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CONTEST! Win The New Piccadilly Notebooks!

October 14th, 2008 · 27 Comments · black book, moleskine notebook



Something neat came in the mail yesterday:

Before we get to the contest, just a note: we finally put together a full picture guide to the notebooks we’ve reviewed. We’ll hope to add helpful features such as arranging by price, hardest cover to softest cover, etc.

For those of you who are new to Black Cover, this blog is dedicated to the search for the perfect little black notebook. The folks at Piccadilly, manufacturers of a fantastic, low-priced moleskine-style notebook we recently reviewed, were extremely generous in donating a ton of notebooks for our second Black Cover contest, and we’re going to give them away to you – FREE!

Piccadilly makes three different size notebooks, which come lined (orange) or unlined (green). You can buy them in Borders stores everywhere (usually found in the discount section, NOT the stationery area), or online here. They have generously offered our readers a 15% discount on online orders with the sales code blackcover. Borders prices below are based on reader input, and seem to vary a bit. The sizes are:

Small (3.5″x5.5″) – $3.99 @ Borders / $4.99 Online

Medium (5″x8.25″) – $4.99 @ Borders / $6.99 Online

Big (7.5″x10″) – $7.99 @ Borders / $8.99 Online

We’re going to be giving away FIVE sets of notebooks to FIVE lucky readers. Each prize set will contain (1) small notebook, (1) medium notebook, and (1) large notebook! Lined vs. unlined will be decided by random.

Last time we had a contest, you could only enter by posting about us on your blog. In retrospect, this wasn’t entirely fair to the numerous readers we have without blogs. So we’re going to make things a bit different this time.

The contest is only open to residents of the USA. The deadline to enter is on or by Thursday, October 30, 2008.

There are four ways to enter. You can only enter ONCE under one of the following four options.

1) No blog or website? No problem! Just send an email with your name and mailing address to (contest closed). This counts as one entry.

2) Got a blog? Post an entry about our site with something concerning our search for “Moleskine alternatives” in the link text. You are welcome to state that the only reason you are doing this is for a contest. For example: “Check out this site which is dedicated to finding Moleskine alternatives. I’m shilling to win a contest, so please check them out!” The entry HAS to be dated today (October 14, 2008) or after. Send an email with your name, mailing address, and a  link to the blog entry to (contest closed). This counts as two entrys.

3) Got a blog or website? Put a permanent link to Black Cover on your Links page or blog roll. Send your name, mailing address, and a link to your site to (contest closed). This counts as two entries.

4) Do #2 & #3 – Make an entry about Black Cover AND put a link to us on your blog roll/links page, and send us your name, mailing address, and a link to both at (contest closed). This gets you the maximum of three entries. Don’t feel dirty! If you really hate us that much, you can just delete it all after this contest is over!

SPECIAL REWARD! When we go to tally votes, the person whose website or blog has generated the MOST number of hits to our site will be rewarded with one additional entry.

THE DEADLINE IS THURSDAY, OCTOBER 3O. We will announce the winners on Halloween day. Your personal information will NOT be given out to anyone, and you will not wind up on any mailing list including our own, in part because we do not have one.


But BC, I posted an entry about Black Cover a few days/weeks/months ago. Can I submit this as a blog entry?

Unfortunately, we’re only counting blog entries from the date of this post on.

But BC, I already have a permanent link to your site on my links list/blogroll. Does this count?

Yes it does. Submit it now!

But BC, I don’t understand! These entry options seem complicated! What do you mean, one entry or two entries or…

It’s really quite simple. Joe Everyman doesn’t have a blog or website, so he simply sends an email with his name and address. We put ONE Joe Everyman ticket into our enormous top hat from which we will pull the winners.

Sarah Drog has a blog, and writes an entry about us. She sends us the link, and we put TWO Sarah Drog entries into our enormous top hat.

Billy Blight has a website, and puts up a permanent link to Black Cover in his Links section. We put TWO Billy Blight entries into our big hat.

Finally, John Q Public has a blog, and makes an entry about Black Cover AND puts a link to us in his permanent blog roll. We put THREE John Q Public entries in the hat.

When we go to tally the votes in the end, we see that Sarah Drog’s blog has generated more site hits than Billy Blight or John Q Public. Thus, we give her the SPECIAL REWARD, and she gets THREE ENTRIES instead of two.

Black Cover reserves the right to clarify rules as we see fit. This contest is JUST FOR FUN, so no legal mumbo jumbo. We reserve the right to call it off if things go horribly and devise a new, less-headache-inducing way to win the notebooks.

Finally, GOOD LUCK!!

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The Bible of Notebooks: The Allan’s Journal

October 9th, 2008 · 14 Comments · black book

Recently, I’ve seen a number of notebooks on the market whose origins are pretty creative. For example, Book Journals takes old hard cover books from the 1950s and 1960s and converts them into spiral-bound notebooks.

Urban Outfitters has recently started selling notebooks with real old vinyl records sliced up for the covers – very, very cool, though the $28 price tag is steep.

Since 1863, the R. L. Allan company of Glasgow, Scotland, has been making hand-finished leather bibles, which they sell direct to customers. Recently, someone got the bright idea of using their standard bible design for a high quality notebook. Hence, the Allan’s Journal.

