Each month, illustrator Leo Greenfield sketches and profiles an Adelaide character who makes this city tick. This month: Joshua Thorp.
With a history dating back to 1885, Adelaide Arcade is a spectacular fixture in our cityscape. It has housed an array of intriguing businesses that reflect the elegance of its heritage architecture.
Halfway down the arcade is Pencraft, a store that is hard to miss with its glass cabinets of fine tools for writing. Here I meet Joshua Thorp, who works at the family-owned business, to ask about the enduring romance of the arcade and the art of writing.
Pencraft has been a hub for luxury stationery and pens since 1968. Thorp came to the business in 2006 after working in property development in the Barossa Valley.
The store is filled with “writing instruments”; some pens are encrusted with diamonds, dipped in platinum or have nibs of gold, others favor “function over form” and there is an ample amount of good honest paper. When asked about the role of stationery in contemporary life, Thorp notes that “you have to ask what do pens really do?”, and for Thorp and his customers it’s more than mere marks on a page.
A purchase of a grand pen for Thorp is about “marking time”. A pen becomes a personal object of communication, as “they are often given as gifts or to reward someone”. They gather sentimental value as they are passed down through generations. Thorp is moved by customers bringing in pens once owned by a parent or loved one to be fixed and refilled with ink.
Thorp says he’d be crazy not to use email, but stationery is about expression and inspiration. A fine pen, to which the most important element of the tool is the nib, is something that can be used in conjunction with technology.
Like a statement timepiece, there is a lot about a fine pen that is “looking into the future”. They can be expensive but they “will last longer than our lifetime”.
The wide range of customers that visit Pencraft also suggest that the luxury pen is part of the future, with Thorp thrilled by the new interest of high school and university students keen to take on the fountain pen.
International brands like Montblanc, Graf Von Faber-Castell and Lamy can be found at Pencraft, but the store also stocks inks made here in South Australia, such as the uniquely coloured products made by Robert Oster in the Coonawarra.
As a rather elegant gent, Thorp reflects the Arcade as I can’t help but notice his odd socks. Then again, I think it’s the quirks that make a character, like in handwriting. The stationery sold at Pencraft encourages personal expression and grand gestures that make the craft of writing, whether for a formal business document or everyday notes and scribbles, all the more worthwhile.
Adelaide Arcade was one of the first buildings in the state to be fitted out with electric lights. Like a fountain pen it might look like something from the past, but the Arcade was, and perhaps still is, uniquely ahead of its time.
Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator