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The Rhodia Webnotebook: Bad Name, Great Journal

May 19th, 2008 · 45 Comments · black book

I imagine that the vast majority of you who read this site are familiar with Rhodia products. Decked out in a distinctive shade of orange, they bring a level of style, quality, and most importantly, brilliant simplicity to all of their products, from fliptop pads to staple-bound notebooks. Rhodia products hail from France, where the company was started in Lyon in 1932.

Recently, word has been getting around of a new Moleskine-esque product called the “Webnotebook,” and we’ve been rabidly trying to get our hands on one. For a while, the only available means were wholesalers selling in expensive large bulk orders, and as much as we like black notebooks, we don’t like them that much!

Luckily, after a few emails, Exaclair Inc., the American distributor of Rhodia products, generously sent us some samples. Thus, Black Cover is proud to present what I think is the first Rhodia Webnotebook review on the internet.

From most pictures online, you’d think this notebook was identical to the Moleskine. Thankfully, it’s not, and for a variety of reasons.

The major difference is the cover, which is a thick, smooth yet firm Italian “leatherette” (according to the website).

To the touch, it feels very smooth and soft, unlike the hard, wrinkled texture of the Moleskine oil cloth. But this isn’t a soft cover – there’s slightly more give to it than the Moleskine cover (which is actually very nice for back pocket travel) but is still very much a hard cover.  It’s also thicker than a Moleskine cover, which gives it more weight in comparison.

Frankly, holding the two, the Moleskine feels cheap against the Rhodia, which seems to have a lot more quality to it – more like a high end journal you’d keep around for a while. Indented in the front is the familiar Rhodia logo, something I’d personally put on the back but is trademark of all their products.

Size-wise, it’s exactly the same as a standard Moleskine – 3.5″ x 5.5″ (9.5 cm x 14 cm). It’s slightly thicker because of the cover, but otherwise has 96 sheets of lined paper, or 192 pages total.

Inside, the lined pages are a nice shade of off-white, lighter than the Moleskine’s, but pleasing on the eyes. The lines are well spaced, and go right to the top and bottom of each page. There’s a little Rhodia logo in the bottom corner which is TOTALLY unnecessary, but it’s not too distracting.

However, here’s a downside that some of you will be very disappointed with: the Webnotebooks do not come with the standard Rhodia paper. According to Exaclair, they were disappointed to learn that Rhodia hadn’t included their highly regarded stock of paper, and have been urging them to change their decision. It’s true that the paper here feels very thin, and tends to get page wrinkles pretty quickly from use. On the other hand, it’s still thicker than Moleskine paper, and I’m not one of those people who uses anything heavier than a cheap Bic ballpoint pen. So this is a pretty negligible complaint in my eyes.

As you can see above, the notebooks come with a nice ribbon bookmark, and attached to the back cover, a black pocket folder.

Overall, Rhodia’s (badly named!) Webnotebook seems like a higher end version of the Moleskine – a notebook you could use as a journal without feeling like you were skimping a bit on the quality, yet is still simple enough to carry around on your travels.  The two types of cover (Rhodia’s leatherette vs. Moleskine’s oil cloth) are like apples and oranges, and I think it comes down to personal taste on which you prefer.

Ultimately, the Rhodia webnotebook is definitely worth a test run, and it’s the second notebook after the original Stifflexible that’s made me realize there’s more than one way to skine, er, skin a cat (sorry for that). But where to buy them? Though I can’t find a product page on their websites, Exaclair tells me the best way is to write to either The Daily Planner or Pendemonium, both of which have access to Exaclair’s Webnotebook supplies. I think they retail for about $12, but I’m not sure.

Also, for those looking for something a little bigger than a pocket notebook, Exaclair sent me samples of a larger softcover journal (similar to Miquelrius’s soft cover) called the ePure (thanks to reader Pat for the correct name!).

The notebook measures 8.5″ x 5.5″ wide (the size of a normal sheet of paper folded in half), and features a soft imitation leather cover with the Rhodia logo engraved in the center. The inside has beautiful thick white drawing paper, which makes it a great sketch book for those with artistic abilities (not Black Cover, sadly).

There’s no elastic band, bookmark, or back cover pocket, but it’s still a very nice addition to the Rhodia line.

Overall, both notebooks confirm the continued quality of Rhodia’s products, and we’re hoping the Webnotebook hits stores everywhere to give Moleskine some fierce competition.

Company Site: Rhodia-Block
American Distributor: Exaclair, Inc.
Places to buy: Write to either Pendemonium or The Daily Planner and ask about availability

Special thanks to Rhodia for the review samples!!

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The Softcover Moleskine: We don’t hate you, Moleskine!

