

It’s such a pretty pencil, though.  Marbled blue Bakelite!?!  Come on!

Here are the hand-blown ink wells with the wooden holder…

These are the ones Guido steered me to buy since they are hand-blown.  They really are lovely little bottles.

And I bought the most delightful vintage (1980’s) ball point pen…

I like that it was made in Italy and the ivory finish on the case is so pretty.  This one can be refilled with standard ballpoint refills, so I can (and will) use it.

Before I left the store with my loaded bag, Guido held a finger out to me, indicating that he wanted me to wait.  He disappeared again and came back with a paper Italian flag.  He gestured waving it and then handed it to me.  Maria told me this was an antique paper flag that school children would wave for the king.  We exchanged the customary European two-cheek air kisses and I thanked them both for the experience and the treasures.

The shop is Giulio Giannini in Florence, near the Pitti Palace and the Ponte Vecchio.  If you ever find yourself in Florence and you’re into pens, papers, and books, be sure to visit.

And, if you’re into old things, ask for Guido and he may share his stash with you!

 

If you’re traveling to Paris or Tuscany and want to know what I did, you can find all of the posts of my trip (with links to guides, lodging, food, and shopping) below…

Paris 2019 | Chateau Latour & The Louvre

Paris 2019 | The Marais Walking Tour

Paris 2019 | The Fountain Pen Shop

Champagne & Reims

Free & Final Day in Paris 

Paris Souvenirs

Pole-Pole-Tree & Dinner with Florentines (The train ride from Paris to Florence)

A Walking Tour of Barga

Cooking with Rita | A Tuscan Cooking Class

Thrifting & Antiquing in Tuscany

Lucca Antique Purchases

Montecarlo & a Vineyard Lunch

Lucca Purchases (Leather & Clothes)

Florence | Piazza Pitti Palace

Florence | The 153-year-old pen & paper shop

Florence | The Maestro & the Apprentice (meeting a gold & silversmith)

Florence | A Walking Tour

 

44 Comments

  1. Lori

    what a wonderful post!
    ~ I can imagine the smell of the old shop, the papers, the pens and the quiet spirit it holds ~
    such beautiful photos and faces…your treasures are loverly and I’m happy that you’ll be using that wonderful old ivory ink pen!!
    Christmas Blessings to you & yours {and your new kittens}

    Reply
  2. Gina

    What an amazing and wonderful encounter…….a true kindred spirit. Such beautiful things that are treasured and shared. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Janet

    I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a post more! What a treasure – the items you took with you to be enjoyed by someone who loves them and the sweet man who lit up to discover YOU! I shared this post with my husband and we are having a lovely morning recalling memories of our own past discoveries of kindred spirits who share our passions. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely experience.

    Reply
  4. celestial

    I’m sure Mr. Guido was as glad to meet you as you were to meet him. Your joy in the wares helped him know that the family’s livelihood was not in vain, that there are still people who appreciate that to which he has devoted his life. I think Europe is one of the last places where little specialized shops with devoted owners still exist and thrive. It is always a thrill to find a shop like this, especially by accident. I have happened upon button shops like this and once an antique sewing wares shop, both of which I spent hours in. I still have my packet of $50 buttons purchased 35 years ago for an as-yet-to-be-knitted sweater. Thank you for this post; it has brought on a wealth of remembrances.

    Reply
    • Amara Amara Bray

      Such a lovely post. Thank you for taking us on your adventures with you.

      Reply
  5. Kim

    Fabulous post, fabulous experience.

    Reply
  6. Cyndi

    How wonderful! Such a great place!❤️

    Reply
  7. Betsy

    I wish I had found this shop while in Florence. I am a paper collector. People asked me when I returned home from Italy what treasures I purchased for myself……paper, just paper. Such a beautiful posting. Your love and respect for old treasures is delightful.

    Reply
  8. Marilee

    I love paper ephemera. What a wonderful experience.

    Reply
  9. Lisa P

    This is the most precious kind of souvenir—meeting and connecting with people. Thank you for sharing it with us!
    And if I ever get back to Florence, I’ll certainly look for this special shop!

    Reply
  10. Cheryl

    Lucky you! I agree! Unexpected side trips can be so much more than an exchange of money for goods! Great finds.

    Reply
  11. beverlee lyons

    your words took us right along with you. I could almost hear him…..what a remembrance! I love evry single treasure. Are you really never going to use the pencil?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      It’s funny you asked, because I couldn’t resist using it already! I cold hear Guido’s voice telling me that it is for “collection only”, though! I am not one to not use beautiful old things. 🙂

      Reply
      • beverlee lyons

        so happy to know that you held that beautiful old thing in your hands and did what it was designed to do. Somehow, I had that feeling, and knew your would hear his voice.

        Reply
  12. Cathy

    Oh, it makes my heart sing when I read of you meeting a kindred spirit, in Guido! What a lovely experience and a sweet, new friendship created!

    Reply
  13. Diane Ruebel

    Delightfully told story about the finding of kindred spirits and unusual treasures. Thank you.
    Diney on Camano Island

    Reply
  14. Carol

    I was mesmerized by this small shop. I wonder if there is any place like that in the US? Beautiful antiques! 🤗

    Reply
  15. Charlotte

    Oh wow! What a beautiful experience! And I probably would be there for an hour or more just to admire all the old pens and papers and anything of that sort. I love office supplies and writing cards and letters… wow! If I ever travel to Italy, their shop is on my list! Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  16. Cindy

    That visit was meant to be…for both of you.

    Reply
  17. Susan

    Oh, this was fun! I would’ve spent hours talking with Guido and going through their shop.

