Two more Blackwing notebooks to complement the Slate

It’s been a minute since I’ve written anything about Palomino Blackwing/Pencils.com/CalCedar. But it’s not for want of any new products from them. They’ve been busy!

Their latest release is a great follow-up to my post in Summer 2014 about the Blackwing Slate, a Blackwing-branded A5-sized journal. Since that release, they haven’t said much about their line of paper products, though I’ve seen the Slate in most stores that carry their pencils. I figured they’ve been concentrating on their (very ambitious) quarterly Volumes releases.

But it was in the last Volumes release that they gave us a taste of what’s to come. The Volume 205 edition (the “jade” edition) included an extra. A small, single, pocket-sized notebook with the same leather-ish polyurethane black cover as the Slate.

blackwing-notebooks-1Later on, they announced it was called the Blackwing Clutch. And they followed that up with the Summit, a larger, 8.5 x 10” edition.

blackwing-notebooks-2Like the Slate, the Clutch and the Summit are plain black with a creamy, thick paper. Unlike the Slate, they are perfect-bound with a contiguous cover from front to back, similar to a Write Notepad notebook. And they have a soft cover; similar to a Moleskine, though with a better, thicker cover.

One thing about both of these new notebooks was bugging me — the name. The “Slate” makes sense — it’s another name for a handheld writing surface. But what about the “Clutch” and the “Summit”?

Finally, I emailed Alexander, Blackwing’s brand manager and asked. He said:

“The ‘Clutch,’ because it will (hopefully) come in clutch when you have a great idea on the go, and because it opens like a clutch bag. The ‘Summit,’ because we envision this being more of a meeting/desktop/workplace notebook, and because it’s our largest notebook offering.”

(“Clutch,” for those of you who don’t know, is slang for “performs under pressure.”)

Aesthetics

blackwing-notebooks-iphone

I’m a fan of the matte black covers — they match my iPhone really well, so when my notebook and phone are laying on a desk next to each other, it looks like I planned it that way.

That said, I’m generally drawn to stationery items with a bit of color. The Baron Fig Three-Legged Juggler and the Write Notepads Kindred Spirit are two notebooks that come to mind.

But these are subtle and classic, and complement their pencils really nicely. Blackwing pencils are themselves not subtle (though I do think most of them are pretty classic), so unlike a bright pocket notebook (Say, the Field Notes Unexposed edition), these notebooks won’t draw attention away from them.

The Form Factor

One of the big advantages to the Clutch, Blackwing says, is to use it sideways, in “clamshell mode,” as it were. Two things about this:

  • That’s not a particularly unique value proposition — you can do that with any saddle-stitched or perfect-bound pocket notebook. And really, anything that’s graph or dot-grid ruled.
  • Also, the notebook isn’t particular good at being used sideways like that — the binding is very tight and it’s hard to break the spine on some pages.

Like other perfect-bound pocket notebooks, the Clutch is bound in such a way that in order to let it lie open, one must “crack” the spine —

bendy-blackwing-notebookThe Summit makes no such claims. The binding is a bit different — it’s more of a traditional journal, with the cover material tucked underneath the end sheet.

The Paper

Like the Slate, these two has a thick 100gsm ivory paper. It’s luxurious and smooth, but kinda smeary. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it in the Slate, but looking back, the Slate’s paper seems toothier. Check out the smear from this Blackwing Pearl:

smear-testAnd that’s not even the softest Blackwing out there.

Despite the smeariness, I like it a lot. It feels like paper befitting a luxury brand.

I am, however, not a huge fan of the dot grid here. It’s well-spaced — just about the same as the Baron Fig Confidant. But the dots themselves are big and bold, which makes them feel a bit intrusive. I would much prefer them to be smaller and lighter.

blackwing-notebook-7

The darker but smaller dot grid of a Blackwing Summit notebook next to the grayer but bigger dot grid of a Baron Fig Confidant

Both the Clutch and the Summit come in dot grid, lined and blank (the latter two I haven’t tried).

The Price

This is where you really see what “luxury brand” means. Like their pencil counterparts, this is not cheap. A three-pack of the Clutch notebooks are $14.95. The Summit is just a dollar cheaper than the Slate, at $21.95.