May 7th, 2008 · 23 Comments · black book

[Update! Several readers have written in to say the durability of these notebooks is pretty shoddy – see below]

Let’s get one thing straight: we don’t hate the Moleskine. Yes, this website is dedicated to finding alternatives to what is widely considered the end-all, be-all of little black notebooks. But that has less to do with actual problems with Moleskine products, and more to do with the accepted belief that there is just one way to do a little black notebook, and Moleskine owns the patent. And to prove our lack of animosity, here’s our quite positive review of their very impressive softcover Moleskine.

Sometime last year, a page appeared on Amazon advertising a then-forthcoming Moleskine product: a softcover lined notebook. We received numerous emails about this, but other than a mention on the Moleskine website, no other information was available.

Many were excited about Moleskine’s first venture into the flexible world, but we here at BC were skeptical – because this, in fact, wasn’t Moleskine’s first softcover. In 2006, Moleskine put out a 2007 softcover weekly planner that was very disappointing. Badly planned, the rear pocket folder was so thick that it fully prevented the softcover from bending at all. Take a look:

That’s seriously as far as it would bend without basically folding it in half. Luckily, Moleskine clearly worked hard to correct the problem, as this is the current flexibility with the new softcover notebook:

It seems like we’ve reviewed far more softcover black notebooks than hardcover, which is too bad because I prefer something a little more durable. That said, Moleskine has come up with a good firmness to their softcover. While I like the popular Miquelrius, I’ve found it too be too flexibile – there’s no weight to it at all, and it’s good to have some amount of resistance. I was recently impressed by the Alwych notebook, which is more rigid than the Moleskine softcover – but in that case, the Alwych’s flexibility is appropriate to its smaller size.

Besides being flexible, the cover is made of the standard Moleskine oil skin cloth (without being backed by a thick piece of cardboard). I was a little surprised to find some nicks and a scratch in the cover when I took it out of its shipping box – time will tell how durable it is to wear and tear. But for the moment, I’ll chalk that up to the postal service.

Size wise, this notebook is ever so slightly smaller than the standard Moleskine, clocking in at about 5.5″ x 3.5″.

I still maintain this about a quarter of an inch too large, but with the softcover, the dimensions are a lot more manageable. I put this in my back pocket as I drove home from work today, and completely forgot it was there.

This first page has the standard Moleskine reward info – nice and simple, as it should be:

The pages are of the creamy, off-white variety, of which I’m a fan (not too harsh on the eyes). The lines go right to the top of the page, without the annoying margins that some notebooks choose to include. The line spacing is nice and tight, but I do have a complaint: they’re crooked!

I don’t know if it’s clear in this picture, but the lines do not run parallel to the top and bottom of the page! You can see it most clearly at in the top of the left page in the above picture – that difference in spacing is not due to the way the notebook is bending. In fact, it’s lying flat on the table (something this notebook does very well for a softcover). Very strange…perhaps one of the drawbacks of mass-manufacturing your products in China?

Finally, the notebook is rounded out with the back cover folder and ribbon bookmark.

All in all, I was very impressed with the Moleskine softcover. It’s firm enough to be durable, yet flexible enough to carry in pretty much any pocket. It comes with all the perks of the standard hard cover Moleskine, and besides the crooked lines, is a very strong little black notebook. To date, I haven’t seen these sold in stores, but you can order them easily enough online.

See? We don’t the Moleskine after all! Special thanks to Stacy for letting us know these were finally available to buy.

Update: Apparently, readers haven’t found the durability of these notebooks to be pretty bad:

I just started my first softcover pocket Moleskine two days ago. You will not do well carrying this in your back pocket. The paper block is already splitting from the binding. The only thing I have found that works in the back pocket over time is the pocket reporter notebook, always slipped into the pocket with the spine at the top. Sitting flexes the spine and breaks regular casebound books – a standard Moleskine in a few weeks, a softcover in a couple of days.

And:

OKAY, I have been using a softcover molie for 6 weeks, i keep it in my back pocket. and let me tell you there are some big drawbacks, first is the paper block coming away from the binding, it is only attached at each end of the block and not along the whole of it, basically meaning i had to sticky tape the first and last pages to the card pieces on the inner cover. Also the skin does come away from the inner card as it is not rolled, this can be easily fixed with some superglue though. also my ribbon fell out when the paper block came loose! Although the paper in mine is straight so 1 good point. i have noticed that the paper in some cahiers is often wonky yet not always.

Not very promising. At some point in the near future, I’ll be doing an update on how the various notebooks we’ve reviewed have held up over the past year.

BUY: Amazon.com ($12)

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The Alwych Book: The perfect soft cover, the perfect notebook?

