While we reviewed Write Notepads‘s original pencils in early 2014, we never talked much about their subsequent pencil models, which were lovely and varied. But, personally speaking, I’m a sucker for pencils that come in a box in 2017. So I couldn’t resist these. (And resist them I did, being at the bindery and not stuffing any into my pockets before I left two weeks ago, before we could order them.)
These are full-hex, glossy, and all black — save the clean imprint and the erasers. The imprint is left-handed, as we’ve come to expect from Write Notepads, and the text is simple:
Write (2) WOOD + GRAPHITE
Unlike the last two limited editions, these pencils are neither cedar nor semi-hex nor matte. The basswood sharpens easily, though I miss the cedar aroma a bit this time around. If you do not enjoy the sharpness and increased diameter of a full-hex, these might not be the pencils for you.
I swear that Musgrave beats Ticonderoga on being inconsistent, but it works to Write Notepads’s advantage. Musgrave seems to send Chris and Co. better pencils than the ones they often sell with their own Musgrave label on them. The cores in the Wood + Graphite pencils are smoother than, say, a Bugle, feeling waxier and less prone to smearing. The darkness comes in at a pretty standard HB (think Ticonderoga or a Viarco Premium if you need fancy), with point durability to match. The paint is evenly-applied, even on the ferrule, which is not something I can say for the last few Musgrave pencils I’ve bought. The white eraser works pretty well, which runs contrary to my experience with Musgrave. Here, the eraser is a little stubby and oddly…cute.
A word on the box: it’s matte, white, and hand-made using a process I only partly understand. I’m not sure if I am allowed to talk about That Which I Witnessed at WNP HQ. But it’s made in Baltimore, in-house, in an unexpected (at least, to me) way.
Twelve smackers for Musgrave fare might seem steep. Four of mine had cores that were off-center to a degree that is just this side of usable. But, in my opinion, these are not the standard Musgrave fare. Our Comrades at Baltimore’s Write Notepads & Co. must be getting some secret sauce from Shelbyville.
(These pencils were not provided as free review samples.)
On this day in 1817, one of my heroes was born. He made his family’s pencils into the greatest in the land and wrote millions of words in his lifetime. Most of all, he lived. Today, we honor Pencil Hero, Henry David Thoreau.
We have established that pencil is the perfect medium for preserving your writing for the future. We recently examined what to look for in a pencil for journaling and/or long-term writing and some examples thereof. Today we will look at paper for keeping your pencil writing safe.
There are several details on which to reflect when selecting a notebook or journal if you plan to fill it with pencil, and this is even more true when one wants to preserve the writing forever.
Spiral bindings can allow pages to rub against other other, creating smearing and thereby affecting the legibility of your writing for the future. Write Notepads & Co. solves this with an enormous rubber band. Generally, if I am going to carry a notebook around for more than a week, I prefer something with an elastic closure like this or like a Moleskine. A staple-bound Field Notes book lasts only a week; so there’s little time to smear. The Write Notepads pocket books are tightly-bound with the PUR spine, and they do not rub much either. Also, consider that an notebook crammed into your pocket will not move very much against other paper, that the fabric of your pocket (and your butt/leg/etc.) will likely keep the pages together anyway. For bouncing around in a bag, I never use a book that can open a even a little on its own, allowing the pages to mingle. Graphite is not to be trusted in the open like that!
I avoid papers with too little or too much tooth. For instance, anything with more tooth than (and sometimes even including) a Scout Books pocket notebook will collect more graphite from the point of the pencil than the marks which one seeks to preserve. This results in dust and smearing and a generally untidy notebook. This is fine sometimes; pencil is not always tidy. But for writing which we seek to protect, smearing can render words, lines — even pages — illegible. Even worse is paper which is too smooth. The writing never even has much of a chance to stay put. The paper on Rhodia pads, for instance, is a lovely and smooth surface on which to skate a piece of graphite. However, I would not trust words meant for future generations to such glassy paper.
An overly-tight graph or narrow lines can cause one’s writing to bunch up, resulting in less crisp lines. Something around the line-spacing of a Moleskine and 1/4 inch is my own preference, though I often just forgo any guide whatsoever too. Try to go line-free with pencil and the intention that your writing with last forever. Be bold!
Archival Quality of the Paper
These days, most major-branded books (Moleskine, Field Notes, etc.) are bound with acid-free paper. Since graphite does not react with paper anyway, this is, I assume, slightly less of a issue than when using ink. However, brittle and yellow paper can cause an issue for any writing medium.
As in pencils, the key is balance. I like a paper with a medium tooth, light (or no) lines, and a binding that will not allow the paper to rub against itself. As with pencils, this is harder to explain than it is to give examples of.
Write Notepads & Co. – This is probably my favorite notebook paper right now. The 70# stock takes graphite wonderfully, and the minor stiffness of the paper combines with the PUR binding to hold the pages still. The texture is nearly perfect, and they use a nice 1/4 inch line-spacing which is a great balance of efficiency and comfort. Plus they are made in my hometown, and Chris is a friend IRL. But I still claim not to be biased. Their books really are that good.
Moleskine – I swear that Moleskine has been quietly (because loudly would be admitting the paper was inferior before?) improving their paper. The texture is lovely for your less soft pencils, and the elastic keeps everything in place. If you hit Target at the right time of year, you can steal one for a few bucks from the clearance section. I like to remember that a Moleskine in 2002 led me to being lucky enough to co-host a really fun podcast.
Paperblanks – I have not used one of these in a while, but the paper is very stiff for nice pencil lines. Some of the covers get a little…LOOK AT ME for my taste, but the subtly-designed ones work well. Ghosting/graphite transfer is very low on this paper, even without a blotter.
Baron Fig – In speaking with Joey and Adam, I learned that this paper was designed, in part, for pencil, and it shows. The texture is lovely, and the themes and special editions they produce appeal to me greatly.
Field Notes – The newer 60#T version of the Finch Paper Opaque Smooth is lovely for pencil. I’m not sure why it works so much better than the 50# version, which I find to border on too smooth. These do fall open and allow pages to rub together in a bag. I generally get only a week of pocket carry out of them, however; so I do not experience this issue.
What are some papers/books Comrades like to use for long-term writing and/or journaling in pencil?
Write Notepads & Co rounded out the first year of seasonal releases this month with their “In the Pines” edition. Considering that we are literally friends with Chris and Co, it’s hard to start writing about how great this edition is and not stop. So perhaps some staccato slowness will get the point across without my friendly and hometown gushing getting in the way.
When I think of winter, I think of dark green (pine trees) and a striking blue (the sky). These fit the bill perfectly, even evoking some sylvan coniferousness. It could be in my head; it could be that I talked to Chris; but I swear the packing material smelled like pine. The delay on these meant that they were released during the actual winter, not holiday shopping season when the cold really hasn’t set in yet. So I found them especially welcome.
Gorgeous. The packs arrived inside of a shipping box this time, which was a boon for such a beautiful package (the Royal Blues got dinged in their padded envelopes). The matte white board with silver stamping brings snow to mind immediately, and the design is just beautiful. I particularly like that “No. 4” is included on the box, clearly numbering the series that has just completed its first year.
You get three matching green books with a silver pine tree letterpressed over “In The Pines,” in what might be the perfect font for this cover. The texture and flexibility of the stock make it extremely easy to use and comfortable to pocket. The corners, binding and cuts are all precisely made.
Inside, there is WNP’s fantastic standard 70# white paper with a 1/4-inch dot graph that is ideally spaced for pencil writing. This is my favorite pocket notebook paper by far, even for when I sometimes occasionally rarely use pens (!).
Unlike the last two releases, you can buy the pencils that match this one right now. They seem like the usual Musgrave custom job at first: a medium quality pencil with top-notch custom design and left-handed printing. These feature a much more crisp silver stamp on their hexagonal face than the round Royal Blue (excuse the terrible photo). What’s really different about these is that they are made of cedar this time. I ordered another six (not only because my better half wanted some to match her books) as soon as I could, but I refrained from stocking up because supplies are extremely limited.
Included in members’ shipments is a heavy vinyl sticker replicating a pine air freshener. I haven’t had the nerve to stick it onto anything yet because I only have one, but I doubt I can hold out for long.
In conclusion, just go and get a set. I’d like to think folks might refrain from hoarding because of the extremely limited number of these packs. But I’ve seen folks who have saved them help out other people who missed them. So I’ll shut up. If you live in Baltimore, you can get them IRL at a few shops in town without the cost or wait associated with shipping.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.*
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.
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.
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.