    Reply
  18. Jeffrey Favreau

    Oh the impromptu of such when travelling. As I have shared before on your sites we were just there the middle of October and we had a few experiences as such. I think it is something about being free and carefree . We just pop in somewhere. Voila you had the best of times not planned . So glad you keep sharing these little tidbits of your trip as it brings to surface such fond memories . Thank you from the bottom of my HEART.

    P.S. Hope those lovely little kitties of yours are adjusting well. 🙂

    Reply
  19. Eileen

    What treasures and what lovely people. Thank you for sharing this lovely experience.

    Reply
  20. Traci at Hembree House

    What a journey into the past. To be among the printings tools from 1856. My head would be spinning from an out of body experience!

    Reply
  21. Antonella

    “With his car Pierino races like a fireball, but he runs over the geese and turns them into stew” – that’s what’s written on the cover of that 20/30s ledger 😉

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Oh my goodness, that is hilarious! Thanks for the translation!

      Reply
  22. Naomi Shelton

    What an absolutely serendipitous and amazing experience, Marian! Such good fortune to find the Giannini shop. And on your first day there! I am just a little green with envy being a paper and writing aficionado myself. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Reply
  23. Jeannine

    Oh my gourd those pens and pencils! HNNNNNGHH. My jaw dropped at that photo of the Bakelite pencils… I would have bought both of the striped ones… they are totally gorgeous! Ditto the 1980’s ivory ballpoint. *SIGH*

    Reply
  24. Lynn

    While in Florence a few years ago our personal guide brought my husband and I to that same paper shop – she knew the owner. He shared with us a very interesting demonstration of paper marbling. I purchased beautiful handmade bookmarks for friends and a lovely paper family tree which I used calligraphy to write family names and then framed.

    Reply
  25. Louise

    Love love love this post. So information and such an interesting shop . Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  26. Sandy R

    What a delightful experience! Thanks for sharing your adventures with us. Don’t let anyone borrow your pen, you might not get it back!

    Reply
  27. Susan

    This is my favorite post from both of your Italy trips. What a find that shop was! I will look for it when I go to Florence. Love the items you selected!

    Reply
  28. Wendy Y

    How special! Love it when things like this happen! The people really are the most special treasure aren’t they? 😍. I thought that Fabre Castell box was pretty special as I have been buying some artist pens from them just recently. I wonder how old that is 😳. Love the blue Bakelite too! 🙃❤️

    Reply
  29. jan

    Wow! What a treasured experience!,,, trips that dreams are made of! Kindred spirits for sure! What an amazing shop!! Thank you for sharing with us!

    Reply
  30. Julie | Home On The Hill

    Wow, I think I went to that shop back in the 90’s & bought a seal set I still have from there – I know it was near the Ponte Vecchio & looked much the same on the outside!

    Reply
  31. Zanetta

    Due to a busy morning, I nearly blew right past this post thinking I didn’t have time. So glad I didn’t. I ended up with a hot cup of coffee and poured over every word and picture. This has to be a favorite post. I love old things, I love paper, letter writing, wax stamps and the locals. Indeed, moments like these can be the best tours because you’re building new friendships. Thanks for being a lovely part of my morning.

    Reply
  32. Beth

    First of all…..how amazing that you were staying in the Pitti Palace!! Most of my friends who have visited Florence neglect this gem, maybe because the outside isn’t so beautiful and it’s a bit out of the way. It wasn’t my husband’s favorite, but I loved the art – both the architecture and in the art museum. Unfortunately we didn’t get to explore the gardens.

    What a treasure the shop was! I agree – these experiences are indeed better than the “touristy” stops. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  33. B Folk

    1980’s is “vintage”? Oh, my, I feel old!!
    Seriously, Marian, you got some beautiful things. I would go broke if such a shop were near me!
    What a wonderful encounter with both Maria and Guido! God gave you a unique bonding experience with someone so very different from you on the surface, but so very like you in the heart. It’s these “small” moments that add up to a large store of treasured memories.

    Reply
  34. Dee

    What treasures you bought!!!!!! Love the bakelite items……..they are in wonderful condition! Love when things happen like this…..definitely meant to be!

    Reply
  35. Cynthia Johnson

    Marian!!!

    This post is just dreamy~ I love how all the colors of the nib box blend with every other item you found. The picture of the shop and the colors and choices made me want to be right there~ I could see it, feel it, and almost hear Guido’s voice.

    Thanks Marian for making my day, and I needed it…I’ve spent the past 2 days going through boxes of my own treasures from my move from “my Minnesota” to my now home in Colorado.. it stirred many memories~ most lovely, some longing.

    Be well, Cynthia

    Reply
  36. Jane

    You find the most wonderful places and people and have a great gift for relating to the people and making the most of the experience!! What a fun shop. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  37. Mary

    Oh my, I want the white ball point pen, so gorgeous. Love the shop and the owners!

    Reply
  38. Sharon Rexroad

    Be still my paper arts loving heart!

    I think you know I worked for Paper Source for ten years, beginning “back in the day” when it was still owned by the founder and was geared towards artisan paper lovers. We taught book and box making, offered calligraphy classes (including Meghan Markle teaching calligraphy at our Beverly Hills store before she was on Deal or No Deal — I may have actually approved her samples as a teacher, though I have no actual recollection of it), paper making and all kinds of other fun! The third story of store #1 in Chicago held all kinds of treasures such as what you’re showing. So I would have been in paper and ink heaven with you.

    Reply
  39. Barbara

    Yes! We were in the shop 4 years ago. Such an interesting and quaint shop. My daughter bought printed papers.

    Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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