Is it worth it?

This is something you’ll have to determine for yourself. For me? It’s worth the quality they put into the notebook. They seem way more sturdy than the $12-per-pack Field Notes (only time will tell, though).

However great the quality is, I still would prefer a bit of color in my notebook. The Baron Fig Confidant and Vanguard limited editions are great for me in that regard, as are Write Notepads’ pocket notebooks. The Blackwing notebooks don’t appeal to me, aesthetically, as much as they do. If you like a subtle, classic black, I wholeheartedly recommend them.

I will certainly keep coming back to Blackwing for pencils, though. My Volumes subscription renews in a week, and that’ll be the start of my third year as a subscriber.

Check out the Blackwing Clutch at Blackwing602.com. And the Blackwing Summit. And if you haven’t seen it before, the Blackwing Slate is the hardcover journal sized right in the middle.

And thanks to Blackwing for providing me a pack of the Clutches and Summits at no charge for review purposes.

The Waverley Tartan Cloth Commonplace Notebook: Beautiful, but oddly ruled

I love plaid.

I don’t know if it’s because of my ten years of Catholic school — or perhaps in spite of it — but the colorful, patterned cloth has appealed to me for as long as I can remember. Perhaps none have been present in my wardrobe more than Black Watch plaid — a simple, understated green and blue plaid with roots in Scottish military garb born out of the unsuccessful Jacobite rebellion in the early eighteenth century.

I had a Pendleton wool scarf, which I cherished, and, in my late teens and early 20s, even a wool sweater vest!

Ladies.

Thats why, when I first became aware of Waverley’s tartan cloth-bound collection of journals from my friend Gary Varner’s blog, I was instantly lovestruck.

Continue reading

The Mitsubishi Uni Palette 2B: Dark, soft, and hard to smudge

A month or so ago, a member of the Erasable Podcast Facebook group posted a picture of some pencils he bought from Japan — a Mitsubishi Uni model called “Palette” which bills itself being “designed for students.

The Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

According to the box, Mitsubishi says:

“Palette stationery is designed to help students develop their imaginations and think independently through the joy of writing.”

What really struck me at first about these, when seeing a picture of them, was the three shades of bright, brilliant blue on the pencil barrels. From a rich Navy blue down to a vibrant Baby blue varnish, with bright pearly-white imprints, this stood out to me, especially compared to its higher-end cousin, the understated maroon Hi-Uni.

My wife, considerate person that she is, noted my enthusiasm and went about tracking down a pack. She found a seller on Amazon that shipped from Japan, for free! Of course, it took almost a month to arrive, but when it did, I was so excited to break it open.

Aesthetics

As I mentioned before, the most striking feature of the pencil is the bright blues it comes in. It feels a lot more fun and light than the darker, serious maroon, black and gold of the Hi-Uni. It makes a lot of sense, being for students.

The Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil and the Kum Masterpiece sharpener

The ends were unfinished, which was a bit disappointing. One of my favorite things about many Japanese pencils are the dipped or capped ends that often have a pinstripe or some detailing to finish it. A bright white to match the foil stamp would have been nice. But to keep costs down, I completely understand why it was bare.

The Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

Upon closer inspection, I was pleased to see that all the cores looked perfectly centered inside the wood. The casings seemed perfectly aligned and there were no chips or paint overspill despite the dramatic woodgrain.

Shavings from the Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil and a Kum Masterpiece sharpener

The pencil sharpened like a dream. As with many Japanese pencils, It sharpened smooth and the wood sheered off in almost one piece. I used my Kum Masterpiece, my favorite hand-held sharpener, to get that razor-sharp long point I prefer.

Performance

The first thing to note is how dark and smooth it is. For a 2B, it was so rich and smooth — waxy, almost — that I thought it was an error. Surely this was a 4 or 6B!

Writing test with the Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

Because it was so soft and smooth, it didn’t hold its point for very long. It could be because I was writing on fairly toothy paper — a Baron Fig Confidant — but by the time I got two-thirds of the way down the page, the point was quite dull. I wasn’t even pressing very hard.

