Saturday, 25 June 2011

Monsieur Notebooks

A few weeks ago I was sent these attractive leather-bound books from Hide Stationery, a recently-established English company that sells them under the Monsieur brand. These notebooks are hand-bound in India, by craftsmen paid fair wages, and have a definite "hand-made" artisanal feel about them; you can see from the occasional loose fibre on the edges of the leather that they have been cut by hand. These are not high-end leather goods as you might see in Smythson's, but a practical alternative for the rest of us. (That said, I really must replace my Game Book before the start of the grouse season as my current one is nearly full. ;-)) The leather is very rigid on the small black notebook, but has more "give" on the larger, A5 book. Monsieur state that the leather used in the binding is vegetable-tanned, and it shows in the patterns you see in the leather. As this is a natural material you will notice slight blemishes, marks and wrinkles which I think is part of the charm. See below for a close-up of the finish on the A5 brown leather notebook.

The books are stiff when new, and take a little bit of effort to open. They are perfect-bound, and don't lay flat when opened. Over time, I should think it will be easier to make it lie flat, as the leather in the spine is broken in. They have that leathery aroma, as another reminder of this book's cover material.

The black notebook is around A6 size, 145mm high by 110mm. It has 192 6mm ruled pages of 90gsm ivory paper. I have no information to hand as to the origin of the paper used, but hopefully this is also obtained from sustainable sources. Taking my fountain pens and a few pencils out, I tested the paper to see how well it handles fountain pen ink and graphite.

As you can see, the paper can handle my inks fairly well. There's a bit of feathering on the Diamine Imperial Blue from my M90, perhaps some also with the Kelly Green, but that is all. My M90 is a wet writer anyway, which is why I use it to test paper in these reviews. When you turn the page, you do notice some bleedthrough, though it's not excessive by any means.

This is a classic "little black book" for writing down your innermost thoughts, or perhaps just notes from a boring business meeting. With this cover, it should last for years in your handbag or briefcase. I like this little notebook a lot, but for me the winner in this pair is the larger, brown leather bound A5 notebook. This one also has 192 pages, this time of plain paper of the same off-white stock as the black notebook. As I don't draw very well, I did not test the paper on this book, but I imagine it behaves as well as the paper in its smaller cousin. This is the proper size for a leather-bound notebook, I think. It's big enough for sketches, for which the plain paper helps. It's not far removed from the kind of notebook you would imagine Charles Darwin scribbling in as he wandered around the Galapagos islands.

Both notebooks have the regulation Moleskine-style elastic closure and bookmark ribbon, though they lack the Mole's inside-pocket. Good; Monsieur seem to have decided to keep things simple, and the pocket introduces more complexity to the design. The name and address plate on the inside is there however, printed in the art nouveau style. It's also styled in French as it says simply, "Nom, etc."

Both notebooks also have an embossed Monsieur logo on the back cover, complete with moustache and monocle. To my eye also harks back to the belle epoque, and makes for a nice finishing touch:

I think these notebooks are excellent, and should become more interesting over time as the material ages; by the time you've filled it up with your jottings, it'll look like the diary in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Some people may find them a bit rough-and-ready, but I like that quality, and they fill a niche for hand-made leather notebooks which would otherwise be satisfied by more expensive products. The A6 retails for up to GBP9.99 and the A5 for up to GBP12.99.

They are available at a few stationers' in the UK, and online at Papernation.

My thanks to Tom at Hide Stationery for the review samples.


  1. Hi. I wasn't lucky enough to get a freebie, but then delighted to discover a retail stockist just three minutes walk from my home in Margate. I treated myself to the A5 and haven't been able to stop sniffing it since! It is a strong contender and feels nicer than the hardness of Leuchtturm 1917 and as good as Rhodia dot webbie. Guess it'll be my new favourite. All the best, Colin

  2. Looks great! I saw a similar one in Homesense recently, and even though the leather of the Homesense one looked nicer, it had some strange wavy shapes, so the Monsieur notebook looks better overall. Very nice.

  3. Hi
    We have had samples as well and they seem different enough to the usual Moleskine and look-alikes for us to make them a stock item. They are not factory-made so like you say, the blemishes are part of the charm. Our experience of photo albums like this was a bit marmite - some loved them, some really didn't. We hope to get them in in the next few days, and we'll see how they go.

  4. loved the review and the product. does anyone know of an online retailer or a shop that ships to the U.S? not being able to order from their UK site, as it not able to give me shipping costs.

  5. Hello!

    Here at Hide we're very chuffed with the review! Thank you!

    Carmen, stock our books, and they deliver worldwide. Fail that, we're looking into US distributors in time for 2012!

    All the best,

    Tom Strickland
    Hide Stationery

  6. I think I've fallen in love with that notebook... :)

  7. I do love the back cover logo :o)