April 3rd, 2008 · 32 Comments · Uncategorized

Before we get to the review of Scotland’s Alwych Book

…I’d like to quote something from the Moleskine insert:

“Moleskine is the heir of the legendary notebook used for the past two centuries by great artists and thinkers, including Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin. This trusty, pocket-sized travel companion held their sketches, notes, stories, and ideas before they became famous images or beloved books. The little black notebook, with its typical rounded corners, elastic closure, and expandable inner pocket, was originally a nameless object. It was produced by a small French bookbinder, that supplied Parisian stationery shops frequented by the international literary and artistic avant-garde for more than a century.”

OK. Let’s calm down and take a deep breath.

This above paragraph is probably one of the most clever marketing gimmicks of all time. Even I have to admit that the idea of using the same extraordinarily simple tool as such luminaries as Hemingway and Picasso makes me believe that, to some extent, I’m halfway toward achieving some sort of artistic greatness myself.

This idea of a perfect notebook – the tool that could help you produce your very own For Whom The Bell Tolls!! – is very romantic. But it’s also extremely pretentious. I almost feel like it makes you hesitant to use the Moleskine as what it should be – a place to scribble just about anything that comes to mind. Instead, it challenges you to write something that someone like Hemingway or Picasso would put down – no crossing out anything, no second drafts, perfect organization, great penmanship. I’ve seen ludicrous websites where people post pictures of their Moleskines, which look like each page, each word, each line or letter, has been carefully planned out before being put on the page.

To me, using a notebook in this way is about the most useless thing I can imagine. My thoughts are never perfect the first time, my penmanship is atrocious, I don’t use one type of pen, my notebooks get beat up pretty quickly, and the last thing I want to think of is Hemingway glaring down at me from the heavens for not treating the Moleskine with utter reverence.

Here’s the insert you get with the Alwych Book, and I think you’ll see why I’ve been looking forward to reviewing it since I started this blog almost a year ago.

“This special Alwych book with its all-weather cover has been carefully manufactured for lasting indoor and outdoor use. Alwych books are widely used by: transport and delivery people, surveyors, architects, engineers, archaeologists, paleontologists, botanists, ornithologists, fishermen, gardeners, sports people, etc.”

Now that appeals to me infinitely more than the Moleskine insert. A notebook that is first and foremost utilitarian. None of this romantic nonsense of being used primarily by guys who are essentially gods in their respective fields (a fact that’s insanely untrue…but we’ll get into that another day). The type of notebook used by such non-luminary types as delivery guys and surveyors, yet also by archaeologists and engineers. Basically, the notebook for anyone and everyone. And an “All Weather” cover that can stand up to the elements? Could this be the perfect little black notebook??

OK, enough of that. Let’s check it out.

The Alwych Book is made in Scotland, and seems to have been around since at least 1932, when MacNiven and Cameron of Edinburgh began manufacturing a range stationery items that included “Greenback” ledgers and “Denbigh” cash books. In fact, they have even supplied past British expeditions to the Antarctic with notebooks. Not that I’m heading down south anytime soon, but it’s nice to know that if I do, I’m using the notebook of choice. The company was bought in the mid-90s by John Reid, who now sells their products primarily through the internet and direct sales, as the world of independent stationers has drastically diminished. BC Reader Steve points out that Monty Pythonite/travel writer Michael Palin swears by the Alwych, and always takes one when he travels.

The notebook measures in at 5.25″ x 3.25″ – about a third of an inch smaller than the standard Moleskine, and just slightly smaller than the old Stifflexible book. This is an excellent size. Not too small to be useless, like the miniature Miquelrius, and not too big that you can’t fit it in your pocket.

Speaking of fitting it in your pocket, this baby is a soft cover, but it’s also very firm – meaning it’ll bend, but it’s also stiff enough that you feel like it’s got some strength to it. Check it out in comparison to the larger soft cover Miquelrius:

Very cool. One of my complaints about the Miquerius is that it’s too bendable. The Alwych is the first notebook I’ve seen to successfully pull off the soft cover with a real sense of firmness.

The cover claims to be “all-weather,” and has been manufactured for lasting indoor and outdoor use. It feels very similar in texture to the Colored Edge notebook, a sort of faux-leather, but has a much thinner cardboard backing. Not sure how much of a beating it can actually take, but it seems very durable.

As you’ve probably noticed, the cover is emblazoned with the words “The Alwych Book,” and “With the all weather cover.” Normally, this would be a near deal breaker. If the Moleskine actually said “Moleskine” on the front in gold foil lettering, it’d totally change the notebook. But I’m letting this one go, as it feels like it blends in with the feel of the notebook. For example, “with the All Weather cover” sounds like an advertisement from the 1950s, not from a modern notebook trying to get buyers with snappy catchphrases. And at the moment, it’s just unknown enough so that “The Alwych Book” pretty much means nothing in the United States, though this might be different in other countries. And I’m a huge fan of colored page edges – in this case, the Alwych line has a standard blue. So extra points there.

One complaint about the overall shape: pointy corners. I have a feeling these things are going to get quite bent over repeated use, and that’s something that could easily be fixed with rounded edges.

Now for the innards. The book is just under half an inch thick and comes with 80 leaves (160 pages), which is a perfect amount. It keeps the notebook thin enough to bend, yet should last long enough. The pages are printed on a light cream paper, which is section-sewn, then, according to the insert, “welded” into the cover. I’m not sure about this welding process, but it seems to be well enough attached.

The inner cover is interesting:

But then, it seems to go along with their UK-a-tad-outdated-advertising scheme. Again, how many decades ago does the tagline “with the ALL WEATHER cover” seem relevant to? If it was more modern, or hipper or something, it’d detract substantially. But as it stands, I very much dig the retro feel of it. Almost similar to the increasingly popular Field Notes notebooks (side note: I’m hoping to someday review a black cover Field Notes notebook).

First page is white, then the lined pages:

Basically, an off white color with green lines (a great choice, and much more interesting than gray lines). The binding is pretty thick, preventing it from lying completely flat. But as I’ve said before, I’m not the type of person for whom this matters. I have to point out that the lines do not go to the top of the page, which seems like a bad decision to me, resulting in wasted space. The pages are about as heavy as Moleskine paper, meaning a heavy pen would probably do a bit of bleeding.

What about a bookmark, elastic, or back pocket? Nope, nope and nope. The major thing this notebook could use is an elastic. The very nature of it being a soft cover means that, over time, it’s going to get bent open. However, I rarely use the Moleskine bookmark (how hard is it to find a page, honestly?), and though I think the back pocket is a very cool addition, I have, to date, never actually put anything in it (and in the case of the Alwych, it would substantially restrict its flexibility). You can also get an alternate version of the Alwych, with lettered page tabs, as well as numerous different sizes.

I love the Alwych book. I love its simplicity, I love the colored page edges, the somewhat retro feel to it, the size, the colored page edges, and the perfect amount of flexibility. I think I’m going to use it as my main notebook, which means an update in a few months regarding its wear and tear.

I was hesitant to buy it, as it’s only available through the Alwych online store based in the UK, but the ordering process turned out to be very easy. In the US, prices are as follows for the 3.25″ x 5.25″ edition:

1 notebook, with shipping: £7.70 (approximately $15.25)
3 notebooks, with shipping: £17.51 (approximately $35, or $12 each)

So clearly, buying one is way more expensive than the Moleskine, but three is closer to home. So purchase wisely! I wish I had bought the three when I made my order. To purchase in the US, send an email to Margo Fyfe at mfyfe@wishawprinting.co.uk with your order and address. She’ll send you back a Paypal link to pay for it, then sit back and wait. I placed my order on a Monday, and it arrived in New York the following Tuesday. And I believe the notebooks get cheaper as the quantity increases, so be sure to ask in your email if you want more.

For you UK readers, simply go to the order page and place an order.

And for anyone else, just send an email to Margo at the above email address and she’ll send you the price+shipping.

Some time ago, the Alwych posted news that they were designing a “Super Alwych” edition, that never seems to have materialized. At the time, they asked readers for suggestions. I’m not sure if this is still floating around, but I’d make the following changes: slightly rounded page edges, a thin elastic, and lines that go to the top of the page. Possibly decrease the front cover logo. BUT be sure to keep the size, line spacing, number of pages, cover style, and flexibility. If you add a back pocket, make sure it doesn’t take away from the flexibility. And a notebook with twice as many pages would be pretty cool too.

Where to buy: see above, dummy.
Company website: The Alwych Book

If anyone reading lives in the UK, I’d love to know how popular/widespread these are there.

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The Stifflexible…Resurrected!

March 19th, 2008 · 29 Comments · alternative to moleskine, black, black book, black notebook, blank book, cahier, hardcover, journal, Mazzuoli, mini journal, miquelrius, moleskine, moleskine notebook, molskine notebook, notebook, perfect notebook, ru, xonex, xonex ru

They’re here:

Sometime last summer, I started this blog in the search for finding the perfect black notebook. I related the story of how I had, in fact, already found the perfect black notebook, but that it wasn’t being produced anymore. The Italian company behind it, Mazzuoli, had come up with a very innovative little black notebook called The Stifflexible, in which the hard, Moleskine-like cover actually had two creases in it that allowed it to bend open when folded, yet remain stiff at the same time.