Writing with the Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

However, what really makes this pencil stand out is the smudgeability (is that a word?). As soon as I wrote a few words, I ran my finger across it and barely got a smear. This felt more like a 2B than something softer and darker.

A smear test with the Mitsubishi Uni Palette pencil

What makes it “designed for students”?

The day I opened up these pencils, I had lunch with a friend of mine: Bruce Eimon, who started Think on Paper .Co, a company specializing in Japanese stationery. He was raised in Japan, and deeply understands the Japanese stationery market — how it reflects that industry’s values, their philosophy of product design, and how they approach creativity and learning.

It’s important, he says, for Japanese schoolchildren to understand how to use a pencil. They spend a lot of time taking tests — writing and filling in little bubbles on a standardized exam. This pencil is soft and dark, so students don’t have to press too hard, which can affect their handwriting. It’s lightweight and relatively thin — for little hands — and is probably relatively smudge proof because those hands are often clumsy and are dragged through the graphite markings.

Brilliant.

If you’re in the US, it’s pretty hard to get ahold of these — CW Pencils doesn’t have them, and neither do JetPens or Pencils.com. As far as I can tell, I can only get them on Amazon. But, the good news is that they’re not expensive — less than $7 for a dozen. They just take a while to get here.

If you’re interested in picking up a dozen of these for yourself, you can find them on Amazon, here!

EDIT: Someone pointed out to me that there are also Palettes in gorgeous pastel colors with pink and orange in the package, and Palettes in a soft triangle shaped barrel!

Also, if you are reading this on your mobile device and have Medium installed, check this out — I was playing around with Medium Series, their new format similar to Snapchat or Instagram stories. I wrote this same review there, too.

The Viarco Vintage Collection

Whoa — it’s an actual pencil review! I haven’t reviewed an actual pencil since October, with the Baron Fig Archer. Of course, with the new renaissance of pencil blogs, you don’t need me anymore — I’m talking about impassioned publications like Lead Fast and, of course, the re-launch of Pencil Talk, which I’m very excited about..

However, there are some fantastic pencils out there that I want to explore.

Sometime last year, one of my favorite places on earth, CW Pencils, started selling a series of pencils from Viarco. They’re a manufacturer in Portugal that often flies under the radar here in the US (though among our pencil community, people are getting hip to them).

Making pencils since 1907, Viarco is a small but quality pencil brand that makes good quality HBs like the Premium 2001, or the Desenho 250 H (a dark, smooth pencils that CWP recommended for left-handers).

This series, the Viarco Vintage Collection, has six varieties of boxed dozens:

  • 1951: multicolored HB hex pencils with white stripes on the edges
  • 2000: Pearlized multicolored HB hex pencils with a bright stripe and cap on the end
  • 3000: Similar to the 2000s, but round instead of Hex
  • 3500: Red HB hex pencils with white stripes on the edges
  • 272D: Blue copying pencils with violet ink (originally used to transfer ink to other paper decades ago

What’s really remarkable about this collection is not how exceptional the pencils are in themselves — it’s the level of detail to which they recreated the originals. From the packaging to the paint on the barrel, they look incredibly similar.

As a fan of vintage aesthetics (I know, I’m a dirty hipster), I knew I wanted to try them. But, at $15 a dozen, I knew I didn’t want to pick them all up. I went for the multicolored packs; the 3000 and the 1951 sets.

Performance

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about how well they write — I honestly don’t think that matters as much. They’re not particularly remarkable. But they’re not terrible either. I would say they write dark and maybe a little on the scratchy side, like a General’s Cedar Point #2 or a Baron Fig Archer. The 1951 seemed to be the scratchiest of the two, though they were really similar. It really felt like what I usually expect a vintage pencil to feel like, if that makes any sense.

Construction and Aesthetics

It really seems like they went all out to replicate the vintage feel. The paint looks like it was really painted on, and the foil stamp on the barrel feels like it was really stamped — the 3000, for instance, had a deeper imprint in the center of the stamp than the edges, like like a round pencil barrel would dictate. The end-dip is just a little uneven, like maybe it was dipped by hand.

I actually have no idea if that’s the case — if Viarco actually dipped and stamped their pencils by hand. But if they don’t, they replicated it perfectly.

The cores are perfectly centered in the barrel — a look through both sets of 12 pencils shows that that’s the case for all of them. And the wood looks like it’s real cedar — it’s a bit darker and more fragrant than many modern pencils.

I’d love to get hold of an actual vintage Viarco so I can compare the two. If I can do that, I’ll report back here.

Meanwhile, check these out for yourself! CW Pencils sells all six varieties for $15 a boxed dozen, or if you can’t make up your mind, you can just buy the full set for $75.

A view Askew: a review of the Baron Fig Askew Confidant

A year or two ago, I noticed a coworker of mine taking notes from a meeting in a “Grids and Guides” notebook. You may have seen these before — a simple, cloth-bound A5-ish sized notebook sold in a lot of hipster gift stores. They come with several pages each of unusual lines or grids. She was writing on a page that had a big Fibonacci spiral gridded on the inside.

Throughout the meeting, I saw her follow the spiral until it got too tight to write in, and then she just started writing below it.

After the meeting, I brought it up. She says she likes using that notebook because it gets her mind working. Like with doodling, keeping your mind engaged can sometimes help one activate their brain and concentrate on the meeting around them.

I don’t think I’ve thought about that again, until my Baron Fig Askew showed up.

The Askew has been pretty divisive around the stationery community. Between the Field Nuts group and the Erasable group, people gave their opinion instantly, and at least half of them gave an immediate “nope.” Much of the other half was all, “Ooh, this is really pretty, but unusable. It’s more of a collector’s piece.”

I think there are a few of us in a third camp — people who think, “hmm. This is interesting. I wonder what it’s like to use it.”

I’ll try to walk you all through this thought process.

Aesthetics

As the box and inside pages indicate, this is ballpoint-pen blue. It looks like someone took a Bic Cristal and scribbled it in. The fabric cover is a rich, bright blue. The bookmark is deep red as well, and together, the notebook has a superhero vibe to it. I love it.

It gets weird immediately when you open to a blank page. You see the layout, and although it emulates a piece of loose leaf paper, with blue horizontal lines and a pink vertical line to the right indicating the margin, you notice that it’s hand-drawn.

There have been a lot of questions by people who haven’t seen one in person yet. I’ll try to answer as directly as I can.

Are ALL the pages hand-drawn?
Yes. Some are more straight and consistent than others, but no page is truly even.

I see photos of pages that are just scribbled. What’s up with that?
Baron Fig says about 10% of the pages are “unruly”, meaning that they’re a lot wackier than the 90% of “ruly” pages. Sometimes the unruliness manifests in the form of a scribble, or else all the lines are stacked on top of each other, or something else entirely.

Like this one:

Or this one:

Or this one:

I won’t spoil all the views; there are 192 pages after all, but there should be 15-20 “unruly” pages in there.

“Unruly.” I just got that pun.

Is each, individual notebook hand-drawn and unique?
I don’t think so. Debbie Millman, the artist, hand-drew a notebook’s ruling, and then Baron Fig duplicated that same spread in all their Askew notebooks. I did an Instagram live unboxing video, and Michael Hagan from Lead Fast confirmed it — his copy had identical spreads.

How am I supposed to use those “unruly” pages?
That’s up to you! Me, part of the usefulness of those pages is to think outside the box and figure out how you’re going to use it. Also: you could just leave it blank and ponder it.

Performance

Using this notebook is an interesting experience. Generally, the slightly crooked lines don’t bother me — without lines, my writing is slightly crooked anyway.

I do actually appreciate that, in most spreads, the lines are wider than those in a typical Confidant. I have a bit more room to write bigger.

The left margin is also an interesting addition. Typically, Confidants and other similar notebooks don’t have a margin divider like this. And I never really paid much attention to it before, but I didn’t consistently keep my own margin. This prompts me to keep a comfortable distance between my writing and the edge of the notebook, which can be a visual relief.

Quality

I’m not sure how the artist originally drew the lines, and how Baron Fig reproduced them for their notebook. But man, they did a good job. I was expecting slightly pixelated digital art, but the lines, for as crooked and hand-drawn as they are, were crisp and clear.

I recognize that this notebook is not for everyone. Some people need a consistent, straight line to plot their output. And I can respect that.

Joey and Adam took a big chance with this book. It’s not just the same old Confidant, but with a different colored cover and bookmark. They truly reinvented it. For me, it was effective — like with doodling, following the slightly askew grids helped me open my mind up to what I was listening to or thinking about.

Joey and Adam: if you’re reading this, I think I speak for a lot of people when I say, GUYS. I want a Confidant with this exact exterior look; this rich, Bic Cristal-blue fabric cover and scarlet-red bookmark, but with regular lining. That would be such a beautiful addition to my (ever-growing) Confidant stash.

In the meantime, though, this is perhaps not my every day notebook. I know I’ll pull it out when I need to take notes but don’t mind being a bit playful. The unique whimsy of the crooked lines and the surprise of the “unruly” pages put me in a mindset that I definitely don’t dislike.

(This notebook was given to me at no charge by Baron Fig for review purposes.)

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: a review of the Baron Fig Archer pencil

This has been a long time coming, folks.

Ever since I first met Baron Fig founders Joey and Adam in person, last year in April, they’ve been intensely interested in wooden pencils. We had a great chat, sitting on a park bench in Washington Square Park in NYC. I told them what I thought made a good pencil, and they told me a bit about their design philosophy.

And while I had nothing to do with the creation of this pencil, I do feel a bit of pride in it — I don’t know if I’ve ever followed someone’s process from ideation to creation before.

The Baron Fig Archer pencils with the Three Legged Juggler Confidant notebook

It’s unclear how the idea started — perhaps it was a whole bevy of Baron Fig users telling the guys how pencil-friendly their paper was: toothy but not rough; thick but not plush. Perhaps it was that pencils can express their design philosophy to a level that pens never can — ultimate simplicity expressed. No refills, no moving parts. Just wood, graphite and paint.

But honestly, does it matter? I’m happy they decided to go for it. There’s a lot of (valid) criticism of the Baron Fig aesthetic out there: extreme minimalism, cold, clean lines, inexplicably feudal naming conventions. But for me, personally, I like it. I find warmth in their Confidant journals from the fabric covers, and though many of the designers I work with love the grey, I vastly prefer some color in my notebooks (I love, love my orange Three-Legged Juggler that I stashed away for a year or two before breaking open).

Their product lines has explored notebooks just about as far as they could go. They have the Confidant, the Apprentice (their soft-covered pocket notebook) and the Vanguard (the larger, multi-sized soft-covered notebooks). They released a Confidant cover, the Guardian, and even a planner variant of the Confidant.

Last year, they released the Squire, a pen that I wrote about here. It seemed only logical that a pencil would follow. I was worried it might be a mechanical pencil version of the Squire, but I was happy to see they went with a woodcase pencil.

Let me walk through a few different aspects of this pencil that really stood out to me.

Aesthetics

Joey texted me back in August with this amazing photo:

From the moment I saw it, I knew it would be a perfect fit in their lineup. The grey barrel is finished with a really soft matte lacquer, that makes it fairly non-stick. Even with clammy hands, this shouldn’t slip from your fingers.

Like the Squire before it, the insignia (icon?) on the barrel indicating the name is a simple line illustration. Instead of a sword, of course, there’s an arrow. Opposite it, “BARON FIG” is written. Both markings are, I believe, screenprinted on — there’s no sign it was debossed or stamped.

Closeup of the barrel of the Baron Fig Archer pencilPersonally, I would have loved a little bit of color — maybe the yellow accent color they use for bookmarks in their Confidante, or the Baron Fig wine color on their boxes and branding. But I’m not too bent out of shape about it — I expected a monochromatic pencil, and I think the majority of their audience will prefer it.

Closeup of the Baron Fig Archer barrel on the Confidant notebook

It’s definitely not going to turn any heads or start conversations, like a Blackwing or, say, a flashy Hi-Uni Penmanship. But that’s not what it’s for — this is designed to be a distraction-free workhorse. And while it’s fun to explain the story behind the Blackwing to strangers, it’s definitely a distraction. This is for focused sketching of wireframes, or writing important to-do lists, or just musing in your notebooks at breakfast to finish your Morning Pages.

Performance

Johnny, Tim and I were lucky enough to get an advance dozen of the pencils a couple weeks before the launch so we could try them out and talk to them about it on the latest episode (check it out!). I used it almost exclusively for a week, and wrote all over — in my Confidante, my Field Notes, on cheap Post-it notes — you name it.

Shavings from the Baron Fig Archer pencil, sharpened by a KUM Masterpiece

When I sharpened it with my Kum Masterpiece, the wood looks blemish-free but still pretty woodgrainey. It doesn’t seem like they’re using a composite wood. I’m not sure what it is made of — I doubt it’s incense cedar because of how lightweight it is. Still, I’m a big fan. It smells like a wooden pencil. And it sharpens like a champ.

The first thing I noticed was how incredibly lightweight it is. I don’t have a postage scale with me, but even considering there is no ferrule, it feels exceptionally light. So, at first, I thought it was going to feel cheap and scratchy.

writing-with-the-baron-fig-archer_full.png

I was so pleased to be wrong. On every paper I used it on, the graphite was exceptionally well-balanced. It wasn’t buttery-smooth like a Blackwing (even the 602 is way smoother than others of its hardness), nor was it scratchy like its featherweight sibling, the extremely light and scratchy Faber-Castell Grip 2001.

Baron Fig paper is widely considered to be pretty great for pencil, and this pencil is pretty great with this paper. I spent some considerable time writing with it in my Three-Legged Juggler Confidante, and it didn’t lay down the darkest mark in the world, but it barely smudged when I smeared it with my finger. And it erased very cleanly.

close-up-writing-baron-fig-archer_full.png

The Packaging

I think that the packaging deserves its own category here. Baron Fig has always been obsessed with amazing packaging — Their Confidantes come in a perfectly engineered box. Unboxing it is an experience, much like an Apple product or other fine electronics. The Archers are no different.

unopened-tube-baron-fig-archer_full.png

When I got the tube in the mail, I thought it was impossibly thin to fit. There was no way a dozen regular-sized pencils were going to fit in there! I showed the unopened tube to my wife, and asked her how many pencil she thought were in there, and her guess was around four to six pencils.

open-tube-baron-fig-archer_full.png

Finally, I lifted the top of the tube off, and sure enough, 12 pencils were fit together in a 3x3x3 honeycomb triangle. When we were recording, I asked Joey and Adam how long it took to design that packaging — Adam admitted to doing a lot of math in order to make that happen. It certainly paid off.

Concluding

I’m a big fan of these little guys. I still prefer pencils with erasers on the end. Blame it on my very American background — I maintain the eraser gives it a nice counterbalance when I’m writing, not to mention a super handy tool for when I need to rub out a mistake. But sometimes when I’m sketching or writing fast, I want a very lightweight pencil unencumbered by the extra weight a ferrule and eraser brings. These are sure to be a standard go-to for me.

tube-layed-down-baron-fig-archer.png

I think the price is perfect, too. It’s not cheap by any means, but at $15 a dozen, that means it’s $1.25 per pencil, which is quite a bit less than the $1.82 Blackwing.

Like Apple, Baron Fig puts intentionality and design into everything they do. They strip out the cruft that’s worked its way into stationery and office supplies, leaving only the necessities. If that appeals to you, you’re going to love the Archer. Pick up a dozen or two over on their website for $15 a dozen.

And thank you, Joey and Adam for this fantastic addition to your lineup, and for letting me feel like I was able to come along on the journey!

(These pencils were given to me at no charge by Baron Fig for review purposes.)

Review of the Bookblock Original

Just about a year ago, I got an email from Stefan Johnson, the creative director of a design agency in London, who was planning a Kickstarter campaign for a notebook. It stood out to me because, unlike most other Moleskine-style notebooks, this was for a completely customizeable notebook — from the cover to the spine, the elastic band to the bookmark, you could pick the design and the color, and you could do it without being required to order in quantity — each was completely one-off.

The Kickstarter campaign

I was intrigued, so I pledged £10 (disclosure: I pledged at a level that had a discounted rate for bloggers who reviewed the product. And here is that review). The campaign launched on August 18, and closed a couple months later on October about £600 over the £10,000 goal.

Pretty soon after, Stefan sent me a template to fit into my design. I really wanted to put the production process through its paces, so I wanted a fairly complicated, precise design. Which led me to this, based on TJ Cosgrove’s amazing reproduction of an old Eberhard Faber Blackwing box for Erasable:

image-7

In addition to this design, I chose a black elastic band, and a red bookmark to accent the red on the cover.

That was in mid-August, right after the campaign ended.

And then, everything stopped.

I heard back from Stefan again in March, apologizing for being silent for seven months, and letting me know my notebook was ready.

I responded, and then there was silence again for a couple months, when I heard from someone else from Bookblock — Phoebe — that she was going to send me the notebook.

A week later, 10 months after the campaign ended, the notebook came.

image-6

The notebook’s production quality

Well, first of all, the order was wrong. I asked for a black elastic band and a red ribbon, and got a navy blue band and a white ribbon.

However, the design itself was implemented from the template with exacting precision. I lined it up so the spine had a pencil right in the center — if it was off even by a fraction of an inch, it would be pretty noticeable.

The Bookblock Original came pretty darn close to the original design I submitted. Excellent work by whomever set up the template.

The quality of the printing is… decent. It has the resolution of maybe a nice color laser printer, and although the color is pretty true to the digital design, it was finished with what looks like a clear, matte coating that just dulls the whole design.

The Bookblock Original cover is covered with a dull finish and bubbles have appeared in places.

This is just a guess, but it looks like the design was printed on paper that was applied beneath some kind of contact paper — there are multiple instances where there are bubbles between those layers, especially around edges. It cheapens the looks significantly.

The notebook’s materials

Phoebe told me that Monsieur Notebooks was a “sister company” of the Bookblock Original, which looks to mean that they produce the notebook itself — the binding, the paper and the materials. If I were to guess, Bookblock Original wraps their designs around the Monsieur journal.

The Bookblock Original inside cover, with the Monsieur logo.

Monsieur’s a pretty popular producer of custom notebooks — if you’ve ever gotten a pretty nice customized journal that seemed nicer than and more personalized than a Moleskine with a stamp on the cover, it could very well have been a Monsieur.

The Bookblock Original inside spread. The paper is of decent quality and is pretty pencil-friendly.

The paper inside is really nice. It’s medium-heavy weight, about 90 gsm, and has some tooth to it (but not too much tooth), much like the Baron Fig Confidante. This means it’s pretty pencil-friendly. My General’s Cedar Pointe #1 wrote in it like a dream, smooth but dark.

The Bookblock Original page closeup.

The signatures of the book are visible and are pretty noticeable. I’m not sure what that indicates, but it seems to me to indicate that it’s been hastily assembled. Even most Moleskines, which have dropped in quality over the years, seem to be bound and cut carefully enough that it’s hard to pick out where the signatures in the binding start and end.

The price and market fit

Now that the Kickstarter is over, these notebooks are available publicly. The Bookblock Original’s website says that the notebooks start at $18, though they aren’t clear up front what features cost more until you’ve completed the process to design your own.

It’s also unclear what Bookblock Original’s relationship is to Bookblock, or what their relationship is to Monsieur. The original Kickstarter mentioned nothing about differentiating the “Original” from the brand name.

If Bookblock Original improves their production, $18 is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for the amount of customization you’ll be able to do to a reasonable quality notebook. It’s great for one to, say, five notebooks decked out with your favorite design.

I was hoping to be impressed by this enough to buy Johnny, Tim and TJ all a copy of this Erasable Podcast notebook, but until the dull finish is more vibrant and there are no bubbles in the cover, I don’t think I’ll be spending more money here. Now that they’re in regular production and out of the setup phase, hopefully that’ll be soon.