When Emojis Just Won’t Cut It: Turn Back To The 19th Century At Bowne & Co Stationers

Small businesses are an integral part of the Lower Manhattan community. In anticipation of Small Business Saturday (November 30), every week we’re introducing you to a local business on our Instagram TV series “Shop Small.” Also, be sure to nominate your favorite store south of Chambers Street and you’ll be entered to win a $500 prize that can be spent at up to five Lower Manhattan small businesses!

Few brick-and-mortar shops have histories quite as colorful as Bowne & Co. Stationers. Founded in 1775 on what is now Pearl Street, the small-batch printers have since relocated inside the South Street Seaport Museum (211 Water Street), a space which, for the last 44 years, has displayed an array of traditional letterpresses and offered hand-printed designs for myriad occasions.

Bowne & Co. isn’t your average print shop. They’re part-museum, part-printing studio, and part-retailer. “Of the museum’s collection [of 2,400+ fonts], an estimated 400 have never been properly digitized,” Bowne art director and operations manager Rob Wilson said. “That means they are only available in our shop — it’s a great privilege to use such an amazing collection, and our clientele appreciates being part of that evolving history.”

The stationer shop not only prioritizes commitment to quality design, but also maintains transparency in their work. This way curious customers can understand their process — showing how they assemble letters, made from blocks of metal or wood, word by word and line by line. Similarly, in their museum space, Bowne & Co. “engages with visitors about the importance of printing and its relation to the port,” Wilson added. “You kind-of rediscover history.”

Bowne offers unique, customized treasures that pay homage to Lower Manhattan’s history. Although not too long ago the shop’s services centered around financial printing (invoices, receipts, letterhead, tickets, pamphlets), Bowne & Co. has (relatively recently) shifted their focus to include social stationary, in part because of the influx of Lower Manhattan residents. The former business model focused on “anything a 19th-century business person would need to operate in the city,” Wilson explained. “Today, we continue this tradition of job printing, but with a focus on anything someone might need to communicate in a professional or more personal way.”

Check out our “Shop Small” video of Bowne & Co. on Downtown Alliance’s Instagram TV channel.