Sadly, the company had since moved on to other endeavors, and I was lucky to come across probably the last five in existence on Ebay.

Thankfully, and in part to your letters, the Mazzuoli company has realized what a hit they have on their hands, and have put them back into production, with a redesign.

The other day, I received a package in the mail, and lo and behold, I had two of the new Stifflexibles to check out!

The edition I was sent is called the Black Cover, in part a reference to this website, and for this I am very flattered. But how to fairly review a notebook that is named after your website?? Good question – it’s tough! There have been some changes to the design, which I urged against, but which are ultimately to make it stand out from the Moleskine.

First off, the cover – the main part of the Stifflexible. Like the original Stifflexible, this has two creases in the cover that allow it to be rifled through without opening it. Brilliant. According to the new insert, Giuliano Mazzuoli got the idea after finding a book in a Florentine library from the 1700s with a similar design. This latest edition of his popular notebook continues that idea, and I cannot praise it enough.

But something is different here! The oil skin cover (a la the Moleskine) has been replaced by a smooth, (I believe) latex-infused cardboard cover that is very, very firm and somewhat waxy to the touch. The feel is very similar to the Xonex Ru notebooks, only vertically lined instead of dimpled.

On the one hand, this change makes the notebooks look very, very sleek. Also, the cardboard adheres better than the oil skin did; after repeated use of the older version of the Stifflexible, the oil skin cover would unfortunately begin to peel back. I seriously doubt this is possible with the redesign.

The downside is that this type of material doesn’t stand up to a beating as well as the oil skin – scratches show up pretty easily in the cover. Also, because it’s thicker, it’s a more rigid in terms of flexibility (though I’m sure this will go away with repeated use). Personally, I wish they had stuck with the old, but I also realize the reality of trying to stand out from the ever-popular Moleskine.

Size-wise, this is the absolute perfect dimensions for a notebook: 3.5″x5.5″, and just slightly smaller than the Moleskine. Great for your back pocket, a book bag, coat pocket, purse, and beyond.

Let’s check out the inside. On the first page is a place for personal information, which includes some distinctly Italian things I don’t understand, like your “VAT code” and “Tax Code.” There’s also a place for your credit card number, though with the frequency I misplace my notebooks, that’s probably the last thing that’s going in there :).

The pages are different. Rather than the creamy yellowish color from their previous editions (the current color of Moleskine pages), these are very white. According to the insert, the new pages are from “well managed forests,” “elemental chlorine free,” have low wood and semi-chemical pulp content ensuring long life to the paper, and are fountain pen friendly, guaranteeing “the absorption of ink without affecting the opacity of the paper.” This is all great news, especially to you fountain/quill pen guys out there (I’m fine with a boring old Bic, thanks!).

I’m definitely a fan of better paper quality, and it’s an improvement over the old Stifflexible stock. But I will miss the old creamy yellow pages, and the colored page edges that made the old Stifflexibles distinctly European.

The Stifflexible continues to dominate the Moleskine with their back pocket, which doubles as a book mark:

And a tight elastic keeps the whole thing shut.

Let’s not forget one more important aspect of this – this bad boy is made IN ITALY. This is not made in China for a company in Italy. This notebook was designed, produced, and finished entirely in Italy, a country I hold dear after living in the wonderful city of Bologna during college. The quality is top notch – you’re not going to find broken spines or warped elastics with this notebook.

Overall, this is a different notebook than the original Stifflexible. Rather than being, essentially, a Moleskine with a bendable cover, Mazzuoli has redefined themselves to stand out as something different. This adheres more closely to the fine arts crowd than the all-purpose-throw-it-in-your-pocket-and- write-in-the-rain user, and you frequent readers know how I’ve traditionally felt about that. But then, it’s a Stifflexible, and where else can you find something similar?

I will miss the old Stifflexible edition (and deep down have my fingers crossed that some day it will return to the market unchanged), but even with the changes, its a breath of fresh air for those of us looking for the perfect little black notebook.

Company website: Mazzuoli.it
Where to buy: Still no distributor. Got ideas? Send them to Mazzuoli here.

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Latest on the Stifflexible

March 13th, 2008 · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

Hi Nick.
How are you doing? We now have the blackcover Stifflexible notebooks. We are sending you a couple of samples for you in appreciation for all your support.
The notebooks also come in various other colors and designs. We are still looking for a good distributor/marketer for the notebooks in USA.
Best regards, Simone
If anyone has any suggestions, you can email them to Mazzuoli at info@mazzuoli.it. I’ll review them as soon as they arrive.
Some of you have recently asked about when the notebook reviews will continue. It’s been somewhat tough, as most of the next generation of black books are only available by mail order, and many impossible to find, period…and a lot of them just don’t seem worth the effort. Please keep sending the suggestions though – I’ve got a growing list of notebooks I’m planning on buying soon. Just make sure to tell me where the notebook can be found!

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Happy Holidays from the new Stifflexible!

December 22nd, 2007 · 11 Comments · Uncategorized

Happy holidays to everyone from us here at Black Cover. It’s been a long time since the last post, largely due to a shortage of quality notebooks worth reviewing. A few great suggestions have come in recently, and hopefully I’ll get to them after the holiday season some time.

However, I wanted to share an email I got from the Mazzuoli company in Italy, the manufacturers of the Stifflexible line of notebooks I continually rave about. Over the past several months, there have been rumors that their line was going back into production. Today, I can not only confirm those rumors are true, I can provide you with pictures of the new notebooks!

There are a few major changes, the most noticeable being the new cover material. Unlike the old Stifflexibles, which had an oilskin cover similar to the Moleskine, this has…something new. Exactly what, I’m not sure – take a look up close (note: this is the back of the notebook; there are no words on the front):

My hope is that it’s something as durable as the oilskin/faux-leather we’re used to. It looks like cardboard in the pictures, but keep in mind that this cover is not soft; it’s rigid, with the two creases in it that allow it to bend. Fingers crossed on this one. As you may also note, the page edges are no longer colored, which I always thought gave it a distinctly European look to it.

I have to point out something quite flattering; they’ve named the black notebook in this line the “blackcover,” in dedication to this website and all the notebook fans that have written to them recently and helped move this back into production. Check it out:

Very cool. However, I said in many reviews that thing you had to change with this notebook was absolutely nothing, and it’s clear that several things have been changed. Hopefully, the basic value of the Stifflexible is still in tact. I will give you my full review as soon as I receive a copy. I’m very excited to check it out.

And not to worry – even though they’ve got a notebook named after our website, I will give it a fair and honest review.

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Will the Stifflexible Rise From The Grave?

July 9th, 2007 · 16 Comments · alternative to moleskine, black book, black notebook, blank book, cahier, hardcover, journal, Mazzuoli, mini journal, moleskine, moleskine notebook, molskine notebook, notebook, perfect notebook

Some time ago, I reviewed what I consider to be the absolute best little black notebook I’ve come across: Mazzuoli’s Stifflexible journal. The Moleskine-esque cover has two creases that allow it to be folded back, giving the notebook all the benefits of a soft cover while retaining the attributes of a hard cover.

Stifflexible compared to a Moleskine

This notebook is hands down superior to the Moleskine, from size and design to quality (actually Made in Italy – Moleskine, I’m looking in your direction), and I’m quite upset at the fact that the three I own are probably the last in existence (short of going to Italy and combing stationery stores for any surplus left over from 1997). I wrote my review about the Stifflexible to put the word out to those searching for a better Moleskine that an alternative most definitely exists…or, did exist. But I figured the Stifflexible was gone for good.

Much to my surprise, word got back to the Mazzuoli company, and I received this comment to my post:

“I am happy that you appreciate our products. Let’s play a game. We produce the Stifflexible notebooks and for us to make them with the black cover is easy as snapping our fingers. Our product is entirely made in Italy and not in China like our BIG competitor. Who will help us find a distributor for the US market? Please note that our Stifflexible notebook/agenda book is the best selling agenda book at the MoMA Store in New York City (10,000 units a year). Who will help us find a distributor?”

I received a similar e-mail from the company directly, confirming its legitimacy. Before posting this, I wrote a few friends for advice but have ultimately have hit a brick wall. So how about it? Anyone have advice for getting this amazing notebook onto US shelves? I’m sure a finder’s fee would be agreeable to whoever could help out. IF YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS, drop me an email at blackcoverblog@gmail.com. Let’s bring this notebook back from the dead.

And if you’d like to take a moment to write a short e-mail to Mazzuoli expressing your interest in the Stifflexible, drop them a line at info@mazzuoli.it.

Black Cover “Stifflexible” Review: LINK
Company website: LINK
Where to buy: Currently unavailable…but you could change that!

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Honey, They Shrunk The Miquelrius: The Miniature Moleskine

July 3rd, 2007 · 12 Comments · alternative to moleskine, black, black book, black notebook, blank book, cahier, hardcover, journal, mini journal, miquelrius, moleskine, moleskine notebook, notebook, perfect notebook

Some time ago, we reviewed Miquelrius’s soft-cover black notebook, which we criticized as being “about 3/4 of an inch too annoying to carry around in a standard pocket.” Let’s just say that that problem is fully solved with their latest black notebook ($5 – Kali Gift Bag), which clocks in at a diminutive 2.75″ x 4.75″ (standard Moleskine is about 3.5″ x 5.5″). I’ve said since the beginning of this blog that smaller size increases portability. The real question here is: how small do you want your notebook?

