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

Marian Parsonsa slice of life, Antiques, Favorite Finds, Travel42 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!

 

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

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42 Comments on “florence | the 163-year-old pen & paper shop”

  1. 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}

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

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

  8. 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?

    1. 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. 🙂

      1. 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.

  9. 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!

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

  11. 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!

  12. 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. 🙂

  13. 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!

  14. “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 😉

  15. 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.

  16. 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*

  17. 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.

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

  19. 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!

  20. 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! 🙃❤️

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

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

  26. 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

  27. 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.

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