The Allan’s Journal, described as a “pocket-sized notebook,” has been making the Internet blog rounds since it was released about a year ago.  Back then, the journal looked a little different: the front cover was embossed with the “Allan’s Journal” logo.  Also, the page edges were a reddish gold instead of solid gold.

(picture courtesy Bible Design)

In June 2008, the company released the newest version of the Allan’s Journal, which we will be looking at here.

The Allan’s Journal is bound in Morocco goatskin leather, and it looks and smells beautiful.  Yes, that’s right – this notebook has a great smell.  If you get close, it has the subtle pleasing aroma of a new leather. This isn’t the imitation leather/oilcloth crap found on nearly all of the journals we’ve reviewed – it’s the real thing, and the quality shows.  It’s beautifully wrinkled and feels exceptionally durable.

Yes, I wish the word “Journal” wasn’t embossed in gold on the front, mainly because I don’t keep a journal, and would inevitably use this for non-journal purposes.  If there has to be anything there, I much prefer the original “Allan’s Journal” logo that used to adorn the cover.  In fact, I sort of liked it, for the same reasons I like the Alwych cover. However, I think that nearly every reader of this blog would agree that having no words or branding on the cover would make this perfect.

Size-wise, the journal measures 4″ x 5 3/4″, or 10.16cm x 14.6cm.  It’s relatively larger than a standard Moleskine, and is about a centimeter or two too large to fit in the back pocket of my jeans, which is too bad.

I don’t hate the size, but would absolutely love to see a genuine pocket version of this meeting the typical Moleskine measurements of about 3.5″ x 5″.

I want to compliment the Allan’s Journal for its width. It’s a bit thinner than a Moleskine, which is more evident when you hold it than in this picture.

I love notebooks that are either on the very thin or extra thick end of the spectrum (i.e. twice or three times as many pages), and this is one of the more compact I’ve seen.

This notebook is extremely flexible. However, it has some weight to back it up, and always returns to its original shape.

Finally, the gold pages edges. One of the things I loved in the original version of this notebook were the “red under gold edges.”

This is an incredibly unique design, and I’m disappointed to see that in the latest version, the edges appear to just be gold.  I like it, but the red really gave the notebook a sense of character. I hope they go back to it in future editions.

When you open the cover, the first thing you see is black.

The leaves holding the actual notebook pages to the cover are made of a soft, smooth, thin leather-like material.  Very attractive and elegant.

The next two pages are blank. Then we come to the first page. According to the website, the pages are Oxford-lined India writing paper.

First, the Allan’s Journal wins the award for the absolutely thinnest lines I’ve seen on a journal yet.  I defy you to write so tiny as to fit perfectly in these lines.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of anything small and conservatively designed.  Most notebooks make the mistake of doing things on the big end, which usually translates into clunky and wasteful.  So while I can’t complain about the line spacing, I do want to warn you that you’ll probably just use them as general guidelines at best.

The paper quality is thin.  On the plus side, you get an extra thin journal overall, which I love.  On the negative, you can see Uni-ball writing pretty clearly through.  I originally wrote that I doubted it would hold up well to fountain pen ink, but commenter Martin says it actually does a great job and since I never conducted a test, I’ll retract my statement.  If you want to get an idea of the thickness, just think of a typical Bible. The pages are usually thin so they can include a LOT of pages. The same goes for this journal, which has 256 pages (Moleskines have 192).

The Allan’s Journal opens very flat on the table.

In fact, it can open beyond flat, and it doesn’t feel like there’s any danger of breaking the spine.

There’s no back cover pocket folder or elastic (both of which would seem incredibly out of place on this journal), but there is a nice black satin bookmark. At some point, this notebook seems to have been offered with some sort of slipcase, but I guess this has been removed, probably because though neat in theory, I suppose it’s pretty much useless in practice.

I love the idea of taking the design of a Bible and turning it into a notebook.  While I’m not religious myself, I think of a Bible as having to be as durable as it is refined.  For hundreds of years, the Bible has been the single literary traveling companion for an inestimable number of travelers, and the idea of having that sort of standard and quality in a notebook is extremely appealing. That the company making it has been producing hand-finished Bibles since the 1860s makes it even more desirable.

I like the Allan’s Journal as it is, but would be extremely interested in seeing further variants – for example, a legitimately pocket-sized version, perhaps with more pages, would probably jump to the top of my favorite journals list. I would also love to see a much larger, thicker version. And a blank cover design would definitely be optimal.

The Allan’s Journal can only be purchased direct from, the Allan company’s website. It costs £15.00, which is about $26 US Dollars.  Shipping adds a few more bucks on, probably making your final total between $30-$35 stateside.

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Proving Moleskine Is Just A Style: The Piccadilly Notebook

September 30th, 2008 · 89 Comments · black book


The Moleskine company owes a lot to the US chain bookstore Barnes and Noble. Though I remember Moleskines gaining some popularity when they first hit stationery shops in the US, it wasn’t until Barnes and Noble dedicated an entire double-sided shelf in the front of their stores that they exploded into the American consciousness. The casual shopper was suddenly presented with the wonderful idea of being able to use the same notebook as “Picasso, Matisse, and Hemingway” – in other words, like being handed John Lennon’s guitar or Jack Kerouac’s typewriter. Though the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I have to admit that this is advertising genius at its dubious finest.

