The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook

The Art of Manliness blog muses on the long tradition of keeping a notebook:

The idea of carrying around a pocket notebook has become quite popular these last few years, revived by the introduction of the current incarnation of the “Moleskine” into the market. It’s become so popular that I’m afraid it has come to be seen as trendy or faddish, and this is putting some men off to starting this important habit themselves. Some find the Cult of the Moleskine and its faux history understandably distasteful. The company shills their pricey Made in China notebooks as the notebook of Hemingway, Van Gogh, and Matisse, when the company that currently makes them only got into the business in 1997.

But don’t let the pocket notebook’s current image dissuade you from carrying one around. The truth is that you don’t need to use a Moleskine (unless you really like them)-even some note cards clipped together will do. And far from being a modern fad, the pocket notebook has a long, important, and manly history. Pocket notebooks were part of the arsenal of a long list of great men from Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Edison (we’re working on an in-depth post of how these men used their notebooks for the future). The repositories of eminent men’s personal effects nearly always includes a pocket notebook full of their ideas and musings.

Of course, all of this can be equally valid for women too!

The best part of the article is all the examples he’s found of notebook use throughout history by different types of people, including “the farmer,” “the salesman,” “the minister,” and “the student.” Here’s an example:

The Boy Scout
“In one of the pockets there should be a lot of bachelor buttons, the sort that you do not have to sew on to your clothes, but which fasten with a snap, something like glove buttons. There should be a pocket made in your shirt or vest to fit your notebook, and a part of it stitched up to hold a pencil and a toothbrush….

No camper, be he hunter, fisherman, scout, naturalist, explorer, prospector, soldier or lumberman, should go into the woods without a notebook and hard lead pencil. Remember that notes made with a hard pencil will last longer than those made with ink, and be readable as long as the paper lasts.

Every scientist and every surveyor knows this and it is only tenderfeet, who use a soft pencil and fountain pen for making field notes, because an upset canoe will blur all ink marks and the constant rubbing of the pages of the book will smudge all soft pencil marks.

Therefore, have a pocket especially made, so that your notebook, pencil and fountain pen, if you insist upon including it—will fit snugly with no chance of dropping out.” The American Boys’ Handybook of Camp-lore and Woodcraft, By Daniel Carter Beard, 1920

Read more, including lots of readers’ comments on their own note-taking habits at The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook | The Art of Manliness.

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4 Responses to “The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook”

  1. Ooooooooooooo!!!!! So excited to find your site!! Love the pictures, love the idea, love all the books!!!! Makes me want to quickly grab my little sketchbook and do something fantastic!! Perhaps not ‘manly’ though, unfortunately..

  2. Totally looking forward to your future “in-depth post of how [Jefferson and Edison] used their notebooks for the future!” I’m especially curious as to how Jefferson divvied up his 7 master notebooks. 🙂

  3. […] Notebook Stories: The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook […]

  4. For as long as I can remember a pocket notebook has been either in my pocket or in my bag. Perhaps I carried my first in primary school, then all along my educational path and into the work world. Once you get used to using one it becomes part of who you are. Over the last number of years I have carried a very small Moleskine that I find to be a perfect fit. It’s small enough to fit anywhere and has perforated pages making it easy to remove to give a note to someone.
    Armed with my Moleskine and my Fisher Space Pen I’m always “on line” so to speak.

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