Chapter 2 of Barnes & Notebooks

Six months ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the notebook selection at a local Barnes & Noble. I was back at the same store this week and, once again, found things that were interesting and new to me.

Having learned from the previous visit where items were randomly mixed across a few displays, I did my best to look methodically shelf by shelf. Several of the items that stood out to me from last time were still there like Kokuyo Campus, Rhodia Goalbook, Rollbahn (saw some different cover designs), Nuuna, and Good Inkpressions. Midori and Laconic, maybe the most unexpected brands I saw in January, were not spotted this time.

What did I discover in this round of shelf combing? Quite a bit.

  • Stalogy Editor’s Series in A5 (full & half year) and B6 (full year). There were a handful of cover colors to choose from. These are great notebooks, although I would love to see Stalogy make the A5 with 6 or 7mm lined pages. The 4mm grid is fine, mostly because the lines are pale and unobtrusive, but a lined option would suit my needs better.

  • Castelli were mostly hardbound A5-ish size. The covers in store were all solid colors, none of the more interesting patterns and variations they list online. They were also sealed in plastic wrap so I couldn’t get a sense of the paper.

  • Karst Stone Paper seems like a nice overall product. I appreciate the idea of recycling a different kind of material to make paper that has some interesting features. However, past experience with stone paper wasn’t great for me. It feels quite smooth to the touch and to write on, but when I used it with fountain pens the inks suffered a lot of fading or color shift over the span of several months. Your experience may vary with different writing tools.

  • Good Juju had some nice covers, paper seemed okay.

  • Field Notes had just a few items. The Game Master & Character Journals as well as a plain mixed 3 pack of the classic pocket size.

  • Blackwing Slate but only in white.

  • Mossery had some nice looking cover designs. It appears you can get their items personalized when ordering direct online.

  • Poketo is a brand that does a lot more than notebooks and planners. Their style stands out with bold colors and patterns.

  • Vent for Change presents a big sustainability message with notebook covers made of recycled plastic and pages of recycled paper.

  • Tuttle Publishing had a few A5 hardcover journals with nice covers. I’d never heard of this company and the story on their website is worth a look.

  • Leuchtturm’s section had some notebooks advertising 120g superior paper” that’s extra smooth” with low transparency.” Their usual 80gsm paper is okay with fountain pens in my experience but it can vary based on what you’re using. I might try this heavier paper if they put it in a softcover pocket size notebook, but I imagine they’d keep it focused in the more expensive end of the range.

  • Fin Studio had a few notebooks as part of a separate display table filled with items of similar theme and color. The cover says they are handmade outside of London and the product does have that feel about it.

  • Putinki is from Finland and part of their line is products centered on the Moomin characters. The look is Dr. Seuss-ish but if you’re into this Scandinavian children’s book and comic strip series that started in the 1940s then here is your notebook.

Finland checking in. Who'd have guessed? Finland checking in. Who'd have guessed?

But that’s not quite everything I saw. Here are three notebooks I took home.

From left - Nakabayashi Logical Air, Notem, and Quartier Libre notebooks from Barnes & Noble. From left - Nakabayashi Logical Air, Notem, and Quartier Libre notebooks from Barnes & Noble.

First up is a Nakabayashi Logical Air B5. Nakabayashi notebooks are like Kokuyo and Itoya Profolio to me in that they tend to fly under the radar despite offering excellent paper quality at good prices. I’ve had a few notebooks with their Logical Prime paper which is thicker and smoother than the Air version. Their selling point is that the thinner Air paper saves weight and bulk.

Nakabayashi Logical Air B5Nakabayashi Logical Air B5

The pages also have a combination of varied lines and markings that can help you organize and subdivide pages based on your needs. The inside cover details this feature for your convenience.

You don't have to do any of this stuff, but it's kind of neat to see the possibilities.You don't have to do any of this stuff, but it's kind of neat to see the possibilities.