This is notebook is from Miquelrius’s Flexible Notebook line, and idea seems to be to make it as small and portable as possible. This is the type of notebook you can shove in your back pocket and NEVER know it’s there. It’s small, incredibly thin, flexible, and ultimately, very unnoticeable.

The cover is almost identical to The Book Factory’s Pocket Blank Book – “imitation leather,” with a very rubbery feel to it. Personally, I’m not a big fan of this material – it’s feels weird to grip, and your fingernails invariably leave marks on it just trying to remove the elastic band.

Speaking of the elastic band, this notebook has one, and like everything else, it’s miniature. In fact, it’s so thin that I wouldn’t surprised if it broke within a week of heavy notebook use (but this has yet to be seen). Of all the things to shrink, this is the one element that should’ve been left normal-sized.

The notebook has 64 ruled pages, and herein lies the perplexing issue: though everything about this notebook is tiny, the line spacing is actually quite large! Each page has about 14 lines on it, which to me defeats the purpose of using this for anything other than grocery lists. It’s bizarre – you expect nice, tight lines only to find wide-ruled pages.

At the back of the notebook is the old reliable pocket folder, which the other Miquelrius we reviewed did not have. This is strange, as the pocket is PERFECTLY integrated into flexible nature of the notebook (unlike, say, the Moleskine soft cover planner, in which the rigid pocket inhibits its overall flexibility).

All said, this notebook is what is: a miniature soft cover black notebook. For me, it’s too small, and you don’t feel like you have space to write serious ideas (and given the wide lines, those pages fill up very quickly). At best, it’s a handy little notebook to jot phone numbers and addresses in. But as a Moleskine replacement, it needs to grow a bit.

Company website: Miquelrius.com
Where to buy: Kali Gift Bag ($5)

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The Poor Man’s Moleskine: The Colored Edge Notebook

May 18th, 2007 · 7 Comments · alternative to moleskine, black, black book, black notebook, blank book, cahier, hardcover, journal, Mazzuoli, mini journal, miquelrius, moleskine, moleskine notebook, molskine notebook, notebook, perfect notebook

In the past few entries, we’ve covered several Moleskine-esque soft covers, and one thing that has become clear: a key component of the archetypal “little black notebook” is a sturdy cover. As much as I like a soft cover that can be kept comfortably in your pocket, there is something about a durable hard cover that makes this sort of notebook special. Mazzuoli found a brilliant middleground in their perfect Stifflexibles line, but until that rises from the grave, we’re stuck looking for alternatives.

Ever heard of Leather, Etc.? Neither had I, but today, we’re reviewing their Moleskine alternative – the Colored Edge book. While you read this review, try to keep in mind that this thing only costs $3.08. That’s right – you could buy three for less than the price of one Moleskine.

Let’s start with the notebook itself. It’s black, with an imitation leather/cardboard cover. It seems as sturdy as the Moleskine cover, though is less oily.

I’m a big fan of colored page edges, as it’s the one area for character in an otherwise straight-forward notebook. To my knowledge, Leather, Etc. offers red, yellow, blue, green, purple, and black (the version we’re reviewing is black). Big points for this in my book.

One of the highlights of this notebook is in how the pages are attached to the spine. With the Moleskine, the pages are not directly attached to the spine of the notebook, meaning the spine juts outward when you try to open it flat. With the Colored Edge book, the cover always creases at a perfect angle no matter what page you open at. For all that talk about the Moleskine being able to sit flat on a table, the Colored Edge notebook does a better job.

The notebook has the standard elastic band to hold it shut (whoever manufactures those things must be making a mint on all these little black books). And for the first time, we have a small fabric loop to hold a pen with.

Though it looks big, it actually can only hold fairly thin pens. It’s an interesting addition, though one I don’t really need.

Now let’s get to the bad. First off, this is yet another in the line of notebooks that seem to think bigger is better.

At 4″ x 5 3/4″, it’s both wider and taller than the Moleskine, and is pretty much impossible to carry around in your pocket. Rather than go for the portability all little black notebooks should have, this feels more like a diary.

The second downside comes in the pages, which are more or less identical to the white lined notebook pages in a standard composition notebook.

Look, I don’t NEED quality pages, as I’m not one of those nuts that writes with an ink-heavy quill pen (I’m just one of those nuts who obsesses over finding the perfect notebook). But despite being “70lb ruled paper,” these pages feel just like any Staples-bought notebook I’ve ever used. To make matters worse, each page has that annoying 2-3 line header at the top, which I maintain is wasted space (don’t worry – the BC guide to making the perfect notebook will be coming soon).

