Monday, 9 October 2017

This notebook is a Ripper! (and that was a tear-able joke!)

In the hustle and bustle of Little Collins Street in the Melbourne CBD, lies a humble, little stationery haven named Bookbinders Design*. 

Bookbinders Design** is one of my favourite Melbourne stationery haunts. Its owners love what they do and you can feel the stationery love each time you meander through its well organised, colour-coded collections of notebooks (including their own, Leuchturrm, and Midori/Travellers) pens (including Caran d’Ache and Ajoto), washi tape, rubber stamps, paper (including Tomoe River) and general stationery paraphernalia.

The good folk at Bookbinders Design recently reached out to me to write a review of their notebook, and, delightfully, provided me with a monogramed notebook for the review. While the focus of this blog is fountain pens, clearly if one uses a fountain pen, one uses it on something: generally paper. Unbiased by giveaways (but happy to accept them) today’s blog is therefore a review of the Bookbinders Design Signature-design cloth notebook – clearly with a focus on Fountain pens.

To assist me in this review, I engaged the talents of the many who attended the recent Melbourne Pelikan Hubs event. “Please write in the notebook and let me know what you think” I asked them; and write and divulge they did.

I also asked a fellow Fountain Pens Australia Facebook member, (and one of the organisers of the Melbourne Pen Show) Silvana Abela, to join me in putting this notebook to the test; so, fountain pens at the ready we challenged and tested the Bookbinders Design Signature Notebook to see if it performs as well as it looks.
Our working table

The cover is really the centerpiece of the Bookbinders Design Signature Notebook. Indeed, as the name of the shop would imply, quality bookbinding is the hallmark of this establishment. The colours especially are what attracted me to both the shop and the notebook in the first place, and provide a fabulous “ambiente” to the shop. Made in Sweden from what they call “Bookbinding Linen” and coming in what I counted on their website to be over 20 different colours, these covers scream soft sophistication and sumptuous, Scandinavian style.
The colours in situ at Bookbinders by Design Shop

Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm
Notebook Cloth 210 x 240 mm

The cornucopia of colours of Bookbinders Design Signature-design notebooks on their website

I’m not sure that my iPhone can really do justice to the subtle weave of the cloth cover, but the weave is beautifully delicate and just begs to be touched. That being said, the cloth doesn’t feel flimsy or overly delicate either.

Bookbinders Design will also happily (for a price) personalise your notebook with initials or text to give it that extra personal touch. A range of fonts are offered including:
  • Artcraft italic,
  • Bodoni Trueface,
  • Caslon Bold,
  • Garamond Bold italic,
  • Helvetica Medium and
  • Mandate.

The lettering can be produced in seven different colours: gold, silver, copper, blind (I guess you just can’t see that one), clear, black and white (arguably, those latter too are not, technically, colours, but you get the drift).

Front cover
Back cover - subtle logo
Coming in three sizes: 170mm x 200mm, 210 x 240mm and A4, Bookbinders Design claim that their notebook in all its sizes is “Traditionally bound, like in the old days”Unfortunately I cannot claim to be a bookbinding buff; and I was not around in the old days (although my daughter would beg to differ); nevertheless I can say that the binding is certainly solid, it’s not stapled and I have no sense of anything other than high quality. Hopefully this picture will satisfy the more knowledgeable of you.
Yes, it comes with a bookmark too

The inside cover and opening page (front and back) are covered with a colour-matching, slightly thicker grade card-stock followed (or preceded in the case of the back cover) by the notebook proper. This both makes the book look a cut above many others, and nicely reinforces the colours of the cover.

The Bookbinders Design Signature Notebook does not open flat but not too far from it. And in holding it open, there is no sense of it being flimsy; or concern with it coming loose from its binding. Even so, one page or the other will always pop up a little towards the centre of the notebook, and this would be a little annoying if you were using it for drawing or similar artistic endeavour.
A notebook without paper is a folder. Paper maketh (or unmaketh) the notebook. In this case, Bookbinders Design use white, Swedish 100gsm paper (I can’t tell you what the difference between Swedish and other country’s 100gsm paper may be). The paper is smooth to the touch (so no obvious fibres), and does not appear coated in any way (like Rhodia paper may be).

Bookbinders Design also make a number of additional claims for the blank and ruled formats of their paper:

1.    Acid free
2.    Totally chlorine free (TCF) – I guess this means you         can swim in it without hurting your eyes
3.    Age-Resisting (what’s your secret?); and
4.    Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC).

