Tag Archives: William Hannah

The William Hannah A5 notebook

A little bit of history  The disc-binding concept has been around for so long that the copyright lapsed long ago, as we covered in our previous article about the system.  But, despite the binder design being out there for all to use for quite a while, until recently there were few really smart-looking notebooks which employed it.  Then we discovered that a new brand had been born, right in the heart of little Britain – and in a trice, our band of hardened critics had all bought one!  So, what makes this disc-binder so thoroughly irresistible?


How it looks  Well, how it looks is certainly part of the magic, coming as it does in a very tasteful array of colours. The outer leather is tough enough to knock about in most bags and come up looking handsome, whereas the inner suede-style leather can be selected in a range of rather groovier shades like purple and turquoise. It looks seriously classy.  For a little extra, you can also specify the colour of threads and get a monogram embossed onto the front as well.

How it feels  It feels pretty classy too. The outer leather is nicely tactile, and the inners are hard to resist stroking. The pages turn easily, and of course they pop in and out quite easily when you need to re-arrange them, too. Writing in one of these feels rather luxurious, which may sound an odd thing to claim from the humble act of putting nib to paper – but everyone who has tried finds themselves reporting the same experience. It also feels pretty good pitching up to a meeting knowing that you have the coolest notebook in the room, honestly.TanWHHow it fills  Now this is where life can get quite interesting for those who wish to have something very custom-made. The first thing that has to be mentioned is the impressive refill service available from William Hannah directly; the brand’s own paper (recently upgraded) came out very favourably in our tests, and as well as coming pre-punched for the disc-binder (naturally enough), it can be printed with dots, lines or grids in an ink which complements or contrasts with the colour of your notebook. There are also rather neat subject dividers available from the manufacturer now, so it’s perfectly possible to keep the whole thing ‘in house’ and have it working very well indeed.


Come on now, that’s not the only way to fill it  Well, naturally enough we were also tempted to try out the alternatives, which anyone with a guillotine and a punch can do (the Atoma punch works perfectly but is shockingly overpriced, whereas the Arc punch just about works but is much more affordable).  Our testing panel came up with some surprising conclusions, as well as one or two entirely predictable ones!  For fountain pen obsessives, it’s perhaps no great shock that Clairefontaine Triomphe still rocks many scribbler’s worlds.  Slightly more surprisingly, competitor Atoma’s paper, while not notably fountain pen friendly, fares much better in tests with a pencil carried out by Matthias.  Rob introduced us to the splendidly-smooth British Advocate Xtreme, and the impressively multi-purpose German Gmund Tactile paper. Fabriano’s Italian offering seemed one of the most effective for dot-grid paper, while despite the impressive range of colours available, even apricot could not convince our contributing classical musician that Swiss Artoz1001 was quite the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to finding a surface which you can actually write on!  For anyone wanting a good wallow in the dizzying range of options (and pointers on a few to avoid), Rob has a very detailed blog post and Scribble has set up a complete new blog on the subject.WHrings-from-the-end

Crucially, how it works…  You open it up, slide a pen out of the optional pen-holder, and write!  Of course, the really handy thing is that you can re-arrange the pages to your heart’s content without the annoying clicking and grinding of ‘traditional’ ring binders.  When you have filled it up, you can decant your notes into one of the excellent archive packs which William Hannah has just started selling, featuring some of the largest aluminium discs available (they have holes in them, so technically they’re rings, but let’s go with standard nomenclature for now).  The whole system has clearly been properly thought-through and does just what it should do.

Book! What is it good for?  Plenty of owners take one to work, and in most professions that’s probably a great idea; it looks the part, and you can smuggle in some personal notes without embarrassment. But it’s also great for journal-writing or, as Ruth often demonstrates, reviewing fountain pens!

