The Blackwing Slate: The pencil-optimized notebook

It’s a really exciting day today, folks. It marks the ninth anniversary of my friend Johnny Gamber’s first pencil review on Pencil Revolution! He wrote about Pencils.com’s ForestChoice pencils.

It’s speculated by Pencils.com’s Fearless Leader (and CalCedar president and CEO) Charles Berolzheimer, this is the first pencil review, ever, on the internet. (And to celebrate that, Pencils.com is having a one-day-only sale on ForestChoice products — 25% off!)

Congratulations, Johnny! Long live the Revolution!

Blackwing Slate

Yesterday marked the first day the Blackwing Slate was available for purchase. If you get emails from Pencils.com, or have been reading the blogs at Pencils.com and Blackwing602.com (there’s a lot of websites nowadays in this franchise), you may have seen teasers for this product. It’s a Moleskine-like notebook, but improved for co-branding with the Palomino Blackwing. And, in my opinion, way nicer than a Moleskine.

It seems that the devil is in the details with notebooks nowadays. The Baron Fig, reviewed here back in April, excelled in the little design choices that set it apart from its rivals. The same thing applies to the Slate — there are numerous little improvements that really make it stand out.

The Exterior

Its size is quite similar to the Palomino-branded journal line at 5” by 8.25”. The cover is a bit thicker and softer,though, and very matte — more of a shark skin feel to the harder, shinier Palomino hardcover. I’m not sure about this softness — I hope that it means it won’t scratch easily. Only time will tell. Besides that, it’s quite nice to touch.

Blackwing Slate Cover Closeup

It has a really nice thick elastic loop on the spine for a pencil, which is a great feature. This isn’t a dinky little piece of elastic either — this thing looks like it’ll hold its stretch for years.

Blackwing Slate Spine

Speaking of spines, the really innovative thing (in my opinion) about the Slate is the spine. because there’s a pencil strapped close to the spine, the two thick covers stop at the edge, and then are bound together with a substrate (I think I’m using that word correctly here). Essentially, the spine is reinforced, not with an extension of the cover board, but with the cloth that binds the cover to the signatures of pages inside.

It results in a very flexible cover — the first time I opened it, it wasn’t stiff at all. And I can even open it with the pencil still in the loop, which is great. It seems like it might make the notebook less durable — if the cover’s not protecting the spine, will it tear easier? Again, time will tell.

The Paper

Writing in the Blackwing Slate

Man. I love, love this paper. It boasts a 100gsm paper, compared to the Palomino luxury notebook’s 90gsm and Rhodia’s 80gsm paper. It’s so thick and plush, you guys.

It’s available in both lined and plain. Since the guys at Pencils.com know I am not an artist, they sent me a lined one to try out. The grey lines are set apart 0.25” on an off-white paper. The paper is smooth, but not as smooth as Rhodia paper. It has a little tooth on it, specifically engineered — I hope — for pencil. It’s the perfect amount to grab your graphite but still feel smooth.

Closeup of Palomino Blackwing 602 writing in Blackwing Slate

I tried it out with a medium-nib fountain pen, just to see how the paper held up to ink (though it would be sacrilege to use anything but pencil in this notebook!), and it worked great! No bleeding of note at all on the opposite page.

Closeup of a medium-nib fountain pen ink in Blackwing Slate

The opposite page from the fountain pen wriiting. As you can see, there is virtually no bleed-through! This is some thick paper.

The opposite page from the fountain pen writing. As you can see, there is virtually no bleed-through! This is some thick paper.

The Details

Besides the spine, this is what really gives the Blackwing Slate its distinction, and contributes greatly to those details I mentioned earlier. It has all the Moleskiney amenities, but all a bit nicer than the Moleskine’s — a satin bookmark, an elastic strap to keep the cover closed, a paper pocket in the back to hold stuff.

There are two different pockets in the flap in the back!

(That pocket is interesting — it’s actually a double pocket, with a small flat on the front for small things like, say, a driver’s license or credit card, and a wider one behind to hold things slightly smaller than the cover)

It even comes with a shiny new Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil tucked in the pencil loop on the spine!

It’s the details.

The Price

The Slate sells for $22.95, a full $9 more than a Moleskine Classic notebook sells at Barnes & Noble. The included pencil is worth about $2 of that price, so at $20.95, is the notebook worth it?

Depending on a lot of factors, of course, in general, I’d say that yes, it’s worth it. I’m not trying to bash Moleskine here (we actually had a discussion on the most recent episode of Erasable about how it’s become fashionable to look down on Moleskine), but the Slate is much better constructed, the paper is so much heavier and nicer, and for a pencil user like me, that elastic loop on the spine is wonderful.

Go check it out!

The Blackwing Slate | $22.95 at Pencils.com

Disclaimer: This product was sent to me, free of charge, for review purposes. No monetary compensation or additional direction was provided to me.

 

Some great photos of the California Republic Stationers-branded notebooks

As a follow-up from my post last week about the Palomino-branded notebooks, I just ran across these photos from Studio 602, the Pencils.com blog, featuring paper products to compliment the Palomino Blackwing, the Palomino, and the ForestChoice line. Click to embiggenfy.These are perhaps my favorite, at least judging by the photos. It looks liek there’s a leather 5.5×8.5 clasp notebook, maybe an oilskin, Moleskine-style notebook, and some kind of cahier of unknown cover material with some illustrations on it. That Blackwing-man illustration was done by a very talented pencil artist Mogodore J. Bivouac  when I worked at Pencils.com. I’m glad to see it gracing the cover of a notebook!

I’d love to see something with a sharkskin blue-grey color like the PB 602s, as well — the jet black looks dashing with the black PBs, and though it looks good with the 602s, a matching grey leather would be really cool.

This is the Palomino-branded line, with much the same — a clasp notebook, some Moleskiney things, and some cahiers, it looks like. What really stands out to me in this picture is the tall, skinny notebook directly underneath the single, orange Palomino pencil: it looks like it’s a narrower size than a standard 5.5×8.5 notebook. Maybe something like 4.5×8.5? This is purely conjecture, as this photo’s perspective could be off.

In any case, it looks really nice. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to do a black-and-orange brand without it looking like it’s Halloween-themed. Rhodia does it well, and I think this product line has captured it too.

I’m a big fan of the blue Palominos; it’s one of my favorite shades of blue, and the white eraser looks great perched atop the barrel. I would love to see a blue notebook, too!

That CalRepublic product that I’ve maybe used the least are the ForestChoice pencils. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that when faced with the thick, glossy, colorful Palominos or Golden Bears, or the superior-quality Palomino Blackwings, these envrionmentally friendly cousins take a backseat, at least in my pencil box. Nothing personal, ForestChoice.

These are interesting, and perhaps the closest match as far as branding look-and-feel between the pencils and paper products. Those little notebooks with the elastic band look like something you could get at Target (that’s a compliment! Really!).

What I like the best from this photo is the tall, skinny steno pad, almost the shape of a reporter’s notepad, which I used for years throughout college in my journalism classes and working at a local paper. I would use this pad quite a bit, for notetaking at meetings where I am standing up, for shopping lists, to-do items, etc. It looks like it’s a bit more everyday-functional than the other lines.

In any case, bravo, Pencils.com! I can’t wait to see this in real life (or IRL, as the kids say)!

What’s next? This may never happen, but I’d love to see a Golden Bear or Spangle line of notebooks for school that may be just a smidgen higher quality (and higher cost) than a Mead notebook. Or perhaps a line of hand-erasers or more sharpeners akin to the Palomino KUM long-point sharpener.

What do you think of the photos above?