I believe the decision to partner with Barnes and Noble proved to be a double-edged sword for Moleskine. I have a feeling that B&N backed them into a corner in terms of price, making Chinese production the only viable way Moleskine could turn a profit and still have their notebook in the biggest bookseller in the United States.

Once production went to China and quality dropped, I expected to see some rival Moleskine-style notebook companies springing up. After all, the Moleskine design certainly isn’t patented – one of the downfalls of their advertising campaign is that it admits they’re simply using a style of notebook that’s been around for quite a long time.

It’s taken a while, but not only is there a new Moleskine-style notebook on the market, you’ll can buy them in Borders Bookstores everywhere (they are found in the DISCOUNT section, NOT on the stationery shelves). Stationery manufacturer Piccadilly, Inc., is offering lined, blank, and gridded Moleskine-style notebooks at only $5 each.

That’s right: $5.

I’ve long felt that $10 for a standard Moleskine is ludicrously overpriced, and probably only sustained by their romantic marketing. A five dollar competitor will definitely give some much-need rivalry. But how does the Piccadilly stack up? Is this just a generic alternative to the name-brand pill, or a something more?

First off, the cover of the notebook is nearly identical in style to the Moleskine: oil-cloth covered cardboard. The cardboard on the Piccadilly is thicker, however, and makes the notebook far more difficult to flex than a Moleskine – a very firm hard cover.

One of the first things I love about this notebook is the spine.

Where the Moleskine has a rounded, loose spine that bunches up when you open it fully, the Piccadilly’s is absolutely straight, meeting the two covers in tight 90-degree angles, which I find very appealing. I’ve often found that Moleskine spines get somewhat warped with use. The Piccadilly feels sturdy and tight.

Size-wise, the Piccadilly measures in at 3.5″x5.5″, or 9x14cm – the same as a Moleskine.

A difference between the two can be found in the cover overhang – the Piccadilly has a bit more. I personally prefer that the cover end a hair outside of the page edges, similar to the Moleskine. However, in the above picture, you can again note the difference in spines.

Inside, the first page simply has the Picadilly logo and nothing else.

Turn to the first lined page, and you’ll find the same problem I have with Moleskine – the way in which the pages are connected to the binding prevent you from fully opening this page (I usually reserve it as a table of contents).

While I once thought this was a necessary evil, I’d like to point out to notebook manufacturers everywhere that, somehow, Quo Vadis has figured out how to get around this problem!

The rest of the notebook works fantastically, however. On first glance, the pages seem nearly identical to the Moleskine – the same creamy white color with perfectly thin lines.

However, Piccadilly does something different: they actually give you a full line to start with at the top of every page. Where the Moleskine lops off part of the top line, rendering it unusable, the Piccadilly gives you the whole top line without making the mistake of turning it into an overly large header-space.

The page thickness is basically the same as the Moleskine:

In terms of flexibility, the notebook opens fully flat anywhere you turn to. The pages are section-sewn like the Moleskine. The bookmark is black and made of satin, as opposed to the Moleskine’s purple cloth version.

Finally, in the back is the ubiquitous pocket folder.

My main philosophy for a great notebook, that perfection is in the simplicity, might at first seem somewhat limiting. But subtle differences to an old style can make all the difference in the world. How can one improve the Moleskine design? Though we’ve reviewed numerous other little black notebooks, none of them has been in the Moleskine style. There have been soft-covers, leather covers, wider notebooks, taller notebooks, thinner notebooks…

The Piccadilly, however, has impressed me by being the first we’ve reviewed to make a moleskine (note lower-case!) notebook and, more importantly, improve on the design with a straight spine, better line spacing, a different book mark, and so on.

And for only $5 a pop from Piccadilly’s website (and discounts if you buy more than one), you better really love that Picasso/Matisse/Hemingway gimmick to continue shelling out $10 for Moleskines.

For a limited time, Piccadilly is offering a special 15% discount on all orders made by Black Cover readers! Just use the coupon code blackcover when you check out, and you’ll get 15% off your order. Piccadillys can be bought here in lined, blank, and grided pages for $5 each. There are also medium (5″x8.25″) and large sizes (7.25″x9.75″) available for one a few bucks more. I’ve been told they’re now in Borders Bookstores everywhere – again, in the discount section, NOT on the stationery shelves.

Coming next week (if the postal service permits): a notebook with Biblical origins.

Also – thanks to all of you for your notebook recommendations! Please keep them coming! If it’s been a while and you haven’t seen your product reviewed yet, I promise we haven’t forgotten about it. Since most of the notebooks we review come from international manufacturers, it often takes a combination of language translation skills, postal wrangling, and money to get them here. But as we intend this site to be a comprehensive listing of available little black notebooks, I can assure you you’ll see your notebook here as soon as possible.

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The Art of Japanese Paper-making: The Awagami +1

September 24th, 2008 · 6 Comments · black book

Most of our notebook reviews fall into one of three categories. There’s the positive review, with maybe a few hints for improvement. Then there’s the generally negative review, wherein we try to be very specific about the reasons for our disappointment instead of just bashing the product. Usually, these notebooks tried to do something new but ended up coming short of their goal. Finally, there’s the “this isn’t really our thing per se, but someone out there might enjoy this” review. We usually bestow this upon journals that might better suit an artist or quill pen enthusiast than the casual user.