VFM  Value is a subjective thing with this as with all products, of course. £95 sounds like quite a lot of money – until you pick one of these up and see what you’re getting. This is a seriously high-quality product which will last for years and years, and apart from the Italian leather the whole thing comes from Britain; the metalwork is custom-made in Leicester, and the covers are sewn in Melton Mowbray.  Bear in mind the development and production costs, and it becomes more of a surprise that this is available for anything less than a three-figure sum. To put it in context, a rather prominent international stationery brand (yes, you know who) makes a boring black A5 leather organiser which retails for more than four times as much, and that doesn’t even feature the disc-binding system – so isn’t half as useful.  The William Hannah notebook is perhaps something of a luxury, but it’s one that really works for its living.Discs (or rings)

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  We respectfully invite you to reconsider! Seriously, this is lovely, it works brilliantly and there’s not much out there to compare with it.  Atoma and Arc both sell leather covers for their versions of the disc-binding system, and in the US Discbound Marketplace offer custom-made binders using Arc-style plastic discs, although it’s probably fair to say that many of these would struggle to compete with William Hannah’s form and function.  If you like the look of the notebook but would just like it in different size, there may be hope on the horizon; an A6 version is in the pipeline (probably as a custom offer initially) and there may even be an A4 version to follow one day.

The archive binder’s rings, doing their impression of Newcastle central station

Our overall recommendation  You have probably guessed by now; we recommend saving up for one of these and treating yourself, if you can.

The new subject dividers work well in the archive binder too.

Where to get hold of one  This is only sold ‘direct’, and the customer service is so good that we really don’t think that’s a bad thing.  You can catch the maker himself at numerous pen shows, or just head straight to the user-friendly website. Be prepared to be tempted if you do. By the way, if you do give in to that temptation any time in the next couple of months, mention United Inkdom in the comments/requests box and you’ll get an extra pack of paper included in the deal.

As well as the hyperlinks above (thanks to ‘James’ and Matthias for you contributions too), this meta-review references:

Thanks to  William Hannah for helping some of us reviewers get hold of the notebook (and various add-ons) early for reviewing purposes.

The disc-binding system (and the bounteous joy thereof)

Atoma blank paper
Those leettle mushrooms in action

What’s all this about, then?  Well, when you have notes strewn hickledy-pickledy all over different parts of a notebook and you want to re-arrange them, generally speaking you can’t – unless, that is, you have a flexible binding system which allows you to pop pages in and out as you jolly well please.  The trouble is, most of the binding systems commonly available destroy the paper quite quickly and make a fearful mess, and that wretched two-hole system which is almost ubiquitous on the high street is the worst offender of the lot. Surely previous, pre-computer generations must have wrestled with this problem too? Well of course they did, and they came up with an ingenious solution too, using a row of little holes shaped like mushrooms and simple discs to hold them all together.

Rhodiatoma in Roterfaden
Rhodiatoma in Roterfaden

Hang about, when did all this happen?   About a century ago, or thereabouts.  The exact moment of inspiration is hard to pin down, but the main claimants to fame are André Thomas and Andre Martin, who devised the concept for Papeteries Georges Mottart some time between when the company formed in 1923, and when the patent changed hands in 1948.  The names of the inventors supposedly formed the handy brand Atoma, and the company of the same name still sells about a million notebooks a year in its native Belgium – with the rest of the world getting a modest 20% of its output.

Many A5 Atomised notebooks (and one A6)

So, that patent must have expired by now? It certainly has, whatever date you start counting from.  That hasn’t prevented a little flurry of claims, counter-claims and litigation in the US (check out Levenger vs. Feldman if you want the grisly details),  but these days it’s open season.  Atoma itself is still going strong, and also produces the Adoc presentation-binding system; Atoma notebooks are available in the UK via Cult Pens and the occasional Adoc product reaches Amazon.  Clairefontaine in neighbouring France (known to us all for Rhodia paper) makes the Clairing notebooks, which are also sporadically available in Britain.  A kibbutz in Israel made Flic notebooks using the system until the mid-1990s but threw in the towel, citing far eastern competition and the reluctance of German customers to accept non-biodegradable plastics – but not before significantly muddying the waters for US disc-binding suppliers Rollabind and Levenger (see court case above), who both still seem to do thriving business selling the system to the north American market.  Staples have exploited the patent expiry to produce a budget disc-binding system in China, and Filofax has recently started marketing a similar system employing less robust wire loops rather than solid discs (as also produced by Miraclebind, who rather unnecessarily miss one of the holes in the row).  Finally, this open season has sparked some serious custom loveliness right here in Blighty, but we’ll save the best for last.The discs have landed

Enough already!  How do I try this out?  Essentially there are two choices; go DIY or buy a ready-made disc-bound notebook.  In practice, you’ll probably find yourself buying a ready-bound notebook and then tinkering with it, like all of us have – but then again, that’s part of the fun.  By ‘fun’, we mean rigorously efficient and productive use of the stationery budget, obviously.  We’ll tell you a little about each of the main options available in the UK as we go…

