In this article we continue our series around the different brands and suppliers in the art material market by exploring Granthams ARTdiscount. They have a long history in the graphics business and are an online supplier of art and graphic materials to amateur, professional and commercial customers in the United Kingdom. They are distributors for most leading brands of art-related products, including their own, and directly import materials and equipment from overseas suppliers and manufacturers. Granthams Artdiscount is a member of the Colourlink International Group of Art and Reprographic Trade Association. Let's take a look at their history and what they offer today.
Nestled on the Irish Sea on the northwest coast of England, Blackpool has long been a prosperous seaside resort, dating to the 1840s when a new railroad connected Blackpool to industrialized Northern England. Rail service made Blackpool much more accessible and as a result, settlers came in significant numbers, enough for Blackpool to be incorporated as a borough in 1876. By 1890 Blackpool's population increased exponentially as a result, and with it came an explosion of new businesses, and new businesses created a need for quality sign-making. A young William Grantham recognized the need and founded Grantham Signwriters. Grantham's business mirrored the growth of Blackpool, and by the turn of the century had become the leading sign-making company in the region.
With increasing work came the need for employees, and Grantham would eventually hire Walter Hudders and his brother William as apprentices. The Hudders would stay with Grantham Signwriters for many years before eventually moving onto other opportunities. Grantham Signwriters remained the leading sign-making company in the area until the 1930s but decreased in size until it was once again a one-man operation by the outbreak of World War II. William Grantham continued on, working alone well into his 70s, and until after the war ended in 1945. At close to 80 years William Grantham decided to retire and transferred Grantham Signwriters to his old apprentice, Walter Hudders. It was at this time that Walter Hudders hired his son, Tom, and the two dove headfirst into returning Grantham Signwriters into the leading sign company in the area, an area whose population continued to grow rapidly, tripling in size between 1901 and 1951.
The 1940s through the late 1960s saw continued expansion and growth for Granthams and the use of exciting technologies as well. In 1959 Letraset was founded in London, a new company that promoted a letter and numbering transfer system that became very popular. Initially, Letraset was manufactured as a wet process, the user would cut each character, whether number or letter, from a sheet placed on a silkscreen. The character would then have water applied with a paintbrush, the silkscreen frame would be reversed and the character pressed down onto the desired surface. Two years later the process was simplified to a dry transfer system.
Granthams tradesmen quickly became experts in the new technology and due to strong demand, a move into a larger building across the street on Regent Road became necessary. In 1968 Granthams became the first dealer/distributor of Letraset in Lancashire, further establishing its leadership position not only locally but also across England. Around the same time Grantham artisans also trained in the use of Perplex. This was invented in the late 1920s, brought to market in the mid-1930s, and initially saw wide use in World War II in aircraft as a clear material suitable for windows and gun turrets
The continued popularity of Letraset products opened a new avenue for sales, specifically generic art supplies used with Letraset products. Consequently, Granthams entered the retail art material market for the first time, a transformative development in the history of the company, and more space was needed again. A move to Charnley Road in Blackpool, the location of the Blackpool Co-Op from the early to mid-1900s, seemed perfect. The property was purchased, and serves as Grantham's head office to this day. Sign-making occupies the first floor, art material sales the ground floor, with adjacent buildings used for warehousing and storage, and as a result of the burgeoning new art supply business the old Regent Road location began selling art materials as well.
During that time, Tom Hudders' son, Mark, joined the business as a technical illustrator focusing on the graphics supplies, and Mark would play a leading role in the growth of the company in future years.
In 1979 the Hudders recognized the need for quality printing services in the area, and so Granthams Print Bureau was born. Housed on the same floor as the art materials showroom at the Charnley Road head office, the Print Bureau has been providing a variety of printing needs, from business cards to rulers, pens, and personalized gifts. The Print Bureau provides graphic design, displays for exhibitions, large format printing, and an array of promotional products.
The digital revolution and the computer changed the world, including the world of graphic design, and Granthams took note early on. In the eighties personal desktop computers became affordable and soon anyone with a passion would be designing. Microsoft Windows made computer literacy much more accessible, and Apple's release of MacPaint in 1984 made computer-generated graphic design, if not effortless, close to. By the mid-eighties, Granthams established a graphic design department dedicated solely to graphic systems for sign manufacturers and graphic artists, and the company was appointed an authorized dealer for Apple computer graphic systems.
In 1991 Granthams relocated its Graphics Technology Office and showroom to its Preston location, and was appointed exclusive UK/Importer Distributor for Flexisign software on behalf of Amiable Technologies of Philadelphia. The agreement was negotiated and completed at Apple World, Boston, United States. Around the same time, Granthams launched Datagraphix, a service that provided cut vinyl graphics to the public.
Over the next twenty-plus years Granthams art supply business became a major player, and in 2001, recognizing the power of the internet, Mark Hudders spearheaded the creation of Granthams ARTdiscount, what is today one of the largest and most successful art and graphic material websites in the United Kingdom. What began as an offshoot of William Grantham's original sign-making company, ARTdiscount offers a wide variety of supplies at affordable prices designed to fill virtually any art need, from paintbrushes to easels, acrylic paints, heavy body acrylics, and oil paints, to student drawing boards to craft knives, calligraphy sets, template combos, to sketch sets and watercolors, and carry-all art bags for effortless transport.
Granthams ARTdiscount carries virtually all major brands of art and graphic supplies, but also distribute their own brand of high-quality products. Membership is now offered to allow customers to manage their accounts online, but it is not required and orders may be made by telephone. Granthams ARTdiscount relaunched its website in May of 2018 on Shopify's e-commerce platform, and it offers in addition to products, an informative blog that features how-to advice as well as artist interviews.
From humble beginnings over 100 years ago to a leader in art and graphic material e-commerce today, Granthams ARTdiscount's core values remain the same: quality, excellence, and customer care. Have a look yourself on their website at https://artdiscount.co.uk