Today, we’re looking at our first notebook from Japan, Awagami’s “+1” pocket journal, and while it fits into this latter category, I’m very pleased to present it to you.

The notebook comes from the Awagami Factory, whose name is a play on the words for Japenese paper-making, “awa washi.”  If I’m understanding their history correctly, the Fujimoro family has been making handmade Japanese paper products since the late 1700s, and some 8 generations later, are still going strong.  Their new “+1 Collection” consists of journals, albums, and desk accessories which attempt to blend traditional Japanese craftsmanship with elements of contemporary Scandinavian design.

As I said, the +1 journal does not fit our usual criteria for a small black cover notebook. For starters, it’s not the type of thing you want to be kicking around or using to scribble random notes. It’s more on the delicate side, something an artist might like for a sketchbook.

We were sent the blackest version of the notebook they have, though it comes in 12 different colors: brown, white, and gray, as well as the zig-zaggy “Spring” patterns and the arching “Autumn” patterns.

The cover material is made of “Syuro” rice paper, which is very unique to the touch. It’s rough yet light, with raised ridges and spots from the cardboard-like material. According to the company, the material was originally developed as an eco-wallpaper, and has since been specially coated to be used as a covering material for the notebook collection.

Whether or not this can stand up to water is beyond me – it seems like a good rain would probably get the cover very soggy. However, if you’re the type of person who can keep a journal out of the elements, there’s definitely a sophisticated, unique feel to it, and the black elastic band actually ends up accentuating the design (whereas it otherwise disappears on a typical Moleskine cover).

Size-wise, this baby is the same as the standard Moleskine – 9×14 cm, or 3.5″x5″ (there was some debate in the comments last entry regarding what a “standard” Moleskine is; I always mean the pocket version, the hallmark release from that company). Overall, it’s thicker, and the cover edges hang slightly off.

In terms of flexibility, the +1 Notebook is rock hard. It’s not bending no matter how much you try, and feels about twice as stiff as the Moleskine. This is without a doubt the most rigid notebook we’ve thus reviewed. This is me attempting to use all my strength on it:

Inside, you get a single black page, then 96 sheets of “75gsm ecru writing paper,” gsm standing for grams per square meter and being a measurement of the weight of the paper.

It’s a nice yellowy cream color. As for writing, here’s a test:

Somewhat disappointing if you write with a heavy pen and write on both sides of the page. BlackCover friend Amateur Economist did a more comprehensive test and found the same results. I think this is too bad, because a journal like the +1 should be artist and ink friendly. Granted, a Sharpie is pretty drastic, but I’d still prefer not to see my simple Bic pen markings through the page.

In terms of lying flat, the +1 starts out on the stiff side, and at first, you feel like you’re being too rough with a delicate object, as if the spine might snap. However, once you get it started, this notebook opens fully flat, and with some frequent use, becomes easier to keep open.

In the middle is a very nice white ribbon bookmark – first time I’ve seen the color used, and it works very well for the design of this notebook. In the back, there’s the ubiquitous rear pocket folder, a bit on the small side and lacking a cover flap.

All things considered, I was impressed by the Awagami +1, not because it met my personal preferences for a pocket notebook but because it was never trying to be that notebook. It’s not a Moleskine replacement, it’s something else entirely: a small portable sketch book with a very pleasing and unique design, all while keeping things simple and elegant. The Japanese Moleskine? Uh uh – no need to insult it like that!

In the US, you can pick up one of these for the very reasonable price of $12 at Hiromi Paper, Inc., located in LA – the notebooks are listed as “Palms notebooks” for some reason (special thanks to Black Cover reader Craig for the link). Japanese buyers can find them at Awagami’s online store, which is available to everyone but US and EU citizens. As far as I can decipher, the price is 1,575 Yen, or approximately $15 dollars.

Coming next week: A fierce Moleskine rival hitting Borders Bookstores everywhere!

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Would you bring the Habana to Havana? The Quo Vadis Notebook

September 17th, 2008 · 8 Comments · black book

Recently, Exaclair, Inc. (stationery importers of such fine products as the Rhodia line to the USA) sent me an unexpected package of notebooks for review, and by recently, I mean quite a while ago. Much apologies – as I posted last week, I haven’t been all that local in the past month, but now with my feet firmly planted in New York City, a number of new notebooks reviews should be hitting this site shortly.

Today, we’re going to be reviewing the Quo Vadis company’s Habana line of notebooks, and the first thing I think we need to cover is what exactly “Quo Vadis” means? A trip to Wikipedia tells us that it is Latin for “Where are you going?” which now makes me think this is probably common knowledge, and I’m the only one learning this for the first time.

Quo Vadis is a French company begun in 1954 by Doctor F. G. Beltrami. Apparently, Dr. Beltrami was unsatisfied with the range of agenda notebooks available at the time (what a nut), and set out to make his own. Among other innovations were section-sewn pages that allowed his agendas to lie open flat on a table. The agendas sold well over the following 50 years, and recently, the company has branched out into new areas.

