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George Frederick Smith was a man with a singular passion for paper. Both he and his son were driven by a belief in its beauty and possibilities and shared an admiration for the craft of the printers and publishers that used it. In 1885 George founded G . F Smith & Son as a paper merchant. It was his vision and ambition that steered the company through challenging times; his belief in the business saw him expand its horizons.
George travelled with an almost obsessive energy, by land and sea, to seek out the very finest paper manufacturers of their day. From an office in London and a warehouse within a stone’s throw of the docks on the Humber in Hull, he won business in Europe, found partners in America and gathered a loyal and industrious staff. G . F Smith was a merchant company in the truest sense.
Nearly 130 years later in a very different world, George Frederick Smith’s fortitude and determination are qualities we are proud to carry forward. He was a driven, hardworking man, loyal to and respected by those who worked for him and those who bought his paper.He was responsible in the way he ran his business. He was curious enough to search out the finest paper he could find wherever it was, and determined enough to find a way of bringing it back.
Above all else, George Frederick Smith was celebrated for his passion for paper, and if our predecessor left just one thing we are proud to embody it is this. Paper defined his era, and despite much evidence to the contrary, it defines ours. The world might have changed; our love of paper and its possibilities has not.
George Frederick Smith Establishes G . F Smith
After spending his early working life as a commercial traveller, selling paper and stationery to printers and publishers, at 51 years of age, George Frederick Smith moves from Manchester to London to set up a company as a paper merchant. In partnership with his eldest son Thomas Brooks Smith, they establish G . F Smith to source, supply and sell paper. As demand grows, George and Thomas begin sourcing specialised papers from mills in Britain, Europe and America.
The Smith Family
An early family photograph of George Frederick Smith (fourth from left) and Thomas Brooks Smith (sixth from left) at the wedding of Horatio Nelson Smith, George’s youngest son, to Margaret Syme.
A Visit to Strathmore Paper Mill
Thomas Brooks Smith (pictured right) travels by boat to North America in an attempt to source papers from the Strathmore Paper Mill. Thomas finds it almost impossible to meet with the mill’s founder, Horace Moses, and decides to visit him at home, unannounced, on a Saturday. The visit is not going well, that is until Mrs Moses arrives at the house in a state of panic. The organist due to play at church that day has been taken ill. Thomas, an accomplished pianist, steps in. The Moses family are so impressed with the impromptu recital that they have Thomas’s luggage brought from the local hotel and insist he spends the rest of his stay as their house guest. Quite apart from earning the respect of Moses, Thomas’s offer of help is the catalyst to a lasting partnership between the two companies. In 1900, G . F Smith becomes the exclusive merchant for Strathmore throughout Britain and mainland Europe.
The Search for Papers Continues
Though constantly seeking out new papers in Britain and Europe, Thomas’s first trip to America continues to pay dividends. The letter shown above (one of the earliest in the archives that survived damage in wartime) is from Bradley D. Rising, the proprietor of Rising Paper Company. It confirms an order for blotting paper to be delivered to G . F Smith in July 1900. Blotting paper was in regular use right up until the middle of the 20th century, thanks to the use of long-hand writing and dipping pens.
An 18-year-old named Herbert Thomlinson starts work at the company as a Sales Clerk. He will soon play a very significant role in the future of G . F Smith.
Strathmore Executive Text Book Papers Sample Book
Just one of the many sample books produced by Strathmore at the turn of the century. All sample books at this time contain examples of various applications in commercial print aimed to educate, inspire and encourage printers to use Strathmore Coloured and Textured Papers and Boards. Strathmore is the first paper mill in the world to produce sample books containing examples of commercial print along with a swatch style presentation.
Debt Threatens the Business
As the First World War rages, all of the Strathmore stocks held by G . F Smith’s agents in mainland Europe are either impounded or destroyed. As a result, the company falls into debt with Strathmore, still the owner of all the paper that has been lost.
