Review of the Pencils.com Palomino-branded hardcover notebook


About a month ago, Alex from Pencils.com was kind enough to send me a box of new paper products Pencils.com is selling — I wrote about them on this blog previously.

It’s been a month, and I’ve been using a few of those products pretty thoroughly. My very favorite is the hardcover Palomino Luxury Notebook, sized medium.

A contemporary of the Moleskine and its kin, I lament the passing of Black Cover, the blog in search of “the perfect little black notebook” that gained so much momentum in its fairly brief existence and its even briefer re-appearance early this year. Nick, the blogger, is a tremendous reviewer — I wonder if he ever got one to try!

In order to appreciate these little hardcover notebooks, you have to embrace the subtle differences. Relatively speaking, almost all of the $15-$20 5×8″ notebooks are generally the same quality, serve generally the same function, and are styled generally the same. I’ll try to highlight the differences here, as I see them:

Style and Features
The Palomino Notebook’s most obvious, and to me, the best difference between it and others is the orange stripe that runs along the spine. I love orange, and I especially love Palomino Orange (and Golden Bear orange). When I’m using one of those pencils, it makes a great match. When I’m not using one of those pencils, it still looks great on its own. What a difference a splash of color makes!

I love the orange spine on this notebook.

The little stitched pattern on the sides are nice, too — I’m not sure if it is a tribute to something, or is a style all its own, but it gives it the look of an old, hand-sewn Italian stitch.

Like a Moleskine it has a cover page spread where you can put your name and contact information in case you lose it. It’s on a really lovely heavyweight paper that just drinks in your ink (Yes, I used a pen to put my name on this page, since it should be permanent) and doesn’t bleed through.

Also like a Moleskine, it has a pocket in the back! It’s made out of what looks like folded-over tear-proof paper, so you can put some stuff back there (sometime I hoard cash in it, but don’t spread that around) without tear.

One feature lament: I really, really like gridded pages. I’d love to see a Palomino notebook sporting that option, besides the lined or plain pages currently offered.

Quality
It is of superb quality. It has more of a hardcover book-like binding the Moleskine, and though it’s a bit stiffer when I lay it out on a tabletop, it’s getting better, and I don’t feel like I’m pulling the paper out while doing it.

The paper itself is nice. In a discussion with John at PencilWrap.com, he mentioned that the paper was really smooth. Agreed. (Also, go check out his review of the “flex notebook” cahiers, because he took way better pictures than I did, and compared them side-by-side to the Moleskines!)

Though it’s very smooth, I felt like it had a bit of tooth, since it’s supposedly optimized for a pencil. A pleasure to write on, at least with a Palomino Blackwing 602, a Dixon Ticonderoga, and a Golden Bear, all three of which I’ve had with me this week.

I also think that the cover of the Palomino is better. It’s a bit more leathery, a bit more supple, and does not bubble up like some of my Moleskines have been known to do.

If, say, the Moleskine was the standard of which people use hardcover notebooks, and if we set that value at 10, I’d give the Palomino notebook a solid 13. It’s a great price, at $17.95, exactly the same as a Moleskine. Admittedly, Moleskine has a better variety of pages (they have formats for storyboarding, music composition, etc.), and currently offers a special Star Wars collection, which would clinch me right there if I was actively in the market for a notebook.

However, I love the California Republic brand, and the Palomino line, so I’m excited to have a notebook in this brand, too.

Coming soon(ish): Thoughts and photos of some of the other notebooks!

Disclaimer: As I’ve written before, I am formerly an employee of Pencils.com. I no longer work there or receive any money from them, so this review is not being funded by them. This product was sent to me free, however.

Gallery of Images
(Click to embiggen) 

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?

Premium Palomino Blackwing-branded notebooks

Note of disclosure: I am no longer employed by California Cedar Products or Pencils.com — though I am still their biggest fan

If you follow Pencils.com on Twitter (@pencilscom), you may have seen this tweet hit the webbernets:
Although I’ve known this was coming for a while, I have no idea what they’re going to look like or when, exactly, they’ll be hitting the virtual stands. But I know I’ll be wanting one or a few with my last, dying breath.

The Gold Fibre Ampad writing pad with antique ivory pages. Great quality paper, lined front/checked back, and all around old-timey fun!

So that’s pretty exciting. I’m still loving my Palomino Blackwing 602s, and I’ve been wanting something nice upon which to write with it. My usual meeting note-taking paper tablet is this retro-rific Gold Fibre pad by Ampad (or its 8.5×11″ counterpart), but it’s not the most formal thing you’ll ever see, you know? And although I have several pad-folios, they take up a lot of room, room in my bag that competes for space with my laptop, charging cord, various pencil and pen wraps and other things that I’ve collected via my borderline hoarder tendencies.

Speaking of Palomino Blackwing branding, I love the new packaging for the Palomino and Blackwing brands, don’t you? Charles sent me this the romance shot the other day (click to embiggen the pencil geekery goodness):

The graphite drawings on the Palomino graphites are stunning, and I love the vivacity of the colored pencil line. (I assume this photo was taking by the very talented Sue Tallon, a still-life photographer who Pencils.com uses for stellar product shots.)

I’ll let you know when the notebooks are released, and I may even have a review up here!

Meanwhile, what pencils and paper products have you been using lately?

The Palomino Blackwing 602

Full disclosure: I do contract marketing work for CalCedar to promote Pencils.com and and the California Republic Stationers brand on social media. Though I am not being paid to write this post for Woodclinched (my personal blog), I’ll refrain from reviewing the performance of this pencil, past a few general statements about it.

So I was getting ready for work this morning; a dark gloomy day in Indiana, when my doorbell rang. It was the FedEx woman, she she was bringing me a package from Pencils.com! Suddenly, the sun came out, and the bird started singing!

