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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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28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lanzman // Oct 29, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Huh. I actually bought one of these at Target not too long ago, tho in a bit larger size than 3.5×5.5

    I use it for medical notes – doctor appointments for myself and family members, treatments undergone, prescriptions, stuff like that – and have no real complaints with it aside from the wasted space at page top and bottom. I seem to recall only paying about six or seven bucks for it, too, and like I said, it’s the 5×7 (approx) size.

  • 2 Diane // Oct 29, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I’m not sure why the cover overhang is a horrible thing. It’s pretty standard in books and doesn’t bother me.

  • 3 Barrel Of A Pencil // Oct 29, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    I truly enjoy reading your reviews. What’s really helpful about them is you lay out the particulars in such a consistently fair-minded way that you enable your readers, whatever their tastes, to make more informed purchases of these fascinating little black books. Perhaps there is no single ideal notebook, but one can’t help but to admire the honest search you are making for your ideal notebook. Would you consider running a list of your top five faves? Subject to change of course as better candidates presented themselves :>))).

  • 4 Chris Seggerman // Oct 29, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    Also of note: Markings recently changed the coating on the paper in their moleclones so they don’t take fountain pen ink all that well. I realize this is not everyone’s concern. However, most fountain pen ink will not sink into the paper, leaving a streaking line. Noodler’s “bulletproof” inks will work, but even they don’t behave as nicely.

  • 5 Bill Webb // Oct 29, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    I’ve used the Markings books extensively. The cover shapes well to a rear pocket, and holds up well. The leather cover is attractive, smells good, and wears in with a lot of character. The books hold up well in a hip pocket, where mine ride whenever I’m not at a desk.

    I don’t care for the footer either, but since I use the book both as a journal and for random notes (get cat food, etc.) I just use the top of the page for the notes, the date, and sometimes a note about what’s on the page. It’s rarely “wasted.” I sometimes even write there, and in the footer, as well. Being an old guy, I was educated to write on unlined paper back when no one who cared about their writing would ever do anything serious on lined stock.

    The last book I purchased was a Moleskine soft cover. After 3 hours in my back pocket, the cover had completely separated from the spine. I would have bought another Markings book to replace it, but I wanted to try a squared page for some record-keeping, and Moleskine kindly replaced the softcover with a hard cover. I don’t like it as well as the Markings book. It’s not my first Moleskine, and it won’t be my last, but they’re not that much better than some of the competition, including the Markings books.

    I have no problem with the paper surface with pencil, Fisher ballpoint, G2 or V5 Extra Fine, my weapons of choice. I’ve used a fountain pen with no problem (Schaffer ink) but don’t like to carry them daily as I usually use my bullet from my pants pocket.

    Opinions are fine, but the proof is in the use…and I don’t consider seven bucks outrageous. When Picadillys are available readily, I’ll try one, but with Borders closing all over the place, I’m not holding my breath.

    Keep up the good work here. I enjoy the reviews, but it’s good to keep in mind that your opinions are simply that — same as mine are.

  • 6 Notebook Stories // Oct 29, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Wow, when I compared this to the Guildhall notebook I’d seen earlier the same day, I thought they were identical but for the branding and price. But you have told the real tale! Great review.

  • 7 Jack // Oct 29, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    I’ve picked up the occasional Gibson notebook at my local Office Max in the larger, 5×7 size, when two conditions are met – it’s marked down, and it’s squared. I’m a sucker for squares, and since the lovely Picadilly is not available squared yet, my Moleskine-alternatives are limited.

  • 8 Speedmaster // Oct 30, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Nice work, and that cover overhang bugs me too. ;-)

  • 9 Matt // Nov 3, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I agree with Jack & Bill Webb. I’m still waiting for the Borders here in town to carry the Piccadilly’s. No luck yet. And I’m all about the squared notebooks. Markings makes a decent one. Though I love my 5×7 squared Moleskine.

  • 10 Brian // Nov 3, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    I have bought a few Markings products, and I think they’re OK. I see this small notebook in stores for $5.50, a little cheaper than your price, which I think is perfectly reasonable.

    Also, as for them being “cheap and uncreative” how do you make a book with a back pocket, an elastic band and standard binding creative? Just curious.

  • 11 gtownHOYA // Dec 15, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    I just bought one from Staples and I love it! Honestly, money is tight right now and indulging in a Moleskin just seems greedy…I appreciate

  • 12 Billy // Dec 17, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    @gtown “I just bought one from Staples and I love it!”

    Staples in the UK? I’ve just checked their website and couldn’t find them??

  • 13 joe // Jan 22, 2009 at 10:30 am

    The elastic on the Markings is a thousand times better than the Picadilly. I use them both and this is my finding. Hopefully I just got a bum Picadilly. To me having a strong elastic is key since I use it daily and it gets tossed around in my bag/car, and I don’t like loose papers and stuff falling out before I get them recorded or safely at home.

  • 14 Notebooks at Target: Markings and Noted | Notebook Stories // Jul 1, 2009 at 9:02 am

    [...] at a great price– I never thought I’d say this after my own initial impressions and Black Cover’s disparaging review, but I think I’ll try this one as my next daily [...]

