Sunday, January 03, 2010

Skine Deep

Some people carry budging wallets. Since my college days I have carried a Moleskine brand notebook in my back pockets. This has the pleasant side effect of a beautiful fade mark on raw jeans.

Many Moleskines later I have begun to feel that for the price I pay for these notebooks the quality leaves something to be desired. By the time I am through with half the pages the cover has begun to tear unflatteringly. Sometimes the cover would even disconnect from the binded paper due to the stress of being sat on (an effective compromise is to use the reporter style Moleskine where the spine usually lies above the pocket opening and avoids direct pressure).

The bit of marketing gimmick Moleskine uses to sell its notebooks also leaves me feeling a bit uneasy. It should be kept in mind that the term moleskine was originally an un-trademarked word used by Bruce Chatwin in his 1986 book The Songlines to describe unbranded little black notebooks popular with artists and writers in late 19th to early 20th centuries. That means any little black notebook with similar features carries the "heritage" that Moleskine associates its products with. You have other options if you really want your notebook to resemble "the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin. A trusted and handy travel companion, the nameless black notebook held invaluable sketches, notes, stories, and ideas that would one day become famous paintings or the pages of beloved books." (from Moleskine website)

I recently discovered a number of fantastic pocket notebooks through the wonderfully impassioned Black Cover blog, which reviews all sorts of Moleskine-esque products. After trying out a couple of them I find that the French-made Rhodia Webnotebook is the superior Moleskine alternative for those who keep notebooks in the back pocket of their jeans.

The Rhodia's cover is made of Italian leatherette (no animals harmed; only trees). Compared to Moleskine's fragile oilcloth the Rhodia takes a beating much more gracefully. The latter also boasts 192 pages of beautiful, super smooth, fountain-pen-grade 90 gsm paper made by the Clairefontaine mill, which has been producing paper since 1858 in France. In a phrase this is the 14 oz selvage denim of pocket notebook paper.

Alas all this comes with a price. Without much searching one can find the Rhodia Webnotebook selling for about $15. Though not cheap the Rhodia is still affordable enough to allow for changing notebooks every few months. To go one step up you can go for the the leather bound Cartesio from Florence, which goes for about $20. If an upgrade is not what you are looking for then lower priced "mole clones" are abound. You can check out reviews of The Picadilly Notebook ($5 retail), The Color Edge Notebook ($3), and more at Black Cover.

A pocket folder is pretty useful for my purposes. Should that not be the case for you then consider products by Rite in the Rain, waterproof notebooks popular with field engineers, birdwatchers, volcano scientists, and adventurers around the world. I have personally dropped some Field Notes books in a rainstorm and the result is not pretty.

The answer to this is a $3 Rite in the Rain notebook, which comes with measurement conversion tables and rulers printed on the covers. I have found myself using these on more than one occasion with my Field Notes books.

Another functional notebook is the Stifflexible with 72 pages of fountain-pen-friendly paper by Tuscany based Giuliano Mazzuoli. The special cover was made to be sturdy but flexible enough to open and allow one hand page flipping. This is particularly handy when needing to quickly find your notes while multitasking. The design is apparently based on a special book from the 1700s.

Although the cover appears to be very hardy I am not sure how well the paper material will hold up in my back pocket.

If collecting pocket notebooks has an appealing ring then go check out your local vintage store for finds. I recently acquired a vintage Cream of Wheat leather notebook with a changeable paper pad and a slot for a business card.

Vintage Cream of Wheat Notebook
Rite in the Rain #954T
Rhodia Webnotebook

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Blogger Heber said...

Very VERY cool. I added you on AIM, my SN is primeofcanada. Chat me when you get a chance, I want to talk with you about some Denim.

1/12/2010 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Jing Qian said...

the billykirk might be the solusion.

check it out:

1/18/2010 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger JB said...

This is great stuff. Love the pix.

1/19/2010 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger amardeep s. said...

Amazing post. Now I don't know if I should get a Rhodia, Cartesio, or the Alwych to replace my dying Moleskine!
Do any of these makers make unruled notebooks?

1/20/2010 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger 365 by Giuliano Mazzuoli said...

Official Stifflexible website:

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6/21/2012 05:46:00 AM  

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