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.

The Baron Fig Confidant notebook: Unique, well-constructed, and well-hyped

Baron Fig Notebook with Faber Castell Grip 2001 pencilI’ve had my Baron Fig Confidant for a little over a month now, and it’s definitely taken me this long to really figure out how I feel about it. In that time, I’ve gone from glee, to disappointment, and back to a medium-to-high-grade satisfaction. I think I’m ready to discuss it now. Meanwhile, there are a bunch of bloggers out there who have posted reviews much earlier than I have. Here’s just a partial list:

The look

Man, is this thing good looking. I’ve been posting some pictures of it, and even my non-scribomechanically oriented friends have mentioned something along the lines of, “wow, what is that?” It arrived in a vibrant, winey mauve box which fit it perfectly. Unboxing it was like opening a really nice piece of electronics, like an iPhone or a Kindle. The neutral, simple grey cloth cover is perfect. It reminds me of an aluminum MacBook — sleek, attention-getting, but subtle.

The Baron Fig Notebook comes in a beautiful, well-fitting box.

The Baron Fig Confidant notebook comes in a beautiful, well-fitting box.

The Baron Fig Notebook's gray cloth cover is tucked neatly behind the board that makes up the inside cover.

The gray cloth is tucked neatly behind the board that makes up the inside cover.

It’s stretched across the cover with no wrinkle whatsoever, and tucked neatly around the rounded corner behind the inside cover. There’s a gorgeous grey rolled linen paper behind each cover, and the one in the front has a simple box for your title.

(Baron Fig is currently running a social media campaign called “What’s in your box?”, where they’re asking users to share creative things they’ve drawn or written in their page-one box. Check out the Twitter hashtag #FigBox to see some fun examples.)

One of the great little flourishes on the Confidant is the canary yellow bookmark that comes with the notebook.

One of the great little flourishes on the Confidant is the canary yellow bookmark that comes with the notebook.

One of the great little flourishes on the Confidant is the canary yellow bookmark that comes with the notebook. It seems like almost every review expressed disappointment in the execution of the bookmark, though — it starts fraying immediately. Mine is no different.

Baron Fig Confidant notebook bookmark frays almost from the start, however.

The bookmark frays almost from the start, however.

Something I really like about the notebook is its size. At 5.4” x 7.7”, it’s a bit shorter and wider than, say, a Moleskine, it’s tweaked just a little bit, and while it’s not necessarily immediately noticed, with time, I really appreciated it.

The performance

As I mentioned in a previous post about this notebook, there’s a lot of hype to live up to. In the Kickstarter, the creators of the notebook made all sorts of claims — apart from the high-minded ideals of idea creation, inspiration, etc. — about it’s performance! It lays perfectly flat! No bleed on the paper! Does it actually do those things? Mostly.

Does it lay flat?

I’m definitely not an expert in bookmaking, but it seems like the notebook is made of more folios and signatures than a typical notebook. That means there are more opportunities for the notebook to be open toward the middle of one of those signatures, and therefore allowing it to stretch out. (Book binders: please correct me if I’m wrong!).

The Baron Fig Confidant notebook doesn't lay perfectly flat, but reasonably flat

The Baron Fig Confidant notebook doesn’t lay perfectly flat, but reasonably flat.

I’m still toward the beginning of the notebook — I only have maybe 10 pages or so filled up. These pages, though they don’t lay perfectly flat, lay way flatter than other notebooks. One of my Moleskines wouldn’t lay flat like this even with a pencil weighing down the page. Once I get a few more spreads in, though, it looks like it will start laying much flatter.

One issue: it’s hard to keep the notebook closed! It would really benefit from a band to go around the cover like a Rhodia Webnotebook or a Moleskine. Typically it’s not too much a problem, because it mostly lives inside my messenger bag where it’s held closed, but for those who keep it on their desktop, it might be a bit unwieldy.

Finally: as one reviewer mentioned (I’m sorry; I can’t remember who), this notebook is creaky! The spine feels very solidly constructed; even with the full weight of my hand resting on it, it doesn’t tear or crack. But sometimes it sounds like it’s going to.