The paper has more texture than I thought it might but not to the detriment of the writing experience. The binding lays flat easily, which is always appreciated. The outside is plain, but for $7 I think it’s strong value for the paper quality and how many pages you get.

Diamine Wild Strawberry in a Parker fine steel nib on Nakabayashi Logical Air 56gsm paper.Diamine Wild Strawberry in a Parker fine steel nib on Nakabayashi Logical Air 56gsm paper.

The next notebook is from Notem, a Danish brand I wasn’t familiar with. This is their medium size Vita. It’s about 5% smaller than B5 standard.

Notem Vita MediumNotem Vita Medium

I like the cover’s combination of a basic pattern with a pop of color. The paper is listed at 100gsm and the finest quality” from Scandinavia.

The page format is what interested me most about the Notem. It’s like a composition book except the margin is blank.

It gives a different look that I like. I always used to doodle or idly scribble in the margins of composition books, so the lack of lines there appeals to me as uninterrupted free space alongside the standard ruling.

The paper is not coated but feels pretty smooth. It gave a little feedback in the writing sample. It handled the ink well and show through level is acceptable. The Notem cost $12.99. The paper size is just a bit smaller than the Nakabayashi, but you get 80 sheets in the Nakabayashi versus 80 pages (40 sheets) in the Notem. Fewer sheets keep the Notem relatively light and portable because 80 sheets of their thicker paper would get a bit hefty.

Diamine Wild Strawberry in a Parker fine steel nib on Notem Vita 100gsm paper.Diamine Wild Strawberry in a Parker fine steel nib on Notem Vita 100gsm paper.

Notem’s product aesthetics are in the Ikea vein, which would track with the Scandinavian origins. If that jives with you then I think their notebooks are worth a punt if you see one around.

In some ways, the last notebook is the least me” of the group but it was the first one I picked up and immediately knew I was buying.

Quartier Libre Landes A5Quartier Libre Landes A5

This is an A5 from Quartier Libre and the cover pattern is called Landes. My French is awfully rusty, but the company website tells me they are headquartered in Toulouse and make their products in the Occitanie region.

The cover art is what got me on this notebook. I like it a lot.

Hot foil stamped logo looks great. Hot foil stamped logo looks great.

There’s a texture to the cover as well. This may seem an odd comparison, but the pattern and texture are a lot like the dust filter you’d find under the front grille of an air conditioner. As a notebook cover it feels nice to the touch and durable. It gives the artwork an extra je ne sais quoi. [Sorry, I just want my high school French teacher, Mrs. Russell, to be proud of me.]

The inside is where this notebook diverges from my usual taste. There are pencil drawings and quotations from French authors scattered here and there among the pages.

I can almost smell the baguettes.I can almost smell the baguettes.

Fun and whimsical but not the best for actual writing. Fun and whimsical but not the best for actual writing.

There’s a bit of getting hit on the head with We’re French, in case you didn’t notice,” but I don’t mind the added elements for the most part. A few of them, like the Eiffel Tower above, do affect the usability of a page. I just might like it better if the drawing were of a Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 or a Citroën DS. Both are as iconically French as the Tower to me.

The paper is 100gsm and smooth. There’s some texture that reveals itself on the edges of the letters but it’s minor.

Diamine Wild Strawberry in a Parker fine steel nib on Quartier Libre 100gsm paper. Diamine Wild Strawberry in a Parker fine steel nib on Quartier Libre 100gsm paper.

At $16.99, this is the most expensive notebook I bought. That’s getting a bit pricey for 80 pages of A5 when the primary appeal is not high-end paper or a specialized layout. But I didn’t buy this notebook for the writing experience or the additional Francophilia. I got it because I love the cover. Wouldn’t be the first time I (or any of you) bought a notebook for that reason. Won’t be the last.

25 June 2024

What’s What 6/12/24

Inked Right Now

  • Taccia Spectrum with Robert Oster Morning Mist

  • Parker Duofold Maxima with Waterman Harmonious Green

  • Pelikan Steno with Pelikan 4001 Violet

Gone from last time: everything.