The notebook we’re reviewing today is their Moleskine challenger, the Habana (as far as I can tell, named after the official spelling of Havana, Cuba). Though they come in a couple of attractive colors, we’re focusing on their black edition. The cover is identified as “imitation leather,” and feels pleasantly smooth/rubbery to the touch.

The leather covers a piece of cardboard which is more flexible than that on the Moleskine – you can actually get quite a lot of bend to it without warping it, and I’d normally say it’d be a great back pocket notebook.

However, the issue I have is with its size. While the Moleskine clocks in at a desirable 3.5″ x 5.5″, the Habana is significantly larger: 4″x 6.88″.

I know we’re talking less than two inches overall, but such a light difference is huge. I’ve said time and time again that a pocket-sized notebook should first and foremost lend itself to portability, be it backpack, purse, pocket, or in handheld writing, and this notebook is just a little too big. What kills me too is that some of that size could’ve easily been eliminated in the cover overhang, an unnecessary attribute.

The only identifying mark of the notebook is the small Q in the lower right hand corner. The back cover says Quo Vadis at the bottom.

Something that the Habana does extremely well, however, is the first page. Check it out: it actually lies flat.

To those who are not amazed by this, go grab your Moleskine (you know you own one) and check out the first page there – yep, it’s completely wasted by the way it’s attached to the binding. I’ve always hated this aspect of Moleskines, but assumed it was a necessary evil. Not so, however, as proven by the Habana.

With this notebook, you get 96 sheets of acid-free, pH-neutral, bio-whitened, PEFC-certified, chlorine-free Clairefontaine paper. Yeah, that’s a mouthful, but it’s all in the handy pamphlet that comes with the notebook.

I’m not quite sure I fully understood everything in the pamphlet, which seems to basically be promoting the idea of having your paper forests certified by the PEFC. So if you want your notebooks certified by the PEFC, well, Quo Vadis is the way to go. And as the back says: “This notebook is made with Clairefontaine paper, the best paper in the world for writing.”

I guess this is where I’m a bit confused, because the paper quality is definitely not that impressive. First off, it’s very much on the thin side. I’m not a fountain pen kind of person myself – I test all our notebooks with whatever Bic ballpoints I have lying around. Though the pages aren’t thin enough to bleed basic ink through, you definitely get the line scratches pushed through to the other side of the page, which I find to be annoying.

I imagine that anything heavier in the ink department would seep through.

Also, I’m not a fan of the color. Nearly all of the notebooks we’ve reviewed go for a slightly warm, creamy, pleasing-to-the-eye off-white. The Habana paper, on the other hand, leans toward a bland, harsh gray. In other words, this feels a lot more like an office product than something you’d associate with logging your vacation adventures in.

But on a more positive note: usually with the notebooks we’ve reviewed, I end up complaining about how wide the page lines are. Definitely not the case with the Habana, where you get the thinnest lines I’ve yet found in a notebook – about a quarter inch in height. Heck, this might be too thin for me, and I love thin lines! Also admirable is the way the notebook lies totally flat when opened to just about every page, from the front to back.

In the back is the pocket, which lacks a closure flap which might be helpful. But as I’ve pointed out time and time again, though I think it’s incredibly cool in theory, I’ve never actually put anything into my notebook back pockets.

The notebook features a trusty vertical elastic band to hold it closed. The elastic is definitely on the tight side, especially compared to the recent Moleskines.

All in all, the Habana strikes me more as a business product than one for taking on your travels or sketching in, which makes sense. After all, Quo Vadis got their start in simple, matter-of-fact agendas for the office. I think there is promise in the notebook – I like the cover texture and flexibility, and the excellent way in which the notebook can be opened flat to any page including the first. I think it just needs a bit of shrinking, especially the cover borders, and an upgrade in paper. I’m pretty sure you have the ability to “bio-whiten” this to a range of colors, and something a bit warmer and inviting would make a world of difference. The goal should be to make you want to take the Habana to Havana, not the conference room.

The Habana can be found in red, orange, and black, and purchased at The Daily Planner and Swisher Pens for $15. A larger size of 6.25″x9.25″ is also available for $20. Local US retailers here. UK buyers and others here (£9.95 Including  VAT at 17.5%).

Coming next, our first Japanese notebook review!

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Travels and Old Notebooks Revisited

September 8th, 2008 · 6 Comments · black book

Hey everyone!

Contrary to popular belief, we’re still alive. The past couple months have been pretty crazy – for various reasons, I’ve been on trips to Spain, Italy, Chicago, New Mexico, and Cape Cod, and the only disappointing thing about seeing the world is that I didn’t find a single new black notebook. I figured that, at the very least, stationery shops in Spain and Italy would be bound to have something I hadn’t heard of…But, other than the Green Apple Moleskine-copies (which we have yet to review – someone send us one!), there was nothing.

Luckily, thanks to you readers, we have a number of new black notebooks headed our way. Keep an eye out over the next few weeks as the reviews are posted. And please keep sending your recommendations! It’s gotten to the point we’re we’ve covered all the big ones – it’s the obscure and hard to find that we need you for.

