Harry Marks on the Dime Novel Field Notes edition

I don’t often have guest reviews on this blog, but when Harry C. Marks comes at me, I know it’s gonna be good. Harry’s an internet-friend who I’ve made sure to hang out with in real life several times, a long-hand novelist, and, like me, a stationery lover. He recently reviewed the latest Field Notes release, Dime Novel.


Field Notes Dime Novel. Photo by Harry C. Marks.

I’ve appreciated Field Notes notebooks for some time. I wouldn’t call myself a “fan” in the truest sense as I tend to skip most releases. Nor am I an obsessive collector, so when an edition comes out that captures my attention, it’s something special.

The first Field Notes I ever bought were the Drink Local editions. The perfect notebooks for Fall in hues of brown and orange, fallen leaves scattered on the table. Even the covers crunched when I cracked their spines.

Then came the Workshop Companion edition—six notebooks meant for six different kinds of projects, from woodworking to car repair. I’m not much of a handyman, but the package was too beautiful not to have on my shelf.

Finally, there was Byline. This was it: the perfect Field Notes for me. A departure from their usual staple-bound pocket fare, the Byline was an extra-long, spiral-bound reporter’s notebook clad in a utilitarian gray and filled with some of the smoothest, creamiest paper I’d ever used. Its brutalist aesthetic concealed an inner beauty, 70 pages of gold between two layers of rock—and I craved more. I traded with friends, some sent me spare books in care packages, and I hoarded them among my growing collection.

I thought I’d never find another book as perfect as the Byline. Then I opened my email last Monday afternoon.

Field Notes Dime Novel. Photo by Harry C. Marks.

The Field Notes Dime Novel Edition is the company’s Fall 2017 release and the 36th limited edition in the lineup.

And it. Is. Gorgeous.

Field Notes Dime Novel. Photo by Harry C. Marks.Reminiscent of old dime novels of the 19th century, the notebooks stand at 4-1/4″ by 6-1/2”, roughly the same dimensions as their namesake. Three separate notebooks comprise the 72 pages within and are Smyth-sewn inside a thick, brown-orange cover.

Field Notes is no stranger to experimenting with its covers. The blinding, aggressive Unexposed editions were better left that way. The cherry veneer of the Shelterwood put a tiny tree in everyone’s pockets. The Snowblind edition forced writers and note-takers out of the house as its stark white cover shifted to blue when exposed to sunlight. These gimmicks all had the same purpose: differentiation. No other pocket notebook had a wooden cover, nor one that changed colors in sunlight, and no company was blind-mailing subscribers random notebooks without first knowing the contents of each envelope.

This is what makes the Dime Novel edition so interesting. The form factor is different from the usual lineup, but not so drastic as a Byline. The cover doesn’t have a pop-out ruler or foil coating. It’s just brown paper debossed with black ink. While more elaborate than, say, the America the Beautiful edition, it lacks the pop of some of the more intense covers mentioned above.

Field Notes Dime Novel. Photo by Harry C. Marks.

That said, the Dime Novel cover isn’t simple. Within its black borders are lines of text meant to sell the notebook and illustrate its purpose. “Practical Beauty and Value,” “Adventures in Creativity,” “A Pocket Companion” all adorn the front, arranged to fill the space and yet be easily glossed over. The two things that stand out are the words “FIELD NOTES” at the top and “‘Dime Novel’ Edition” toward the bottom. Everything else is white noise. The surrounding text provides dimension, but can be easily ignored.

The original Beadle dime novel covers were not meant to be ogled. They were there to keep the pages from falling out. I see Field Notes’ homage in much the same light; the deceptively simple cover is there to protect your words and sketches, then get out of the way. What’s surprising about this edition is just how inspirational and aspirational it seems. This is a book begging to be written in and yet holding it, it feels too beautiful to sully with one’s own musings. How funny is that? A notebook modeled on cheap, mass market “literature” isn’t cheap looking enough for the average to-do list.

The 72 numbered pages inside are a hearty 70# stock seemingly made for pencil. I tested the paper with a Blackwing 602 (firm core) and a Blackwing 24 (extra-firm core), as those are the two pencils I use most. The paper has a very slight tooth to it that grips the point tightly, but doesn’t erode it to a nub after a few strokes. Artists and sketchers will probably like this paper a lot, but I defer to them for final verdicts, as I do fountain pen users. As a pencil user, I’m pleased.

Field Notes Dime Novel. Photo by Harry C. Marks.

This edition feels like a paperback in the hand. Given a few weeks in a back pocket, it’ll probably start to look more like an original dime novel than the crisp notebook in these pictures, with the cover crushed and faded like your granddad’s old hat. My only complaint concerns the blank pages. I’d hoped a notebook centered around literature would’ve provide writers with the lines necessary to write their own, but blank is more versatile. Fair enough. It’s probably my bias talking anyway—I almost never buy blank notebooks and I have no use for grids.

NaNoWriMo is fast approaching and I’ve been outlining my first attempt in a Byline. I’d originally planned to knock out my daily 2,000 words in Scrivener on my laptop, but the arrival of these Dime Novel notebooks have presented a new challenge. With a guide slipped behind each page, might I tackle the Kerouac-ian effort of writing 50,000 words in one month by hand instead? The thought of seeing what could become a published novel get its start in a such a format is enticing. Even more so when I imagine the mason jar on my desk stuffed with Blackwing 24 stubs by the end of November.

Whether I decide to tackle NaNoWriMo digitally or otherwise is yet to be decided. What’s certain is my lust for this latest Field Notes edition. These books will be used and for something greater than to-do lists. They deserve it. Sometimes, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to capture the attention of a jaded group of collectors. Sometimes, you just need to make a simple, beautiful notebook—a work of art meant to inspire other works of art, and these notebooks have inspired me.


Many thanks to Harry C. Marks for his review of this beautiful notebook! You can find Harry online at HCMarks.com or listen to his podcast, Covered, about writers and their books. In his current season,  he’s talking exclusively to women authors about their books, and recently chatted with pencil friend Caroline Weaver about her book, “The Pencil Perfect.” It’s so good, and very pencilly, so you should have a listen. —Andy

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Story Supply Co.: the TOMS of the stationery world

Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Erasable community? Well, a lot, I’m sure. But this is something special. One of our group members, Vito Grippi, recently launched a (successful!) Kickstarter campaign for his new company, Story Supply Co.

In a nutshell, they source and give away “story supply kits,” for kids to learn the art of creative writing, storytelling and journaling. They’re partnering with 826, a series of fantastic arts nonprofits that help kids with many of the same goals.

Here’s the video from Vito’s Kickstarter campaign:

Did you notice the cameos from a Mitsubishi Hi Uni and a couple Palomino Blackwings? I sure did.

This is the kind of thing I love — admittedly a pocket notebook and a pencil aren’t the most original offerings ever, but they’re tools for creation! It’s not about creating specialized notebooks with one purpose and one layout. It’s about making a good quality notebook, a good quality writing utensil, for a great cause — helping give kids the same opportunity.

I also love that they’re partnering with 826. I have a couple posters from 826LA, and I’m not too far from the original, 826 Valencia, which is in the Mission district of San Francisco.

Full disclosure: I pledged already, and Vito sent me a pack of notebooks and a pencil early for review purposes. So while I haven’t really paid for them, I am already a backer of this campaign.

I’m a bit late to this review (Johnny talked about it over on the venerable Pencil Revolution, and Gary Varner’s very active new upstart paper blog Papernery has a great review,) but I will mention a few things.

The Notebook

I’m definitely loving the simple, navy blue cover with the Story Supply Co. logo on the front. It’s clean, and the navy-over-cream cover stock seems thick and rugged. The cover has a bit of tooth, as I noticed that there’s a subtle fiber interwoven in the paper, sort of like a dollar bill.

pencil-and-notebook

I’ll mention that the cover itself is pretty bad at closing completely once opened, and when it’s open, it wants to fold up pretty bad. It’s not dissimilar from Scout Books in that regard, though I know for sure that this is not a Scout Books product.

The inside is a creamy, thick graph paper. According to Gary, it’s a luxurious 70# weight, which is more than enough for the darkest of pencils, and perfect for all but perhaps the thirstiest of fountain pens.

IMG_4165

The 5 millimeter grid is a great size, though it’s laid out strangely on the page. It doesn’t quite meet the top of the paper, though there isn’t enough space for a non-gridded headline, and there’s a slightly thicker line running a quarter of the way in from the outside of the page, and a quarter of the way up. See?

grid-paper

Maybe that was intentional? I have no idea.

Still, though. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a damn fine notebook, especially considering it was their first run. As the company matures, I’m sure it’ll get better and better.

The Pencil

pencil-sharpened

Now, this is an interesting one. Vito was kind enough to include one of their later offerings, a round, natural-finish pencil! It bears the name, tagline, and some other information about the company, and on top of a golden ferrule, it has a navy blue eraser that matches the silkscreen on the barrel! Swoon.

While it physically resembles the Field Notes pencil, I’m convinced it’s better quality. The wood isn’t as splintery when I sharpened it (with my KUM Masterpiece!) and while the pencil itself isn’t as fragrant as the Field Notes pencil, the shavings are more so.

shavings-comparison

I’m not sure why that is, but I’m guessing that there’s an ever-so-thin layer of clear lacquer or sealant over the Story Supply Co. pencil. It’s thin enough to leave you feeling like you’re gripping a natural-finish pencil, but it’s not splintery at all, like I find the Field Notes pencil to be.

(It’s worth noting that this is a Musgrave-sourced pencil, so there’s a good chance it’s basswood, which seems to be confirmed when the shavings are next to the more pink Field Notes pencil. I also see a definite woodgrain, which makes it seem like the Story Supply Co. pencil isn’t processed wood.)

They leave very similar marks, but the Story Supply Co. pencil is noticeably smoother to write with than the scratchy Field Notes pencil.

point-comparison

In fact, the only things I think the Field Notes pencil has over this one is a) the typography is better (because, duh, Aaron Draplin) and the ferrule is more unique. Though maybe not as effective — a lot of people have told me the eraser comes out easily.

Story Supply Co.’s ferrule isn’t particularly special but it seems to do it’s job, which is what it’s all about, right?

The Kickstarter

The Story Supply Co. Kickstarter campaign successfully reached its $5,000 goal four days after launching, which is impressive and commendable. At the time of this writing, it’s at $7,167, which seems like it’s still got a lot of momentum in it.

For five dollars, you’ll get a sticker and a pencil, which is a pretty fantastic deal. For just double that, you can get a pack of notebooks in plain, ruled, or graph, and donate a kit to “a kid with a story to tell.”

I can’t wait to see Vito’s stretch goals!

This is the way to do it, folks. I’m loving Vito’s vision for the company, and his Kickstarter prowess.

Check out more about Story Supply Co. at their website, or go straight to their Kickstarter page.

Unboxing the Summer 2015 Field Notes Workshop Companion Edition

I’m a bit late posting this one, but for good reason. I’m trying a little something out with pencil friend and professional videographer TJ Cosgrove of the blog Wood & Graphite. He’s a pretty active group member, and has shared his time and talents with the Erasable crew in several ways.

Anyway, here’s an unboxing of the pack of Field Notes Workshop Companion edition that Coudal and Draplin released this summer:

Overall, I like it this edition, but it’s far from my favorite. Part of it is that I don’t really have a workshop, or work on auto repair, plumbing, or gardening projects. Obviously, I don’t need to use each book for this prescribed use, but I prefer the ones that center around a theme aesthetically, rather than a particular use case.

Still, though. That thick paper that seem to be traditionally released in summer is so nice and creamy. The cover, a new “Kraft-Tone” stock by French Paper Company, is thick and wears really well.

Thanks, TJ, for making this video great!

POSSIBLE SPOILERS: Field Notes Unexposed Edition Unboxing Video

Warning, if you don’t want the new, mysterious Field Notes edition spoiled for you, don’t want this video. If you do, then, ONWARD!

There are a few more observations I’ve had, after looking at the Field Notes for a bit longer.

The first is that I think this is the first time Field Notes has had a registered trademark symbol (®) next to the Futura’d “FIELD NOTES” mark on the front. That bums me out a bit, partly because, well, it means that some lawyers got ahold of it, but also because it’s moving one more step away from the original intent of a pocket notebook like this. It’s more of a brand now.

I completely understand why they did it, and if this was my product, I’d probably do it too.

The notebook comes in six varieties:

  • Purple with green words,
  • Green with orange words,
  • Orange with blue words,
  • Blue with pink words,
  • Pink with yellow words, and
  • Yellow with purple words.

Here’s a photo. SPOILERS:

Field Notes Unexposed complete set. Photo by Mike Finneran, posted to the Field Nuts group on Facebok

Field Notes Unexposed complete set. Photo by Mike Finneran, posted to the Field Nuts group on Facebok

They’re all very bright, made from flourescent soy-based inks printed on a white 100# silky paper. The inside color is the inverse of the outside.

One of my favorite things about it is that it resurrects the paper used in the “Night Sky” edition — a 50# bright white paper with a light grey application of their “reticle” graph — basically, it’s a dot grid, but instead of dots, they’re little “+”s.

Here's a Night Sky Field Notes I'm in the middle of, and its "reticle graph" paper. This paper is identical to what the Unexposed edition uses.

Here’s a Night Sky Field Notes I’m in the middle of, and its “reticle graph” paper. This paper is identical to what the Unexposed edition uses.

What I was expecting

When Field Notes sent the email teasing the edition, they included this image:

Field Notes teasing email

And then when they announced the name of the edition, “Unexposed,” I naturally thought about photography. After all, this is a very “art school” photograph, and it’s almost like a pinhole camera. They said the edition was sealed in an opaque paper, so I was hoping that the cover was photosensitive — maybe they changed color when opened and exposed to light.

That would have been so cool, wouldn’t it?

Schrödinger’s Notebook

Schrödinger's NotebookOkay, bear with me here, because I’m going to wayy overthink something.

A friend and I had an interesting discussion about this edition on Facebook. When Field Notes announced it earlier this week, they didn’t give away any details of each notebook. But they did say that each three-pack will be sealed with an opaque paper, and the colors in each three-pack will be chosen at random.

That’s right: no one will know which three of the six colors are contained therein — only by opening it (and thus devaluing the set), will they know if they have all the colors.

This sets up a conundrum: Do collectors keep them sealed, maintaining maximum value, or do they open them, and trade until they have all the colors?

I theorized that this is an anti-collector’s edition: that Coudal and Draplin are trolling the collectors by introducing this conflict into their acquiring.

My friend brought up an interesting counterpoint, however, and rightfully so — that in fact, this is the ultimate collector’s edition, and because collectors will be tempted to open the sealed packs, the number of the sealed pack will seriously lessen over time.

This would create a meta-collectability — that eventually, those who don’t care about the colors, but care only about the sealed notebook packs, would pay top-dollar.

For those collectors, the unknown factor of what colors are inside is a bit thrilling — the colors are unknown, for as long as they are in that meta-collection, they cannot be known.

Erwin Schrödinger might say that the colors on the notebook both exist and do not exist.

Regardless, these notebooks are a joy to look at, to touch, and eventually, to use (I have a Night Sky to work through, first).

Pocket Department Notebooks, reviewed

I’ve been spending a LOT of time thinking about paper, folks. But sadly very little time actually writing about it. It seems like no matter how many different brands I try out, Field Notes always takes the lead. Whether that’s because of their gigantic fanbase or because of their creative limited edition notebooks, I don’t know, but my papery rabbit holes always seem to lead back there.

That’s why it’s a breath of fresh air to talk about a couple other pocket notebooks I’ve been using lately, by the Princeton Architectural Press. Through a collaboration with the Brooklyn Art Library, this collection, “Pocket Department,” has a unique format. From their website:

Pocket Department is a line of sturdy notebooks inspired by vintage stationery and designed to fit every pocket: back pocket, shirt pocket, backpack, and messenger bag. These custom-tailored notebooks are ideal for capturing ideas, composing thoughts, making lists, or sketching on the go.

JetPens, a fantastic online shop with pens, pencils and paper galore, was kind enough to send me a couple varieties of the Pocket Department notebooks they stock: The Shirt Pocket notebook, in green, and The Back Pocket in yellow.

Pocket Department Notebooks

The Shirt Pocket

Pocket Department Shirt Pocket notebook

At a pretty standard 3.5” x 5.5”, The Shirt Pocket notebook is not sized significantly different than an aforementioned Field Notes cahier. It does indeed fit easily into a shirt pocket:

Pocket Department Shirt Pocket notebook in shirt pocket

I really like the design: the color, the simple font choice on the front and the plainness of the inside. I love that the lines on the paper match the green cover, and the paper itself is smooth. It takes anything from a pencil to a felt-tip fine liner perfectly (I didn’t try it with a fountain pen, I’m afraid).

Pocket Department Shirt Pocket notebook writing test

I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of the binding. Instead of a saddle stitch like so many pocket notebooks do, they opted instead to make it perfect-bound. That results in a much cleaner spine and keeps it closed flat, but when you’re trying to write it in, it’s very tight and hard to hold open.

It seems like it’d be a great format to offer something Field Notes, Word., and other pocket notebook stationers don’t: perforated pages. I’d love to use this thing to scribble a note, and then tear out for later. Alas, it’s definitely not a perforated book.

The Shirt Pocket notebook is available in a pack of three for $12.50 at JetPens.

The Back Pocket

Pocket Department Back Pocket notebook cover

This was a fun one to review! At 4” x 4”, this perfectly square notebook is unlined, perfect for quick visual notes, a sketch, or just for writing words that can’t be contstrained to lines.

Pocket Department Back Pocket Notebook paper test

Oh, just so you know, I am the WORST at drawing. I should have given this to a more artistic friend to try out.

It has the same binding as the green notebook, but the size made all the difference — because there was more width to each page, it was much easier to hold open. I also appreciate the size in that I can flip the page up, like a reporter’s notepad, if I wanted to.

The Back Pocket notebook is available in a pack of three, also for $12.50 at JetPens.

Other Sizes

The Pocket Department has a couple other sizes that I’d love to try that isn’t unfortunately available at JetPens — There’s The Messenger Bag, sized at 8.5” x 5.5”, and The Backpack, at 6” x 6”. They’re not so much formatted for a pocket on a piece of clothing than a pocket for a bag, so they’re much bigger.

I found a website at PocketDept.com that seems to tease out different colors being available, like grey, white and a natural brown paper sack color, but the site is either broken or not entirely built yet.

All things considered, this is a fun little notebook series. I haven’t used it enough to tell how durable they are, but once I figure that out, I’ll definitely report back.

Find out more information about Pocket Department notebooks at JetPens.com.

New Field Notes edition: Arts & Sciences

I don’t know exactly when the quarterly Field Notes COLORS edition was something I anticipated and looked forward to every three months. It may have been when they started making little “making of” videos for each style. Or maybe it was the tremendously unique Shelterwood edition. Or maybe it was this one, when they started teasing the hell out of it. (Have you seen this series of videos, for example?)

But I have started looking forward to it, as I might with a new Apple announcement event or the release of a new episode of Adventure Time. Just last night, in fact, I had a dream that the new Field Notes edition was edible — that its cover and pages were made of a paper-thin graham cracker-like cookie. That’d pretty fantastic, but they definitely wouldn’t last very long. And I bet the graphite markings I’d make all over it would not be tasty.

That’s why I was relieved  for what they did announce:

The Arts & Sciences edition!

FN23AS8sm

At 7.5″ x 4.75″, it’s a bit bigger than the standard Field Notes cahier:

FN23AS9sm

And the layouts feature one blank page and one with the specialized layout (lined for “Arts”, presumably for writing that great American novel or poetry, and a 5×5 grid for the “Sciences” book, for, uh, charting the stars or something?)

While this doesn’t set me on fire, I think it’s a good, solid edition. I can definitely find use for the larger size and the grid paper.

FN23AS5sm

Also, I love these buttons!

FN23AS6sm

They’re selling for $9.95 for the two notebooks over at FieldNotesBrand.com. And, of course, you can get a subscription for about $100 a year, which includes two packs of each quarterly edition, and some other goodies.

Shout-out to Johnny from Pencil Revolution for correctly surmising the edition from the teaser videos over in the Field Nuts Facebook group! You, sir, are a visionary.

All photos from FieldNotesBrand.com.