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Awesome Notebook Exhibit in New York City! Go now!

January 27th, 2011 · 11 Comments · Uncategorized

For all you notebook lovers out there, the Morgan Library in New York City is running a special exhibition that shouldn’t be missed.

http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/images/current/hawthorne-sophia.jpg

On display through May 22, 2011, the Morgan has pulled an incredible array of historical notebooks, from such figures as Charlotte Bronte, Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan and John Steinbeck. Leatherbound, spiral, enormous, unbelievably tiny, the exhibit drives home the point that the perfect notebook means something different to everyone.

Also on display are examples of notebooks sold through the ages, including a small notepad from the 1600′s with “erasable pages” – paper that was covered in a waxy surface that could be removed by rubbing with a cloth.

The exhibit only fills one room, but is definitely worth it if you’re willing to take time to appreciate each one.

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What’s Your New Favorite Little Black Notebook?

January 12th, 2010 · 64 Comments · Uncategorized

Wow – I had no idea that it’s now been over a year since my last review.

A lot of people have written asking me where I disappeared to and why I stopped writing notebook reviews. It’s pretty simple: I stopped writing reviews because I had covered all the notebooks that interested me on the market at the time. While a few obscure black notebooks were coming out of Europe, most were not interesting enough to merit paying the exorbitant overseas shipping costs. Meanwhile, I had received a bunch of sample notebooks that depressed me, and I wasn’t going to put them up on the site just to give them a bad review. So I decided to put the site on hiatus.

I logged in today to clean out some spam, and was amazed to find that my reviews were being used as message boards by notebook fans to communicate about their own experiences with a given notebook, where to purchase it, etc. A year later, and it looks like there are quite a few new contenders to be reviewed.

So tell me: what little black notebook is long overdue for a review on this site?

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Quick Update

March 4th, 2009 · 36 Comments · black book

Quick update -

Many of you have been writing over the past few months to ask about the site’s lack of posts. Part of the reason is that my (non-notebook-related) job is keeping me very, very busy at the moment. But a larger reason is that I honestly haven’t seen any notebooks recently that really intrigue me. I have a few lying around that have yet to be reviewed, but I’ve been avoiding this because they’re all in the “so-so” to “pretty useless” range. I’d rather just not review them instead of spending a whole entry trashing them.

I hope to post some updates soon on how a few choice notebooks have held up to wear and tear. And as soon as a decent notebook comes along, I’ll review it in a heartbeat. For those of you who were worried, Black Cover’s not going anywhere – we’re just waiting for something good to come our way!

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Japanese Minimalism: The Midori Traveler’s Notebook

December 8th, 2008 · 39 Comments · black book

The Midori Traveler’s Notebook, a leather-bound journal from Japan, is something I’ve been wanting to review for a quite a while.  Advertised as the notebook for “all the travelers who have a free spirit,” I’ve received numerous e-mails asking us for a review, and more importantly, how to get one.

However, as far as I can tell, Midori products are not sold anywhere in the United States. Repeated e-mails to the company website went unanswered, and I had pretty much given up on reviewing one of these when I stumbled on Just Ann’s blog, which had full instructions for ordering from a Japanese online retailer. I was a bit skeptical, but less than a week after I placed my order, I had a copy of the journal in my hands direct from Japan (full ordering instructions to follow this review).

The notebook offers its own summation on the attached insert: “Each leather cover is made by hand in Chiangmai, a city in northern Thailand. It appeals its own raison d’etre by the simplicity: roughly cut leather and a rubber band with the clasp made of tin. The inside notebook is made in Japan carefully and has Midori’s original paper made to pursue the highest comfortability to write.”

Midori further encourages the owner to “please write down at random what you feel or what you think in the cafe you dropped into during your travel, which will surely be your precious treasure. Besides, you may find a new feature every day, going to work, having this ntoebook in your hand. It may change your life.”

OK, so the English translation is a bit spotty, but I have to admit that the romanticism of this idea got to me. A simple notebook made for trekking across the world? Something that Indiana Jones might carry on adventures to Egyptian tombs and, er, sidewalk cafes? Sign me up!