Today, we’re going to do something that I’ve been meaning to for quite a while: a look back on a few of the notebooks we’ve previously reviewed and how they’ve held up. We’re covering three in this installment, starting with…

The Stifflexible

You will be happy to know that the New Stifflexible is FINALLY AVAILABLE STATESIDE (woo!) at the Bloomfield Pen Shop in Boston.

You can buy them online for $16.95 each, which is a bit pricey, but I know of no other place to get them in the US. Definitely recommended for those who’d like to try a hard cover that also bends. Two caveats: the pages are no longer colored, and more importantly, the cover material is not as cool as the original faux-leather Moleskine-type. It’s now a waxy hardcover.

I was happy to see the Stifflexibles being sold in several bookstores across Italy. I was also happy to find a package waiting for me when I got back home from the Mazzuoli company. They sent me a number of Stifflexibles based on the work of artist Giuliano Ghelli – not black covers, but check ’em out:

They have a number of other variants coming out soon as well. I continue to urge them to return to a simple black leather cover so I can go nuts over it, beg you all to buy one, and end everyone’s perfect notebook searching for good…but maybe some things just cannot be.

For more information on everything Stifflexible, check out Mazzuoli at their website here. They have all the variant designs up for your viewing pleasure. In my personal use, the Stifflexibles continue to hold up very well to wear and tear.

The Miquelrius

Generally speaking, I’m not the biggest fan of the Miquelrius soft cover – it’s not that there’s anything terrible about it, it’s just that…well, it’s too flexible, if that makes any sense.

There’s something almost cloth-like to it, which might be a plus for some of you. But a good softcover should have some rigidity for structure’s sake.

HOWEVER. I have to say this notebook took a fierce beating over the past year as my back pocket work notebook, and it blew me away how well it took the abuse. Toward the end of its life, the spine started splitting, but I honestly was amazed it didn’t happen earlier. This thing is EXTREMELY well-made, and I highly recommend it in terms of quality.

I was excited to post pictures of my completely filled Miquelrius in perfect shape to prove this when … the rain came.

That’s right, it deluged on location at work, and I had no way to save it. Hence, the fat, water-logged lump of pulp it has become. But don’t let the pictures fool you. This is an excellent notebook, and I fully recommend it to anyone looking for a flexible softcover with a LOT of sturdiness to it. Full review with buying links here.

The Ciak

I love this journal. I absolutely love it. I really wasn’t looking forward to reviewing it when I bought it – too stocky, weird horizontal elastic, a bit bulky…Man, was I wrong. This notebook was in my bag throughout my travels in Spain and Italy, and not only did it survive my beatings admirably, it was continually a pleasure to write in.

In both Spain and Italy, I found a number of journal shops offering homemade, unique notebooks. Here’s a shop window in Barcelona:

Another in Sevilla, Spain:

And a very famous one, the Legatoria Rivoaltus, on the Ponte Rialto in Venice, which has been in business for 30 years:

The problem is that their “homemade” journals just never lived up to my expectations. The hard cover, Bible-like ones are always great for those who want to write, I dunno, books of spells or something. But the smaller ones that I’d be interested in are literally just sheaves of paper glued into unimpressive pieces of leather. The “uniqueness” of these products is all they have going for them, and it’s really not enough. Most people go in these shops, look around disappointed for a few minutes, then leave without buying anything.

I honestly think the notebook they’re hoping to find is the Ciak. Small and compact, yet durable, it has the type of attention that makes it feel handmade (which it is, allegedly).

I’m the worst daily journal keeper in the world, and the Ciak kept drawing me back. Highly recommended if you can find a vendor in the US. Best bet is probably from an independent seller on Amazon or searching on Ebay. Just make to avoid the horrible colored page versions sold at Borders! They’re also available at UK’s The Journal Shop, where every notebook is offered at a 3 for 2 deal here (9.99 pounds). Meaning, that for 20 pounds, you get three notebooks. Not sure how the shipping works out, but it’s not that much.

As for the others…

Still looking forward to using the Alwych Notebook. My softcover Moleskine is currently being used as a recipe book, which means its constantly being subjected to foreign substances and high temperatures that it probably doesn’t like. Stay tuned for how it holds up. The new Cartesio is being used on a current project I’m working on and seems to be holding up admirably.

More notebook reviews coming soon!

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The Cartesio: A Notebook From Florence

July 10th, 2008 · 23 Comments · black book

Since this website began a year ago, finding black notebooks has become an increasingly difficult task. We’ve covered everything from the common to those of the no-longer-available variety, and very rare is it that someone brings to our attention to one we haven’t heard of. So needless to say, I was thrilled when a package showed up at my door with a fantastic little black notebook made in Italy and sent via a UK’s The Journal Shop.

Before we review the notebook, I’d like to highly recommend The Journal Shop, an amazing notebook retailer based in the UK. They sell everything, from Moleskines to Ciaks, but here’s what makes them extra special: they offer a 3-for-2 deal on all their products. Seriously, you can grab two Ciaks and get one free. Definitely worth a look if you haven’t heard of it before.

OK, now to the product at hand: the Cartesio. Hailing from Florence, Italy and named after the Latinized name of French philosopher Rene Descartes (“I think, so why am I obsessed with black notebooks?”), these leather bound soft cover journals have a very distinct feel from the numerous others we’ve previously reviewed.