The Duofold took over daily journal duty from the Pilot Custom. It has a different feel than the other pens I’ve used in this role so far. It’s an excellent writer with more of a pencil-like feel on the page rather than a smooth glide. I never tire of look at the nib either with its crisp arrow engraving.

The Taccia makes a smooth wide line and has been great for showing off the Robert Oster ink. If thicker stub nibs are your thing, the Taccia steel music nibs are certainly worth a look.

The best word to describe writing with the Pelikan is…interesting. The nib is flexible but not as predictable as other flex nibs I own. I like seeing variation in my letters, but with the Steno I don’t always know where or how much it will happen. The point at which is starts to railroad is always sooner than I think it will be. Even in normal writing under ideal conditions I’m caught out by the how the line changes. To be fair, this is less the pen’s responsibility than mine because its design is aimed toward a certain kind of stenography. If my hand position and movement were more practiced than casual, I might see more consistent results. Still, when it flexes with an ink like this 4001 Violet, the shading is so nice that I tend to forget the technicalities.

Should I try to adapt myself more to the Steno’s quirks or just let it do what it does and que será, será?

12 June 2024

Nib Comparison: Pilot Capless F, FM, M

A brief note before we get to the nibs. After publishing this post and viewing the list of all posts on the site, I realized it was one year ago today that I started Line Variation. I didn’t know how well I would stick with doing this, if at all, when it started and I’ve no idea where that much time went. It’s been fun to share what I love about pens and stationery. I hope what I’ve shared has been of some value or help to others and I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read anything I’ve written. I extend particular thanks to The Pen Addict, The Gentleman Stationer, and The Well-Appointed Desk for any links to my posts in their weekly roundups. You guys help all of us find and keep in touch with one another, which is a great thing for the community.

Having recently received a Decimo with a fine medium nib, I wanted to see how it compared side by side with the fine and medium nibs I’ve owned for a few years.

The fine medium (FM) came by way of a Decimo from Nagasawa Stationery in Kobe, Japan. I don’t know the frequency or limits of the Nagasawa Decimo releases but the FM nib option was the real selling point to me.

I love writing with the standard F and M nibs. Both have a touch of softness that feels nice on the page. The F is a great nib to use at work as I’m writing in a small pocket notebook throughout the day. Even on average office paper it doesn’t overdo things. It’s always smooth with excellent flow. The M is notably wider and works for showing off more of an ink’s shade or sheen properties. More of a journal or leisure time nib for me.

So why get the FM? Mostly curiosity to see if it splits the difference. I like to sample in-between or not quite standard nib sizes and I could not recall ever seeing an FM nib in the Capless range. I have an FM on my Pilot CH92. It writes nicely but is much more of a fine than a 50/50 split with medium. A capital F and lowercase m, if you will.

The physical shape and size of the Capless FM lands between the F and M.

From the side, the FM profile looks somewhat more angular and less rounded, for as much as my phone camera can display.

Pilot Capless fine nib.Pilot Capless fine nib.

Pilot Capless fine medium nibPilot Capless fine medium nib

Pilot Capless medium nibPilot Capless medium nib

(From top) Medium, fine medium, and fine Pilot Capless nibs. (From top) Medium, fine medium, and fine Pilot Capless nibs.

I inked the three nibs all in a row from the same bottle using the same style converter to keep things as even as possible. The results weren’t quite what I expected, but maybe I should have known as much.

This image was scanned on a flatbed rather than photographed on my phone. For full size and the best details, either download it or right click and view it separately.

The biggest difference on the FM nib is the flow. It’s drier than the F and M and just not putting as much ink on the page. The F and M nibs have a lot of miles on them and the FM is brand new. I’ve never had a Pilot nib that needed any break-in period but I must consider that this being the first time the FM ever wrote may not give it equal footing with the others. The FM nib has more paper feel feedback, which I think must relate to the reduced flow. There’s no fault in the FM’s performance but perhaps it needs a few laps around the track before we know its true nature.

