Stationery Shopping in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, city of 3 million people, the Paris of South America. We visited the city for three days last week. I don’t know if BA had its own Baron Haussmann at one point, but the wide, wide boulevards, stately mansions, and leafy parks did indeed remind one of the French capital. It was fun being in a big city again!

There were even pencils in front of the Casa Rosada (the pink-toned Presidential Palace).

This time I had the opportunity to visit some bookstores, stationers and pen shops. Bookshops in BA are alive and well, and both the big, established chains (El Ateneo, Cúspide) and the smaller independent stores seem to be thriving, at least compared to those in other countries. It was great to see the “neighborhood bookstore” still alive.

For my pen searches, I relied on this list I dug up online before the trip (¡Gracias!). The first one on the list, Casa Pintos, seems to have closed (there was a new building at that address on Avenida de Mayo), but I hit the jackpot at Librería Catalinas. It was a delightful store chock-full of deluxe art supplies (Caran d’Ache sets!) and both current and vintage pens. They carried Parker (including a shelfful of vintage 51’s), Pelikan, Faber-Castell, Lamy, Cross, Sheaffer, Caran d’Ache, some Visconti, and I forget what else. Granted, the stock isn’t huge compared to a pen shop in Europe or Asia, but I tend to have a high opinion of stationers who carry Pilot Parallel pens. If we were to live in BA for any length of time I would undoubtedly be making regular pilgrimages to this shop.

Judging from the display, it looked like Catalinas had been in business for a long time. The most intriguing item in this store was a box of vintage Staedtler jumbo pencils – the owner’s personal collection, and not for sale. They allowed me to take a picture though :)

I also spotted some vintage pencils in a couple of stalls at the awesome San Telmo antiques market. Several Johann Fabers and some Argentinian Van Dykes, mostly colored. I would have picked some up but due to a miscalculation we had no cash on us and couldn’t buy anything. If I ever get another chance to come here I will work through this neighborhood again – porteños don’t seem to throw anything away, and the most amazing stuff comes out of those stately old homes!

My stationery souvenirs from BA are mainly notebooks. Speaking of notebooks, there is one mystery about this city I cannot figure out – there are no Moleskines or Paperblanks or any other internationally known paper brand to be found anywhere. I’m not saying that Moleskine is so great that every nation on earth should import it, but rather that this brand and several others like it have so taken over the world that it is nearly impossible to escape it – and I wonder why this country in particular should be out of the loop. Every time I saw a Moleskine-like rotating display in a bookshop I made a beeline for it, but it always turned out to be a lookalike called BRÜGGE. (I think the line is manufactured in China, but I’m not 100% certain.) The notebooks I did get are both made in Argentina.

This is a notebook in my favorite format: spiral-bound, square grid, lots of pages. The paper feels above average, but I won’t be too disappointed if it bleeds or feathers. One advantage of being a pencil user is that you become much more tolerant of various kinds of paper.

The pencils are both unfamiliar variants of familiar brands. I actually got the Brazilian-made Eco in place of a one-peso change at a bookstore; Argentinians hate small change and will go to some lengths to avoid dealing in coins.

The second is a regular lined and banded notebook, but with cute illustrations inside, from a brand called Monoblock. I don’t know if I’ll actually be using this notebook for anything; this is just a souvenir to remember the city’s great cafés and pastries by :)

The last item of note is marketed as an iPad case, but I have something different in mind. The factors that make Argentina one of the best places in the world to have a steak in also enable it to produce a lot of leather, and BA is known for its multitude of leather-goods shops selling jackets, shoes, bags, wallets, etc. Now, I’ve always wanted a leather desk pad that cushions sheets of paper against a fountain pen nib, ever since I saw one back in Seoul (the brand was Italian). BA shops carry that too – aptly named carpetas para escritorio – but they were too large, and often too complicated (with lids, sleeves, gilt-edged corners etc.). I wanted a smaller pad that was more portable, like a leather clipboard without the clip. And this is just the right size, and at around US$43, quite a bargain I think. (I might still work myself up towards a proper carpeta in the future.) 

And, with all that leather in search of a purpose, I certainly hope the artisans across the river will be interested enough to make other stationery-related articles in the future – notebook covers, pencil sleeves, pencases, and heck, why not sharpener cases? :)

12 thoughts on “Stationery Shopping in Buenos Aires

  1. 떠나 계시는 동안에 한국도 날이 다르게 동네 서점들이 늘어나는 분위기예요(실상은 출판 자본을 끼고 있는 경우가 다수라곤 들었습니다만…). 대형 서점들은 츠타야를 벤치마킹하는 분위기고요. 일본에서 서점이 운영되는 방식에 대한 책을 한 권 읽었는데 재밌는 책방 중에는 각 지방의 인스턴트카레를 진열한 사례가 있다더군요. 생각을 뒤집기에 따라서는 별난 아이디어가 계속 나올 수 있나 봅니다. 부에노스 아이레스 한 번 방문해보고 싶네요^^