Does it bleed?

A close-up of the Baron Fig Confidant paper, with the dot grid. The paper is thick, not too toothy, but not too slick, either.

A close-up of the Baron Fig Confidant paper, with the dot grid. The paper is thick, not too toothy, but not too slick, either.

This paper is nice. It’s definitely heavier stock than a Moleskine, though maybe not as heavy as the 70# stock in the Field Notes Shelterwood. Maybe a 60# or 50#?

Paper test for the Baron Fig Confidant notebook

I gave the page a good test with a few kinds of pencil, a fountain pen, a roller ball, a felt-tip and a Sharpie. The fountain pen, with a medium nib, had a tiiiny bit of visibility on the opposing page, and the thick, chisel-tipped Sharpie definitely bled through, but everything else held strong.

The felt-tip and the fountain pen are barely visible on the opposite side of the page.

The felt-tip and the fountain pen are barely visible on the opposite side of the page.

But the chisel-tipped, thick Sharpie bled through badly.

But the chisel-tipped, thick Sharpie bled through badly.

I think this is a solid mark in their favor. Since I’ll primarily use pencil, I should have no problems at all.

And speaking of paper…

Dot-grids, though

I ordered the dot grid configuration (it’s available in blank and narrow-ruled format, too), thinking it’d be really similar to a traditional grid, which is my preferred paper format. Man, did it take some getting used to!

At first, I could have sworn it was a smaller grid than a standard grid layout. When I would write, I would bump up agains the line above, and the ascenders and descenders would crowd out those on the adjacent lines. It didn’t seem like I was writing too big. I measured the space between the dots — five millimeters.

Surely it was too small; five millimeters was definitely not enough for a line of my handwriting. I was ready to abandon the Confidant.

But then I measured the space in a Rhodia notepad grid — the grid of perfection, in my opinion — and that of a Field Notes Drink Local edition. Both of those measured the same five millimeters!

What, then? Why does it feel so drastically different in this notebook?

Baron Fig Confidant notebook handwriting closeupI came to the conclusion that it’s the dot grid. I can’t use a blank page for writing without some sort of guide, because my hand wanders all over the page. Both the lined and the gridded paper keeps my writing in check by giving my hand a literal baseline to follow. The dot grid only kinda sorta did that.

Though my hand encounters the dot every couple of letters or so, I think it’s not substantial enough to really guide my writing in straight path.

Bottom line: I love the look and feel of the dot grid. I’m definitely not going to give up on it; I think I just need a little bit more experience to train my writing.

Recommendation

For $15.95, this notebook is well-priced for the quality and unique look and feel you get. And if you love writing in an A5-sized notebook, like a Moleskine or a Rhodia Webnotebook, you’ll love this.

It’s not perfect, but as they claim on their website, the product is ever-evolving: they will tweak their next run based on user experience and feedback. The notebooks they sell two years from now might be completely different!

Pick it up at BaronFig.com.

 

My father-in-law’s old notebooks

My wife and I recently stayed at her parents’ house for a few days while the first floor of our place was being re-ceilinged. While a disruption in one’s life like that is never particularly fun, I did enjoy a change of scenery—there’s something that can be reinvigorating in changing the stuff that surrounds you. I was amongst a collection of belongings accumulated over decades, but weren’t our belongings.

This fact was never as apparent as when I closed myself in my father-in-law’s office to record Episode 3 of Erasable (have you heard it yet?).

My father-in-law reminds me a lot of Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec. He’s very libertarian, fairly private and extremely independent. He’s a civil mechanical engineer by trade with lots of interesting hobbies—he builds boats, he makes wine in his basement and he collects antique guns.

And while not an official collection, he has lot of interesting notebooks—old notebooks—laying around.

