A Visit to Terrapin Stationers

It is the 21st century and the majority of us love instant gratification; we want things quick, fast, and in a hurry. In addition, we tend to move extremely swiftly and do things this way, too. With smart phones, it is easy—sad to say—and expected that a “thank you” will be sent from this device. Furthermore, people now send e-invites and boldly send “deepest condolences” through text messages. The once-kind gesture to sit down, take our time, and write a well-thought-out card is becoming more and more a thing of times past.

Enter the ninety-nine year old engraving and printing company Terrapin Stationers.

As I exit the elevator onto the seventh floor of a building located on West 37th Street in New York City’s historical Garment District, I am welcomed by the sound of noise—an unfamiliar noise. I call the front desk with the intentions of speaking to Ted Harrington (the man himself who helps his mother Cathy Harrington run the business), but surprisingly, a happy, gentle-sounding woman—Jennnette, Terrapin’s Senior Graphic Designer—picks up the phone instead. As I explain to her I have an appointment, a gentleman exits the elevator and walks right into the workshop and I try to instantly sneak a peek as I wait. For that quick second, I get a glimpse of what my visit would be like, but then the door slams shut.

Jennette comes out to get me. I’m greeted with a warm smile and she walks me to Ted’s office. Ted was currently not at the workshop at that moment, so she gave him a ring to inquire his whereabouts and see how long he’d be out. As it turned out, he was visiting his friends just around the corner at the men’s shop Nepenthes New York. While I waited, the hospitality was instantly noticed and appreciated. Jennette offers me something to drink, but I politely decline; I was fine. Next, I had the pleasure to meet Ted’s mother, Cathy Harrington—the lady boss. She offers me water as well, but once again I politely decline.

Mrs. Harrington goes on to explain to me how her men (the machine workers) were about to stop running the presses and she apologized, hoping I would have planned my visit a little earlier. She tells me how her men had been working since 7 AM (I arrived at 3 PM) and they are “counting the minutes” for when they can stop. I assured her that I would still make the most of my visit. “As long as the shop is in place,” I jokingly told her. She began to smile and walked off.

Ted had finally arrived and greeted me with a firm handshake and a smirk. As I stood to greet him, he told me to sit. “Let me get you something to drink,” he said. This time, I didn’t say a word. All I could do was appreciate what had been top-shelf hospitality. While we waited for the photographer to arrive, we began to converse about the company’s history. He informed me about the company’s conception and how it was founded in 1913 by a Russian silverware engraver. When the Russian silverware engraver decided to retire, Ted’s parents took over the company, making it a now family-ran business.

The photographer finally arrived and it was time to go to work. Ted gave us a full tour of Terrapin’s beautiful workshop. He started by introducing us to Ralph, an older gentleman who is the workshop’s foreman; he’s been with Terrapin for nearly forty years. He then went on to show us Terrapin’s beautiful machines that were older than us all. Ted enthusiastically explained how they used a lifting crane to get the one hundred fourteen year old machines into the workshop. He also showed me how the engraving process worked; I spotted two clients’ work nearby already completed (Tory Burch and Two Inch Cuffs).

We then moved on to view the crates where he showed us some one-of-a-kind monogrammed work. One thing I discovered: Ted doesn’t hold back on gift-giving once he warms up to you. As we went through the tour, he often would stop and show us his favorite work, which, if you know Ted, included the F word on them. Fun and memorable is how I look at the items. Who would forget you if you sent them a card that said, “I f— love you.” His own creations have easily become his bold trademark.

Back in his open office space, he handed me his huge, portfolio-like book full of clients. In there was the proof of history along with well-known fashion brands: Gucci, Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, Tod’s Italian footwear. Thick, the clients didn’t end there. He told the story of how he did Jeff Staple’s first ever business card and how they frequently joke about it. Browsing through his work and admiring what he had done for his extended list of clients made me truly appreciate the art and craft of engraving. It was indeed a learning experience and I considered myself schooled. Ted Harrington, and more importantly, Terrapin Stationers is a well-known, well-liked, and well-respected company with a broad list of clients from numerous industries.

Conversing with Ted opened my eyes to the world of engraving. It’s his life’s work and he genuinely loves and takes pride in what he does. This is the way it should be. To end the visit, it wouldn’t have been complete without one last thing. He had the photographer and I take turns while he took pictures of us holding up an oversized card that in this particular moment appropriately said, “F— you.” Terrapin Stationers is most likely the hippest, most historical engraving and printing company you should know about.

Photography by: Nneka Salmon