The other notable difference with the FM nib is how it writes horizontal lines when held at a higher angle. The lines get much thinner and lighter. The feel is scratchier. The side profile of how the FM nib is cut gives me the impression this is what the nib would do anyway, but there’s still some degree to which this must tie back to the ink flow. Reverse writing barely puts anything down.

For the moment, I think all this test writing and looking closely at nib tips may have demonstrated is that I need to spend more time with the FM nib. Let the first impression be just that and revisit this in a while.

Anyone else used a Capless FM nib? What were your experiences?

3 June 2024

What’s What 5/20/24

International arrivals, domestic departures, and ocean metaphor.

Inked Right Now

  • Kaweco AL-Sport with Montblanc UNICEF

  • Visconti Opera Gold with Delta Black

  • Pilot Custom with Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo

  • Pilot Nagasawa Decimo with Nagasawa Kobe Coast Stone Grey

I must have nudged the converter a bit too far because UNICEF was pouring onto the page. Even for the Sport's BB nib it was a lot. I must have nudged the converter a bit too far because UNICEF was pouring onto the page. Even for the Sport's BB nib it was a lot.

Gone from last time: Parker 25 and Pilot Prera.

The orange Kaweco and blue Montblanc pairing is in celebration of Lando Norris winning the F1 Miami Grand Prix for McLaren.

The Pilot Custom is excelling on daily journal duty.

The Opera Gold was covered here.

The Decimo? Well, it just kinda snuck in. Let me explain…

New & Exciting

On the same day the Visconti arrived there was a newsletter in my inbox from Yoseka Stationery. One of the new items featured was a Pilot Decimo with a gray gradient color scheme made for Nagasawa, a stationery retailer in Kobe, Japan. Most of the pens I’d ever seen online with Nagasawa’s name were Sailors. I wasn’t familiar with their previous Decimo releases.

I wasn’t in the market for another Decimo. I had given some consideration to tracking down a past release special color or limited edition Decimo from the Japanese market, but that figured to be a search & wait operation on eBay in the hopes of getting lucky. There’s an outside chance I’d come across something at the local annual pen show. Either way, the idea of a new Decimo was on the far back burner in my mind.

I looked at the Kobe Gradation Kaigan Stone Grey (official name for this colorway as far I can tell) and it made an impression. More surprising, I was drawn to the gold trim over the rhodium. Hmmm. It’s a handsome pen and a model I already love, but that’s not enough to command a $100 premium over the standard Decimo.

Then I noticed it was offered with a Fine Medium nib, which is not available on regular Decimos in the USA. I have standard fine and medium nibs for my Decimos. Fine is my go-to but the medium is nice too. Is splitting that difference worth the stretch? Did I mention the two Kobe inks that inspired the pen’s color were also available?

I put the pen and two ink samples in the shopping cart and figured I’d give myself a day or two to consider it. A few minutes later I thought I probably couldn’t wait that long because the pen would sell out. Trying to get one later would likely see additional price markup. I clicked the button to check out and here we are.

I had a stage of rationalization, saying things like it’s a Decimo, that’s your most-used pen” and you won’t ever find that nib size again in brand new condition.” That’s all just talk. Ultimately, the Decimo was a straight up impulse buy. The kind of thing I worked on reducing last year and had avoided completely this year.

I’m not angry with myself because I decided a while ago that serves no purpose in this type of situation. However, it does serve as a reminder of how the behavior we think of as being disciplined is sometimes just the ebb tide of desire to do the other thing. The time of high tide is when discipline shows…or doesn’t. Keep at it regardless.

Working On

I donated some pens and notebooks to kickstart some (late) spring cleaning of the stationery collection. There’s another set of pens that I may sell off as a single lot. For all my mentions of getting nib grinds done on pens I already own, I haven’t sent out one yet. That should move to the top of the priority list.

20 May 2024