Ever since we have stocked product from J Herbin in France — which includes exquisite sealing wax, wax seals, quills, ink pots and the beautiful stationery from G Lalo that is prepared in the same factory — I’ve wondered how it is made.
When I visited France in June 2008 I finally got to find out. At J Herbin, they use all natural materials in their products, including the colour pigments. Little wonder that their colours are so rich, fragrant and sensual then! The other thing that impressed me is that everything is lovingly prepared by hand. Clearly this is a deliberate, exact and careful process which creates high-quality product. We are also referring to a seriously time-honoured practice as J Herbin have been producing sealing wax in Paris since the 16th century.
In order to share some of their remarkable history with you, I’ll ask you to imagine an adventurous sailor returning from many journeys to India. This sailor was intent on experimenting with and finding improved formulas for manufacturing sealing wax to take back to Paris. Eventually, he arrived at a special lacquer formula which greatly improved the quality, adhesion and neatness of wax seals used at that time. But this is no fairy story — it is the story of the original Monsieur J Herbin and he was rewarded for his hard work by becoming famous throughout the kingdom in the late 16th century.
Quite simply, J Herbin is the oldest name in ink production in the world. They know precisely what they are doing with their products and this is evident whenever you use them.
I’ve got to admit that we here at the little brown house love their products (is it that obvious?). We’ve experimented with different types of sealing wax from all over the world, including less expensive copies. If you are after neatness, pleasure to use and defining, sensual colours then J Herbin is undeniably the stand out choice.
Many people today are rediscovering the sheer pleasure of using and receiving handwritten letters, invitations and notations that are sealed with wax. Why? Perhaps it is because this is not something you can do in a hurried or automated fashion — you have to really care about someone to send them something so personal and handcrafted.
Maybe this is why people often say their letters become keepsakes for many years … and, if you do want your message to last for 300 years, J Herbin have aunthentic lawyers ink that is designed to do exactly that. Or, you may want to experiment with the invisible ink which turns blue when the paper is held under a light or heat source (ah-may-zing!).
Writing with a quill or glass-nibbed pen is great fun and it’s always best to use inks specifically designed for the purpose: inks that contain natural resins that adhere properly to the nib and flow cleanly.
All your senses are in for a treat when you receive a beautiful notecard (with a deckle-edged envelope) from G Lalo that is sealed with J Herbin sealing wax! It’s pleasing to the eye, fragrant, textural and there’s that special sound of opening a letter that you just don’t get with email! There’s also history: just think of the great French writers like Victor Hugo, Madame de Lafayette, Emile Zola and poets like Paul Fort — chances are they may have secured their prose with a J Herbin wax seal (or so we like to imagine). We do know that even today J Herbin sealing wax is used to add the final touches to Chanel No 5 perfume bottles.
With all this nostalgia, you may wonder what the J Herbin and G Lalo people of today are like. They were a very special, warm and generous group of people and I felt really priviliged to be party to their great tradition — how rare this type of thing is nowadays! I had communicated with them by email and telephone previously and it was quite something to meet the people working there in person.
Interestingly enough, even though my French and their English were limited, we managed to share a real appreciation for the handcrafted and natural source of their products.
Sometimes in the past we’ve ordered special wax seals for people and seeing the careful process of engraving and creating these gave me a whole new appreciation of their durability and precision. The exacting, well managed and calm approach by all the factory workers which I saw also made me realise the value J Herbin and G Lalo place on their work environment. It certainly seemed a pleasant place to work and I don’t doubt that this is also why the products are so exceptional. When I think about the fact this craft has endured into its fourth century it really must have wide appeal for people.
Love Cathie xxx