We’re reviewing the brown version today, though a black version is also available (I would’ve reviewed the black version, except I think it looks somewhat like a check book).

This journal is totally different from anything we’ve previously reviewed.  First off, size-wise, it measures in at approximately 8.5″x4.5″ (21.5cmx11.5cm), which pretty much prohibits pocket travel. In comparison to the Moleskine…well, there really is no comparison.

But that’s OK. It’s one thing to attempt to be a pocket notebook and fail by being an inch or two too wide.  It’s another to never intend to be a pocket notebook, and the Midori fits this category. It feels much better suited to an inner jack pocket, or some sort of travel bag.

The cover, as mentioned earlier, is hand made in northern Thailand. It’s real leather, a rarity amongst most of the journals we’ve reviewed, and feels (and smells!) great. It scuffs and scratches very easily like real leather, but much of this can easily be buffed out. The insert reminds you, “this notebook has a leather cover, which the more you use, the better quality it becomes…The leather quality changes and scratches remain as your memories, this notebook will be more precious than ever to you.” OK, there’s some exaggeration here, but it is both simple and of high quality.

It’s also very, very flexible:

You could pretty easily roll this up and shove it in your back pocket, but fresh out of the box, you’re probably not going to want to do that. It feels like it wants to be treated with a little more respect, for better or for worse. An elastic band comes out of the center of the back cover to keep the notebook shut, and I have to say that this elastic band is damn tight.

As you can see, the leather is very rough (as it should be) on the reverse side. The journal is meant to be reusable, and an elastic band around the spine allows you to easily remove Midori paper inserts when you run out. This is a very good thing, as the included insert only has about 60 pages.

The pages are a nice creamy white color. They’re relatively thick, and don’t bleed ink very easily. The pages that come with the journal are blank, but there are a number of different replacement inserts you can buy, including lined, gridded, and dated pages. Inserts also come with as many as 128 pages.

For a bookmark, there’s an odd elastic band down the middle of the notebook (the loose one; the other is the band that holds the insert in). I’m not quite sure how to use this yet, as it seems a bit too difficult to switch to a different page without breaking it, but I’m sure it’s just something I’m not getting (first time I’ve been stumped by a bookmark).

The Midori Traveler’s journal costs 3350 Yen, or approximately $36 American dollars.  With shipping to New York City, my total came to $48. So the real question is clearly: “Is this notebook worth $48?”

For me, not really. If I traveled more, maybe, but then, I’m a huge fan of the Ciak, which is basically a smaller, thicker, and more useful version of this. However, that certainly doesn’t make this a bad notebook. The quality is great, I like the refillable inserts, and in case you run into trouble with a broken elastic band or a bookmark, you can even buy a relatively cheap repair kit (which also gives you the ability to change the colors of said bands). I think this notebook appeals to a certain notebook crowd who are going to love it.

However, if you are going to order this, just make sure you realize: this is a simple notebook. Very simple. Shockingly simple. It’s a nice leather cover, about 60 pages inside, an elastic band around the spine, a bookmark, and a band to keep it closed. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but when I first opened the package (and wow was there a lot of very romantic packaging), I was a bit underwhelmed. It’s only in reviewing this now that I’m beginning to appreciate it for what it is – a simple notebook. And as I continually expound, the beauty in notebooks, to me, is in their simplicity.

Ordering instructions:

OK, ready? This is actually pretty easy. The Japanese website that sells these is Bundoki.com. The site is only in Japanese except for a short section on how to place international orders. Click HERE to read those instructions – about midway through the page, you’ll find some English.

Summary: What you have to do is send an email with the item #, quantity, and color, along with your name, address, country, and phone number, to acco@bundoki.com. They’ll send you an invoice, which you then pay by Paypal. Once this is done, they ship it out to you immediately – I received mine less than a week after I paid, direct from Japan.

The basic Traveler’s Notebook (brown or black) is here (I’ve used Google’s Translate program to help). The item number is #7063902. You can find the various Midori add-on products, including page inserts, repair kits, binders, and folders, here.

In summary:

Send an email to acco@bundoki.com.