Mr Thomlinson Travels to America
Despite the impact of the war, Strathmore Paper Mill is confident enough in the ability of G . F Smith to recover that it takes ownership of the company and writes off the debt. Mr Thomlinson travels to West Springfield in Massachusetts via New York to agree the deal. The photographs shown are from Mr Thomlinson’s own photo album (shown wearing the bowler hat), recording his trip across the Atlantic and his time in North America.
A New Marketing Strategy
Mr Thomlinson returns from Strathmore Paper Mill inspired by the mill, its products, its people and its revolutionary marketing and promotional work. He introduces direct mail campaigns, starting with the development of a mailing list of existing and potential customers. To build the list, a student from a commercial college in Hull, Miss Beatrice Harrison, is brought into G . F Smith on secondment. Mr Thomlinson is so impressed with her efforts that he offers Miss Harrison a job as a book-keeper the moment her studies are complete. She will spend the rest of her working life at G . F Smith, becoming Company Secretary in 1947 and a Director of the business in 1949, a position she held until her retirement in 1958.
This photograph shows London staff enjoying the sea air on an away day. Mr Thomlinson takes over from Thomas Brooks Smith and is appointed as Managing Director.
Release of the Caslon Covers & Boards Sample Book
The company starts trading with Scottish paper mill Robert Craig & Son, specialists in the production of coloured and embossed papers and boards at their mill in Airdrie. They manufacture a series of ranges exclusively for G . F Smith, using reel and sheet fed embossing machines to enhance the product.
The first of these exclusive ranges is launched under the name ‘Caslon Covers’ and includes ten colours in both paper and board weights, supplied in Antique, Linen and Ripple embossed textures. Craig’s continue to be G . F Smith’s principle supplier of cover paper and boards until the mill’s closure in 1972.
Release of the Cumberland Covers Sample Book
Such had been the success of the embossed Cover Paper range produced by Robert Craig that in 1932 Mr Thomlinson incorporates a factory into the Osborne Street site in Hull. He installs guillotines, embossers and duplexing machines. These services add flexibility, diversification and improved quality and service to customers. This is followed, in 1935, by the introduction of a department specialising in the production of hand-made envelopes. G . F Smith can now take orders for a minimum of 200 envelopes in four different styles in any size made from any of the cover papers offered in the various ranges. This new service is featured in every subsequent sample book.
Supplies are Restricted
The outbreak of the Second World War dramatically reduces the supply of paper from British and American mills. Many G . F Smith staff leave their positions to enlist or to take work in engineering and munitions in Hull. Many will return to their role once the war is over.
Bombs Fall on Hull
On the night of 8 May 1941 German aircraft drop 157 tonnes of high explosive and 20,000 incendiary bombs onto the city of Hull. 116 people are killed and 160 more are seriously injured. The Osborne Street site, with its machinery, stocks and the company archive is reduced to rubble. By a miracle there are no casualties. Within 48 hours enemy bombs completely demolish G . F Smith’s office on Turnmill Street in London.
Disruption of Services
The stock, machinery and records at G . F Smith’s Hull and London offices are all but destroyed in German bombing raids. On 14 May 1941 the company writes to all its customers and suppliers outlining the impact of the bombings on day-to-day operations. Within days the two offices are back up and running. The Hull staff relocates to a large house with a garage and outbuildings in the city’s Avenue district and in London, the staff move to the Area Manager’s home in Hertford for the remainder of the war. Staff in both offices work tirelessly in far from ideal conditions to keep the business going, ready to rebuild when the war is over. Their drive and determination remain key parts of the ethos of the business.
Return and Re-employment
Having joined the company as an office boy, Peter Basil Frank enlisted to serve in the RAF at the outbreak of the war. On 15 November 1945, Peter Frank writes to Mr Thomlinson from overseas asking if he might be re-instated on his return.
On 18 January 1946, Mr Thomlinson replies stating that the company is still in recovery and working from temporary premises. Unable to give an assurance of re-employment, he promises that as soon as the situation improves he will get back in touch. In March 1946, following his de-mobilisation, Peter Frank is appointed to the position of Sales Clerk in Hull, just months before the business moves to Lockwood Street.