Keuffel & Esser Field Book

My favorite is this one, which caught my eye right away:

K&E Field Book by Keuffel &  Essel

K&E Field Book by Keuffel & Esser

Look how cool this is! Made by Keuffel & Esser, a US-based drafting instrument and supply company. It was founded in 1867, the first of its kind in the US, and lived on until 1987 when it was bought by the AZON Corp in 1987.

So this notebook is at least 27 years old, right?

Let’s look at the inside cover: orange-open

This A5-ish notebook is filled with data tables, formulas, conversions, and other useful data for engineers. I can’t imagine how handy this kind of thing would have been to someone like my father-in-law in a day before this information was available through a smart phone. Some more reference goodness from the back of the notebook:

orange-formulas

The back pages of the Keuffel & Esser Field Book are filled with data tables, conversions, formulas, and other information an engineer would find useful. Forgive my fingers in the shot — this book has difficulty staying open.

My favorite thing about it? The grid paper:

Keuffel & Esser Field Book grid

I’m not entirely sure of the particular function of this paper (a coworker suggested it’s for lots of tabular data, much like an Excel spreadsheet is now), but the grid on the left is separated into six columns by pink lines, which I believe are three times wider than the horizontal line hight. The right side of the spread is separated into two columns by a pink line, with smaller vertical blue lines that make a grid that’s twice as tall as wide.

Boorum & Pease Memo Book No. 6565

As I mentioned earlier, my father-in-law built a boat. We all thought it was an improvised affair; with PVC pipes lashed to two-by-fours and duct tape. But he’s apparently been planning it for quite a while. In fact, he has a whole notebook where he planned it out and documented his project:

Boorum & Pease Memo Book

Boorum & Pease Memo Book

Boorum & Pease Memo Book

I blurred out my father-in-law’s name because I assume he wouldn’t want to that out floating around on the internets.

Boorum & Pease adThis notebook is branded with the “Boorum & Pease” name, which sounds to me like something Click and Clack from “Car Talk” would come up with. The Boorum & Pease Co (Blank Books and Loose Leaf Devices) has been around since, it looks like, the 1870s (as this 1904 ad boasts, “for more than half a century”). They sold specialized notebooks for laboratories, ledgers for accounting, receipt books, et cetera.

Boorum & Pease memo book lined paper

A close-up of the cloth binding on the Boorum & Pease memo book.

A close-up of the cloth binding on the Boorum & Pease memo book.

I’m a fan of the binding on this book — it’s cloth-bound, reminescent of old, mid-20th century hardcover books. How handsome would the cover be with a big foilstamped signet or simple illustration?

The paper is nothing to write home about, but it’s a nice, plain college-ruled page. It’s thin, but not too thin. Since this isn’t my notebook, I wasn’t able to test it with pencil and fountain pen, but I imagine it might handle a dry to medium fountain pen without too much bleeding.

In fact, the still around, though it’s unclear to me who owns that brand name. I don’t think they are their own company. They still make columnar books (kinda gaudy looking, if you ask me), and while this particular model is not still in production (#6565), they still make something that looks reallllly close, #6559. I doubt it’s cloth-bound, though.

Here’s a pretty great history of Boorum & Pease by Walter Grutchfield.

Other old vintage memo books

I’ve seen lots of great memo books like these over the years that just seem like they’re made better than your typical notebook serving similar purposes. Sure, there are small independent ventures that produce great ones now, but these were in mass production, and no doubt costed much less than indie craft notebooks now.

Do you have any interesting ones to share?

The Baron Fig notebook: worth the hype?

The Confidant, a notebook by Baron Fig. Photo from BaronFig.com.

The Confidant, a notebook by Baron Fig. Photo from BaronFig.com.

When it comes to the Baron Fig notebook, I totally missed the boat. I definitely heard about it the day the Kickstarter launched, but when it came time to pledge, I either didn’t have $20 I could spend on a pledge, or I just had other stuff going on. Excuses, excuses.

Long story short; I’m excited that they’re about to sell their notebook! According to the website, the Kickstarted product is called the “Confidant” and will be on sale for $20 starting Tuesday, March 4. Continue reading