Overall, this is basically a cheap alternative to the Moleskine. For me, the notebook is too big, and I don’t really need the pen holder. However, if you were to shrink it down an inch, add a pocket folder in the back and throw in a bookmark, I’d consider this some heavy competition. I love the way the spine works, the notebook feels sturdy enough, and the colored page edges are the cherry on top.

The Colored Edge notebooks lack one other thing the Moleskine has: pretentiousness. And for that, they can’t be praised highly enough. If you’re at all interested, $3.08 really won’t dent your wallet, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Company website: Leather, Etc. (Click to see the many variations in color, size, and design).
Where to buy: Mister Art ($3.08 – make sure to buy the 4″x5 3/4″ … We will be reviewing the smaller version in the near future, which is actually a reporter’s notebook)

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Xonex Ru: The (Very) Soft Cover Black Book

May 16th, 2007 · 12 Comments · black book

Today, we’re reviewing the Xonex Ru journal ($5.95). Check it out:

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: we know it’s not black. However, it’s the best we could do under short notice. Someone had sent us an email saying we should check out the Ru journal (the company is Xonex, the notebook line is Ru [Kanga Ru?]) and I’ve been searching New York for once ever since.

I was hoping for a charcoal, the closest they have to black:

Other colors include “ocean,” “rust,” “chocolate,” and “berry” – click here to see the full line. However, it quickly became apparent that Xonex has a very limited distribution. A call to the company set me on the right track, and I found a few in the wonderful Soho bookstore, Mcnally Robinson. No charcoal though, as it seems to be sold out everywhere.

Since all notebooks are inevitably compared to the godly Moleskine, let’s start with the obvious difference: the cover. The Ru journal is a soft cover, and it bends fairly easily (though with less flexibility than the Miquelrius).

Instead of an oil-cloth or leather/imitation leather cover, the Ru uses a dimpled cardboard cover that feels a bit waxy to the touch (apparently “latex-infused for durability”).

The cover is the first place where the Ru loses me. It just doesn’t feel protective enough. Though it looks decent in Amazon’s pictures, in reality, it feels like it will crease if you bend it too far. And the dimples are kind of pointless, even from a looks stand-point. Unlike the picture, you can barely see them, and they certainly don’t give you a better grip on the notebook. Overall, the cover really detracts from the Ru, as it just doesn’t have the sturdiness that can be found in any of the previous notebooks we’ve reviewed. God only knows what would happen if water were to hit this thing, though perhaps the latex-infusion will ward it off.

Size-wise, this notebook makes the same mistake as the Miquelrius – it’s too big. Measuring in at a whopping 4 1/8″ x 5 3/4″, it feels large enough to be a burden to carry around.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: size matters, and with any little black notebook, the key should be portability. Even though it’s flexible enough, it’s too big to keep comfortably in your pocket – and you get the feeling that with enough travel, this thing is going to fall to pieces.

Each Ru journal contains 128 acid free pages, and for those that care about paper thickness and texture, this is where the Ru shines. Without question, this has the highest quality paper of any notebook we’ve reviewed, and I imagine it’d be a dream for artists and doodlers alike.

It’s thick, smooth, and creamy. However, for my needs, I only need paper that doesn’t bleed through ink. And here’s another downside: the Ru only comes with blank pages (no lines), which pretty much eliminates it as a useful notebook to me. On the plus side, the Ru opens flatter than any notebook I’ve seen yet.

The Ru trumps the Miquelrius in one department: it has a back pocket, thus proving it is possible to have a soft cover with a pocket and still be flexible (the 2007 Moleskine Soft Cover Planner’s back pocket pretty much eliminates any of its flexibilty, while the Miquelrius didn’t even try to include on).

The pocket is on the big side, and much sturdier than the standard Moleskine’s. And keeping it all together is the trusty black elastic band.

I can’t recommend the Xonex Ru journal as any sort of Moleskine replacement, soft-cover or otherwise, because it aspires in a different direction. It feels more geared toward the artistic crowd than those looking for a general all-purpose little black lined notebook that can stand some abuse. In fact, when I was taking the plastic wrap off, the scissors pressed against the cover and left some permanent grooves; I can only imagine what a few weeks of being tossed around in constant use would do.

The Ru is meant to be treated with care, and with the high quality paper and modern design, I’m sure many artists would love to have a few of these to scribble in. For the rest of us, though, it is missing a basic level of simplicity and durability that would make it a Moleskine alternative. Be warned: this notebook looks a lot sweeter in pictures.

Company website: Xonex
To purchase: See what Amazon has left, call a rep for your region, or contact the company directly (recommended) – $5.95

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