Metaphorically, of course.

I opened it right up, and checked out the pencils. I didn’t have a lot of time to examine them, but I grabbed an original Eberhard Faber Blackwing from my desk drawer and one of the new Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils, and headed out the door.

Because Grant was kind enough to send me a pack of pink erasers, I popped one into the signature Blackwing ferrule, and took some side-by-side photos of the new 602 with the old.

So, without getting into details, it does indeed feel firmer than the Palomino Blackwing, but smooth and dark just the same. The real test will happen after Monday, when I’ll be in two or three meetings taking notes.

Here are a few pictures — as I’ve said many times, I’m not the best photographer out there, especially with something as hard to shoot as pencils.

Questions about the pencil? Leave ’em in the comments. Otherwise,  check out the product page on Pencils.com!

WoodChuck in the flesh!

Well, on video at least. Charles Berolzheimer from California Cedar and Pencils.com made a short video about the Palomino Blackwing! It’s short and sweet, though nothing a faithful reader of this blog probably doesn’t know already. Still, I think you’d be interested in seeing it.

Pencil geeks: If you are trying to explain to someone what you’ve been blathering on about for the last two months (like people have asked me), or someone simply wants to know what that cool pencil you’re writing with is, this is the perfect video to show them.

Economics of pencils

As you may or may not be aware, California Cedar is reviving the Blackwing brand! The pencil community is all astir with excitement about it. Building up to their release, CalCedar’s Charles Berolzheimer (or “Woodchuck” as he is known on his blog) is writing a series of posts about the “why” of their decision to lead up to the product release. While I try to figure out how I’m going to do a video review of my new strange pencil sharpener, I think I’ll discuss the first of these articles.

In his first article, “Why Take on the Challenge?“, he almost seems like he’s trying to talk himself out of it:

Anyone crazy enough to try to build a new brand name in a rough and tumble globalized commodity business like the pencil industry is always going to want the best advantage possible. Very few pencil producers really professionally and effectively advertise and market pencils anymore. The closest promotion the average consumer is exposed to are circular ads of mass retailers and office superstores offering “loss leader” prices during back to school time to get people in the door. They’ll give away $2 of pencils at or below cost to sell that $10 to 20 calculator and other goods that makes them much higher margins. The cost pressure from the large retailers drives producers towards an obsessive focus on the economics of pencil production. Over the last 20 years, this has resulted in a reduction in the general quality of pencils and outsourcing overseas while cutting marketing support dollars and manpower devoted to thinking creatively about pencils. [link]

This is really interesting, and so true. Office Depot sells a dozen plain yellow pencils for about the cost of a single CalCedar Palomino pencil, so most consumers would go out and buy the Office Depot brand, right? Not many people, it seems, see a quality difference that would justify the cost of a Palomino, although they are worlds apart to me.

This article linked to a past Pencils.com article about the economics of pencil-making. This was interesting, too, although it was more of a list. It did reference an old, fairly famous essay by economist Leonard Read called I, Pencil, where he discusses the globalization of something even as straightforward as a simple pencil.

I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the U.S.A. each year.

The article was written in 1958, so the statistic at the end of the quote may be a bit different.

Anyhow, to get back to the crux of WoodChuck’s article: if pencils are a globalized commodity, land where price- and quality-slashing is king, how do you manufacture and market a high quality, fairly expensive (I’m assuming) product?

I think he has the answer. After all, he’s been doing it with the Palomino brand all along.

Since we launched our California Republic range my vision has been to establish our premium quality Palomino brand as fresh, new and fun, with great quality and safety performance. This has been a gradual and experimental process mostly conducted over the internet and in my spare time when not attending to our core slat and firelog businesses. Nevertheless we are building a small, but growing fan base and our recent Pencils.com website redesign is helping to move this ball forward with our “Freedom of Expression” theme as well as expanded features and products. In our view the pencil is perhaps the most common and affordable tool of creative self-expression used around the world. It may not have the reach of the internet, but there is a personal sense of connection to writing, drawing, sketching or doodling with a pencil that for many cannot be matched by typing on a keyboard or drawing with a stylus on a computer screen. For us, Palomino is an important part of enhancing “freedom of expression”, but we know finding your favorite instrument of self-expression is a personal journey and so in time we’ll be featuring even more pencils from other producers who use our slats in our store.

They are accomplishing a few things here:

  1. Creating an online community of pencil enthusiasts to ooh and ahh over this product line,
  2. Highlighting quality of materials and manufacturing over inexpensiveness,
  3. Championing the pencil as a tool of self-expression and creativity, rather than a blah stick of wood you use to take notes or do boring business-y things, and
  4. Making it personal — offer choices as part of a “personal journey”.

It works for me. Admittedly, these are the conclusions I came to on my own before ever hearing of the Palomino or any of the other California Republic brands. It seems obvious to me that the writing experience of a Palomino (with the highly lacquered barrel, incensed strong wood, hearty but effective eraser, and smooth and dark lead) trumps a cheap feeling Office Depot pencil any day. But there are some people who must be convinced.

Is it wrong to buy cheap pencils when they could be paying more for an experience? Well, I don’t work for CalCedar, so I say no. Is it wrong for someone to prefer Tang when they could be drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice? I may try to convince them to pay the price for a pencil as an experience rather than a tool, but I don’t think it is intrinsically wrong if that’s not how they feel.

I look forward to hearing more about preparation for the Blackwing’s re-release. Meanwhile, head over to the Pencils.com blog or WoodChuck’s personal blog, Timberlines and stay up to date with news, editorials and features. And if you haven’t ever used a Palomino or any of its kin, buy one from the Pencils.com store. It’s an experience. (I’ll be waiting for my commission check!)