Category Archives: My Collection

Grace Coddington’s Smythson Notebooks

Grace Coddington is well known in the fashion world as an editor, former model, and author. Now she’s also a spokesperson for Smythson. Most of the linked article is promoting their various leather bags and accessories, but I loved getting a glimpse of this well-worn address book!

I bought a Smythson address book a long time ago and no longer use it actively, but every time I come across it while rummaging through my collection, I appreciate how classic and iconic their notebooks are. They sure are expensive, though! I don’t remember how much I paid for mine, 20+ years ago, but I remember feeling like I couldn’t afford it at the time. They used to have a whole line of address books but nowadays, they don’t seem to sell them at all, except as refill inserts for other planners– a casualty of the smartphone and social media age, I guess. But they do still sell lots of notebooks and organizers. I kind of want one of these, except that they only seem to come with lined paper, and they’re $75:


 

Back to Grace Coddington, she also has a pretty fabulous set of colored pencils, which you can see  below:

 

I went looking to see if I could find it on Amazon– didn’t see one exactly like that, but these are close. I hope I win the lottery so I can buy one!!

 

Read more at: Travelling With Grace Coddington – Smythson Travel

Art Alternatives Pen & Ink Sketchbooks: They’ve Changed!

I have mentioned the Pen & Ink Sketchbooks from Art Alternatives many times on this blog. Their pocket size sketchbook with the heavyweight paper is the closest alternative I’ve found to a Moleskine Sketchbook, for those who prefer creamy smooth paper, as opposed to the brighter white, toothier paper found in many other competitors’ pocket sketchbooks (such as Hahnemuhle, HandBook Artist Journals, Leuchtturm, and Art Alternatives’ Sketch & Draw). Check out my “Four Notebooks Reviewed” series from several years ago for a detailed comparison.

I’ve used a few of the Pen & Ink sketchbooks over the years and they never seemed to change much– even their packaging was the same… until now. While trying to meet a minimum for free shipping at Blick, I decided to throw in a couple of these sketchbooks, but I got a bit of a surprise!

Here’s the image for what I ordered:

 

But here’s what I got:

I couldn’t care less if they change the design of the paper band, and in fact the new branding is quite attractive, but I was horrified to see that they’ve changed the construction of the notebook itself to the diagonal elastic that Art Alternatives has used on their Sketch & Draw line for a while. (See my Sketch & Draw review).

I didn’t like the diagonal elastic on the Sketch & Draw, and I don’t like it on the Pen & Ink. Very disappointing update– I wonder if they’ve changed anything else about the notebook, but I haven’t even taken the shrinkwrap off to investigate.

Jet Pens has updated their product image, so they are selling the new version. Amazon still has the product images with the orange bands, but like Blick, they may actually have stock with the new design, since the UPC codes are the same. If you order from them, you’re taking your chances, but since the listing says there are only a few units left, maybe it’s from older stock with the orange band and vertical elastic? (The product descriptions have been wonky on Amazon for years– there is a disconnect between the image and the actual paper weight. This listing seems to be the medium weight sketchbook with 192 pages of 54lb paper– don’t buy it unless you want the lighter weight paper comparable to a regular Moleskine. This listing has the same product image, and references 54lb paper, but the title says “heavy weight” and the customer Q&A indicates that the description is wrong and the product is actually 92 pages of 110 lb paper, similar to the Moleskine Sketchbook paper weight.)

The price on these at Blick is just fantastic– currently $5.69 for the pocket size sketchbook. And their customer service department was great about resolving my issue of not wanting this version of the product. It’s not like I desperately need more sketchbooks anyway, but I can’t help being sad that they changed these! I’ve ordered one on eBay that seems to be the old design, just because, well, you know…

Let us know in the comments if you’ve recently seen stock of the old design, or if you’ve tried the new ones!

Phil’s Stationery, NYC

Phil’s Stationery is a gem– assuming you like messy, dusty, old-school office supply stores, that is! I’d never heard of it until a few weeks ago when I happened to meet someone for lunch nearby and saw this amazing sign:

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There are so few stores like this left in NYC, especially in what must be a pretty expensive location on 47th St. not far from 5th Avenue. I didn’t take any photos inside the store, but as you walk in, there are large displays of Rhodia and Clairefontaine notebooks, as well as a counter with pens. As you go further back into the store, there are also racks of Moleskines and Filofax, and shelves with a wide variety of other notebooks, ledgers, pads, pens, etc. The further back you go, the messier it gets– there are shelves with all sorts of random products jumbled around. It has some of the same time-warp quality as the Montclair Stationery store I wrote about in this post.

I only bought one thing:

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I haven’t bought a spiral bound notebook like this in years, but I couldn’t resist! What brand is it? Where is it made? It’s a mystery, as there are no markings on it other than what you see on the front cover. Some other colors were also available. And the price was right: $1.09, including tax!

Random Giveaway Winners!

So many great responses to this post! I loved hearing from you all. I decided to increase the number of winners from 5 to 7! Here are the winning comments:

# 8 Judy H:

First, being in Helena, MT there is not much ‘shopping’ for notebooks here. So I read to find out what I am missing and need to go online for. Second, it’s genetic. I’m a notebook junkie, so are my daughters and now my 4 year old grand daughter is joining in. Third, I use them for everything from a diary, scrapbook, idea and wish books, keep lists. You name it, I’ll put it in a notebook!

#23 Shelley:

I love your blog because of your reviews. I love to write, i.e., I just love the feel of a good pen on good paper and your reviews have helped me select notebooks to buy that I know will work with the pens I own. I use notebooks for everything-a collection of quotations, a collection of hand-lettering samples, a pocket notebook that I use as a doodle and zentangle pattern library, two mini notebooks that I carry in my purse to work on when I am stuck in a waiting room (one for 6 Word Stores and one for Haiku), a notebook with samples from all the pens I own, a journal for daily entries, a journal used as a Commonplace book, and a Kickstarter journal that will arrive soon that I will use as a bullet journal (a new project for me).

#34 Michael Buttry:

I read your online journal for various reasons, but mostly because like notebooks. As a former small press operator and before that, a Navy brat, paper was the way to record data, draw pictures, and make notes of what’s going. Now at 63ish, I find them more reliable than smart phones and just easier to operate; pencil, pen, notebook and done. Now if I could just find a candle that smells like a stationary store, I’d be happy.

#29 Tamra:

I read your site because I like to know I’m not the only one out there with this obsession. I also enjoy seeing what others use their notebooks for.

A new notebook: it stimulates all the senses… I’m not a snob, although I love a high-end tooled leather notebook, a marbled composition book will do nicely. I love them all, the slip-slide of the cover as I slide my hand across it’s surface, shiny perfection or tooled leather perfection, I love them both. The crack the spine makes the first time the notebook is opened, the creak of the pages as that new notebook smell wafts out – to me, better than new car smell! The pages, lines, graphed, dotted or plain waiting for my words, lists, sketches and doodles beckon me… What will this book be? What does it’s future hold?

I have books of lists of trips and places I dream of, destinations to go and see. Books of memories past, present and what is to be. Books of authors and books and music that inspire me. Poems and phrases that flit through my mind that haven’t yet found their permanent home. Books of sketches and doodles of my dreams and thoughts. Sketches and doodles of, well, nothing at all. But all these notebooks are important to me.

#26 Amber Marie:

I’ve been following this blog for a few years now, a regular website I frequent. I’ve been a longtime journaller/journalist, starting at the age of 13. I’m 25 now and my writing has yet to slow down.

I love the physical aspect of flipping to a new page in a fresh journal, figuring out which pen would work best for which entry, lining up spare pens and maybe an extra notebook for a particularly juicy entry, and letting it all flow. I feel naked leaving the house with anything less than 3 notebooks and 6 pens. I’m always observing and watching my surroundings, jotting down anything relevant I see. The freedom of being able to express myself without being embarrassed of my thoughts is a great feeling.

