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!