Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Daycraft Slab Notebooks

As I mentioned in the last review, the recent package I received from Daycraft included more than just the Astrology Notebook. I also received a pair of Slab Notebooks, one finished in gold and one in wood effect.

Like all the Daycraft products I have reviewed, these are quirky and fun notebooks. Each measures 108mm x 157mm and holds a hefty 360 pages (180 sheets) of 80gsm paper, bound with stiff board covers. Each weighs around 270g - over half a pound if you still use US or Imperial weights and measures.

The Gold Slab looks particularly impressive, although it is rather loud for my personal taste. Clearly, it's designed to resemble a gold ingot. It may not be very clear from my poor photography, but on the front cover it reads:



Inside, the cream-coloured pages are printed with 7mm lines. On closer inspection, they turn out to be fine chains across the page.

The pages are glued and stitched together into the block. The spine on the cover separates from the pages, which enables the pages to be laid quite flat on a desk surface. All the pages are edged in gold.

The Brown Slab is covered in a wood-veneer material which is textured. The picture below illustrates this well, I think:

There is no print on the cover at all. This material reminds me strongly of the birch veneer used on Ikea furniture, although it is a bit darker, closer to beechwood colour. It would not appear out of place on a Billy bookcase. If you have an Ikea birch veneer desk this notebook could be camouflaged easily; as it is, it hides nicely when photographed against a piece of MDF. The edges of the paper are also finished in a wood effect; the attention to detail here is such that the woodgrain on the edges is in line with that on the covers.

The pages are also lined, but this time, the Brown Slab has a surprise in store: the lines are not straight, but slightly wavy as though they had been drawn by hand.

It's little details like this which make this a delightful notebook for daily use. Given the choice I'd probably opt for the stealthier Brown Slab, but I can see why the Gold would be a popular choice. Over time, I can see the corners becoming dog-eared and the surfaces becoming marked and scratched, but these are notebooks which are so much fun to own and use they should always raise a smile. Recommended.

Thanks again to Mr Foreal Lee for the review samples.

Note: since I posted the review of the Astrology notebook I have been informed by Daycraft that they now have a UK distributor for their products, so readers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should hopefully see them on the shelves and online in the next few months.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

This is the EDC

Recently I bought a Maxpedition EDC Pocket Organiser online to organise my EDC (Every Day Carry). I spent a lot of time recently, reading about EDC and watching videos on Youtube on the subject before getting the organiser, pictured above. Regular readers will notice a couple of familiar items in the picture. From left to right, they are:

  • Pilot M90
  • Spare Pilot ink cartridges
  • Pilot Capless
  • Laser pointer (since replaced as EDC by a black Lamy Safari)
  • Uni Kuru Toga pencil
  • Black Sharpie permanent marker
  • County Comm 4-inch prybar
  • Cheap ballpoint pen (although I despise ballpoint pens they can be useful sometimes)
  • Nitecore D11 LED flashlight
  • Small scissors
  • Cheap disposable lighter
  • Victorinox Sportsman folding knife
  • Carton 10x power jeweller's loupe.
  • Not pictured, but in there: a red Inova micro LED flashlight and a wad of 3x5 index cards.

Since the picture was taken, I have changed things around somewhat. I don't usually carry the laser pointer (which I use for astronomy) or the loupe, and instead carry a Snow Peak titanium spork and a couple more pens - a Pilot 78G filled with Private Reserve Plum ink and a Pilot V5 rollerball pen. Do you think I like Pilot pens much?

The EDC Pocket lives most of the time in my briefcase, or on my desk at work. There's only the one pencil, which I have not used so it may be rotated out. Pencils tend to live in a separate pencil case along with my eraser and sharpener. I usually move things around dependent on what I find most useful: hence the preponderance of fountain pens. If I worked somewhere other than an office, I'm sure the tools would be different.

One other thing I have done is to have an embroidered name-badge made which is stuck by Velcro to the hook-and-loop field on the front.

Anyone interested may like to check out a few videos on Youtube: here, here and here.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Lions Fair 2011

Last weekend, the local Lions held their annual charity fair in the town's Corn Exchange. There wasn't much to write home about on the stationery front, although I did notice an Adler Gabriele typewriter for sale. It sold, but not to me.

I did buy a nice Rexel stapler of 1970s-1980s vintage which works perfectly, and which still holds some staples in it, for GBP0.10 (yes, ten pence), and a self-inking rubber stamp making kit for GBP0.50. This one comes with letters in 6mm, 5mm and 4mm sizes. When I think of a suitable slogan other than that under which this blog labours, I'll post pictures. I'm not feeling particularly inspired right now, however, so it may have to wait a while. Suggestions most welcome.

No pictures this time; sorry folks.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Daycraft Astrology Notebook

A few weeks ago I received another nice parcel from Daycraft in Hong Kong, some of whose notebooks I reviewed a few months ago. It contained three pocket notebooks, the first of which I review here. This is the Astrology Notebook.

Open the packaging, and out comes a very handsome pocket notebook indeed; it has black PU covers, adorned with a fairly accurate rendition of the constellation Gemini set out in Swarovski crystals. The shape of the constellation is picked out by fine grooves between the stars.

At the time of writing (end of November 2011) Gemini is well-placed low in the Eastern horizon in the evenings. It's a bright constellation and not easily missed once you recognise Castor and Pollux, which are represented on the cover by the two largest crystals, towards the top left in the picture.

Naturally, as an amateur astronomer I must dismiss astrology as pure superstition; and of course I do think it's complete hokum. But I couldn't say the same for the Astrology Notebook. It is beautifully made. The stiff board covers look robust, and in strong light, reflections ping off the crystals. You could easily lose track of the time playing with it to see all the different colours. On the day I took these photos, the Sun was shining, which allowed me to take advantage:

The Astrology Notebook measures 148mm by 102mm (roughly 6 inches by 4 inches) and holds 176 pages of what appears to be Daycraft's usual 100gsm paper stock. Every page is printed with a cross-hair design in feint grey which gives you a choice of orientation: you could use it as a regular notebook, or perhaps as a reporter's notebook, which would be my preferred option.

There is a clear sheet enclosed in the inside cover which shows the twelve constellations of the Zodiac, which looks like it could double as a window sticker. The inside cover also has printed on it the astrological symbol for Gemini, and some character traits attributed to Geminis (Versatile and clever. You're someone with sense. You can also be nervous and sometimes too tense. )

Like all the Daycraft notebooks I have reviewed, this is a well thought-out and executed notebook. It looks too nice to write in, almost; it would certainly make a nice Christmas present if you were looking for a stocking-filler. I wonder how robust it may be, however, and how long it may take before the crystals were knocked off. Anyone buying the Astrology Notebook may be well advised to keep it in the smart presentation case it is sold in if they intend to use it as an everyday carry notebook. Would I use it? Of course, but I'd have to prise it from my daughter's hands as she's already claimed it for herself.


My thanks to Mr. Foreal Lee from Daycraft for the review samples.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Stationery Archeology 9

The ninth entry in the stationery archeology strand features another gift from my penfriend Richard in Georgia, USA. (Thank you very much!) This pair of moulded glass inkwells appear to date from the late nineteenth Century, or perhaps the early twentieth. I cannot see any markings or date on them, so that's my guess.

The bottle on the left is very delicate, and seems to have been sand-blasted or weathered somehow to leave a matte finish. The bottle on the right is sturdier, but has a number of bubbles in the glass and a pronounced ridge where the two halves were mated at the factory. Both are moulded from the same green glass.

Monday, 31 October 2011

No No No NaNoWriMo

Best of luck to all those brave souls who will participate in this year's NaNoWriMo. I won't be joining you. I've simply got too much else on my plate during November to worry about getting 1,667 words down on paper every single day, or, more likely, saving it all up for the weekends. To be honest, writing a blog sometimes seems like too much work.

It's not that I don't want to write a novel; indeed I once did, back when I was a student and I had a lot more spare time. In fact I have an idea for a novel which would make a fine subject for a crack at the coveted title. But not this year.

Are any readers here about to take the plunge?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Palomino Blackwing 602

Postscript: I forgot to mention in this review that due to the softness of the lead, the pink eraser on this review pencil worked very well. Mike sent me a second Blackwing, this time with the black eraser, but I've not used that one.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Stationery Archeology 8

Next in this increasingly infrequent series is this, a bullet pencil kindly sent by my correspondent in Georgia, USA, Richard. Bullet pencils are largely unknown here in England - although I have found some examples on the interweb - so it was a lovely surprise to receive one in the post. I understand from reading about them that they were often given as promotional items by small businesses - this one being a fine example.

