Tag Archives: 1980s

Moleskine Monday: Notebook Nostalgia

I absolutely loved this blog post– one man’s tale of developing the habit of writing in old diaries and journals, including original small-m moleskines, their modern brand name replacements, and the Boots Scribbling Diaries I mentioned in this post. Quoted at length, but please do check out the rest of the original blog post, by Jonathan Le Tocq, a pastor and politician in Guernsey.


“Truth is, I am rather old fashioned; I like pen and ink, pencil and paper, hand and manuscript. I love scribbling my scatty thoughts, doodling my deliberations, and what’s more I love my Moleskine.

Now for you ignorami out there a Moleskine is a little black note-book. I first started using them when I was a student in Paris in the 1980s. They weren’t called Moleskines then, or at least the ones I used were not. I used to buy mine from Gibert Jeune (still our favourite French papeterie [stationers] always worth a family visit – the five of us can happily while away a whole afternoon in Gibert Jeune near Place St Michel, Paris… OK we know we’re weird, but hey, at least we’re happy!)

I started journalling back in 1978 when I was just 13. I used a diary back then, the big Boot’s Scribbling Diary – another classic stationery objet trouvé – which I inherited a liking to from my grandmother who used them up until her death aged 97 in 1975. I say she “used them” whilst actually towards the end of her life at least she simply possessed these diaries out of habit really, keeping them by her bed; the only entries in the last few years being various family members’ birthdays.

They were a comfort to her nonetheless, and an enigma to a young boy – these large navy blue books kept near her bed. So when she graduated I ended up inheriting the remaining tomes, all virtually unused. I was still at primary school when she died and being very close to her emotionally (she lived with us) to begin with I kept these Scribbling Diaries (1970-75) on a bookshelf in my room as a quasi-shrine to her memory. Then one day I found myself getting one down from the shelf and actually scribbling on one of the pages; then making a to-do list the next day on a subsequent blank page, followed later by writing some thoughts on another. Before long I was using it most days to either record something that happened, note a reminder, work out some sums for Maths at school, sketch some ideas, etc. Soon I was taking it to school, using it as a jotter, and it generally became part of my life.

On reaching teenhood I decided to purchase a fresh new Boots Scribbling Diary of my own and this is how my journalling journey began. The following year I bought a different sized Boots Diary, a bit more up market, smaller (A5 size I think, as opposed to the A4 or foolscap Scribbling Diary version) but thicker and page-a-day which meant there was plenty more room to jot a lot when I had the urge.

I didn’t actually know it was called journalling then, I just enjoyed writing things down when I thought about them. It didn’t really matter that it was a diary (though sometimes the dates had a relevance) since my first jotted journallings were in my Gran’s diaries from previous years (so the days and dates did not match up) I just used the spaces as a simple means to distinguish one entry or thought from the next. When I bought my own diary for that particular year though I tried to follow the days and dates in order.

Sometimes the scribblings of one day required 3 or 4 pages, other times there were no scribblings for a few days. This meant that there was quite often a waste of paper and the diary was heavy and cumbersome to carry around. So when I discovered the moleskine back in the 80s as a student in Paris I immediately forsook purchasing diaries, which now seemed impractical and started using these little black books. This style of notebook had been around in Europe for a century or so and was popular with artists and authors such as Hemingway, Matisse and Van Gogh.

In my student days you could pick them relatively cheaply and loads of my compatriots at the Sorbonne used them. Back then there were several firms which made notebooks in this style. The common features were:

  • a hard waterproof vinyl cover (hence moleskine… I think!) which was normally black
  • an elastic strap-band which held the book closed
  • rounded edges
  • an envelope pocket at the inside back cover useful for storing bits in
  • a ribbon page-marker
  • blank, lined or squared paper (I tended to prefer squared because you could use it effectively and neatly any way up)

Some of my original moleskine notebooks also had a snazzy decorative internal cover as seen in the picture of Van Gogh’s notebook above, but some were just plain cream coloured like the ones available today. During my time in Paris I would carry a moleskine around with me everywhere and go through one or two of these notebooks a month on average.