In the body of the email, write:

Item #: 7063902
Item name: Midori Traveler’s Notebook
Color: Brown (or black)
Quantity: 1

Name
Address (inc. country)
Phone

Easy, right? They were pretty quick in getting back to me. If you’re interested, I’d place an order quickly – according to the website, they only have four left in stock. I’d also buy any inserts now rather than later – they’re not that expensive, and the shipping won’t change that much.

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Quick Post

November 21st, 2008 · 3 Comments · black book

Hey everyone -

Sorry to have disappeared recently. I’ve been incredibly busy with non-stationery work, but will be posting a very interesting new notebook review on Monday. The Piccadilly notebook prizes were put in the mail the other day, so those should be arriving soon. And keep those notebook suggestions coming!

-BC

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The Perfect Little Non-Black Book: The Rite in the Rain Notebooks

November 4th, 2008 · 16 Comments · black book

I’ve said in a number of our reviews that the notebooks that impress me most are those that show ingenuity in simplicity.  I’m pretty utilitarian in my notebook usage – I don’t write with a special pen, or generally treat them with any sort of respect. I don’t need a fancy cover or classy paper. I like something simple, durable, and effective, but that still shows some originality.

Over the past two years, a number of fantastic notebooks have been recommended to us that fit nearly every single criteria we have for a great little black notebook except for one thing: they’re not black. I’ve resisted going down this road for quite a while – I mean, we’re Black Cover, right? We only review little black notebooks? The more I think about, the more I realize we’re cutting off a huge amount of great notebooks simply because of the color. Our focus will always be on black notebooks when we can find them, but so long as the notebooks generally fit our “perfection in simplicity” mantra, we’re going to broaden our horizons a little.

And I’m extremely happy with this decision, as the Rite in the Rain All-Weather Memo Book is probably one of my favorite notebooks of all time.

Yep, green and beige. They don’t offer black (though a banana yellow is also an option). Rite in the Rain, as many of you know, are manufacturers of a patented paper coating technology that renders their products impervious to rain. Yes, you can literally “write in the rain.” According to the brochure, their goal is to produce products that serve professionals “from the top of Mt. Everest to the deepest caves on the planet,” and judging from the letters sent in to their Cool Stories page, it looks like users are finding such uses all across the world.

Rite in the Rain was started in the 1920s when Jerry Siller developed a water-proof paper for the Pacific Northwest logging industry.  Today, they make about a million different products in all shapes and sizes, and sell some pretty cool weather-proof notebook pouches and covers to boot, so I’d recommend spending some time on their site to find the one you like most. As always, we’re focusing on their pocket version, the Tactical Memo Book, which comes in green and tan. A slightly different version comes in yellow.

On the cover is the company logo and writing. Though I can be iffy on cover writing, I don’t mind this at all. Rather than detract from the notebooks, I think it gives them a sense of character like the Alwych, and I think they’d actually lose something if it were taken away (sadly, it sort of renders the Alwych’s claim to All-Weather status a bit outdated).

Size-wise, these measure in at approximately 3.4″x5″ – a hair skinnier and a full half inch shorter than a standard Moleskine.

I love this size. I’m so bored by 3.5″x5.5″ notebooks, which are apparently the world standard for pocket notebooks as set by Moleskine. I’m always thrilled when someone does something totally new with it, and the size here is perfect for writing handheld.

The notebook is a soft cover and is very flexible. But there’s some body to it, and while it will certainly bend in your back pocket, it still has a necessary firmness.

The tan and green notebooks have a military theme, and the back cover and inner front cover have some helpful reference material, including a 5″ ruler, an English System of Measurements Chart, a Metric to English conversion table, and map scaling tables and rulers.

I didn’t order the Yellow “Universal” option, so I’m not sure if this is included, as it seems more general-purpose.

Now for the pages.

As you can see, the pages of these notebooks reflect a lighter version of their cover colors. The Yellow Universal notebook offers basic white, with blue lines. The pages all feature solid horizontal lines with dotted vertical lines for gridding purposes.

