Frances G. Spencer’s Notebook

Here’s an interesting historical notebook– one of dozens that belonged to Frances G. Spencer, who traveled around the country collecting sheet music in the mid-20th century. Her collection, one of the largest in the US, is now housed in the archives of Baylor University.

“The Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music contains approximately 30,000 pieces of music published between the late 1700s and mid-1900s. Collected over two decades by its namesake, the collection features pieces by prominent composers such as Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin and Stephen Foster, as well as rarities and first editions of pieces including Jingle Bells and Battle Hymn of the Republic. This collection is being actively digitized and new pieces are added to this digital archive on a monthly basis…”

“As she collected, Frances created her own categories for sorting the pieces into sub-collections. Major headings included Transportation, Musical Comedies, Songs of the Confederacy, Ziegfeld Follies and more. In all, she created dozens of these categories and kept meticulous notes about which pieces she placed in each. She kept similar lists of pieces she was looking to collect in small notebooks, dozens of which are preserved in her archival papers.”

Read more at Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music.

Review and Giveaway: Letternote Notebooks

Letternote is an India-based maker of colorful stationery and gift items, all with bold, colorful designs. They sent me a very generous assortment of samples to review:


I love the variety and the bright colors. Somehow just looking at some of them makes you feel upbeat and want to do something creative!



But my favorite design was the vintage radio.


It’s 5×8″ (also available in a 3.5×5.5″ pocket size version), with lined pages. It’s a “softcover” notebook, by which I mean it doesn’t have boards that are wrapped with a cloth or faux-leather material. It’s just covered with a glued-on cardboard but it’s a fairly thick, sturdy cover, not a flexible soft cover. The inside front cover has some brand info and a place to write your personal info. There is no ribbon marker or elastic closure. The notebook opens nice and flat.


The paper inside is a bit rougher and toothier than I was expecting, but it is not too rough to write on with fine point pens. As I wrote on it, it somehow felt like it was sucking up a lot of ink, though bleed-through was no worse than average with most pens. Fountain pens seemed to work fine. My main concern with the paper was that it does not seem to be acid-free as claimed, based on the results from my pH test pen, so I’d be concerned about the paper getting yellowed and brittle over time. I did not test all the additional samples, and some of them, in particular the sketchbook, may have different paper.


As far as I can tell from the Letternote website, their products are available in quite a few retailers in India, but not in other countries. You can order from their webstore, but shipping from India might get expensive. You can also enter to win some of the extra samples shown here. Two random winners, each of whom will receive 2 notebooks, will be selected from entries received in the following ways:

On Twitter, tweet something containing “@LetterNote @NotebookStories”, and follow @NotebookStories and @letternote.

On Facebook, “like” the Notebook Stories page and the Letternote page and post something containing the words “Letternote” on the Notebook Stories page.

On your blog, post something containing the words “Letternote” and “Notebook Stories” and link back to this post.

The deadline for entry is Friday January 9, 2015 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!
And please remember to check my posts on Facebook and Twitter for an announcement of the winner. Please allow a couple of weeks for me to check all the entries and determine the winners.

Jean-Michel Basquiat Notebooks

I am looking forward to seeing the Brooklyn Museum exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s never-before-seen notebooks, which opens on April 3, 2015 and will be on view through Aug. 23, 2015. There’s also a book: Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks


basquiat notebook

via New Rizzoli Book Reveals Unseen Jean-Michel Basquiat Notebooks From the ’80s | Complex.

New Year, New Notebook!

Are you starting a new notebook or planner for 2015? What kind? What are your plans or resolutions for filling it? Share your thoughts and comments here, or on my Facebook page, or on Twitter. I’d love to see photos of your notebooks too!


Happy New Year, everyone!

Postalco Alexander Calder Notebooks

These Postalco notebooks (and other accessories) look nice but are pretty pricey! The two notebooks below are each $50 or more.


“Alexander Calder may be best known for his kinetic mobiles, but the sculptor himself was also in constant motion. His oeuvre suggests an attention that shifted effortlessly across art and objects — from elaborate stage sets to jewelry worn by intellectual icons such as Simone de Beauvoir and Georgia O’Keeffe. Now, a capsule collection by the Tokyo-based stationer Postalco highlights the artist’s graphic work, in the form of embossed travel wallets and a spiral notebook punctuated by Calder’s own sketches and jottings.”

These are supposed to be available at the Cooper Hewitt museum shop, though I couldn’t find them listed online. They do have a lot of other nice notebooks, though!

via Postalco Launches Accessories Bearing the Art of Alexander Calder.

Reasons and Tips for Keeping a Sketchbook

How to keep a sketchbook, and why! In this Urban Sketchers Chicago blog post by Barbara Weeks, the benefits include the expected, such as developing your drawing skills and capturing fleeting ideas, and also things you might not think of:

“5. Cheaper than a psychiatrist
This reason may be my own little reason but I share it with you. Waiting used to be a time of aggravation and annoyance for me. Now, I think, “Oh good I can sketch.” I also have more sketches done in hospital emergency rooms than I care to think about  but they kept me calm and sane. And sometimes when I’m “in the zone” it’s like meditation.”


Read more at Urban Sketchers Chicago: Every Visual Creative Should Keep a Sketchbook.

Notebook Addict of the Week: Pepperguy

This week’s addict was spotted on the F***Yeah Notebooks and Journals Tumblr page, a good source for notebook eye candy! Pepperguy says “I have a bit of an addiction.” I’d love to see more beyond this tantalizing glimpse of Moleskines and Field Notes!


See more at I have a bit of a notebook addiction. #moleskine….

Notebooks from Paris and Amsterdam

Here’s the stash of notebooks I brought back from my Amsterdam/Paris trip. First, two little notebooks from a local newsstand/bookstore near where I was staying. They had a nice selection of school supplies, and other notebook brands such as Moleskine, but these two were inexpensive and not like others I’d seen elsewhere. The blue one is a basic wire-o memo book, with a textured cardstock cover. The black and red one, only about 2 1/2 x 4″, reminded me of the notebooks that used to be common in Chinatown shops, but it doesn’t say where it was made, and the label mentions a German company.

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At P. K. Akkerman in Amsterdam, there was another wide selection of notebooks, but I just bought this chunky little Bindewerk notebook, which has a layer of actual wood veneer on the front and back cover. It’s cute, thought I think the notches running through the top and bottom of each page might get on my nerves. At 14.50, this was pretty pricey, but I didn’t think I could find these in New York. Of course about 2 months after my trip, I did stumble across a store selling these (Goods for the Study).

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This small notebook doubles as an art book: blank pages are interspersed with full color paintings by the artist Marlene Dumas, whose retrospective was on exhibit at the Stedelijk museum.

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In Paris, I was very excited to find these Clairefontaine notebooks at Marie Tournelle. In the US, you can easily find their notebooks with covers like these, but they are usually in larger sizes, and they never have graph paper! These are the exact Clairefontaine notebook I had always wished I could buy. I’ve always loved Clairefontaine paper, and never understood why it’s so hard to get it in the squared style. Some of their larger plaid covered notebooks have squared pages, but pocket notebooks with the cloth spine never do. But it’s nice to know that they are available in Europe! I was surprised, though, to notice that these notebooks are now perfect-bound. The pages are just glued into the spine, rather than in sewn signatures, which is how these used to be made. I’m not sure when this changed. But the notebooks still open nice and flat. I’ve lost the receipt, but I think these were only about 3 or 4.

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This notebook caught my eye in the gift shop at the Centre Pompidou– it’s a small lined booklet inside a cloth cover. Various patterns and colors were available for the covers– I thought the pale green with red stitching looked great. The proceeds from these benefit Memisa, a healthcare organization. It was 9.90.

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And finally, this black Moleskine-ish notebook is from the Paris store Merci, and carries their brand on the back. It’s a soft/hardcover hybrid, as the covers aren’t wrapped like most hardcover notebooks, but they are thick and quite stiff. I love the dyed edges, and it’s nice that the pen loop folds down and tucks in if you’re not using it. I don’t plan on using it at all, but I’d be worried I’d lose my pen or pencil if I did, as it’s rather loose. This notebook was 9.90.

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Globalization may mean that shopping is more and more generic and it’s harder to find unique things when you travel, but I was happy to find a few new and different notebooks on my trip. I’m always looking for more suggestions for international stationery stores!

Artists’ Diaries at the Smithsonian

I was in Washington DC over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and thanks to a tip from a reader, I went to one of the Smithsonian museums to see a cool little exhibit on artists’ diaries: A Day in the Life: Artists’ Diaries from the Archives of American Art. It’s not a huge exhibition, and the lighting and glass cases can make it difficult to actually read the diaries they have on display, but it’s well worth seeing nonetheless. Here’s some photos I snapped:

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There was another fascinating exhibition right next door on the artist James Castle. He was a self-taught artist who used whatever scraps of paper he had around the house to draw on. These two works kind of fit the notebook theme!

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The diaries exhibit will be on display until Feb. 28, 2015 in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery, inside the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at 8th and F Streets, NW– it’s in the same building as the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–7:00 p.m. Admission is free.

Life Renover Notebook Giveaway

Life Renover Notebook1

Life notebooks always catch my eye in stores. The covers look so elegant in a modern yet retro way. And the paper always feels so smooth and silky. This one above was a freebie from the generous folks at Notebook Maniac, who sell a variety of notebook brands, many from Japan, including Life, Midori, Tsubame, Maruman and more. I also reviewed Nuuna notebooks from Notebook Maniac in this post.
In the spirit of paying it forward, I’ll pass this notebook along to a winner randomly selected from comments on this post. Make sure to fill out the email address field when you leave your comment– it won’t be shared or used for any purpose other than contacting you if you’re the winner. Deadline to enter is Friday Dec. 19 at 11:59 EST.

Here’s to Life!

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