DGR's distinctive design for his stationery first appeared in a 1 August 1863 letter to
Ellen Heaton (Fredeman,
Correspondence, 63.78). The note paper, with its
embossed crest reading
FRANGAS NON FLECTAS and the stylized monogram,
subsequently became DGR's favored writing material for his correspondence.
The note paper and the cast die with monogram were executed in 1863 per DGR's design
instructions by the stationery and engraving firm Jenner & Knewstub, 33 St. James
Street and 66 Jermyn Street, London. DGR's studio assistant and pupil, W.J. Knewstub, took the
initiative in having his brother's firm produce the stationery “gratis”
Correspondence 63.79, 63.80, 63.82).
Jenner & Knewstub produced the initial run of stationery in a variety of colours
Correspondence 63.82). Later requests to Knewstub make clear
DGR's favouring of the “grey monogramm'd paper” (Fredeman,
Correspondence 67.170). In addition, a detailed order for more stationery, sent to
Charles Augustus Howell in 1872, shows that DGR preferred “a thinner,
slightly-ribbed, and quite unglossed paper, like the
first lot Jenner
& Knewstub made” (Fredeman,
DGR's correspondence from this time shows the pleasure that he took from Knewstub's
Correspondence 63.80). In a letter
to William Allingham, DGR recalls with fond humour Knewstub “insisting on making me
the present of a stack of paper headed in various colours, which stuff up every drawer in my
studio & will last half my lifetime,—or indeed perhaps head the news of
my death when that occurs, before the black edged paper has arrived” (Fredeman,
The design clearly means to represent the reverse and obverse sides of a coin, with DGR's
initials folded in an elegant arabesque design that anticipates the simplicity of art nouveau.
The tree on the reverse is the traditional icon for something that bends but does not
break—which is curious since the proverb is given in its stoic rather than its
medieval version (see commentary below). The structure of the design recalls the rondels that
DGR used on many of his decorative frames, as well as the coin design worked into the
illuminated text of the
“Sonnet on the Sonnet”.
“Frangas non flectas,“ the phrase chosen by DGR for his stationery,
may be translated: “You may break but not bend me.” It is a slight
variant on the ancient Latin proverb “Frangas non flectes,“ (with the
verb in the future tense). Perhaps even more familiar is the medieval variation on this stoic
thought to the effect that “I bend but I do not break“ (see e.g.
Fables I. 22).
WMR refers to this tag as the “family motto” in his introduction to
Poetical Works of Christina Rossetti. He addressed the source of his
brother's motto at greater length in
: “Whether the Rossettis (or possibly I should rather say the Della
Guardias) really have any armorial bearings is a matter unknown to me. My father owned
(brought, I suppose, from Italy) a largeish seal marked with a crest—a tree having
Frangas non flectas—and he said this was
regarded as his crest. Mr. Knewstub, my brother's art-assistant, who was connected with the
Firm of Jenner and Knewstub, got that firm to present to Gabriel a die with the crest and a
monogram; and the latter for some years habitually used note-paper thus stamped”