The notebook measures in at 9cm x 14cm, or 3.5″x5.5″ – exactly the same as a standard Moleksine.

The notebook is also about as thick, with 96 leaves or 192 pages. The cover is made from recycled leather, and definitely has a far more “wrinkled leather” feel to it than any other journal we’ve reviewed, which is very cool. It also is available in an orange a bit more dull than the standard Rhodia color. You can make out the patterns in this picture:

Yes, embossed on the front is a small, raised “C”, which is disappointing for those of us who would like our notebooks free from product names; but after reviewing notebooks that are far more egregious in their cover choices, I’m just glad it’s subtle. The notebook is a soft cover, but it’s the firmest we’ve reviewed – definitely not as much flexibility as the soft cover Moleskine or the Miqeulrius, but this is a good thing. It’ll fit in a pocket, but it’ll also stand up to frequent bending, and what’s more, feels like it has some weight to it.

The cover is bound by a rounded elastic band, nearly identical to the Ciak’s. I used to be a purist about elastics being of the flat Moleskine variety until I used the Ciak for my vacation journal recently – without question, it does the job just as well and quite possibly better.

The pages are section sewn, but not attached directly to the binding. I really wish more notebook would follow the Alwych with this – it really cuts down on broken spines. However, the pages are very closely attached, and I really like the square spine, as opposed to the rounded one found on most soft cover journals.

Open it up, and you find an inner cover TOTALLY different from every notebook we’ve reviewed. As you can see, it features a great world map, the product name, and three simple lines for your indentifying information (seriously, in this day in age, what else do you need to write other than your email address and “Reward”?). I really don’t think this picture does it justice. The picture really lends itself to the company’s philosophy: “a world of your thoughts in a notebook.”

The pages are a creamy white, slightly brighter than the Moleskine. The lines are also slightly wider apart, but not enough to make much of a difference. They’re also of a thicker paper stock. As you can see, the notebook also comes with a bookmark.

Finally, in the back is a little pocket similar to the Moleskine. This is the only area where the notebook disappoints – I swear this pocket was a last minute addition. Not only does it not feel like the rest of the notebook, it’s attached in what I consider the wrong direction, has no cover flap, and is very poorly attached to the notebook.

Update: Ruth from The Journal Shop has informed me that we may have been accidentally sent a prototype of the final notebook, as the final version does have a cover flap and is much more firmly attached to the notebook.

It’s definitely not a deal breaker – I put a little glue on it, and it’s perfect now. And I continue to maintain that, as cool as a notebook’s back pocket is in philosophy, I’ve never actually used it for holding anything. But I would highly suggest to Cartesio not to skimp on this detail when they’ve clearly worked very, very hard on the design of rest of the notebook.

Overall, the Cartesio is an excellent little black notebook, and one highly worth checking out if you’re looking for a Moleskine replacement. It’s a soft cover, but it feels as sturdy as a hard cover, and the wrinkled leather cover gives it a great air of quality.

Currently, it seems that the Cartesio is only available at The Journal Shop, for the price of £8.50 each plus £3 shipping to the US (cheaper, of course, in the UK) – all totaling about $20. It’s a little pricey, but keep in mind the 3 for 2 deal, which brings down the price significantly.

Company: InTempo
Where to buy: The Journal Shop – £8.50 each (£3 shipping to the US)

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July 10th, 2008 · 1 Comment · black book

Hey everyone,

Just got back from a long vacation, and am ready to post some new notebook reviews, but before we get to that, the winner of the Rhodia Webnotebook is…

K, from Kay’s Place! Congratulations! Thanks to everyone for entering – we’ll have another contest soon, and will make it accessible to everyone, including those who are blogless. More soon!

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June 16th, 2008 · 43 Comments · black book

Update!: Hey everyone – thanks for all the entries! The contest is now closed, and we’ll be announcing the winner today.  Thanks for all the support!! More journal reviews to follow shortly, including an Italian notebook I don’t think anyone knows about.

If you remember, we were recently sent some sample copies of the new Rhodia Moleskine-esque “Webnotebook,” (which to my knowledge, is not available yet in the USA) and we’re going to be giving one away!

How to enter? Easy! First, you have to have a blog. Got one? Great! Now write a small entry about Black Cover, with a link to our site. It doesn’t have to be detailed; it can be as simple as:

“Check out this cool site dedicated to finding Moleskine alternatives called


“Here’s an interesting site run by an obsessive nut who has an unhealthy addiction to stationery products! Check it out!

After you do that, post a comment here (DO NOT EMAIL!) with a link to your blog entry. I’m heading off to Spain and Italy for the next two weeks (hopefully will find some interesting new little black notebooks in my travels), so we’ll draw a winner when I return. One entry per person. Good luck!

Update!: For those of you asking if old blog entries you’ve posted about Black Cover count, they do if they were made after May 1.

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The Ciak: Handmade in Italy

June 9th, 2008 · 27 Comments · black book

If you’ve ever been to Venice, you are probably familiar with the tourist phenomenon of handmade leather journals.  I have yet to find a guide book that doesn’t recommend the best “authentic” store in Venice to pick up a handmade leather-bound notebook in which to record your travel adventures. Of course, how a place can truly be authentic when nearly all of its business is due to tourism is beyond me…but I digress.