What does all this mean? Well my research has dug up the following:

1.    The advantage of Acid-free paper is that it provides a good base for the things you put on your paper to remain there and not disappear over time. Paper with acid in it (which is not uncommon) can interact with the materials you use on the paper and cause them to decay over time
2.    Chlorine is often used in the wood pulp bleaching process. Why is this bad? Where chorine is used, the compounds are generally released into waterways as effluent where they may produce environmental damage. So this won’t change your writing experience, just something for the soul (not to be underestimated).
3.    Age-resistant paper is also linked with the acid-free component. According to an article sourced from Klug conservation, in order for paper to claim that it is age-resistant it must meet the following criteria:
“ • The paper must be free of unbleached cellulose pulp or wooden fibres. Thus pulp or semi-pulp fibre materials can be excluded.
• The paper must possess a low content of oxidisable material,” …
“• The paper must have an alkaline buffer – an alkaline reserve – of at least 2 % natural calcium carbonate.
• The pH value in the cold water extract must lie between 7.5 and 10.”
[See, that’s much clearer!]
4.    FSC is a certification that, since 1993 allows customer to choose paper, amongst other things, that has been sourced in an environmentally-friendly, socially responsible and economically viable way. (source: mother nature network)

OK. All this is starting well. The real test however, is how does it cope with being written on?

The Melbourne Pelikan Hubsters assisted this review by writing in my Bookbinders Design Signature Notebook in various pens and inks. Silvana and I then continued to play with the paper to see what it could do…

If you are planning to use a fountain pen, pencil, ballpoint or other writing implement to write in your Bookbinders notebook, we think you’ll be happy with your choice. We wrote on the paper in a variety of inks and nibs and, with the exception of what looks like a red marker (to the Pelkan Hubster that wrote “Pelikan Hubs” in red – feel free to post a comment on what you used), there was really no bleed-through or problem.

Back of the previous page - very little bleed-through with fountain pens

One hubster suggested that there was a little feathering; but we examined the pages thoroughly and, other than with a 30x loupe, we could not visibly discern any feathering with regular nibs. Drying time was about average (probably quicker than Tomoe River). When we used dip nibs, however, whether it was scratching the paper or a higher saturation of ink, there was some minor feathering to the writing.

Next we tried using some calligraphy pens of a brand named Automatic Pens (that were a lot of fun to use, and easy to clean). The results here were not so good. In each case we drew one continuous line and then wrote underneath it, mostly in dip pen. What we found was that while there was no discernable issue on the page in question, there was bleed-through to the next page, and the dampness made an impression on a number of following pages. 
You can see the dip nibs start to feather a little here; although the saturated lines look OK.
Unfortunately, those saturated lines have started to saturate through

We were so intrigued by this that we wrote again on the paper with a 2.4mm Pilot Parallel and a 1.1 Franklin Christoph stub nib (in a Pen Addict FC pen) to see if there were any issues on the paper – there were none; but upon drawing another wetter, thicker line underneath this, BAM, more bleed-through.

Once again, no real issue with normal fountain pen writing (even with the 2.4mm Pilot Parallel); but once the ink gets a little saturated...
 We then tested the wider line and same ink on Rhodia graph paper  (which is coated) and Midori (MD) Paper (which does not appear to be coated) to see if they performed any better. The Midori paper had no bleed through at all and the Rhodia paper had next to no bleed-through. Our conclusion is that perhaps all that environmentally positive lack of bleaching, chlorine and the FSC accreditation means that some of the chemicals needed to stop the bleed-through were unable to be used here, causing some issue when a more saturated ink line is required.

Just to be thorough, we tried a few ballpoint and pencil scribblings too (we drew the line - see what I did there? - at rollerballs); and unsurprisingly all was good on that front.

The Bookbinders Design Signature Notebook is an excellent, value-for-money product. The quality of binding, the ridiculously large option of different colour covers, the presentation and monogram options all make for an extremely desirable and useful product/gift that will protect your writing and last for generations.

From a fountain pen (and ballpoint/pencil) users perspective, the paper offers a fabulous surface for writing or drawing. If you were thinking of using the notebook for painting or larger, wetter ink exposures however, be wary of bleed-through to the next page – put something behind the page to protect following pages and all should be forgiven.

Thankyou Bookbinders Design for providing the Notebook, and to Silvana and the Melbourne Pelikan Hub folk for their contributions to the testing regime. I look forward to seeing you all at the Melbourne Pen Show on 26 November; and don't forget to have a happy International Fountain Pen Day on 3 November.

 Until next tine...

*Bookbinders Design should not be mistaken with that other excellent Australian stationery purveyor: Bookbinders Online, which is an unaffiliated stationery company based in Aspley, Queensland, on the North east coast of Australia.

**Pelikan Hub is a world-wide event auspiced by Pelikan Pens where fountain pen owners around the world are encouraged to meet in cities around the world on a single night in September each year to share their pens, inks and good humour.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Wing Sung, Jinhao, Hero, Delike, Ling Mo and more are making Marx - but is it a Chinese Revolution?

I don't know about you, but I've been doing a little more than Peking into the recent batch of fountainpens coming out of China and, by and large there is Mao to like than I would have figured!

The Great Wall. From left: Wing Sung 618 (first 3 pens, mix between Parker 51 with Sailor Progear colouring), Jinhao 992 (green, Sailor progear clone), Delike New Moon (another Sailor clone, slim, and solid colour), Wing Sung 698 (Twsbi variation), 5 more Jinhao 992s in different colours, and a Ling Mo Lorelei (yes, the spirit that lured Sailors to their death!)
I know that imitation is meant to be the most sincere form of flattery but surely there has to come a point....! 

Yes, they're derivative; very derivative. These Chinese fountainpen offspring are clearly not the first borns of the Lamy, Parker, Montblanc, Sailor and even Twsbi that they seek to emulate;  nevertheless, they are generally inexpensive (I paid AU$1.25 for a Lamy Safari cloned Hero 359 in transparent green); and some offer interesting variations on the theme.

Wing Sung is one brand that appears to be playing with its designs and doing a good job with it. [For an incisive review of the Wing Sung brand evolution, go here: the new Wing Sung ]

I have recently acquired two Wing Sung models: the much lauded 698 and the 618 (also called TuSu). The 698 is essentially a (cheaper) copy of the TWSBI 580; and the 618 is the love-child of the Parker 51 (hooded nib, arrowed clip) and the Sailor sparklies. While the derivative theme remains however, the differences are interesting. 

Wing Sung 698, inked with Caran d'Ache Amazon
The Wing Sung 698 has a clever locking mechanism on the piston to stop accidental turns and inkplosions (especially when posted). Twsbi doesn't have this. The nib has a clear feed (which is nice), is more than adequate in its own right and is interchangeable with Pilot Kakuno and Metropolitan - making it quite versatile. The ink capacity, like the Twsbi, is significant, making it an excellent long-writing-stint pen and only AU$15. Do I prefer it to my TWSBI 580? No. As good as it is, the TWSBI feels more solid and has an intangible higher feel of quality to it (Which it should given that I could buy six 698s for the price of one TWSBI - which in itself is not expensive) . I'm not passing in my TWSBIs; but I am very happy with my 698, and it will remain in my rotation as a serious contender for my attention.
Wing Sung TuSu 618
The WIng Sung TuSu 618 is their latest offering. Another piston filling pen but this time with a hooded nib and gold arrow clip (a la Parker 51) with steel and 12k gold nibs (I only have the steel) and sporting a semi-transparent coloured body with little touches of glitter akin to Sailor offerings. There is also a non-glitter navy blue edition. These pens are attractive; but to my eyes appear a little gaudy and plasticky. They are also very, very light, which adds to the sense of "cheapness" to the pens. This said, the writing experience is excellent and the price low (same as the 698, but to me not up to the same standard). The factor that sets these pens aside as part of a serious and improving Chinese pen offering, is that Wing Sung are experimenting with differences that are drawing attention to their brand in its own right and gathering a following.

Pens like the Ling Mo Lorelei and Delike New Moon (pictured below) are also upping the feel of quality in Chinese pens and adding to the "legitimacy" of Chinese pen offerings against their more costly rivals and making Chinesse pens a genuine alternative to the "main-stream" international brands.

Chinese pens have always been cheaper, but now they are starting to rival for substance. It will take a long march indeed for these Chinese siblings to match the originals; so it's not so much a revolution as an evolution - and anything may happen along the way. 

Nevertheless, if the current progress of Chinese pens continues, the entire Quillosphere will benefit from the results.

PS. Don't forget that November 3rd is the date for the 2017 Fountain Pen Day

Go here for more information and support Quillidealism everywhere!