I absolutely love this concept. While I agree with many of you that gridded paper is fantastic to write on, there are times when I wish the vertical lines weren’t so prominent. Rite in the Rain has found a perfect solution to this problem. And yes, I hate the “Rite in the Rain” logo on the bottom of each page. But I can overlook it.

Yep, this is me “riting in the rain.” It absolutely, 100% works (I wrote through the water), and when it dries, the pages show zero signs of ever having been wet. Incredible. The pages are thick and show no visible ink through. The reverse:

In terms of flexibility these notebooks do not open totally flat.

Frankly, I don’t think you could if you tried – the binding is intentionally firm, and I think it would extremely difficult to forcibly break the spine, let alone do so in every day wear and tear. The notebook opens plenty wide for my purposes, though, and I love how durable this makes them.

No pocket, no elastic band, and no bookmark, but this notebook needs none of those amenities. In what it is aiming to achieve, it succeeds to the fullest. They’re certainly not for those of you looking for a fine stationery product, but for those that enjoy utilitarian notebooks, you cannot – I REPEAT! – cannot go wrong.

Among other things, these little notebooks cost only $3.45 each. OK, it’s not that perfect – my bill broke down as follows: ordering two notebooks came to $6.90. Then there was a mysterious $4.00 “miscellaneous charge” (a handling fee, probably for buying too few notebooks), and $8 for shipping to New York from Washington state. All told, I paid $19 for the two notebooks. Still cheaper than a Moleskine, but I now wish I had purchased a few more to get the overall price per notebook down, knowing that I’m definitely going to be using these quite frequently. Black Cover reader WyldWoods points out that you can get them at a discount for only $3.20 each with significantly cheaper shipping at Trail Explorers. Finally, you can avoid the whole  online thing entirely by going to the Rite in the Rain site and using the Dealer Finder to the right of the page to find a local vendor.

If this review interests you, I’d definitely spend some time on their site to find the notebook that suits your purposes. Click here for the Green Memo 954, the Tan Memo 954T, or the Universal Yellow 974. They offer some of their larger notebooks in poydura, made from 100% consumer waste and are “virtually indestructible.”

For some reason, I put off trying this company out for a long time, and am kicking myself for checking them out earlier. Highly recommended!

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Piccadilly Contest Winners

November 3rd, 2008 · 6 Comments · black book

I meant to post the winners on Halloween, but got caught up in festivities.

Before we give the names, I want to thank all of you for entering. Special thanks goes out to those of you who either added us to your blog rolls, blogged about us, or both. We had thousands of new hits this month and tons of RSS adds, and we can only hope you like the site enough to keep those links up (no guilt if you want to take ‘em down now though!).

It took me a solid hour to type up the entries list in a name randomizer (which claims to base its results on atmospheric noise). But without further ado, the winners receiving three notebooks each (lined vs. blank selected at random) are:

Brian C., Brentwood, CA
Tasha C., Williamstown, MA
Ron G., Kansas City, MO
David G., Granite City, IL
Christian B., Phoenix, AZ

If you won, you don’t have to do anything – we’ll contact you.

As it happens, we have three additional notebooks to give away. The first goes to Brad over at The Pen Addict, whose site brought us the most amount of hits. The second goes to Chris at Amateur Econ, who came in second. The third goes to the very last name on our random name generator list (because being last is not always a bad thing!), which is:

Scott K., (address needed!).

If you’re looking for another contest to enter, Moleskine is having a rather silly one in which they’re asking for pictures of your notebook pages. This is the sort of thing where your pages should be brilliant, as if you planned every word, doodle, and scribble, only it should look very incidental, as if this brilliance just happened by accident. And irony helps too. I’ve always felt that Moleskine is promoting a dumb philosophy of notebooks, in that you’re using the tools once favored by Picasso, Hemingway, Van Gogh, Jesus, etc., and everything you write down had better be up to their level. Personally, my notebooks are a mess, with lots of crossing-outs, horrible penmanship, and often have spots and stains. And not in a pretty way.

However, if you’re the type who creates beatiful notebook pages, or can forge one quickly, I’ve been told that you should go here now. It’s funny, because the intern who sent us the email acknowledged that we probably wouldn’t post this info, because we hate Moleskines in part because they are “prohibitively expensive for some.” Haha, cute.

