Isaac Cate Lycett, a retired engraver of social stationery who produced the invitations for Bill Clinton's presidential inaugurations, died Tuesday of a heart attack at his Delta, Pa., home. He was 84 and had a second home on Mount Vernon Place.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Owings Mills, he was a 1945 McDonogh School graduate. He became a Navy pilot and after his military service earned a bachelor's degree at Haverford College.
He joined the family business, originally founded on Pratt Street as a book bindery by London immigrant Edward Lycett in 1835. Mr. Lycett first worked at 317 N. Charles St., which had expanded by the 1940s to sell gifts, wedding presents, china, toys, lamps and shades, religious goods and school supplies, as well as cards and stationery. He was a past president of the Charles Street Association.
A longtime employee, Columbus Battle, called Mr. Lycett "a fine gentleman and a wonderful human being." The two worked together, often into the night, as they prepared engraving plates and printed invitations. "I learned the social graces from him," he said.
Mr. Lycett oversaw the operation of five presses located in the building's basement. In 1960, he expanded his business with a merger of Down's Engravers. Several years later, he gave up selling china and gifts and concentrated on his social stationery business.
"We once sold more English Spode china than any store south of New York," Mr. Lycett said in a 1992 Baltimore Sun interview. "We also held the record for [sales of hand-painted British-made] toy lead soldiers and figures. I could be rich today if I had that lead-soldier inventory."
The article called him "the state's leading authority on wedding invitations, business letterheads [and] calling cards." His files had records of transactions with President Woodrow Wilson, Cardinal Gibbons and Gov. William Donald Schaefer. He said his great-great-grandfather, a Southern sympathizer, engraved $2 notes for a Virginia bank during the Civil War.
"Brides-to-be have been seeking the Lycett firm's services for decades. Its engraved script cards have announced births and deaths, partnerships and openings," the story said. "The Lycett presses have printed money and stamps."
In a 1974 Sun story, Mr. Lycett discussed his "most unusual wedding customer" — a woman who put in an order for the minimum number of wedding invitations.
"A week later she came back with one of the invitations. The name of the groom had been crossed out with another man's name written in," he said. "She ordered more invitations with the new name. It turned out that she had had the first set engraved with one man's name to get the other man to propose to her."
In the early 1990s, Mr. Lycett expanded his business again and used computers and high- speed presses in Linthicum. He also used tons of Crane's all-cotton-fiber paper. He added shops, under the Down's name, in Ruxton and Bethesda and acquired the controlling interest in Washington's Copenhaver, a Connecticut Avenue social stationery firm. Through these Washington stores, he picked up jobs from the National Geographic and then-Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.
Family members said he was proud of winning the job of engraving the invitations to both of President Bill Clinton's inaugurations.
"We can do the exact same job on stationery engraving as Tiffany. But our price will be 25 percent less," Mr. Lycett said in the 1992 Sun story.
Mr. Lycett was active in the Citizens' Planning and Housing Association. He often wrote letters to The Sun about preservation of parkland in the Jones Falls Valley and at Soldiers Delight.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Charles and Saratoga streets, where he was a member.
Survivors include his wife of 37 years, the former Sara Finnegan; three sons, James Arthur Lycett of Carrabelle, Fla., David Newell Lycett of Catonsville and Robert Lawson Lycett of Cuechee, Vt.; a daughter, Merry Lycett Harrison of Salt Lake City, Utah; a brother, the Rev. Horace Abbott Lycett of Denver; a sister, Caroline Beaumont Felton of Hartford, Conn.; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. His previous marriage to Mary Louise Newell ended in divorce.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun