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.