Tag Archives: antique

A Pattern Book from the V&A Museum

The notebook image below is from an interested blog post from the V&A Museum in London. It’s an example of a pattern book:

“They are reference guides for production. Maybe they show things made by the company in the past, maybe images by competitors, maybe historic objects – all intended to aid in further design. Though they serve the same purposes as an artist’s sketchbook, often the pictures are not drawn, but rather are pasted in and then perhaps annotated or marked-up. Here’s a spread from a book kept by the Leeds ceramic firm Hartley, Greens & Co, which shows the collage-like approach typical of such pattern books.”

The rest of the post talks about other examples of notebooks from their exhibits, including some by Leonardo da Vinci.

Read more at : Duly Noted | Victoria and Albert Museum


Vintage Notebooks from My Collection

Most of my notebooks are ones that I’ve bought new and filled with my own notes and sketches. But I also occasionally succumb to my weakness for collecting other people’s used notebooks when I see them at flea markets or on eBay. Here’s a few that I’ve picked up along the way.

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This Rice-Stix notebook is quite interesting, and if I had a time machine, I’d like to go back and walk through that warehouse to look at the huge variety of things they sold. The floor-by-floor index in the notebook would be quite handy.
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This is technically not a notebook– it’s a bank book. I had a bank book for my own little savings account when I was a kid, but by the time I was in high school, the local bank had been bought out by a big conglomerate and switched to all electronic record-keeping.
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This is just a little jotter with barely any pages left. It looks like it was meant to be refillable, as the pad clips into the cover.
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Below are the interiors of the Carson Pirie Scott notebook seen in the group photo above. Again, an index by floor so you could organize your shopping list. Why don’t supermarkets and department stores today give away notebooks like this?
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The Westinghouse diary is similar in format to many others I’ve seen, and I have similar ones in my collection from General Electric, Harvard Coop, and the Sandoz Corporation. This format seems to have been popular for decades, at least from the ’40s through the ’70s. Maps and population charts were pretty standard, as well as other handy reference tables such as area codes, time zones, and information customized to the company’s employees, in this case relating to engineering.
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These are not all the vintage notebooks I own, just a few relatively recent purchases that were at the top of the pile! Here are some others from my collection that I’ve featured in their own posts:
U. S. Government Printing Office Memorandum Notebook
Western Suede-covered Diary from 1949
eBay Gem: A Decorator’s Pocket Looseleaf Notebook


1911 Catalogue of Stationery

This is extremely cool: a catalog from 1911, featuring all manner of notebooks and other stationery. The only thing that could be cooler would be if you could find some forgotten warehouse that still had all these products in stock!

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Flip through the whole catalog at Catalogue of stationery : section no. 1, blank …. It goes way beyond notebooks and ledgers– there are pencils, pens, writing papers, and school supplies. A real treat!


Found via  the Quo Vadis blog.


A Real Picasso Sketchbook

The Moleskine mythology of having been the notebook used by Picasso, Hemingway, and Chatwin is, of course, not true, as the Moleskine brand didn’t exist until the late 1990s. But since the Moleskines we know today were modeled after similar notebooks used by these and many other artists and writers in the early 20th century, I’ve always wanted to see some examples of these original “carnets moleskines.” Unfortunately, Moleskine’s online presence is so dominating that if you search for “Picasso sketchbook,” all that comes up in Google are the modern day capital-M Moleskines that he never used.

But after some diligent searching, I did find this:


According to this blog post and this one, this is one of Picasso’s actual sketchbooks as displayed in the Musee Picasso in Paris. You can see that it’s a pocket size notebook, with squared pages, and there seems to be a sign of an elastic closure at the bottom edge. On the right edge, there seems to be a pen loop– I’m not sure if this is the kind of “moleskine” the Moleskine brand is modeled after, but it doesn’t bother me that they left out that feature. I do like the red edges, though.
I’ve found some other examples of similar notebooks used for sketchbooks, such as the one on this page, shown below:
Again you can see the same pen loop on the edge and signs of an elastic, though this artist used the book flipped over so it was on the left.

Here’s another one:

According to the description at art.com, it belonged to William Adolphe Bouguereau.

Here, you can see a small sketchbook of Van Gogh’s, but it doesn’t seem to be the same type of notebook:

I wish it was easier to find these images online… but not being able to is a good excuse for a trip to some museums in Europe!

Earl Shaffer’s Little Black Notebook

Here’s something pretty cool from the website of the Smithsonian:

I had never heard of Earl Shaffer but that notebook accompanied him on quite an adventure:

Earl Shaffer was the first person to walk the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in one continuous hike. Shaffer had no expert advice, no previous footsteps to follow, or even guidebooks to help him. At the time, experts believed that a hike of the entire Trail was impossible. Shaffer started his walk in April 1948 at Mount Oglethorpe, Georgia, and completed the Trail four months later at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. Shaffer kept a diary, along with photographs taken along the way, to prove to skeptics that he had really accomplished what he claimed.

Read more: NMAH | Albert H. Small Documents Gallery – Earl Shaffer and the Appalachian Trail | The Little Black Notebook.

Colin’s 1938 Notebook

A reader named Colin sent me photos of a fascinating notebook from his collection:

I thought you might like to see a notebook that dates back to 1938 when my parents rented a flat in Sliema, Malta. The rent was £3.10.0 per month [£3.50 in modern money] and the ink has survived amazingly well over all these years. I found it when going through my deceased Father’s papers.

It is about 4 x 6 1/2″ with 48 lined pages which are edged in blue. The black, glossy cover has a feint, fine, vertical grooving with a hint of a random watermark pattern when the light hits it at the right angle. The cover feels as if it could be damp proof.
There are no maker’s marks. The pages are held in place with a pair of staples that are rusting. No wonder I am into notebooks as I was born in 1938 !

It’s a neat little notebook, similar to today’s Moleskine Cahiers. I love the handwriting and the stamp! And it’s a wonderful treasure for Colin to have something like this to remember his parents by. Thanks again for sharing it, Colin!

eBay Gem: A Decorator’s Pocket Looseleaf Notebook

This has to be the coolest notebook I’ve ever bought. I almost had a heart attack when I stumbled across it on eBay, and it only took me a split second to hit the “Buy it Now” button and grab this beauty for about $45 including shipping. When the notebook arrived in the mail, it was everything I’d hoped for and more!

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Why do I love this notebook so much? First of all, if I’d been able to buy this notebook brand new, it would be perfect. It’s just the right size (about 3 1/2 x 5 1/4″, shown below next to a pocket Moleskine for comparison), with a nice leather cover. No pockets, no frills, no bells & whistles, just a minimalist black looseleaf. I probably have a dozen small black looseleaf notebooks that are similar to this in many respects, but none of them were quite right. This is what I wanted them to be– or to become. Because, of course, this notebook is not brand new– it’s wonderfully broken-in and well-loved. It’s in surprisingly good condition given that it must be at least 60-75 years old, maybe even older. And then there are the contents– lovely paper with red edges and a red top line. Some of the pages are beautifully hand-written in pencil or fountain pen, but some are TYPE-WRITTEN! And there are a few little sketches and floor plans.

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

On the inside back cover, there’s a stamp for the manufacturer, A. Pomerantz & Co. of Philadelphia. The company actually still exists, but they’ve changed a lot: it must have started out as an office supply and stationery company, but they now specialize in workspace design– not just office furniture, but moving and storage, flooring and wall coverings, repair, lighting, asset management, and more.

Decorator's Notebook

One odd thing I noticed about the notebook was that there is no lever to open the rings– usually, there’s something you push at one end of the metal spine to pop the rings open. I figured you must just have to pull these open by carefully grabbing the rings themselves– I was terrified I’d break the mechanism, but I finally tried it and they worked– but they open separately in two groups. If you pull one of the top 3 rings apart, those top 3 rings all come open and the bottom 3 stay closed. I’ve never seen any other looseleaf that operated this way.

The notebook was once the property of an interior decorator– at least, I’m assuming he must have been a decorator based on the contents of the notebook. He seems to have catalogued all sorts of furniture from various stores in New York City, with detailed data on measurements and fabric yards needed for upholstered pieces. There’s a list of store addresses, and in a few pages, he sketched the furniture or a floorplan of a room, and on one page, he stapled in a clipping of a lamp. He also had a timetable for trains into New York, noting the fare. I would imagine that he made periodic buying or research trips into the city so he’d know all the latest furniture styles available for his clients, and kept notes on the rooms he was working on. There don’t seem to be any notes on other aspects of decor such as paint or wallpaper or carpets, so perhaps he was a specialist in furniture who worked for a larger company. Regardless of his exact job, I love how organized he was! He obviously had a system and his notebook was a big part of it.

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

Decorator's Notebook

I would guess that he used this notebook at some point between the 1920s and the 1940s– I found two listings for this man’s name in old census records, obviously a father and son, and also the obituary for the son. The obituary mentioned a career that had nothing to do with decorating, so it must have been the father born in the 1880s who used this notebook. Another clue is that the train line mentioned hasn’t existed since the early 1960s, and I know at least some of the stores listed went out of business years ago. When the son died, a junk dealer probably bought whatever his family didn’t keep and this little notebook made its way onto eBay and into my adoring hands.

I have to confess that I’m obscuring some identifying details because I’d be heartbroken if someone in the family happened to Google their way to this site and think “Gee, that old notebook was pretty cool! We should ask her to give it back to us!” I guess the odds of that happening are pretty slim– it’s hard for me to believe sometimes, but I have to remind myself that a lot of people would just think this was some cruddy old notebook full of obsolete information! But it’s found a loving home with me, and I’d like to think the original owner would be happy to know someone appreciated his notebook and the way he used it.

Historical Notebooks: Diaries of John Wilkes Booth and Theodore Roosevelt

Former Notebook Addict of the Month Paul has sent me some more tips about interesting notebooks.

First is an article from the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society about a diary belonging to John Wilkes Booth. It was in his possession when he was captured after assassinating Abraham Lincoln. In the diary, Booth made two entries during his escape, describing how he carried out the shooting and talking about whether God would approve of his actions. After Booth’s capture, the notebook was turned over to the Secretary of War, and later the House Judiciary Committee, by which point some pages seem to have been removed. Intrigue and conspiracy theories ensue!

Here’s an image from a PDF scan of the article, which you can access or purchase online here.

Paul also sent a link to a Library of Congress website with some pages from Theodore Roosevelt’s pocket diaries, including this one:

On 13 February 1880, an ecstatic Roosevelt recorded his great joy, because the woman of his dreams, Alice Hathaway Lee, who he had actively courted for more than a year, had finally accepted his proposal of marriage. Knowing that his love was reciprocated and that he could now “hold her in my arms and kiss her and caress her and love her as much as I choose” gave the enraptured young Roosevelt enormous satisfaction.

Love that handwriting and the double red lines in the page header. And the text itself is amazing! How sweet to read about his love for his soon-to-be-wife. Unfortunately, tragedy follows only 4 years later:

On February 14, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt received a terrible blow-both his wife and mother died within hours of one another in the Roosevelt house in New York City. His mother, age 50, succumbed to typhus, and his wife Alice died at the age of 22 giving birth to her namesake. The following diary entries lovingly describe his courtship, wedding, happiness in marriage, and his grief over the death of his wife Alice, after which he never spoke of the union again.

It’s just extraordinary what can be contained within the pages of a notebook– how lucky we are that these historical figures kept diaries.

Thanks again to Paul for the great tips!

Analog Productivity

Some interesting thoughts on using non-digital tools for productivity: How Analog Rituals Can Amp Your Productivity :: Tips :: The 99 Percent. But my favorite part is this image!

A Collection a Day, 2010: Day 228

I LOVE the “Collection a Day” blog. Vintage office supplies are often featured, and the other day she posted these old journals:

A Collection a Day, 2010: Day 228