    1. 그거 반가운 소식이군요^^ 사실 꾸준히 읽는 출판사 블로그가 하나 있는데, 구태의연한 방식으로 진열 판매하는 것에는 한계가 있다는 인식이 점차로 퍼져 나가는 걸 느끼겠더라고요. 남미의 경우는 원인이 좀 다르지만… 일단 1. 인터넷 쇼핑이 그리 발달하지 않아서 서점을 방문 구매할 수밖에 없고 2. 오랜 기간 영업해 온 서점들이 많아 보여요. 요리에 관한 책만 취급하는 고서점도 있더라는 @.@

      El Ateneo Grand Splendid 라는 서점은 원래 *극장*이었다는데 서점으로 개조했다더군요 @.@ 근데 이렇게 근사한 서점에 가서도 영어책 코너 기웃거리는 게 고작이니… 슬펐어요 ㅠ.ㅠ


      1. 대형 서점이든 동네 서점이든 면면이 다양해지고 있는 점은 독자 입장에선 고무적이죠. 동네 서점 트렌드는 과연 살아남을지 조금 더 지켜봐야 될 것 같긴 하지만요. 서점에 커피, 맥주, 시인들을 끌어들이는 게 동네 서점들의 생존 방식인데 인테리어와 이벤트에는 자본이 필요하지요. 더구나 소비자 경험을 종합한다는 측면에서 보면 대형 서점은 아예 ‘몰링’ 트렌드를 이용할 수가 있으니까요(판교 현대백화점의 교보나 부산 센텀시티몰의 반디앤루니스, 넓게 보면 명동성당 지하(!)의 인터파크 북파크도 그 예가 되겠네요). 매머드부터 미어캣까지 전부 진화하는 추세인 걸 보면 출판 생태계에 기후 변화가 일어나긴 일어나나 봅니다.

        사진 올려주신 El Ateneo 저에겐 부에노스 아이레스에 가보고 싶은 이유 자체예요. 제가 갖고 있는 천당의 이미지와 가장 흡사해요. ‘책등’만한 묘비는 없다고 생각하거든요(부르주아 이데올로기라고 지적하셔도 할 말은 없습니다ㅋㅋ). 최후의 심판일이 되면 수염을 기른 신이 책등에서 몽테뉴와 입센의 정신을 끄집어내서 하늘로 훨훨 올려보내는 상상을 하곤 합니다.


      2. 일본에 살 때 새벽에 집이 흔들리는 게 느껴지면, 비몽사몽간에도 책더미에 깔려 죽는 것도 나쁘지 않지… 하고 생각했던 기억이 나는데, 먼지님도 나름 중증이시군요?^^ 유럽도 각 나라별로 만드는 책의 스타일이 조금씩 틀린 것 같던데, 스페인어권은 나름 장정도 중후하고 꽤 멋진 책들을 많이 만드는 것 같습니다.

        외국에서도 보면 서점들이 살아남으려고 잡화점 비슷하게 되어가더라고요. 하지만 그게 과연 답일지… 가만 생각해 보면 제가 발전을 기대하는 건 서점이라기보다는 출판 쪽인지도 모릅니다. (이 이야기는 길어지니 나중에… ㅋ.ㅋ) 그리고 제가 이제까지 가장 좋아했던 서점들을 생각해 보면 규모가 아주 큰 서점들보다는 미디엄 사이즈가 많았어요^^


  2. Great zebra crossing!
    Were prices reasonable or are things quite expensive because they were imported from far away?
    I heard of Brügge before. I think I came across them two or three years ago and thought it was funny because Brügge is the German name of the Belgian city of Brugge but the company is from South America.
    Thanks for giving us a glimpse into the world of Argentinian stationery stores.


    1. You’re welcome! Actually I don’t know the local prices of most items, since they weren’t listed and I didn’t ask, but I assume they won’t be cheap (one Caran d’Ache colored pencil set in a wooden box had a price tag of about 10,000 pesos, or about 650 dollars, which I think is quite stiff). There’s of course the tariff system and the 21% VAT, but I also sense a two-tiered price system at work here – one for local and Mercosur-produced goods, and another for items imported from further abroad, which demand a premium.

      I agree about Brügge – at first I thought it was a Chinese copycat. They even have the same Star Wars special editions =.=


  3. Excelent post! As an argentinian I would recommend buying Pizzini mechanical pencils, they are great and feel like a rOtring but with a much lower price tag :)


  4. Hola, soy de argentina. Me ha gustado mucho tu blog. Es verdad, no hay mucha diversidad en lápices o libretas. Las moleskine no se usan simplemente porque son demasiado caras. Sin embargo hay muchos artesanos que hacen libretas muy bonitas y las venden en ferias. Saludos!


    1. Hola, estoy muy feliz recibir un comentario de un argentino! Disfrutamos mucho nuestro viaje a Buenos Aires. Sin embargo me preocupaba que mis observaciones (del punto de vista de un extranjero) estuvieran equivocadas. Estoy contento que estés de acuerdo. Gracias por la información adicional!


      1. Gracias para el link! Parece que hay much más de variedad de lápices antiguos en oferta a su país que Uruguay ;) Voy a revisarlo de vez en cuando. Saludos!


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