Made in Florence | Shopping for leather and paper in Florence

You didn’t come to Florence to buy fridge magnets (or maybe you did). You came to Florence to discover what all the talk was about and experience the art, culture and food for your self. Once you do you’ll be a different person and won’t need a plastic, made in China likeness of David stuck to your refrigerator. Still, it would be nice to have a souvenir, something reminiscent of your time in the city, that will forever remind you of Florence. Fortunately there are many authentic objects to chose from hand made by artisans who have talents that can’t be found anywhere else.

Leather has a long history in Florence and the transformation of hide into clothing, bags, and other accessories goes back centuries. Most leather is still made near Florence but production has moved to large industrial sites outside the city. That doesn’t mean leather comes cheap. Both the raw material and the skilled labor are costly.

Today there are countless shops selling goods and not all quality is the same. Here’s what  every prospective leather shopper should consider:

  • Label: If the label is sewn on, it’s a good sign. If it’s glued on or the stitching is faulty, walk away.
  • Location: Outdoor stalls and markets meet the demands of millions of tourists looking for low-priced souvenirs, but the best leather products aren’t found on the street. If you’re serious about leather you need to shop indoors, where the finest handcrafted items are created and displayed.
  • Price: A nice wallet should run around €20, a handbag €50, and a medium-sized carrying bag €100. Prices vary, and browsing is the best way to find a compromise between quality and cost. Whatever sounds too cheap probably is. The saying around here is it’s better to pay more once than less many times. It’s a convincing argument.

Marbled Paper
Paper production is nearly as old as leather, though the marble variety for which the city is famous didn’t originate here. Turks had been using the technique long before the Florentines, who had the good sense to begin creating their own. The skill was widely diffused throughout Europe in the Middle Ages; however, today only Florence continues to produce significant quantities.

The process is fairly simple. First, colors are added to a rectangular glass basin containing a little water. Next, they’re delicately brushed into the characteristic marble pattern. Finally, a sheet of stock paper is placed on top. The paper absorbs the color, and is removed and hung to dry. At that point it’s only a matter of minutes before the piece is ready and can be used to decorate diaries, books, envelopes and other stationary.

Papiro has a near monopoly on marbled paper and there are a handful of shops around Florence where you can purchase stationery and see how it’s made. The branch at Via de’Tavolini 13r periodically demonstrates the process and allows customers to make their own colorful sheets.

Giuliano Giannini e Figlio (Piazza Pitti 37r, tel. 055/212-621, Mon.-Sat. 10am-7pm and Sun. 11am-6:30pm) on the other side of the Arno has no intention of becoming a chain store—and that’s a good thing for anyone who stops in and learns from the father-and-son team who keep the art of stationery making alive. There’s a pleasant smell of paper and ink inside this unlikely shop lined with shelves full of tempting stationary for office or home. Workshops are organized by the fifth generation of the same family. Basic demonstrations last 30-40 minutes, but if you want to learn how to bind a book you should count on a couple of hours. Reservations are required and prices vary depending on the number of participants.

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