For many, the noun ‘stationery’ is one of those tricky spelling-bee words, that trips people up when confused with the adjective ‘stationary’.
But where does the word stationery come from? While writing on paper has been around since Ancient Egypt, the term ‘stationery’ can be be traced back to medieval England, when in the 13-14th Century (think around about the time of King John, Henry III, etc) itinerant traders used to gather around towns and cities to sell their wares. Among these assorted traders were those who plied their trade in manuscripts, copying and illustration.
These traders were a lot less mobile than others however, and tended to gather together in the same places (stations). The Latin Stationarius is the root derivation used to describe these ‘stationary’ paper-based traders, and over time they became known as Stationers and their collective offering became known as stationery.
The London-based stationers congregated by the (old) St Paul’s Cathedral, and it was this group that formed the Stationers’ Company in 1403. The Stationers’ Company were one of many City of London Livery companies that developed from the medieval guilds, and in 1557 the company received its Royal Charter (at the end of Queen Mary’s reign). By then manuscripts and illustration had been overtaken in importance by printing, and the company became a regulatory authority who, amongst other things, oversaw the original definition and rules regarding copyright in publishing.
Today, the Livery company is still going strong, embracing all manner of communication based enterprises, and, rather splendidly, is now called the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, and is based in Stationers’ Hall near St Paul’s Cathedral at Ludgate Hill, London.
So now you know!