Behind the Stationery: Old Tom Foolery

Our next installment of Behind the Stationery features the husband and wife duo behind Old Tom Foolery! Their clever, humorous greeting cards are my favorite to read while browsing gift shop shelves and are truly equally catered to men and women (which seems rare these days). Here’s a bit of their story, highlighting their creative process and advice for new stationers. It’s all you, Lauren and Joel! –Megan


Photo by L&E Photography

Hi, it’s Lauren and Joel from Old Tom Foolery. (Thanks, Nole and Megan, for letting us hijack your oh-so-beautiful site for a guest post.) We’ve been asked to share our story and some wisdom we’ve picked up over the years. We can definitely share our story — not sure about the wisdom part though since we still feel like we’re learning new stuff every day, but we’ll give it a shot.


Photo by L&E Photography

We met in grad school for advertising in Richmond, Virginia in 2003. Lauren was studying art direction and Joel was studying copywriting. While we were dating, we shopped at a great independent card shop in Richmond called Mongrel which opened our eyes to the possibility of truly fun, original cards being created by small makers. Seeing their cards made us realize that making greeting cards was a lot like making ads and it planted the seed that, hey, maybe we could do this greeting card thing, too.

Once we graduated, we worked as a creative team together at an ad agency in Seattle and then eventually moved to San Francisco where we worked at separate agencies. Advertising was both fun and incredibly stressful, and we increasingly had the itch to work for ourselves. In 2007, just after Joel had quit his agency job, Lauren serendipitously found a letterpress on Craigslist. We figured it was a sign, so we bought it, took some letterpress classes at the San Francisco Center for the Book, and Old Tom Foolery was born.


Photo by Old Tom Foolery

From the beginning, we knew we wanted our cards to have a unique look and funny tone using premium materials and printing techniques, and appeal to both men and women. So we came up with the tagline, “Unsappy, uncrappy cards and curiosities” to convey what Old Tom Foolery is all about. That line has guided every product we’ve made since.

We officially launched OTF at the National Stationery Show in May of 2008 with 52 Footnotes Collection cards that we printed in our kitchen. We got enough orders that first year at NSS to validate our efforts and our business just kind of snowballed from there.


Photo by Old Tom Foolery

As we got into more and more stores, it didn’t take long for us to realize that printing was a huge time commitment and we should leave it to the pros so we could focus on writing, designing, and just generally running our business. We both gradually went from working part-time on OTF to full-time. (Lauren went full-time first in 2010 and Joel followed in 2012).


Photo by L&E Photography

We’ve also moved our office twice: first in 2010, from the kitchen of our San Francisco apartment to the basement of our Minneapolis house after we got married; and second in 2013, from our house to a shiny new office space in the fantastic Eat Street neighborhood in Minneapolis. This new space is perfect for our needs as we’re able to keep our inventory in the basement and still have office space and a retail shop on the main floor. Our team has grown from just the two of us to include a full-time accounts coordinator (Kelli), office/project coordinator (Melanie), shipping/assembly assistant (Emma), as well as three regular part-time employees (Tim, Liz, and Claire), and an official mascot (Ryder the dog). Pardon our French, but our employees effing rule. We couldn’t do it without them.


Photo by Old Tom Foolery

As far as our creative process goes, we’re always jotting down ideas on Post-it Notes, iPhones, or journals so when it’s time to do a new release, we can start by looking through those ideas to see of any of them hold up. If so, we’ll brainstorm separately about ways to develop the idea and then come together to talk about our favorites. Generally, Lauren will work on designs and Joel will work on writing lines, but there’s a lot of overlap in these roles. It’s funny—people always ask us, “Do you guys just sit around with a bottle of wine and think up funny stuff?”. That couldn’t be further from the truth, actually. It’s hard work. Fun, but hard. We really strive to create cards that other people haven’t already done, and it’s difficult because there’s a lot of great stuff out there. (I mean, really, how many different ways are there to say “Happy Birthday”?!) We’ll write hundreds of lines and come up with hundreds of different design variations before we land on 10-20 cards that we feel are worth printing.


Photo by Old Tom Foolery

In summary, our advice for new stationers is:
1) Quit your job if you hate it, but be prepared to supplement the income from your new stationery business for at least a few years.
2) Start with a unique point of view and stay true to it.
3) Launch your stationery line at the NSS. It’s the best way to get noticed.
4) Marry your business partner.
5) Move to Minneapolis—it’s better than you think.


Photo by Old Tom Foolery

Interested in participating in the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to Megan at

Emma + Brian’s Star Map Wedding Invitations

These beautiful wedding invitations from designer Emma Mällinen might appear to be a simple black and white design – when in fact they’re so much more! The invitation features silver screen printing on black paper, classic Baskerville text letterpress printed on white paper, blind deboss elements – and a truly stunning star map meets tidal chart design!


From Emma: Preparing for our wedding in June has been one of the most exciting times of my life. As a graphic designer I have felt like a kid in a candy shop. There are so many things to design or customize, and over the past year I have made everything from favor box labels, to conversation starters, to all of our event signage. I’ve treated myself to all the colorful visual possibilities. Romantic lettering? Check. Bold flowers? Check. Creative language? Check. But when it came time to design our wedding invitations it felt different, like a big responsibility.