Regardless, I’ve been to a number of these places while visiting Venice, and never managed to find a journal that suited me. They were all generally on the bulky side, and it’s very difficult to find one smaller than a composition notebook. And while they’re “hand-made,” there’s generally not enough originality to merit the high price. Why am I bringing this up, since we’re definitely not reviewing a handmade Venetian notebook?

Since I started this blog nearly a year ago, I’ve been getting emails about the Ciak line of notebooks. At prices ranging from $15 to $25, the Ciak isn’t exactly a cheap purchase, and a lot of people have wanted to know – is it worth the price? Is the notebook used by V, of V for Vendetta fame, a worthy Moleskine alternative?

The main reason I haven’t featured a Ciak review on Black Cover as of yet is because I’ve come across the notebook in a number of New York City art stores, and I’ve always been underwhelmed.  There is something a bit bulky, a bit more “diary” feel to it than “all-purpose notebook.” It’s not that the notebook lacks quality; it’s just that it didn’t fit my paradigm for a good notebook. But now, actually using the notebook for the first time, I realize that I was looking at the Ciak through Moleskine goggles.  The Ciak is not a Moleskine; the Ciak is the notebook I wish I could’ve bought in one of those small stores in Venice.

Ciak is actually a company based in Florence that opened shop in 2001. Their products are made entirely in Italy, suggesting a significantly higher level of quality than those that hail from the conveyor belts of Chinese factories (ahemMoleskineahem). What’s more, emblazoned on the back of this particular notebook are the words “Handmade in Italy.” That’s right: handmade. I have NO idea about the accuracy of this statement. The company’s website doesn’t go into any aspects of being handmade, but if it’s at all true, it’s a great selling point.

The notebook we’re reviewing today is the 9cm x 13cm “Piccolo” black pocket notebook – but these dimensions aren’t entirely accurate. A standard Moleskine is 3.5″ x 5.5″; the Ciak measures about 3.9″ x 5.1″ – shorter and wider.  Here’s a comparison:

One of the reasons for this is the way the spine of the cover is attached:

As you can see, the spine is unnecessarily rounded away from the pages, one of the few flaws in an otherwise fantastic notebook.  While it’s got its stylistic merits, not having the pages attached is a major problem in most of the black notebooks I’ve reviewed.  The spine is much more likely to break without the extra support. The cover actually bends far back from the spine when opened, which can be a bit annoying:

But enough of the bad – let’s get back to the good (and there’s a lot of it).

The cover is made of an excellent leather material – a much smoother, richer feel than the Moleskine.  It feels durable and firm, yet smooth and flexible. This is a soft cover, but the amount of bend is limited, which is good – you won’t notice this in your back pocket, but you’ll also feel like it’s got some weight when you hold it to write something.

The Ciak also has a rubber band running horizontally around the book. Why? Well, for starters, for those of you looking for a notebook with a way of holding a pen, this is it.  Otherwise, it’s purely stylistic – Ciak was definitely going for a distrinctive design with this one.  At first, I was critical of this, but it’s definitely grown on me since. Note that the elastic band is thick – more noticable than the flat Moleskine version but perhaps more durable as well.

Opening up the first page, one finds a single blank starter page with a few lines for name, address, or reward info. Perfect, great – doesn’t assume for a second what I want to write on these pages.  Ah, simplicity. The pages are firmly attached to the cover, and it doesn’t seem likely that the corners will start to pull up, something that happens on cheaper softcover notebooks.

The Ciak has 96 sheets of very high quality, creamy white paper (they say “ivory”, but it’s a lot less harsh on the eyes than I imagine true ivory paper would be).  The lines are very nicely spaced, and begin at the top of the page and go right to the bottom.

Because of the binding system, it’s difficult to get the Ciak to lay flat.  This is about as far as it’ll go without applying unnecessary pressure:

You can see how far the cover spine has to bend to accomodate this.  It’s sort of disappointing, but more so in terms of an all-purpose notebook that you’d like to drop open easily for quickly jotting down notes.  In terms of a diary, or notebook you’d treat with a little more respect, this feels like a measure of quality.

And I guess that’s what this comes down to.  The Ciak is, without a doubt, an excellent, top of the line notebook. The quality is lightyears beyond the Moleskine, and it immediately stands out as having its own design and character.  And I don’t want to give the impression that this can’t take a beating – as I said, the cover feels far more durable than a Moleskine, even though it’s a soft cover.  Ultimately, it’s a higher quality – and more expensive – notebook, and it’s got the feel of being exactly that.

So you might feel you like shouldn’t kicking this thing around, a negative in some people’s view.  But every notebook has it’s place, and I can tell you that I’ll definitely be using this one on my upcoming trip to Spain and Italy to keep a journal of my travels.  It may not have come from a small Venetian notebook shop, but it feels like it could have.

Company website: CIAK Firenze
Where to buy: $18.50 (via Sam Flax South – thanks to reader Steve!) or $12.99 + $6.00 shipping (Amazon via Moleskine Books – says 3 to 5 weeks shipping, so I’d definitely email before buying)

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