  • 15 Cynthia // Jul 16, 2009 at 10:02 am

    I tested the Markings journal along with the Moleskine and a few others. While the Markings journal is priced lower than most, the paper performed poorly compared to the others except when using a ball point pen. My fountain pen didn’t bleed through but the line skipped and I had trouble getting a consistent line because of a strange coating on the paper. Additionally, my roll pen and markers feathered and bled through the back of the page.

    There is a huge header at the top and a smaller one at the bottom, so but only 1 less line per page than the Moleskine has so while it looks like a lot of wasted space, you only lose a line. I’m not sure if the paper is acid-free or not, the label doesn’t say.

    I wouldn’t recommend this journal if you use rollerball, fountain pens or markers or if quality is important to you.

  • 16 Don // Aug 18, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Great reviews, glad I found this site.

    One note about the Markings notebook’s overhang. I actually like it a lot, as I add a few hacks to it, particularly tabbing the pages. The overhang allows me to tab & keep them from creating an even bigger overhang.

    I’m curious – I haven’t seen page number references in your reviews. That’s a huge plus for me and the Markings over Moleskine – the 5×8 I use has 200 pages over the 120-140 in the Moleskine – that more than makes up for a large header & footer, imo.

  • 17 Chris T. // Nov 2, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    FWIW these are also available at retail franklin covey stores and any discounts they may have (additional off clearance, buy 3 get 1 free, etc)

  • 18 Angi // Nov 7, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Check Big Lotts if you would like to check this out. I have found them there for $3.00

  • 19 Tony Q. // Apr 30, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Available from the CR Gibson site, currently for $6.64. Also available: graph pages; brown cover.

    http://www.crgibson.com/Default.aspx?Page=2&ProductID=MJ3-4791

  • 20 Pavneet // Oct 18, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    I have used the Markings in different sizes over the years. They used to be readily available at the Canadian Wal-Marts and since I am in a rural area specialty stationers are only a dream. And since I work in construction they get hard usage.

    My last two were pocket grid versions, picked up at Target on a recent trip; the Wal-Marts seem to have done away with carrying them. I have to concur with Cynthia that the coating on their newer versions seems to have destroyed their ability to take a fountain pen stroke. The ink seems to sit on top of the page and is absorbed quite unevenly. It gives one a queasy feeling watching it, as if the ink is about to run all over the page. Gel pens and pencils seem to be fine though. A shame, really, for me at least as I was fond of them. However, I won’t be buying any more.

  • 21 Pavneet // Oct 23, 2010 at 6:15 am

    I have to issue a clarification to my earlier posting. Since I had been using Noodler’s Ink for a few years, I didn’t think to try different inks. Well the thought struck me, and so I have just tried my favorite Shaeffer Blue-Black. And what do you know. The ink lays down beautifully. So I guess with the Markings Book you can use a fountain pen; just be careful on ink choice.

  • 22 MiamiTash // Oct 26, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I have one of these and can’t argue with the writer. I specifically don’t like how my pencil writing will smear on the paper. Perhaps being a lefty, I notice this more readily than righty writers. My 2 cents…

  • 23 joseph h // Dec 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    i bought one at target when i worked there, to use for notekeeping at work. the department i worked in required a lot of movement and the notebook stayed in my back pocket.

    it lasted a two months before the pages started falling out, and three before the cover came off completely

  • 24 sherlock // Feb 15, 2011 at 4:40 am

    what the heck is this biased article about? the moleskine journal is far inferior in looks, quality, feel and inspiration …. its just cold, and black and way more expensive. I LOVE MY GIBSON and sadly have only found a moleskine journal here in europe. i only wish the gibson was unruled. but that leather ruled book was strong and empowering for the last 2 years of daily use.

  • 25 Jackie Montgomery // Apr 2, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I love the markings notebook. I bought one in Walmart during a recent trip to the US and have been trying to find a UK supplier so that I am prepared when my current notebook is full.

    I like that the lined pages are quite narrow so I can get a lot of notes on one page. I also like the pocket attached to the inside back cover – a good place to store my expense receipts.

  • 26 Judy // Apr 25, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    I fell in love with the Markings notebook when I saw the brown and croc (bonded) leather versions on amazon.com. And at $6 they seemed to me, an expat Brit, really cheap. So imagine my horror when I got to checkout to be charged (no alternatives) over $40 for international shipping – for one little $6 notebook! I backed away and am looking (obsessively I’m afraid) for a way of getting this Object of Desire without paying an arm and a leg for shipping. Any ideas fellow obsessives?

  • 27 Judy // Apr 28, 2012 at 6:05 am

    Amazon update – in addition to charging $45 to ship one small Markings $6 notebook out of the US, they are also now charging a $10 ‘customs depost’ !! Amazon have clearly lost the plot …

  • 28 Judy // Apr 28, 2012 at 6:15 am

    Oh no, it gets worse. Amazon are now charging $12 for the small markings in addition to the outrageous international shipping and ‘import deposit’ mentioned above. Do they think they’re selling a very ordinary, mass-produced notebook, or the Crown Jewels? We are now talking around $70 for one notebook!

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