In 1962, Peter Frank was made Sales Director, then appointed Managing Director in 1972 and finally Chairman of the business in 1982 — a role he would perform until his retirement in 1992.
New Beginnings on Lockwood Street, Hull
With the war over, the demand for commercial printing papers rises dramatically. G . F Smith has to find new premises from which it can rebuild the business.
The company purchases a three-story building on Lockwood Street in Hull for £5,000. It had been used as a munitions factory and needs significant renovation before being occupied. A shortage in building supplies means a significant amount of recycled material is used in the construction work. When the company takes possession of the building they find a mountain of wooden rifle butts left by the previous occupants. The building contractor uses them to make beautiful parquet tiles for the offices, some of which can still be seen today.
Food and a Sense of Community
Though food is still rationed, the government makes additional supplies available to any business that provides meals to its staff. To promote well-being, Mr Thomlinson uses the canteen to ensure staff will enjoy a nutritious hot meal during the working day at a reduced cost. The canteen serves a two-course meal and a hot drink for one and sixpence a day (equivalent to seven and a half pence today). Junior members of staff pay just a shilling (equivalent to five pence today). Even as late as the early 2000s when the canteen was closed due to a lack of demand the company still charged just seven and half pence for a meal.
New premises in Hull and London mean an increase in staff numbers as the business gears up for growth. The company introduces the G . F Smith & Son (London) Limited pension scheme for all employees as a means of helping those approaching retirement and as an incentive to new recruits.
Release of the Coronation Covers Promotion
Mr Thomlinson celebrates the Queen’s Coronation by producing a new cover range offering a collection of red, white and blue colours, in a selection of embossing textures with matching envelopes. The Coronation Covers promotion is received by every contact registered on the company’s mailing list. Though greatly expanded and improved, the mailing list is still based on the work of Miss Harrison back in 1916.
Published in Penrose
The piece above is the first promotional insert that G . F Smith includes in the Penrose Annual. The Annual features articles and advertorials promoting many of Britain’s major paper, print and design companies. G . F Smith will support this publication over many decades, producing iconic sample books that display stunning combinations of ink on paper. The insert shown here displays all the company’s range names in display typefaces of the period.
G . F Smith Regains its Independence
Mr Thomlinson, along with Cyril Stephenson, Peter Frank and Ted Southern set about raising the capital to enable the company to regain its independence after 40 years of American ownership. Hammermill Corporation of America, the new owners of Strathmore Paper Mill, undertakes and completes the sale of G . F Smith back to its management team.
The Board of Directors, now in full control of the company, identifies four market opportunities to offer G . F Smith new growth potential. First, there is the company’s independence. Second, there is the impact of the litho printing revolution. Third, the growth and impact of colour communications is by now overwhelming. And finally, the influence of graphic design on print and paper specification is already profound. Promotional budgets are spent educating and inspiring the use of coloured and textured paper; the emerging graphic design community is the principal target.
Release of the Cover Print Media Sample Book
With the introduction of colour television and the new power of colour as an advertising tool, G . F Smith’s range of coloured paper is being utilised in new and exciting ways.
The Cover Print Media sample book is designed to be an educational tool demonstrating the performance of G . F Smith’s covers when printed using litho, letterpress, silkscreen and foiling processes. This publication offers guidance on how to attain the best results and includes printed acetate roamer sheets to aid print colour specification along with a colour selector to show all the available products.Promotional budgets are spent educating and inspiring the use of coloured and textured paper; the emerging graphic design community is the principal target.
The first graphic design courses are introduced into art colleges. A steady stream of graduates become the first to establish new and vibrant graphic design businesses. This development also leads to designers taking greater individual control of print and paper specification, and places a responsibility on suppliers to help educate and inspire this new and ambitious audience.
Bill Mackay is appointed design consultant to help build a strong company identity and produce the sample books and promotional collateral. The partnership will last more than 40 years. With Bill Mackay’s help, new promotional material encourages the use of G . F Smith’s papers by focusing on demonstration and education showing how the papers perform with existing and new printing technologies.
