Nancy Sharon Collins

As in crazy for anything and everything gorgeous and beautiful. And she really doesn’t have a lot of time for the ordinary and not so nice. Her whole life is dedicated to the pursuit of personal expression. And she lets you know this just by looking at her. With her shrunken Walmart t-shits and K-mart boys boxer shorts, she wears piles of pearls – the real deal ones – and plenty of them too. She refuses to fall into the cult of the “It Bag”, and unlike most women never carries one at all; that is unless she is spotted with her teeny—tiny baby size Hermes Kelly bag, the one with her entire full name monogrammed on it.  She wears no other jewelry, except for an impressive stack of massive Jean Schlumberger gold rings – many pounds worth. Nancy Sharon Collins even had her name legally changed when she decided the “sound” of her other one (No, I’m not telling you!) wasn’t quite pretty enough.

Nancy Sharon Collins photographed by Jeff McKay, 2012
Boxed and ribboned set of hand engraved Lily of the Valley cards and envelopes 

This is a woman living a life made absolutely to her specifications. It takes a lot of work being this particular. But the thing she is most nuts about is stationery and everything that surrounds it. And she is as dead serious as she is damned knowledgeable about this stuff. So to help out the rest of us innocents, she has helpfully written:

The Complete Engraver: Monograms, Crests, Ciphers, Seals,
and the Etiquette of Social Stationery

Princeton Architectural Press released this stunning and scholarly tome and if you care anything about good manners, good graphics or good taste, this book is a must have.

You see, Nancy Sharon Collins has been producing exquisite, elegant and rip-roaringly luxurious stationery, invitations and cards for a good many years.  After a successful and varied advertising and graphic design career in New York  (the Museum of Modern Art, Estee Lauder and Revlon are just a smattering of her former accounts), she began producing amazing and beautiful things to write on.  She felt the need to keep the grand tradition of writing – on monogrammed (engraved) paper (100% cotton rag please), with ink (use a fountain pen), in an envelope (fully lined) – alive. Granted, there were others who felt the same, like Smythson in London, Benneton in Paris and Mrs. John L Strong in New York, but they were traditional and hidebound. Nancy is decidedly not.

Custom Chinese Chops (seals) with individual customer’s names spelled phonetically in Mandarin. Hand carved in stone
2-color hand engraved note on 100% cotton rag card stock with hand-lined envelope

How about her creamy soft cards, with a hand engraved . . . log? Or maybe a classic invitation on vintage onionskin paper (formerly used as airmail stationery) that is so fine it’s translucent. Maybe you’d like the note card of a red, painstakingly engraved splotch – just that; a splotch; single; as if Jackson Pollock had quit with just one?  Then there are the Autumn leaves, four of them in four colors, each individually engraved and printed so the ink intentionally pools at the edges. These and pretty much everything else Nancy Sharon Collins produces are executed in the most ancient and honored, old-world techniques but designed with a vision that is brand new and original. She has taken a moribund category and made it aggressively modern.

Hand engraved 3-color ombré cipher on Italian deckle edge mold-made note card and stationery
Hand engraved 2 color stationery suite for Frank de Biasi Interiors, along with his archival pigment print Holiday Card, also hand engraved, all on 100% cotton rag stock

That’s not to say that she cannot produce a spot on traditional and proper stationery “wardrobe” for the formally minded. She can and does. And her knowledge of the arcanum of the category is mind-boggling.  Here is a woman who tours paper factories for fun and jets all over the globe to talk turkey about typography! Honest!

Its Nancy Sharon Collins’ extreme knowledge of what she’s talking about that allows her to produce work of such outrageous originality. It may look completely spontaneous, but it is all based on hard cold history. Which brings us back to her book. 

Hand engraved log on 100% cotton rag folded note card
Corporate identity program for a design studio engraved with intentional ink bleeding (spitting) on 100% cotton rag stock

Nancy wrote The Complete Engraver to give us a crash course in not just engraving and stationery, but a real lesson on manners and etiquette and why the whole art of writing exists at all. We are led from Gutenberg (as in the Bible); to the fine points of monograms versus ciphers; to which corner of a calling card to turn down when you wish to say Good-Bye (lower left – divorce could be so simple).

So the book has brains and well as being beautiful to behold. And it comes with perks! There are two new custom typeface designs that Nancy developed with Monotype Imaging Corporation (one named for her late husband and one named for her Mother) free to download with the purchase of the book.

19th Century engraving seal collecting albums from the book The Complete Engraver

Even though we cannot all have the pleasure of commissioning Nancy Sharon Collins to make couture stationery – hand engraved on zillion pound paper, with a special monogram of our very own – we can at least read the book, fantasize about a more gracious time, and learn to mind our manners.  

 Photo engraved paint splotch on Mohawk Super Fine card stock
4-color photo engraved fold-over card of a magnified 500 thread count textile
4 separate color Autumn leaves photo engraved on 100% cotton rag French folded Onion Skin
Hand engraved birthday party invitation on pale blue 100% cotton rag Onion Skin

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