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Happy Halloween! Contest Closed…

October 31st, 2008 · No Comments · blank book

HAPPY
H
ALLOWEEN!

The Piccadilly Contest is closed as of Thursday at midnight. Winners to be posted soon…

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The Moleskine Knock-Off: The Markings Notebook

October 29th, 2008 · 28 Comments · black book

Today’s R.L. Gibson Markings Notebook bookends a set of three moleskine-style notebook reviews we’ve done, following some fierce competition from the Piccadilly and the Guildhall. Both the Piccaddilly and the Guildhall are inexpensive little black notebooks that I initially feared were nothing more than Moleskine knock-offs, and was suprised to find that both had impressive features that made them each distinguishable in their own right (and in the case of the Piccadilly, with prices that should put Moleskine to shame).

Now for today’s review: Is the Markings Notebook a generic Moleskine knock-off, or something more?

The Markings Notebook is manufactured by C. R. Gibson, a company that makes infinite numbers of stationery products, and is sold at discount prices at massive retailers like Staples and Target everywhere. I picked mine up for $6.99 in the Staples journal section.

Size-wise, it comes in at the standard pocket Moleskine dimensions: 3.5″x5.5″.

The first strike: the notebook has a massive cover lip, something I dislike. There’s really no reason not to have the pages go all the way to the edges.

The cover is not oilcloth – it’s “genunine bonded leather,” according to the packaging, which consists of “80% genuine cowhide leather fibers and 20% non-leather materials.”

Personally, I’m not a fan – we’ve reviewed plenty of leather/synthetic leather cover notebooks, and this one seems the most plastic/vinyl-like to the touch – in other words, it feels cheap. There’s a thread sewn around the edges for aesthetic value.

There’s extremely little bend in this notebook, though again, the pocket Moleskine continues to dominate as the rock hard champion in terms of rigid notebooks.

First page, and you get a “This journal belongs to:” and three lines.

Then, the pages:

Strike 2: The Markings journal not only earns our distaste by having a massive, two-line header, but also a two-line footer! We’ve seen page space wasted on headers before, but never on footers, and it’s pretty disappointing. Most people are quite happy to write over lines if they want a header, and to assume we’d want one on every page means that 10-15% percent is wasted. The line spacing is slightly thinner than the Moleskine, something that would normally be a positive if not for the header/footer issue.

The color of the pages is a creamy yellowish white, akin to the Moleskine. The thickness seems to be about the same as well (I swear those fountain pen trials are coming soon!).

The notebook opens basically flat, but you have to really push it, and even then, there’s often a page curve that prevents you from using the whole page.

Finally, you get the standards: a rear pocket folder, a black satin bookmark, and a somewhat loose elastic band.

As you can probably tell, we were pretty disappointed by the Markings journal. It takes the Moleskine concept and, besides a different (and not so great) cover material, does absolutely nothing new with it (and actually takes it back a few steps with the cover overhang, the header/footer problem, etc.). It’d be one thing if this were the cheapest thing on the market, but $6.99 (Strike 3!) is without question about $3-$4 too much. And now, with such low-priced options on the market as the Piccadilly, a fantastic notebook you don’t have to make excuses for, there’s no place for this type of sloppy imitation. The Markings Notebook looks and feels uncreative and cheap, a second-rate knock off.

You can buy this at Staples and (I’m told) Target stores everywhere for $6.99 or so. I can’t find a vendor online, so give me a heads up if you happen across one.

Coming next week: Away with the black!

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The Moleskine That Folds In Half: The Guildhall Notebook

October 21st, 2008 · 30 Comments · black book

When we first began this site, one of the biggest problems we had was finding out about new little black notebooks. Luckily, as we’ve grown, you readers have become our prime source for learning of the latest brands on the market, to the point where our biggest problem has become actually obtaining copies for review. Often, this is due to communication problems. Currently, there’s a Japanese notebook I’d kill to review, as well as a very interesting German notebook – but repeated queries to the respective companies have gone unanswered, and finding foreign retailers is often difficult.