This photo shows Bill Mackay (left), Neil Pack (Hull Sales Clerk, who later became a London Director), Ron Jackson (Sales Office Manager) and Doris Coe (Hull Sales Clerk).
Pushing Print Boundaries
The Coverful Boards promotion was a series of eight bi-monthly communications using different stocks, messages and images to show the print potential of G . F Smith papers.
The Directors give Peter Frank the responsibility for directing all sales and marketing activity and provide him with an annual promotional budget that allows him to work with Bill Mackay.The first change Mackay and his team make is to change the company logo for a more decorative single ‘S’ symbol, reversed out of a solid circle.
Release of The Elements Promotion
A series of four promotional mailers produced by Bill Mackay, these iconic promotions are designed to educate and encourage both designers and printers to print colour on colour. The piece lifts G . F Smith’s profile thanks to strong imagery, an exceptional standard of printing and crisply written copy.
Bill Mackay’s growing knowledge of the graphic, fashion and print sectors becomes a real asset. Seeing the move to stronger and brighter colours, he develops a new paper range called ‘Plan 8’. These eight fashionable colours were very new to paper and board ranges across the industry. Success is immediate, and the range becomes the forerunner to the development of Colorplan.
The End of an Era
After 63 years of loyal service, 53 of which were spent as a Director, the company mourns the death of Mr Thomlinson.
A New Identity
Students at the London College of Printing are set a design brief as part of their course to produce a corporate identity for the company. The work of David Craddock is so exceptional that the Board immediately purchases it from him. Bill Mackay then incorporates the new logo into all the company’s stationery, sample books and promotions. Craddock stays in regular contact with the company, and as is shown in the letter above, continues to take great pride in the work that he now sees used across all of the company’s communications.
Signs of Change
This photograph shows the Lockwood Street premises in Hull. The new company logo can be seen on the van. Today, visitors will notice that very little has changed (other than the signage boards) since the building was first occupied in 1947.
The Launch of Colorplan
The success of the ‘Plan 8’ range sees the company rationalise the entire product portfolio. Working with Bill Mackay, John Alexander talks extensively with customers and reviews sales of G . F Smith’s ranges and colours. The rationalisation is completed in 1971, and in 1972 the result is called ‘Colour Programme’. Ready for sale, the new range of 40 colours contains existing and many newly created colours. It is launched as Colorplan.
A New World of Colour
This image shows the Colour Programme Selector, launched in 1972. Not only is it the first time that G . F Smith uses the ‘chip’ style of presentation to allow for easy review and selection of a broad range of colour papers, it is the first time any company in the industry uses this now familiar method. Still in use by G . F Smith today, it was soon to be adopted by the majority of the competition.
More Visibility for Colorplan
To make new print and design contacts, G . F Smith attends its first trade exhibition at Nor-print in Leeds. The stand is created to promote the recently launched Colour Programme, which included Colorplan. The stand highlights many of the strong colours available, supported by displays of commercially printed examples. The success of this first venture into trade exhibitions sees G . F Smith regularly taking a stand at major trade shows.
Samples in the Selector
From the beginning of the decade the ‘Selector’ becomes a primary sales tool. The frequent introduction of new ranges means a new version of the selector is produced every two years and sent out to the entire mailing list. These easy to use sample books are ideal for the company’s own growing sales team and allow customers to make easier decisions on which papers to specify. As the business grows, the sales team meets regularly to discuss customer feedback, new papers and how to stay ahead of the competition.
Photographic from G . F Smith is established to offer and service the professional photographer with bespoke photo albums and photographic mounts and folders.
New Services Recognise Market Demand
To meet the changing needs of customers, and maximise the opportunities presented by new market sectors within the paper, print and graphical industries the company introduces new services including Luxury Packaging, Greetings Cards, Export, Retail and Digital.
Celebrating British Design
After the ground-breaking work done by Bill Mackay, G . F Smith sets off in a new design direction and commissions SEA Design. Over the next decade this partnership builds an iconic brand and inspires a generation of designers.
