As a young man, Leo Mascotte was known for his proper etiquette.
“I wrote thank-you notes — always,” he says.
It was, after all, the right thing to do, but it also was the start of a lifelong dedication to handwritten communication.
And that timeless tradition has stayed with Mascotte, who today serves as creative director of Dempsey & Carroll.
“I’m a total paper nut, I’ll admit,” Mascotte says with a smile on a winter afternoon at the stationery company’s Upper East Side flagship.
Founded in 1878 in Union Square by engraver John Dempsey and businessman George Carroll, Dempsey & Carroll became known for providing luxury writing papers (and advice on etiquette through now-collectible publications).
Today, the elegant slip of a space on Lexington Avenue offers a walk into an earlier time — without leaving today behind.
And that’s by design, says Dempsey & Carroll CEO Lauren Marrus.
“We marry the new and the old,” she says. “Our history and our heritage is something we fully embrace.”
The 100 percent cotton, watermarked paper is milled expressly for the company, in America, with each envelope tissue-lined by hand. The company continues its hand-engraving process, employing handcrafted steel dies and copper plates for customized work.
“They’re literally 19th-century presses,” Mascotte says of the equipment still used today to create Dempsey & Carroll stationery. “They just speak to craftsmanship, of a way of production that is timeless. There’s no better way. It’s remarkable.”
And it’s one that isn’t about to be abandoned, Marrus says.
“It’s just so much a part of who we are and our brand, we haven’t thought of doing it any other way.”
The company history is close at hand.
“Downstairs is an archive of all of our dies,” Mascotte, a onetime Rye resident, says. “It’s one of my favorite places in the world.”
His enthusiasm is palpable as he soon opens a large book engraved with the words “Yacht Stationery.” Indeed, its vintage pages show countless examples dotted with nautical flags and papers designed for writing letters from one’s stateroom.
It was, he says, “kind of a lovely way to live.”
But it’s not just a relic. Its themes have been reinterpreted for today’s nautical-inspired collections or, as Mascotte shows, “from that comes something new.”
The company has also used postage stamps as inspiration, always working on new designs and collections. Even its most basic cards come in a variety of colorways — from Dempsey Blue to a gray “that’s beyond chic,” Mascotte says.
Collaborations have ranged from animal-themed designs with South Africa-born event planner Colin Cowie to fanciful notecards with Schumacher, the famed fabric line that traces its own roots from 19th century New York City.
The next edition of the Schumacher line, Marrus says, will be recolored “in a way that is really modern.”
The company, Marrus adds, is always conscious of finding ways “to still stay relevant in the digital age.”
That means calling cards that serve as retro-inspired introductions — or note cards with clever phrases and pictures.
A card with an image of the penny-farthing, or high-wheeler, bicycle carries the phrase “Get on it,” while one with a whisk says “Mix it up.” The Love Notes collection depicts cards sporting images of a typewriter (“You’re My Type”) to a telephone (“Give Me a Ring”).
In an ideal world, Mascotte says everyone would have paper and cards on hand for any occasion, with Dempsey & Carroll more than ready to help people “begin the assembly of a stationery wardrobe.”
Those first learning of the company and its products, he adds, will be sold by the tactile experience, “once you actually use the paper and actually write on it. You really have to experience it.”
The company has expanded to offer complementary gift items, from paperweights to writing instruments. It even offers stylish gift tags complete with some 16 inches of grosgrain ribbon, which negates the need for wrapping paper.
“That plus a bottle of wine and you’re done,” Mascotte says, again a nod to today’s fast-paced world.
But whether calling on Dempsey & Carroll for a playful thank-you card — or to create a bespoke invitation for the most formal of events, there is an unspoken graciousness to the proceedings.
The pace of corresponding by hand, Mascotte says, simply “allows you to become more thoughtful.”
As Marrus says, whether to acknowledge a gift or a job interview, “If you want to be that person who stands out, you’re sending a handwritten note.”
That belief is proven each night when Mascotte gets home, checks his mail and spies something written by hand.
“Before every bill, before every solicitation, before every catalog, it will rise to the top.”
Dempsey & Carroll stationery is available at the Manhattan flagship, 1049 Lexington Ave., or online at dempseyandcarroll.com. A selection is also carried at Saint Clair in Greenwich, at 96 Greenwich Ave. For more, visit dempseyandcarroll.com.