Graphite Report on the New Reporter’s Notebooks.

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In case you have either slept through the last ten days or are not hugely interested in notebooks, there were two reporter’s notebooks unveiled last week, on the same day.

The John Dickerson-inspired Field Notes Byline edition is the summer 2016 release. Subscribers also received a laptop sticker of the Byline logo. These books contain 35 sheets (70 pages) of Cougar Natural 70#T vellum, with college-ruled [0.28 inch] lines in the usual Field Notes innards color. There is a pocket in the rear and a concealed spiral binding. The notebooks come in at 3.75 inches by 8 inches — a little more narrow than traditional reporter’s notebooks.

Write Notepads & Co.’s reporter pads are something I’ve been needling Chris to make for a good two years, after I saw the first Ledger prototypes. These contain the new paperstock Write Pads will be using: 60 sheets,  “120 pages of 1/4″ ruled paper printed in our trademark subtle non-reproducible blue-green.” (This paper will be in their own summer release, unveiled this weekend and coming soon to lucky mailboxes near you.) This book is the traditional 4 inches by 8 inches.

Corners show the different cover materials.
Corners show the different cover materials.

Cover/Construction

The Byline’s cover is made of Neenah Environment 120#DTC “Wrought Iron”. There is a pocket in the rear of the book and Field Notes-style information all over the cover. I love the cheeky data, and the pocket is a great idea. In practice, things keep falling out of mine. This book is very flexible and surfs a pocket well. However, the odd concealed binding means that the cover material has to flex both when opening and closing the book, and the covers take a beating in your pocket. If this book had more paper, I am not sure that the cover/seams would survive life in a pocket. On the flip side, like most of my favorite offerings from Field Notes, the beat-on patina of this book looks amazing, especially with the grey cover.

The Write Notepads & Co. book is beefy. It’s the same recycled kraft coverstock we’ve come to expect, with the same bulletproof spiral. The cover is even oriented with the grain such that the book will flex vertically but not horizontally. There are few frills, in keeping with the Write Pads aesthetic. The included (and removable) rubber band is a welcome addition and kept my pages from getting bent up.

Very different approaches to the bindings.
Very different approaches to the bindings.

These two books have not been in existence long enough for me to fill them up completely and to really see how they will look/feel after the last page is full of dumb things from my head. But I suspect that the Write Pads book will survive intact longer because it is made of stronger materials and because the spiral is naked. The Byline’s cover doubles as part of the binding, and I wonder if it is up to the task.

These books have different strengths in their forms. The Field Notes book is easier to carry, but the Write Pads book is easier to write in and to read. I’ve been using them each accordingly.

Aesthetics

Write Notepads & Co., while departing for their subscription series, has an aesthetic that is part of their branding. The reporter’s pad, ledger, and stenography pad (which I keep trying to get WNP to rename The Tablet) all have similar looks. On the other hand, the Byline is a complete departure for Field Notes. I feel stuck deciding which I enjoy more: the dependable gumption of the Write Pads book or the new-for-them look of the Byline.

Lines and paper hue are different.
Lines and paper hues are different.

Writing

These books both perform extremely well for graphite, and I think they serve to illustrate the difference that paper makes for the performance of a given pencil. I’m going to utilize my scanner to look at this more closely.

Interestingly (and I’m not sure if this comes out in the scans), I think that the Write Pads paper brings out lighter pencils, while the Byline brings out darker pencils. Both really shine in the way that they add an extra touch of contrast to mid-range pencils (think Cedar Pointe HB; Ticonderoga; Noris HB…). These are both papers that are a pleasure for pencils.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

The Bylines has noticeably smoother paper, since it’s stocked with a nice, cream-colored vellum. I really like this paper, especially for the larger page of a Byline. Pencil still makes its mark, though, and the results are really surprising on such smooth paper. Even a Wopex leaves a nice mark on this paper. The tooth in the Write Pads book still renders it smoother than a lot of papers, and it is sized such that it certainly does not sand down a pencil point. To repeat myself a bit: these are both two very enjoyable papers to write on, and I am not going to call one better on texture alone.

Erasing is almost equal on these two papers. The Byline’s vellum has sizing that seems to make the pencil’s point leave a deeper indentation, and this affects the real erasure abilities here, just a touch.

Graphite stability is also close, but I think that Write Pads edges ahead of the Field Notes here. Vellum’s smoothness usually leads to smearing and ghosting (use a Blackwing MMX on Rhodia paper, and you’ll see what I mean). While the Byline’s paper is definitely better than Rhodia’s at preventing Graphite Soup (TM), it does smear a little. It is no worse than other papers, however, which surprises me for vellum. So the Write Pad’s paper is not more smear resistant than the paper in the Byline because of the vellum; it’s because the Write Pad’s paper is amazing for graphite. I’ll avoid waxing poetic, but Chris took graphite (not just fountain pens) into consideration when deciding on a new paperstock. Pencil stays put. Period.

Which Should You Buy?

Uh, both. For $13, you get two Field Notes Brand Bylines (70 sheets/140 pages total). For $12, you get one Write Pads reporter’s pad (60 sheets/120 pages total), and both are amazing books. If you’re looking for something to stick in your pocket, I’d lean toward the thinner profile of the Byline, though I am not sure how long the cover will stick together. For a bag or for your desk, the Write Notepads & Co. reporter’s pad is a heavy-duty notebook. In fact, I have had a “thing” for reporter’s books for a few years, and this is by far the beefiest I’ve seen (the Bob State “Harvard Square Reporter” comes in second and deserves its own post).

I’m happy to see two great new offerings from my two favorite notebook companies in an oft-neglected format that I enjoy and use more often than, say, a six by nine nook or a legal pad.

Gary at Papernery wrote up his review last week, after we discussed co-posting. I both dropped the ball and received damaged Bylines and am a week late. Apologies for the delay!

[Disclaimer: While the Byline books were part of my subscription and paid for with my own money, I received the Write Notepads & Co. reporter pad for free via messenger on the day it was released.]

Review of Write Notepads & Co Gear, Part II.

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Last week, we looked at the company who makes Write Notepads and at the large notebooks. In this review, we will take a look at the pocket notebooks and the pencils. Chris sent us over a pocket notebook in the regular and Paul Smith formats, both unlined. As much as I really liked the large notebooks, I find myself enjoying the pocket versions even more.

For one, these pages are not perforated for tearing out. While I can live with this feature in a larger notebook, I really don’t like the pages to fall out of my pocket notebooks, which I use most of all sizes. There’s precious [to me] stuff in there! It was also nice to find that the unlined paper performed just as well as the lined versions. These would make great sketchbooks, to be sure.
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These do actually fit well into a pocket, though not a side jeans pocket. There is more flex than I’d expect from something that feels so durable. But spirals don’t do it for me in the front pocket of my Levis. I have not subjected the spiral to a week under my posterior, in a back pocket, but the spiral feels like it would handle the test and stay together. While I could take the big rubberband or leave it on the large books, I use them all of the time on my pocket versions, to keep the pages closed in my puffy vest pocket or, ahem, diaper bag. These are also much less terrifyingly-sized. I will hide the larger ones when my brothers come to HQ this weekend for a little shindig.
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For size comparison purposes, the Write Notepads & Co pocket notebook with the Standard Memorandum from Word. and the current Field Notes edition. The WN&C book is slightly wider than the Field Notes with the spiral. This size is just about perfect for what this book is, and in the end, I can’t put my finger on what I like about these semi-chunky, semi-small notebooks full of really nice paper so much. But I can’t get enough of them, certainly.
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Chris also sent over some of Write Notepads’ pencils. These wooden implements are available in packs of five, for five smackers. They come in a nicely fitting resealable bag which feels heavy-duty enough that I’ll use it for something else when the pencils are gone. They are made in the USA by Musgrave and are very attractive.
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They are listed as cedar, though they don’t smell like any of my other cedar pencils. They smell familiar somehow, and the grain looks to Mr. Dan and I both like cedar. They certainly have a light weight, and they sharpen with ridiculous ease; seriously, even on sharpeners needing new blades, these were easily brought to a point. The printing is on a clear sticker of some sort. I really like the typography, though I’d like it much more if it were printed on the wood like the Field Notes pencil.
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What I think the Write Notepads & Co pencil has over the Field Notes pencil the most is the design. I am a sucker for a naturally-finished pencil with a pink eraser – doubly so with a gold ferrule. (See the older Prospector, of which I have only a precious few with pink erasers left.) The eraser on this pencil is soft and performs as well as the Field Notes version – pretty well, not great, not smeary. I have long suspected the Musgrave makes Field Notes’ pencils. So maybe this is the reason?

The lead feels a lot to me like the Field Notes pencil, though a touch smoother, darker and harder to erase. The eraser is crimped on (rather than glued), which I usually think looks better. The leads in our packs are well-centered, and these pencils are a pleasure to use. I’ll cop to using them 80% of the time I am writing/drawing in Write Notepads gear.
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Thanks again to Chris at Write Notepads & Co for the generous samples and for manufacturing stationery in Baltimore! I can’t say enough now much I enjoy these books, and I hope that we see more limited Baltimore editions soon! (I bought half of their run of the first limited edition as holiday gifts this year after testing these books in December — Okay, not exactly half of the run; you can still get ’em.) Definitely get yourself some of these notebooks, and if you’re in Baltimore, hit up Trohv on The Avenue (Hon). And if you’re in Baltimore, hell, let’s all do a meet-up in the spring at one of our many good coffeeshops.

Review of Write Notepads & Co Gear, Part I.

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We received a generous box of goodies from the new stationery company Write Notepads & Co, based right here in Baltimore. Hometown pride aside, these are great books, and I have to say upfront that this review will glow like a new LED desklamp. In this review, we will cover the large lined notebooks in the regular and Paul Smith left-handed versions (the review of the pocket notebooks and pencils will come next week; it’s already written and ready).

First, a bit about the company:

We still make things here. It may be a Rust Belt town, but Baltimore’s charm is its stubborn vitality. We feel it in this century-old warehouse in South Baltimore, where I’ve teamed up with skilled, local workers to make these notepads. We have two goals: to help others in need and to make something that reflects the love and hard work we invest in our respective trades.

I’m a book-binder, third generation. So I’ve seen the new technologies moving in on print’s old territory. As I see it, change has pushed to the foreground the hand-crafted quality of a tangible good. And that motivates us. We won’t ignore a renewed taste for physical, textural charm if it justifies our devotion to an old trade. Nor do we take for granted simple utility. So with each note pad purchased, another will go to a Baltimore City student. You may have heard of this outreach model. It works. And you can help, even if you’ve forgotten what your handwriting looks like. Here’s a hint: it’s that unmistakably human font.

Chris tells me that the books are printed and assembled in Baltimore from US-sources components. What’s more: the company gives away one book for every book sold to a Baltimore City schools student. This hits close to home for me, since my better-half works at a middle/high school in our neighborhood.
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We are reviewing the large “regular” and Paul Smith editions today. The books are 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches and contain 120 pages of “premium brass-ruled paper.” The Paul Smith edition is left-handed, and the spiral binding is on the right of the page. I kept opening mine at the wrong end, but I enjoyed the graphic on the front enough to use this one first. I use both sides of spiral notebooks (pencils don’t exactly bleed). So any spiral notebook I use is ½ right-handed and ½ left-handed anyway.

The spiral itself is a stiff, brass-colored, double-O binding that is about as perfect as a spiral can be. By that I mean that it’s just the right amount of circle. More and the spiral would annoy my hand while writing and make the book feel…loose (which I think is where a lot of anti-spiral feelings come from). If the spiral were smaller, the pages would be difficult to turn.
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The corners on all five of our test books are precisely cut. That means a lot to me, and it’s something a good quarter to a third of my usual stapled pocket notebooks lack in sometimes serious ways. The books are held closed with a huge rubberband that would have gotten my two brothers and I into trouble as kids. You could probably rig a slingshot that would shoot 2x4s with these things. I use mine when I carry my books and don’t like having to put it somewhere while I write. But, since they are removable, they make archiving the books easier. Plus, I like the option to ditch the band when I feel like it. The covers are thick but pliable enough to give the books some “give” in a bag or pocket. Folded back upon itself, the nbook’s two covers made it more than stiff enough to support writing mid-air (which pencils and Space Pens also make possible). The branding is slight and tasteful. I like the ink color on the regular edition, which reminds me of the Bob Slate notebooks I like to buy when I’m in Cambridge (this summer!). Inside of the front cover, you’ll find information to identify the notebook as yours, in case you lose it.*
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The paper in the lined notebooks is brass ruled, which I had never heard of. So I asked Chris what that meant: “So we came up with brass-ruled paper as a way to describe the traditional means of ruling papers. This process has been employed by printers for well over a century. It’s name, pen-ruling, left a lot to be desired and was a bit confusing. The process itself involves long shafts that are fitted with brass wheels and spacers. These shafts move over a pool of ink that is then transferred to the paper.” As we might say in Hampden, That ain’t no lazer-printin, Hon.
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This is very graphite-friendly paper! I have to confess to becoming a little more picky about which papers I really truly lovingly enjoy covering with graphite lately, though I am attempting to resist such snobbery. Pencil is that writing medium which is only more picky than a ballpoint pen. But some papers are two slick; some too toothy; etc. This paper is fantastic, taking both hard and soft pencils with similar smoothness, though the paper is certainly not slick in any way. It feels a bit like writing on Rhodia paper, though the pencil lines come out darker and don’t smear as much. It’s nearly ideal for pencil.

We were also lucky enough to receive a limited-edition Baltimore print. I have a similar print hanging in my dining room, next to where I am writing this review. (We gave several of these Baltimore Books as holiday gifts this year, honestly.) If you can find one of these, get it.
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Of course, I have to name some qualms, lest it be assumed that I am entirely biased toward two of my favorite things (stationery and Baltimore) coming together. I almost never like perforated pages, which these books contain. The rubber bands are interesting, but I could do without them. I want to say that the books are expensive. But these are in league with Finer Stationer, not campus-store spiral notebooks. $16 for the large versions is higher than your usual spiral notebook. But your usual spiral notebook this is not. And if Comrades are Readers of stationery blogs, this price is probably not outlandish at all.

Thanks again to Chris for the samples and for the help with my questions! And stay tuned next week for the second part of the review, featuring the pocket notebooks and pencils.

* I’ve become so used to this since using my first Moleskine, uh, 11 years ago for my MA comprehensive exams that I miss it when manufacturers exclude it.