Atoma’s smallest disc and Arc’s biggest (show-offs)

Atoma notebooks are available in the popular A5 and A4 sizes as well as a fairly handy pocket A6 version (NB for quite large pockets!).  Although their basic offering uses plastic discs in a pleasing range of colours, it doesn’t cost much to trade up to tough and shiny aluminium alternatives, available in three rising sizes to accommodate the ever-bulging fruits of one’s feverish scribblings.  As Ian discovered, there is nothing to prevent the cheeky insertion of Atoma’s nice metal discs into disc-punched paper provided by competitors, so there is ample room for customisation.  We find the standard cream paper (which is a bit wider than standard A5/A4 sizes) to be fairly good, albeit with a bit more texture than is perhaps ideal; not the most hostile to fountain pens, but not actually the most FP-friendly either.

Disc-bound scribblings for toomanypurples.blogspot.co.uk

Clairefontaine’s Clairing notebooks do much the same thing as Atoma’s cheaper plastic-disc notebooks, albeit with Clairefontaine paper, which by popular consensus is for most purposes is about the best there is.  They come with handy subject dividers as standard, too.  There are a few flies in the ointment, however; the plastic rings could do with a polish so that they turn easily, the enormous margins rather get in the way, and the peculiar decision to go much wider than standard A5 size means that the paper would have to be trimmed-down to fit other disc-bound notebooks.  Bizarrely, the rear of the package proclaims a Patent Pending number (not a chance, sorry) – but hopefully Clairefontaine will read the material above and let that go.  Thanks to the quality of the paper and the nice subject dividers, it has potential.

Clairefontaine’s Clairing notebook up close

Staples’ Arc notebooks are made in China, but on this occasion that shouldn’t necessarily put you off as a customer.  The rings are cheap plastic, but available in enormous radii which make for affordable archiving at least – and the big surprise is the Arc paper, which is remarkably good quality; inexpensive, a good weight and non-feathering when attacked with a big wet nib.

The contents of approximately 3.5 Rhodia Webbies, stripped and bound cheaply with Arc components

William Hannah notebooks are made right here in Britain – well we did say we’d save the best for last!  Their guiding genius felt the same frustration with notebooks which don’t come apart and go back together and, after a few kitchen experiments, realised the disc-binding system was the answer.  Then he rebuilt the concept from scratch to make a notebook that justifiably claims to be ‘luxury’.

This is what a William Hannah notebook looks like…

Italian leathers sewn in Leicestershire, stainless steel discs engineered in Nottinghamshire (with a retaining pin to keep the whole thing together even without paper in it), and marketing from the centre of the country by a fountain pen enthusiast who has found a secret stash of good paper and will even print lines, dots or grids in a colour of your choice. Now, this sort of combination is never going to be cheap – it’s the other end of the price scale from a cheap basic Arc, obviously – but it looks and feels the part, and if you want to turn up to a meeting with a notebook which makes a fitting accompaniment to your posh new fountain pen, why not have one that’s properly British?

…and now you want one too. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Hang on, you missed the DIY option!  Big, cripplingly expensive and seemingly impregnable, it was never going to be any match for a moment’s onslaught from precision German engineering.  But enough about the Maginot Line.  Atoma also make a big Belgian punch for home use, which enables one to make up A4/5/6 binders with any paper that suits; Clairefontaine writing pads work very well, for instance.  The twin catches of this arrangement are that it can only handle a few sheets at once (even thick card will flummox it), and it costs an eye-watering £139 at UK retail prices.  On balance, the compatible Arc punch at £34 is probably a safer bet for now, although we think there is room for some competition at a better price than Atoma and greater sturdiness than Arc.

It works for A4 too, with Optik paper in the bottom example here, and Clairefontaine on top.

So your recommendation is? Check your piggy bank, see which of the above options fits, and go for it.  It’s a great system and will put you satisfyingly in control of something, however daft the rest of the day may be.

Yes, gorgeous, isn’t it?

This meta-review draws upon:

Ruth’s full video review of the William Hannah notebook

Ruth’s unboxing video of the William Hannah notebook

Ian’s review of the home-punched alternatives

Scribble’s reviews of the Atoma and William Hannah notebooks

Discs deployed to rehabilitate a battered old pocket A-Z (copyright the Geographers’ Map Company, etc.)