Other times, the problem comes from the fact that a little black notebook is just one of MANY products made by a huge manufacturer, and tracking down an individual item becomes a chore. When I reviewed the Colored Edge Notebook, for example, it was pretty clear that the company never dreamed anyone would care enough to review the product, and I had to go store hopping to dig one up.

The Guildhall Pocket Notebook has been a similar situation for me. A number of readers have recommended it over the past few months, but tracking down a copy has been tricky. The company, founded in the late 1800′s, is based in the UK, and I have yet to find an online American vendor. I found mine as per a reader suggestion in a stationery store in New York, but I hate reviewing a notebook that’s difficult for Black Cover readers to purchase. Then again, maybe that’s some of the fun in all this. Anyway, the Guildhall:

The Guildhall Pocket Notebook is a moleskine-style (note lowercase – that’s right, we’re reclaiming the word from its branding!) notebook that is similar to a standard pocket Moleskine, but with a few exceptional key differences that make it stand out.

Size-wise, it measures 90mm x 140mm, or just about 3.5″ x 5.5″ – exactly the same as a Moleskine. There’s a slight cover lip, which always disappoints me, but it’s pretty negligible.

It’s a hard cover, but there’s some give in terms of flexibility.

The more I review hard cover notebooks, the more it amazes me just how annoyingly rigid a Pocket Moleskine is. The thing is basically a rock, which might suit some people, but I find it limiting.

A big difference in the Guildhall comes in the faux-leather cover – it’s softer than a Moleskine’s and has a sewn edge.

I’m not sure what this does in terms of durability, but for the visual aesthetic, it definitely gives this a serious, elegant look.

Now for the biggest feature on this notebook: the binding. You can bend this notebook all the way around with minimal to no resistance:

A number of people reject any type of hard cover moleskine notebook in favor of flip-tops, for the understandable reason that it’s very hard to hold it one hand when writing. For these people, the Guildhall is the notebook you’ve been looking for. It’s can be opened in half at any page, from the first page to the last, and doesn’t seem like there’s ANY danger of ripping. With a Moleskine, on the other hand, this is literally as far as it wants to go before I feel like I’m starting to warp it:

The Guildhall is the first hard cover we’ve reviewed with this level of flexibility.

The first page has three lines for writing your contact info, reward, etc.

Now for the pages.

The pages are a creamy yellowish white. The lines are perfectly spaced – just slightly thinner than the Moleskine. Also, the Guildhall is the first notebook we’ve reviewed that has a header and footer I actually appreciate. If you look, you’ll see that the top and bottom lines are just slightly larger than the rest, which makes writing in those spaces easier (a blessing compared to the Moleskine, where the first line is lopped in half making it totally unusable). Yet they didn’t waste anymore space than was needed. Though the lines don’t completely go all the way across, it won’t stop you making use of the space.

The pages feel thicker than the Moleskine. I don’t think there’s any danger of a fountain pen going through.

As expected, this notebook lies perfectly flat on the table – another function of its excellent binding.

Finally, the notebook comes with the usual: a closure elastic, a black satin bookmark, and a back cover pocket folder.

Again, I reiterate: the perfection I’m looking for is a notebook’s innovative simplicity. When I first saw this notebook in its package, I frankly thought it’d be nothing more than a boring Moleskine knock-off. After actually using it, however, I see the subtle differences that make this far superior. With its excellent flexibility, loose binding, and unique cover design, a Moleskine seems boring and rigid in comparison. I would buy this notebook in a heartbeat over a Moleskine, and hope that we start seeing available from more US retailers.

I purchased the notebook at Paper Access in New York City for the maybe-$2-too-much price of $11.95. You can find them at 23 W 18th Street btw. 5th & 6th, or call them at 212-463-7035. I have a feeling this is the type of thing that you’ll find randomly at stationery shops. Keep me posted if you find any other US retailers, especially online.

For UK readers or those willing to purchase internationally, you can buy them online very cheaply from, oddly enough, The United Kingdom Geologists Equipment Ltd. Weird, right? One notebook will run you  £4.21 / US$7.24 / €5.39, all of which seems extremely reasonable to me.

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