Trouble was, on returning to live in London, I couldn’t find a moleskine anywhere! I later discovered that they’d ceased production. It is only in recent years that an Italian company (calling itself Moleskine) with French connections has happily revived them. So for a while I confess that I transferred my allegiance to Filofax, and at other times I just used any old notebook I could find. Times were hard.

Now I can happily say that I am re-united with Moleskine in its latest incarnation. It’s a tad on the expensive side, but bearing in mind that the design is classic and is therefore not copyright there are a few cheaper manifestations coming on the market. I saw one called the Picadilly when I was in the USA recently, half the price of the Moleskine. When my current batch runs out I may well look to try out the Picadilly variety!”

I wish he’d posted more photos of those original 1980s moleskines and the Boots diaries!

Read more at Tempus Fugit & My Moleskine® | In the unlikely event….

Boorum & Pease/Esselte Black Notebooks

Here’s another old-time favorite of mine:


These are pocket sized notebooks made by Boorum & Pease and Esselte in the 1980s, with lined pages and a textured black hard cover. I look at these now and see them as a sort of proto-Moleskine. I was always looking for a nice “little black book,” in a pocket size, with an unadorned cover. For a while in the late 1980s, these were it for me. I just adored them. I still think their size and thickness is very appealing, though I hate all that huge cover overhang, and nowadays I never use lined notebooks since there are more options with plain and squared pages. (If these had been available with squared pages, I would have died and gone to heaven back then.)

It’s interesting that some were made with squared corners, and some round. Quality control was a bit of an issue– you can see that there’s a huge gap in the spine of one of the notebooks– it came that way when new, it’s not just that the pages are coming loose. Some of the paper in these is getting rather brown with age– not acid-free, I’m guessing!

Shown below with a pocket Moleskine and my other ’80s Boorum & Pease notebooks for size comparison:

I haven’t seen these black notebooks in stores in quite a long time, but I’m happy to report that they are still available online! Right here in the Notebook Stories Store: Pocket Size Bound Memo Book, Ruled, 3-1/4 X 5-1/4, White, 72 Sheets

Boorum and Pease Brown Taped-Spine Notebook

A reader recently wrote to me with the following question:

“I have been looking for a particular kind of notebook for quite some time. I see them more in movies than anything, and examples include JFK and the most recent Captain America movie (see pic below). It’s very similar to the one you have posted for Samuel Beckett. It’s got a brown card stock soft cover, ruled pages, and I believe stapled or stitched binding with a darker color tape (?) placed along the bound edge for reinforcement. They look like the sort of thing that would only cost a dollar or two. I’ve looked everywhere and cannot find them. Do you happen to know where I might find such a thing?”
matthew question

I get so many questions about notebooks where I am completely stumped, but this time, I had some answers! I had a few of these notebooks in my own collection:


I bought these in the 1980s, in various stationery/office supply stores. Mine were made by Boorum & Pease, stock # 6086 1/2. Other brands may also have been available back in the day, perhaps in other parts of the country– Boorum and Pease was a NY/NJ-based company for many years, so these may have been more common in the Northeast. It’s rather quaint to think of regional stationery brands in today’s globalized world, isn’t it! But at least in the area where I grew up, these notebooks used to be pretty common and inexpensive. I loved the look of the reddish-brown cover with the black tape on the spine. The square corners could get beat up, but other than that, they were really handy little notebooks, and it’s a shame they seem to have gone out of fashion.

In searching for a contemporary version online, these were the closest things I could find: Oxford Side Opening 48 SHT Memo Book 5″ x 3″ – # 6080 1/2 and Roaring Springs Sewn Memo Book Item # 76096. There are similar ones on Amazon under the brand names Wilson & Jones and Adams Manufacturing. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t the same pocket sized version as mine– I mainly found listings for larger sizes. I’ve collected all the ones I could find on Amazon (plus some other fun stuff) in the Notebook Stories store under “Retro Style Notebooks.” If anyone else can suggest places to buy these notebooks today, please let us know in the comments!




Old Roaring Spring Notebooks

This is just a small part of an article in which Paul Zahl talks about the movie Super 8:

Recently I came across ten little notebooks, notebooks for a person’s breast pocket, which I used for my to-do lists during the Winter and Spring of 1972-1973. I was a recent college graduate and quite confused, about absolutely everything. A lot was going on, and just barely underneath the surface. It mainly concerned girls, and sex; not to mention who did I wish to be and become. I was striking out on almost every front, though there were a few shafts of light oddly breaking through. But those notebooks, goddammit!

I read them again. They are lists and lists of “urgent” things to do: letters of recommendation to get, applications to complete, courses to take, contacts to make, professions to pursue, taxes to file. Someone named “Mrs. Watson”, the identity of whom I now have no idea but who was probably the administrative assistant to some academic dean, gets innumerable mentions. Yet the only thing I was really thinking about, I mean really, was the person who would later become my wife ; and how she fit in with some possible other person, and so on.

I love those photos of the notebook in its scribble-covered state. I had some of these Roaring Spring notebooks too:

More about mine in this post. I also liked what he said about what he’d written, as I feel the same way about some of my notebooks– so many random jottings and lists of things to do, but musings about life’s bigger questions too, especially relationships!

David Wojnarowicz’s Journals

I love seeing artist’s notebooks, especially ones like this with notes about how the artist is working out an idea as opposed to just sketches. Below is a journal page by David Wojnarowicz, a controversial artist who died of AIDS in 1992. (If you want to learn more about him and the 1980s East Village NYC art scene he was a part of, check out this book: Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz.)



Read more about the online archive of Wojnarowicz’s journals at David Wojnarowicz’s Journals Make His Private World Very Public.

Random Notebooks from My Collection

Here’s a few things I pulled out of one of my storage boxes, about half of which is filled with childhood notebooks from the late ’70s to mid-’80s.

First, a small orange looseleaf notebook. I was probably in about 6th grade when I decided to devote it to Astronomy and colored the cover with a metallic marker, which I guess I thought might look kind of futuristic and space-y. I pasted in a few pages worth of astronomy pictures, but didn’t get very far with it. Instead of using looseleaf paper, I filled the binder with pages from two spiral notebooks, including the back cover of one of them.

random notebooks02random notebooks04random notebooks03random notebooks05

This 1981 diary was used over a period of several years, when I went from having no idea how to fill a page other than with doodles to at least writing some little lists and comments about my friends and homework I had to do. I loved this kind of diary, which always included extra pages with useful info. Note how I amended the list of US presidents with the newly-elected Ronald Reagan.

random notebooks06random notebooks07random notebooks09random notebooks08

I made this fabric notebook cover myself, gluing it together as best I could, probably because my mother didn’t want to sew it for me. She used to do a lot of sewing, so there were always fabric scraps for me to turn into notebook covers, but most of them didn’t turn out very well, as I tended to have overly complicated ideas about secret pockets and pen holders. This one contains a stapled pad I made out of some sort of billing forms from Harvard, which one of my relatives used to bring home from the office for me to scribble on. I never wrote anything more than this one thing on the first page of the notebook.

random notebooks10random notebooks12random notebooks11random notebooks 11
That’s it for today, but there’s plenty more where these came from:
random notebooks01

Early 1980s “Comp” Pocket Memo Notebooks

Here’s a notebook that I liked so much, I had to buy three of them.


I still love the concept of these: the look of a composition book in a different size. I’ve always loved the black and white patterned covers of the traditional composition book, but I have not usually wanted to use something that size. They make pocket size notebooks that look like composition books, but it always drove me crazy that they kept the same squarish format rather than the 3 x 5″ rectangle I preferred. (That didn’t stop me from buying a few, and in at least one case, I trimmed the cover and pages down to the appropriate golden rectangle proportions!)

So whoever came up with these (the brand is only identified as “A.D.I. Inc.”)was brilliant: the black and white pattern and the space for writing your name, but in a lovely 3 x 5″ spiral notebook.

The pattern carries over to the back cover too, which shows nice attention to detail. And on the back cover, you notice an interesting discrepancy: two of these were made in Taiwan, but one was made in Korea. The only differences between the Korean notebook and the others are that it has a metal spiral, and a slightly different color paper. The Taiwanese notebooks have plastic spirals that are doubled back into the same hole at each end to keep them from unraveling.


As with my other 1980s notebooks, I filled these with some notes for junior high school class work (some of which seems to be in someone else’s handwriting) as well as random doodling, including a pretty good copy of a character from the Tintin books and a not-very-good sketch of the cover of my favorite B-52s album at the time.

At this age, I remember wanting to fill the pages of notebooks but feeling like I didn’t know what to write– I rarely kept an actual diary or a real sketchbook, I just fiddled around and scribbled things like these. In some ways, I wish I’d written more details about my life at that time, but nevertheless, I find these old notebooks a lot of fun to flip through.

An Unusual 1980s Spiral Notebook


This notebook is one of the gems of my collection because I’ve never seen anything else quite like it. I must have bought this in the early 80s, at one of the various five-and-ten stores in my area. It’s just a generic mass-produced notebook. But this cover just fascinates me! There is something so weird and trippy about the image, which seems to be a collage of architectural photographs around the photo of a thinking man. Whose idea was it to put this image on the cover of a mass-produced notebook? Other notebooks on the market at this time had plain colored covers, or cutesy images or sunsets or rainbows or Snoopy. The story I’ve invented for myself is that the fuddy-duddy old owner of a printing company was trying to pass on the family business to the next generation and his acid-dropping hippy son begrudgingly involved himself by designing some notebook covers that would look a bit more mod and happening than their other offerings.

Anyway, whatever the real story is, I remember staring at this cover, trying to fathom its mysteries. You can still see where I traced some of the image outlines with a ballpoint pen. As for the back cover, for some reason, I’d taped a piece of notebook paper over it. You can see underneath that it was sold by the Top Scholar company of Columbia, MD, but made in Korea.


Inside the notebook, the pages are covered with the usual things I filled notebooks with in those days: lists of information we were studying in school, and doodles and drawings and diagrams, from some sort of electrical wiring idea to a sketch of a bearded Wonder Woman.





There was even a commentary on the notebook itself:


Happy Valentine’s Day!

This seemed like an appropriate notebook for today:

Actually, the contents of this notebook are anything but romantic. My mother gave it to me in 1981 and asked me to keep a diary while she was away for a couple of weeks, helping her sister with a newborn baby. I dutifully chronicled everything I did, from books I read to going to museums with my dad, to having fights with my little sister. Mostly the fights!

Mid-1980s Vernon McMillan Notebook

Here’s an oldie but goodie, which I used during my freshman year of college:
It was made by the Vernon McMillan company, based in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The “Memo Book” typography is pretty cool… and check out that snazzy, wave-like VM logo! I love the mottled orange cover– I don’t know if there’s a name for this kind of cardboard, but you used to see it used a lot more for the covers of notebooks and looseleaf binders. It doesn’t seem to be as common nowadays, but I think someone needs to bring it back into favor!

The back is a nice plain cardboard, quite thick.


One thing I love about this notebook is the ratio of the thickness of the paper to the diameter of the wire spiral. I really hate it when spirals stick way out beyond the paper, but this one is nice and tight.


The spiral is in surprisingly good shape considering that this knocked around in my bag for quite a while. I guess I’m so fond of notebooks that I unconsciously take good care of them.


As always, I find random things jotted down on pages. I’ve yet to answer the question below:


I must have started this notebook right at the beginning of the school year, as I was writing down course materials I had to buy and notes about classes.


There were also a lot of notes about how much money I had and was spending, homework assignments, and other random anxieties of a college student, plus several pages that a friend scribbled all over when one of my roommates let her into my room to wait for me while I was out. At the time I was rather annoyed that she’d wasted all these pages of my nice notebook, but it’s a funny thing to look back at now.

I never use spiral notebooks like this any more, but I do love looking at all the old ones I’ve saved. You just can’t buy them like this any more…