Rankin Changes the Game
A promotion produced in collaboration with photographer Rankin is probably the most important piece of marketing G . F Smith produces in the 1990s. Iconic, bold and unashamedly contemporary, it is the central element in the campaign to launch a new smooth white uncoated paper called Accent Smooth, developed in Britain to meet emerging market demands. The promotion and the paper are instrumental in the growth of the business over the next ten years.
The relationship with SEA continues with three sample book collections, each using a different ‘ink cloud’ theme. SEA is commissioned to produce a series of print promotions on Naturalis from G . F Smith featuring the creative work of Peter Blake and Wim Crouwel among others.
Ready for Digital
To meet the increasing demand for papers and boards suitable for digital printing, G . F Smith introduces a Sapphire Coating Press to enable the company to offer their digital collection as a next day service. The promotion that supports this new offering is called ‘Print Test’.
A New Approach to Paper Selection
The new Selector, designed by SEA, intends to more accurately reflect the way that designers go about the task of choosing paper. For some, colour is the primary concern, before considerations of material, texture and weight. But, occasionally, the process is reversed, making style the most important factor. The set offered three modes of paper selection, by colour, black and white, or range.
Craft and Creativity
Continuing the theme of educating and inspiring paper users that began in the 1960s, G . F Smith partners with the British Council, Monotype London and It’s Nice That to stage ‘Beauty in the Making’. A free event held over five days, and the first work commissioned from branding and design consultancy Made Thought, the show is a celebration of the hidden skills and craftsmanship that lie behind the scenes of the creative industry. The manufacture and application of paper is central to the exhibition’s subject matter.
G . F Smith begins to work with design agency Studio Makgill on a series of promotions for Naturalis paper and materials to support the launch of the Fine Coated range. They also work on a new swatch book for Greetings from G . F Smith, and the development of materials for Photographic from G . F Smith.
2014 begins with the unveiling of a new visual identity and design direction. The work — spanning print and digital communications— is intended to better reflect the legacy, stature and future ambitions of the company.
These ambitions include the continued development and global expansion of Colorplan, adding new chapters to what already stands as a great British success story. With a distinct identity and a concerted marketing and sales push, the range is seeing growth in exports to new markets including Australia, China, Germany and America.
And it is perhaps no coincidence that in a year where we will reflect on our legacy and stature, and drive forward our ambitions, that we will also celebrate the importance of our people. In 2014, we will recognise the fact that 36 members of the team have given more than 20 years of service to the company.
Our continued success is due, in no small part, to their dedication and loyalty.
People have been at the core of G . F Smith since its founding. As a company that delivers highly specialised services, we rely on their skills and breadth of knowledge to allow us to be responsive, pro-active, flexible and deliver an exceptional standard of work.
Of equal importance is loyalty, and a consistent vision from our leadership. Since George Frederick Smith set up the company in 1885, there have been just 11 directors. Staying the course, the ten that followed in George’s footsteps have remained true to his vision, passing on his pioneering spirit from generation to generation.
This same degree of loyalty is also present in the staff. At time of writing, 36 people working at G . F Smith have been with the company 20 years or more. Their commitment to quality, and their ability to pass on the things they have learned to those that follow are what will ensure we remain a company that loves paper, but values its people even more.
At G . F Smith, we’re constantly seeking out new papers and processes, expanding our collections and adding to our knowledge. So much so that it’s been a while since we took a look at this site.
Well, having expanded our paper collection, tested and introduced new processes, and spent a lot of time talking to designers about selecting paper, we’re delighted to present a complete overhaul of the site.
Perhaps most importantly, we’ve introduced search filters in the ‘We Recommend’ tool. You can now refine your search by a paper’s suitability for processes like foiling or digital printing, or its availability in certain weights and finishes. When it’s time to look at the real thing, you’re able to easily place Sample orders through our ‘My Samples’ tool. Its quick and easy too.
This makes the task of finding and choosing paper from our collection more insightful and easier than before.