The invitations turned out to reflect us more than we could’ve even dreamed of. Our initial inspiration came from our wedding site on the Cape Cod seaside. It was Brian’s family house, overlooking the sweeping sand flats at low-tide. We loved the way the sky and the sea melded together for a few hours each day, and we thought this an apt metaphor for our own union in the same place.


We created an image of a vintage star map and a tidal chart meeting – a reference to our evening ceremony overlooking the same view. For the reverse side, we took pieces of this illustration and used them as structural elements, printing them in blind deboss around our classically arranged text. The text design was based on historical treatise frontispieces and was set in Baskerville.


The wonderful people at Mama’s Sauce did an amazing job with the technically complicated order. The diagram of the vintage star atlas and coastal tide map were screen printed in silver ink on French Paper Poptone 100C Black Licorice. This paper was then duplexed to Crane Lettra 110C Cotton, on which our text was letterpress printed in black with accompanying blind deboss.


All of these choices reflected our unique relationship: the invitations were spiritual without referring to specific religious symbols; the language was our own colorful style; and the color palette was serious but playful with deboss. We added a purple silk envelope to bring a dash of color and sent off our invitations knowing they would be cherished for a long time to come!


Thanks Emma!

Design + Envelope Calligraphy: Emma Mällinen 

Printing: Mama’s Sauce

Check out the Designer Rolodex for more tal­ented wed­ding invi­ta­tion design­ers and the real invi­ta­tions gallery for more wedding invitation ideas!

Photo Credits: Emma Mällinen

Seasonal Stationery: Mother’s Day Cards, Part 1

Mother’s Day is just around the corner! Whether you prefer cards that are sweet and sentimental or funny and quirky (or both!) – here are a few cards to tell mom how much you love her:


1. My Dear Fellow Co.

2. Letter & Lark

3. Rifle Paper Co.

4. Cardtorial

5. Ink Meets Paper

6. Sycamore Street Press


7. Sugar Paper

8. Wit & Whistle

9. Denote Stationery & Design

10. Moglea

11. Honizukle

12. Quirky Paper Co.

I also rounded up 16 favorite Mother’s Day cards over on the Etsy blog last week – and you can find 150+ beautiful Mother’s Day cards in the OSBP Market List right here!

Friday Happy Hour: The Peak Bloom

Among all the attractions Washington, DC offers, one of the briefest but most glorious are the annual spring cherry blossoms. A gift from Japan at the turn of the last century, the product of decades of lobbying by writer and geographer Eliza Scidmore, DC is crawling with cherry blossom trees. For a vanishingly short time each spring, they bloom and then quickly loose their petals in clouds of pink flower confetti that fall with every breeze. Did I say it was glorious? (If you do visit for the cherry blossoms, skip the crowded Tidal Basin and visit some of the quieter groves, like the one in Capitol Hill’s Congressional Cemetery or Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks.) Nole asked for a cocktail this week to celebrate the flowers, so here’s a light and air (and pink) gin sour that tries to capture some of their spirit. – Andrew

The Peak Bloom Cocktail Recipe with Cherry Blossom Syrup and Str

The Peak Bloom Cherry Blossom Cocktail Recipe Card by Shauna Lynn Illustration for Oh So Beautiful Paper

Illustration by Shauna Lynn for Oh So Beautiful Paper

The Peak Bloom

2 oz American Gin
1 oz Lemon
1 oz Cherry Blossom Honey Syrup
1 tbsp Strawberry Preserves
Splash of Soda Water (Optional)

Combine the gin, lemon, syrup, and preserves in a cocktail shaker and add three or four big square ice cubes. Shake well and fine strain (pouring through a tea strainer or using a strainer spoon with a tightly coil) into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Peak Bloom Cocktail Recipe with Cherry Blossom Syrup and Str

We talked about American gins, in contrast to drier English-style gins, last week when we wrote about our updated Gin Rickey. Emphasizing other botanicals alongside juniper, a new American-style gin lends this drink a softer profile. We used Heritage Distillery’s Soft Gin for our Peak Bloom.

The Peak Bloom Cocktail Recipe with Cherry Blossom Syrup and Str

The cherry blossom syrup – made in Japan from honey and cherry blossom extract, which we included in another cherry blossom themed drink a couple years ago – lends this drink a subtle floral flavor. And those preserves do a couple of nice things: they add a bit of earthy sweetness that leaves this drink on the sweeter side, and the pectin in the preserves helps thicken this drink up a bit in the same way that a little egg white might, too.

The Peak Bloom Cocktail Recipe with Cherry Blossom Syrup and Str

The Peak Bloom doesn’t need a splash of soda water, but a few effervescent bubbles can be a nice addition here. But the drink will go flat fast – just like the cherry blossoms lose their petals – so you might find yourself drinking it down quickly.

(Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, where we’ve been posting our experiments before they make their way onto this column!)

Glassware by Liquorary

Photo Credits: Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper

Happy Weekend!

Happy Friday everyone! I’ve been spending a lot of time out in my garden lately (now that the weather is finally nice again!) and it has been so nice to see everything start to turn green after so many months of brown and gray. My peonies even have buds and the lilacs aren’t far behind! But in the meantime…


Photo by Flowermuse via Instagram

…a few links for your weekend!

This week on Oh So Beautiful Paper: