Monthly Archives: September 2017

Personalised Stationery A5 notebooks review

A little bit of history  The old-school (but not specifically for use in educational environments) exercise book has been making a big come-back over the last year or so, proving both a handy way to try different paper out, and a means of taking something a bit different into meetings.  With the advent of full-size A5 covers like those offered by Start Bay, they’ve started attracting a following amongst people writing travel journals and the like, too.  So it’s good to see a small, bespoke operation in the heart of little old Blighty making some really distinctive offerings to add to the selection out there. We could hardly wait to get started in putting them to test…

How it looks  Each of the Personalised Stationery creations is a bit of portable art in its own right, so we picked two to get us started – and so that enough of us could try them to put together a meta-review, of course. The company’s main product is customised writing paper, as the name suggests, so they have come up with some creative designs one that looks remarkably like a pair of jeans, and another which resembles the secret dossier for the D-Day landings. We thought they looked very cool indeed.

How it feels  Smooth, and this is going to turn out to be important!

How it fills  These are pre-stapled notebooks, so there’s not too much scope for alteration once delivered.  However, looped staples may be in the offing sometime soon, and the books come with a decent quantity of paper for most people’s uses.

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  Excellently. The Fedrigoni paper selected for these notebooks is a delight to write on with a real nib, and tough enough to take a bit of abuse too. After experiencing the indifferent performance of many of the mass-market expensive alternatives, it’s something of a revelation.

Pulp! What is it good for?  It’s good for taking to work, using as a planner, keeping a diary, or even writing poetry – anything which you’d only really want to do with a proper fountain pen, really. ‘Can’t think of anything you’d do without one?  Don’t worry, you’re in good company on this site…

VFM  These represent pretty solid value in our view. At £5.95 they are not the cheapest A5 notebook available, but for the quality of the product they compete well with comparable offerings from Clairefontaine – which can offer nice paper for that sort of price, but not the line/dot options or the interesting cover artwork. It’s also an absolute steal for a product which is hand-made in the UK.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Contact Rob at Personalised Stationery and he’ll most likely be able to knock up something exactly tailored to your needs.  This is an offer we have already tested and the response was impressive.

Our overall recommendation  This is the sort of product that most fountain pen fans will love, at a price which is a bargain, from the type of specialist maker we all like to support.  ‘Bit of a no-brainer, really: get one.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from the source is the simplest way.  But there may also be one or two interesting collaborations in the pipeline very soon…

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Rob at Personalised Stationery for product samples.

 

Bureau Direct profile

Selling fountain pens, inks and good paper is a niche business, clearly – but it’s also a fast-growing niche, inhabited by splendid people with refined tastes.  So it’s always good to encounter a small firm thriving by doing the right thing, and if you’re a stationery fan then you probably already know Bureau Direct is one of those!

Still run by siblings Jo and Dominic, the team is now around nine in total (it varies at peak demand times), and thanks to Mishka there’s a good chance you’ll already have encountered them via social media.  As a big deal in the online world, it’s interesting to discover that they started out with a bricks-and-mortar shop – in Covent Garden, no less. But as the internet shopping boom started, well, booming, the rents for such premises rose and the opportunities in cyber-space grew proportionately.  So the team now has a spacious base to the west of London, with racks of exotic stationery aplenty.

Fountain-pen friendly paper is a big deal for this company, and the array of black and red Rhodia items on the shelves of the warehouse are quite an impressive site.  What will grab many fountain pen fans is that there’s enough of a customer base to engage in the occasional spot of innovation too.  We ran a meta-review of one of their popular lines last week, the stapled Tomoe River notebook from Taroko Design. That’s proved so popular that Taroko have collaborated with Bureau Direct to make an even more sophisticated sewn-bound notebook, the Breeze, which we suspect is going to be a big hit too.

The team have been doing well bringing some interesting niche inks into the UK market, too, especially as one of the original trail-blazers for the impressive KWZ inks – and the news is that more colours, and possibly a few more iron-gall inks too, are on the way. Bureau Direct is the sole importer of Australia’s Blackstone inks on these shores, too; and hard as it may be to convince readers of this by text, our visiting reporter can vouch for their claim to be some of the most aromatically delightful inks you’re likely to come across.

Bureau Direct sell pencils and other paraphernalia too, of course, and one of the best ways to keep up to date with incoming temptations is to sign up for their email newsletters, which come with some very handy discounts too. But what you might not know unless you happen to be passing the warehouse is that they have gone back to their roots and set up an in-house testing area, so if you want to try out one of their range of fountain pens (Kaweco, TWSBI and Lamy are all on hand) or see how some of that rare ink behaves on some exotic paper, there’s a very tempting desk surrounded by very cool gear, and yes – you can just arrange to drop in! Expect to hear from this lovely bunch; we reckon we’ve clocked them as fellow enthusiasts. In the meantime, in the very unlikely event of you not having seen their website already, take a peek

 

Taroko Design A5 stapled notebook

A little bit of history  There are various theories about where the Austronesian family of languages sprang from, but one of the more popular has the roots on the island of Formosa, or Taiwan as we know it today.  One of these indigenous tribes, the Truku, also gave their name to an area known as Taroko, now a national park. Rather curiously, but entirely suitably for our purposes, this notebook brand therefore indirectly translates as ‘human’.  So we sent samples to a few more humans to put that rather splendid heritage to  the test.

How it looks  It looks like a basic school text book, and a pretty cheap one if truth be told. Appearances are deceptive on both counts; underneath those dull brown covers lies a rather sophisticated offer – at a price to match.

How it feels  Gossamer-thin, unnervingly light and smooooooooooooth.  This is all thanks to the famous/infamous Tomoe River, which like the Taroko national park was a Japanese innovation but is evidently configured a whole lot more usefully in the ROC.

How it fills  This is a stapled notebook, so it’s pretty much pre-filled and the thin nature of the paper makes it difficult to alter that.  But for most purposes there are enough sheets to make use of.

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  This is where the investment pays off. The Tomoe River paper is thick enough to handle a fountain pen nib without wrinkling (albeit it only just), and the smooth surface is a pleasure to write on.  Like other very smooth paper surfaces (Clairefontaine Triomphe, for instance) it shows the sheen well, too. It may be flimsy, but you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Pulp! What is it good for?  It seems to be very popular for ink journals, thanks to the sheen, although it is perhaps a bit expensive just for leaking dribbly nibs on.  The low profile and featherweight qualities mark it out as an ideal travel journal, however.

VFM  These are not the cheapest notebooks out there, by any stretch of the imagination. But if you are travelling and don’t want to be without some truly fountain-pen friendly paper, or if you want sneak some inconspicuous exotica which looks like a school exercise book into work, it’s not going to break the bank.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There’s nothing quite as thin and light as this on the market which we could recommend, but if it’s just the smoothness and sheen-loving finish you’re after then Clairefontaine’s A5 ‘age bag’ notebook does a similar job at about half the price.

Our overall recommendation  If you’re travelling or have a need for a genuinely nib-loving exercise book which you can squeeze into even the bulgingest briefcase, give it a go.

Where to get hold of one  It is sometimes possible to buy directly from Taroko studio in Taiwan, but it’s not especially straightforward.  Several of us have bought one from Bureau Direct in the UK and had no problems doing so, and the price is no greater so that looks like the smarter option in this case.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Bureau Direct for kindly donating the samples.

Platinum Classic inks

A little bit of history  For anyone who’s just survived the British summer, it can be hard to believe that wasps do anything useful at all; the big ones ruin picnics and the tiny ones kill bees. But as it happens, some of those very small wasps inadvertently serve a human purpose by making nests on the surface of the sturdy oak tree – because those ‘iron galls’ in turn provide the source material for a permanent ink formula recipe used since Pliny the Elder. Pliny Senior unfortunately failed to describe the formula in sufficient detail before the eruption of Vesuvius did for him, but patient scribes have been perfecting it ever since. When it works well, it can preserve documents for millennia.  When it goes wrong and the ink gets too acidic, it can eat the writing surface – and it has form for eating fountain pens too, so it’s a brave manufacturer who ventures into this market.  But Diamine, KWZ and Rohrer and Klingner have found ways to make the recipe safe, and now Platinum have come along with no less than six shades of iron gall ink to get creative with. The United Inkdom team set out to put it to the test – said team including a chemist, a calligrapher and two historians, so there was no fear of punches being pulled.

How it looks  This changes in the first minute that it spends on the paper – it goes on quite bright, especially the Citrus and Cassis varieties, then quickly darkens as it oxidises.  None of the shades darken all the way to black, so the naming convention (Lavender Black, Forest Black, etc.) is a little misleading, but the transformation from light to dark is impressive – and rather fascinating to watch.

How it smells  Now let’s be honest, not all specialist inks are terribly pleasant to the nose . This one requires a chemical reaction to work, which you can actually see in front of your eyes, as the video below demonstrates – and as this ink is not pigment-based, it’s not technically watching paint dry.  But despite all that exciting stuff going on, there’s nothing malodorous to report.  Phew.

Crucially, how it writes…  Perfectly well! It’s perhaps just a touch drier than some ‘standard’ fountain pen inks, but a decent fountain pen can handle it with ease.  Given that this is still a permanent ink and even the new, gentler, formula has some acidity to it, a fountain pen which doesn’t dry out too easily is a wise choice (one of Platinum’s own #3776 models is a good place to start), and of course it’s worth giving it a good flush out after a few days with iron gall ink in there.  But you can pop it into the barrel of your ‘serious nibbage’ without too much fear of damage.

Ink! What is it good for?  As Nick capably demonstrates, it’s great for calligraphy.  Since it’s an iron gall ink it should be acceptable if you’re signing a marriage register, and as it’s permanent it should do for addressing the wedding invitations too (the ink is partially washable, but even if it gets rained on the text will still be legible).  Lavender Black, which seems to be the consensus pick of the bunch, could be good for one’s secret diary (you have one of those, right?). Or you could just have fun with them, like we did!VFM  These are not cheap inks, it has to be admitted; £22 will buy you a fairly respectable fountain pen these days, after all. But some of Platinum’s ‘Classic’ colours are really easy on the eye – and if you are using this for a special event, it’s not going to be that big a dent in the stationery budget.

The ink is partially washable, but the text remains legible

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  If you just need an iron gall ink and aren’t too concerned by the traditional blue-grey shade, then standard registrar’s ink will inevitably be quite a bit less expensive, and there’s plenty of that about (try Diamine). There are also other coloured iron gall inks available, usually at a lower price, from KWZ and Rohrer & Klingner.  Alternatively, if you’re a Platinum fan and just need something permanent, some of their pigment-based inks aren’t bad and their carbon ink is amongst the blackest of the black.Our overall recommendation  We think these are pretty impressive inks, and conjure up a wider and more interesting palette than iron gall formulae can usually manage. If you have a sensible use for a permanent ink and fancy something a bit different, a 60ml bottle will do the job well.  Given the significant cost our tip is to pick one or two which really take your fancy rather than going straight for the whole set.Where to get hold of some  We got ours direct from Cult Pens, and that’s a good place to start – they are the official Platinum dealers for the UK, and as it happens it’s where many of us have acquired our #3776s from too.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Cult Pens for donating the review samples.