One of my favorite aspects of this site is the Notebook Addict of the Week. I think it’s fascinating to see other peoples uses for their notebooks, and the different brands that work best for different people. No two notebooks are a like, just as the people who use them. I’ve been meaning for a long while to post my own collection to the site, and it’s all about baby steps. First a comment, then a collection, then more and more.

Notebook collecting is a beautiful addiction and I am proud to belong to a great community of like minded individuals. Thank you so much for this website!

#22 Van H.:

I love notebooks and always have. I still remember the first one I bought for something other than school. I was 10, and it had a stylized, colorful soccer ball on the front. I planned to write a ninja story inside – wrote three words, and became irreparably intimidated. I switched to plain notebooks after that, which I filled with abandon. By 8th grade I carried a stack of 10 notebooks (each with its own pencil jammed in the spiral) on top of my trapper keeper, each one for a different purpose (none for school), and the stack constantly slid off my desk and fell all over the floor. By 9th grade I cut back to a couple 3-subject notebooks at a time. In 10th grade I stole two notebooks from a friend. One was blank, and one was full of her writing, which I returned after reading it, but kept the blank one (she never mentioned it). I am haunted by this to this day, but I still have the same impulse whenever I see someone with a notebook. I want to know what’s inside. I love this blog because it simultaneously satisfies and feeds my curiosity about blank notebooks and filled notebooks alike. I’ve read this blog for years and have never found anything else like it, that tells me exactly what I want to know about the notebooks featured here. I was even once featured on this blog for my trunk containing nearly 100 spiral notebooks filled during high school (none with schoolwork) – a number of years ago. Sadly, over time I have cut back on my accumulations of both blank and used notebooks–I give away what I can’t use and discard what I no longer want to save–but I love notebooks no less for my now-relaxed stance on hoarding. There’s no point in trying to analyze it; there’s nothing like a good notebook.

#7 Dan:

When my Mom died and we were cleaning out the house, we found dozens of notebooks, often just fragments, of poems, daily events, medical records and notes and sometimes pictures that we didn’t know about and events in her life she never talked to us about. I had started keeping travel journals many years ago, and didn’t know that my Mom had kept these notebooks. When Dad found that I was keeping a journal and travel notebooks, he told me I was just like Mom. Maybe no one will read my journals or see my notebooks. Maybe they are just messages in bottles thrown into the stream of time for some unknowable future.

If you are a winner, check your email inbox for a message from me to arrange shipping of your prize. Thanks to everyone who entered!

Smelly Notebooks

Is smell ever a factor in your notebook usage? I’ve tested a few notebooks over the years that had distinctive odors, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not. When I reviewed the Rendr Sketchbook, one of the first things I noticed about it was a strong chemical smell, although it faded after unwrapping. One Moleskine I bought on eBay had a wonderful smell, as though it had been stored in a drawer with cedar or some sort of scented candles or potpourri (I’m not necessarily fond of scented candles or potpourri, but it was a nice woodsy, herbal smell, not super perfume-y).

Usually Moleskines just have a sort of inky smell, not at all unpleasant, but the one I just started using, another eBay purchase of older stock, has a gross odor, kind of barfy-smelling. It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced this, and I’ve used dozens of Moleskines over 15+ years. It’s still noticeable several days after unwrapping the notebook and using it, so I tried swabbing some eucalyptus oil on the inside front and back covers– that helped somewhat, but the yucky smell is still there. I also pulled a couple of leaves off my patchouli plant and stuck them in the back pocket, that that’s not solving the problem either. It reminds me of an old TV commercial from the 1980s, for some sort of room deodorizer spray. The ad criticized the competition for merely adding perfume rather than neutralizing odors: a little girl whines “Ewww, now it smells like fish and roses!” Well, now my notebook smells like eucalyptus and patchouli and vomit.

I keep riffling through the pages in hopes that it will air out and today, I put it in a bag with some candles to see if the smell will improve but what if it doesn’t? Can I bear to get rid of it?? Or will I just be wrinkling my nose for the next few months while trying to finish this notebook as quickly as possible? Oh, the drama… what would you do??

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Moleskine Monday: My Collection

I haven’t done many Moleskine Monday posts lately… and it’s been a while since I’ve updated you on my stash of spare Moleskines. For those who haven’t read other posts where I’ve talked about how I feel about the Moleskine brand, here’s an abbreviated version:

Late 1990s/early 2000’s— not too long after Modo e Modo introduces them, I start seeing Moleskines in stores, and receive a pocket Sketchbook as a gift. It re-awakens my slightly dormant notebook fetish and I start using them for occasional notes and drawings. But I’m not totally obsessed because I’m still really into Palm Pilots. During this period I think I once bought 2 sketchbooks while on a 3-week business trip, and it made me feel like a crazy hoarder.

Mid-late 2000’s— the softcover Moleskines are introduced and for some reason, I fall head over heels in love with the pocket size squared softcover. It’s the first notebook I’ve truly filled from cover to cover. I start this blog and allow myself to wallow in full-on notebook adoration. (Palm Pilots are over, the iPhone isn’t as exciting, and I turn back to notebooks to satisfy my life-long need to fondle something small and rectangular.) My love affair with the softcover fades, but I am using and buying lots of hardcover Moleskines and other similar notebooks such as Piccadilly, HandBook Artist Journal, and the many others I’ve written about here. The Moleskine brand has exploded. They’re everywhere. They’ve become a bit of a cliché, perhaps, but I still love them. I settle into a habit of simultaneously using a pocket squared or plain notebook for daily list-making and journaling, and a pocket sketchbook for drawing and watercolors. (My other routine notebook is a small Moleskine cahier or Field Notes that I use for my French class.) At some point during this period, they stop putting the Modo e Modo name on them, and start using only “Moleskine” in all their branding. They also change their US distributor from Kikkerland, who used to be mentioned on the packaging, to Chronicle, who is not. At this time, I maybe stockpile half a dozen Moleskines, a few Piccadillies, and a couple of HandBook Artist Journals.

Early 2010’s— Moleskine’s rapid growth seems to have led to declines in quality and changes in how they’re made. They are introducing new products at a dizzying pace and focusing more on bags and wallets than notebooks. There’s too much cover overhang, they’re less refined, the paper is thinner– they’re just not as nice. But there still isn’t any other brand that quite meets all my preferences for daily notebooks. When I buy Moleskines in a store, it’s only after inspecting them very carefully to see if they are good ones. Sometimes I find older stock from batches that were better made. I would guess that at this point, I might have hit about 20 unused Moleskines stashed for future use.

Mid- 2010’s— I can’t find good Moleskines in stores anymore.  I have to send in quality complaints about a couple of notebooks ordered online– the company sends replacements, but they aren’t much better. I’ve had it. In February 2014, I post Moleskine Monday: I May Never Buy a New Moleskine Again. But I also turn to the internet and start searching for older stock that still has the Modo e Modo name on it, and once in a while, I hit the jackpot, especially on eBay. I quickly realize that I can only buy Moleskines if I see a photo of the actual notebook, not a standard product shot which may be out of date. Whenever I see the older-looking belly-bands (someday I’ll do a post on how their design has evolved over the years), I snap them up if I can get them for a less-than-outrageous price. I start building up my stash of spares, which by August 2014 includes 37 assorted Moleskines that I would potentially use as everyday notebooks/sketchbooks. After a while, it’s grown quite large and I start trying to track my inventory in a spreadsheet, but I don’t do a great job keeping it up to date. Last time I updated the spreadsheet, the total count was 132. I decide to cut back a bit on my eBay browsing, as I’m running out of room to store all my notebooks!

Now— below are some photos of my stash, which is stored in shoe boxes, some under-bed plastic boxes, and in piles on shelves. Whenever I look at some of the really nice old ones with their perfect corners, I get all pissed off all over again, knowing that somebody once figured out how to make the perfect notebook and then they turned it into crap!

 

I also had a whole drawer-full in my office, until I started working from home. I’m counting just my actual Moleskine branded notebooks for the purposes of today’s post, though I also have a bunch of similar non-Moleskine notebooks earmarked for potential daily usage someday (as opposed to things that are fun to have in my collection, but not planned to be used). Here’s the count:

56 pocket sketchbooks. (I go through about 3-4 a year.)

55 pocket squared (I go through about 3-4 a year.)

12 pocket plain

30 pocket ruled (I normally don’t like ruled notebooks but on a couple of occasions I bought large lots of mixed paper styles. Since they are old ones with good paper and good overall quality, I’m willing to use one occasionally just to stretch out the lifespan of my inventory.)

Other pocket size: 1 storyboard, 1 music, 1 info book, 1 plain softcover, 1 address, 2 Japanese album, 2 ruled reporter, 1 squared reporter

Large size: 1 Voyageur, 1 large sketchbook, 1 large squared

I have not counted any “cahier” or Volant thin notebooks, as I have a few of those mixed in with various Field Notes and other similar stapled or stitched-spine notebooks. But the quantity is very small, just a few I’ve been given.

A few of the sketchbook, squared and plain ones are more recent models that I will use as a last resort. The info book is all crooked and defective, and I’m not quite sure why I’m even keeping it. But the count ends up at over 166 Moleskines, over 150 of which I am likely to potentially use on a day to day basis. (I haven’t counted the sketchbook and squared notebooks I am using now, or any of the dozens I’ve already filled.)

So… I know I’m a little crazy. My partner, who has to live with notebooks constantly arriving in the mail and taking up way too much of our limited space, definitely thinks I’m a little crazy (but also knows there are far worse vices). But the question remains, is it enough? 56 sketchbooks divided by 3 a year is a little less than 19 years, and I’ll only be about 67 years old at that point. The squared ones, if extended with the plain and ruled notebooks, will last up to 32 years, when I’ll be 81. I can probably ease off buying any more of those (unless I spot any really good cheap ones!) but I think I’m allowed to buy some more sketchbooks. Yay!

 

Random Giveaway!

It’s clean-out time! Talk to me about notebooks, people. Use the comments on this post, and/or Twitter posts containing “@notebookstories random giveaway” to tell me something about why you read Notebook Stories, why you love notebooks, what you write or draw in your notebooks, etc. I’ll pick 5 favorite responses from entries received before the deadline of Friday July 28, 2017 at 11:59 EST, and the winners will each receive a grab-bag of at least 4 assorted notebooks. Some of these notebooks may have a used page or two where I did pen tests for reviews, but otherwise they will be in new or like-new, usable condition and I’ll try to throw in some unusual items to spice up your collection! Have fun, everyone!

Review and Giveaway: Stillman & Birn Softcover Sketchbooks

I was really excited when I heard that Stillman & Birn were expanding their product line to include softcover sketchbooks, especially when I saw that a pocket sized version was available. There are so many options out there for hardcover sketchbooks, and so many pocket notebooks, but these really fill a niche in terms of offering durability, flexibility, portability, and a wide array of quality paper options. I’m ashamed to say I received samples for review almost a year ago and am only getting caught up now, but better late than never!

I’ve reviewed Stillman and Birn’s hardcovers in the past, see here and here. The softcovers are available in the same paper types– 6 varieties, covering different paper weights, textures, and colors, but different sizes.

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I tested the 3.5 x 5.5″ pocket size portrait versions, of course! They are slightly smaller than a pocket Moleskine. The covers are a smooth material, not at all leather-like but with a leathery-looking pebbly tone, which you can see but not feel. The covers are neutral shades of grey, dark green, dark red and blue, corresponding to the paper type within– greenish for the Delta, with 270 GSM ivory cold press paper; red for Alpha, with 150 GSM bright white medium grain paper. There is nothing imprinted on or inside the sketchbooks except for the Stillman and Birn logo embossed on the back cover.

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The signatures are stitched, and there is a fair amount of glue at the spine, holding the signatures to the cover. The pages open very flat despite the spines feeling a little stiff at first, especially with the thicker papers. After being opened all the way, the covers will stay open for a while but will eventually close most of the way. There is no elastic to hold the sketchbooks closed. No inside pocket or ribbon marker either.

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The papers are up to the same high standard as S&B’s other products, performing well with all sorts of pens, pencils and watercolors. Only the bleediest markers show through much on the 150 GSM paper, and the 270 GSM paper is pretty impervious. Even the papers meant for only dry media held up fine with watercolors. From the outside, these sketchbooks don’t look like fancy sketchbooks designed to be kept forever, but with acid-free, archival quality paper, what you create on the inside should stand the test of time.

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What’s not to love? This is where I thought I’d be saying “well, they are a bit pricey…” but they’re not! The pocket size sketchbooks have a list price of $10.99 and are currently discounted to under $9.00 for some models at Amazon. With so many options in bindings, paper types, sizes and portrait/landscape formats, Stillman & Birn really offers something for everyone!

And I am offering you all the chance to win a free sample! Four winners will be randomly selected from those who enter in any of the following ways:

On Twitter, tweet something containing  “@StillmanandBirn” and “@NotebookStories.

On Facebook, “like” the  Notebook Stories page and the Stillman and Birn page, and post something containing the words “Stillman & Birn” on my wall.

On your blog, post something containing the words “Stillman & Birn” and “NotebookStories” and link back to this post.

And for those who don’t have these other options available to them, you can also enter by leaving a comment on this post.

Since we can have 4 winners, I will pick at least one winner from each entry method above, and each winner will receive at least 2 sketchbooks.

The deadline for entry is Friday June 23 at 11:59PM, EST. Good luck everyone!

So Many Notebooks…

… so little time! I’m way behind on my notebook reviews but here’s a sneak peek at some of what’s in the pipeline!

Dreamday Pattern Journals

Buy at Amazon

to be reviewed - 10

Stillman & Birn Softcover Sketchbooks

Buy at Amazon

to be reviewed - 8

Denik Journals

Buy at Amazon

to be reviewed - 9

Shinola notebook

Buy from their online store

to be reviewed - 3

Peninsula notebook

(sold in Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets)

to be reviewed - 6

Ideal notebook

(from Mexico, not sure if they are sold anywhere in the US right now but I got mine here)

to be reviewed - 4

Iconic Essay notebook

Buy at Amazon

to be reviewed - 5

Black & Red A6 hardcover journal

Buy at Amazon

to be reviewed - 1

Alwych notebook

Larger size available at Amazon

to be reviewed - 2

Hopefully I’ll be able to catch up on these soon! Stay tuned for reviews and some giveaways too!

 

Winsor & Newton Watercolor Sets

One of my other obsessions besides notebooks is art supplies. I have way too many, and I don’t use them as often as I should, but I still treat myself to new ones once in a while. And I have to say, my latest purchase is a perfect notebook companion!

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I’d seen this particular Winsor & Newton watercolor box before, but kept thinking I didn’t need it– and I really don’t need it. I already have 3 other Winsor & Newton travel-size watercolor kits (including ones similar to this and this), plus another small box that I filled myself with empty pans and loaded with gouache. (That actually didn’t work out all that well, gouache works better out of the tube.) I also prefer metal paint boxes to plastic ones, as they seem more durable.

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This new set has their Cotman colors, which are considered student grade, so somewhat lesser quality than the set of artist-grade Winsor & Newton paints I treated myself to a couple of years ago (the black tin seen in the photo above, and opened in the photos below. I don’t think it’s available any more, but Schmincke has a very similar set in a metal box, as does Sennelier.). But it has whole pans, which is very rare for these little sets, and it has slightly different colors than some of my other sets. When it popped up as being a pretty low price on Amazon one day (under $25, which it still is as of this writing), I decided to just go for it. What can I say, I’m weak.

The nice thing is that I can swap out the full size pans for half-pans if I want to fit in twice as many colors. (Even though I usually think less is more when it comes to paints– something like this would be total overkill, in my opinion.)

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I haven’t started using this set yet, but in the meantime I am really loving the size and shape– exactly the same as my favorite notebooks!

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