This one has clearly been used a lot, for the pencil component is now little more than a stub. The eraser end has hardened to a rubber bullet in its own right. It is probably about four inches long in total.

Thank you Richard.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Special Autograph

I have mentioned before on this blog, that one of my hobbies is astronomy. I have been interested in it since I was 11. Here is a short story describing how astronomy and stationery collided for a moment.

Sir Patrick Moore is known internationally for his books on astronomy and here in the UK as the presenter of the long-running science television programme, The Sky At Night, which he has presented monthly since 1957. To say that he is something of a childhood hero of mine is an understatement. I had never actually met him, although I did see him once at a British Astronomical Association meeting in the mid-1980s.

So, when a friend who is also a keen amateur astronomer suggested that we drive down to Selsey to visit his house, I jumped at the chance. He was to open his large garden for the afternoon in aid of charity, and there would be stalls selling books, bric-a-brac, tea and cake, and so on. He is 88 now, and confined to a wheelchair, and was unable to join the crowd for most of the time the event was taking place. One of the organisers of the event told me that he would come out of the house at four o'clock to draw tickets for the raffle. I was hoping to get an autograph or perhaps a peek inside one of his observatories.

At the appointed time, Sir Patrick emerged from the house to draw tickets for the raffle, and auction a few books for charity, which he was to autograph. He did not sign them with a pen, however: I saw his personal assistant sign one of the books on his behalf - with a self-inking rubber stamp. I quickly asked for an autograph for myself; fortunately I had some 3x5 index cards handy in my bag, and quickly produced one, which was duly stamped:

He apologised for being unable to write the autograph personally; arthritis has robbed him of his ability to play music, write and do other tasks. I assured him that this was just as good, however, and it is. It's not that often that my interests intersect like this. I will treasure this autograph, and have already framed it.

Afterwards, he did show me and my friend his observatories, and we left for home very happy indeed.

Friday, 9 September 2011

First Steps in Rubber Stamping

Things have been a bit quiet on this blog so I really should post about something. Some may remember that I mentioned becoming interested in carving my own rubber stamps; here are a few of my early efforts.

A few months ago, I ordered a block of Speedball Speedy-Carve and carving tools from a US-based seller on eBay, but whilst waiting for the goodies to arrive, I made a couple of attempts using what I had to hand, my old Stabilo Legacy eraser and a Swann Morton number 11 scalpel. The first effort was this, an aircraft stamp based on the UK road-sign to warn motorists of low flying aircraft:

You can see from the stamp that my carving left a bit to be desired, but I thought this was OK considering the lack of proper materials. The Legacy had a bit left over, so I then created another stamp, this time based on another UK road-sign, a direction arrow:

I had very little eraser left for this stamp, so the arrow is somewhat truncated compared to the original. This is a simpler shape to carve than the aircraft, as it has no curved edges; I was able to cut the lines cleanly with the scalpel and a steel rule.

By now my parcel had arrived from the States and I was able to start carving with the Speedy-Carve. I decided to keep things simple so I carved another version of the arrow, this time in the correct proportions:

The rubber compound in Speedy-Carve is different to that in the eraser material. For one thing, it's nowhere near as porous as the eraser. You can see it above with the slight marbling effect in the stamped image, when the Tombow Brush Pens are used for the ink. On a larger area, the effect is even more pronounced. (It is much less pronounced when a stamp pad is used.)

My next project was a hexagon, one of the symbols used by a favourite band of mine, Boards of Canada.

As one of their best-known pieces is called Turquoise Hexagon Sun, the hexagon had to be turquoise, obviously. Actually, I like the effect this has on the stamped image.

Having had some practice on this, I felt a bit more confident and carved a favourite symbol of mine. Growing up near Heathrow, I saw many old airliners and airlines. Among them was BOAC, one of the two airlines merged to form British Airways, whose symbol was the beautiful and iconic Speedbird. (The rubber on the stamp is blue because I tried stamping it using a Sharpie permanent marker. I am sure that will wear off in time.)

Speedy-Carve is very easy to carve, and has the consistency of a firm cheese like a Cheddar or LinkJarlsberg. I still have a fair bit left over, and have a few ideas of what to carve next. Actually I have already carved another stamp, but have not mounted it on a block of wood yet. I also have one failure, an attempt to carve this stamp from a Texas Instruments scientific calculator operator's manual which Gunther at Lexikaliker had made into a professionally-made stamp, and which he very kindly sent to me. The design is too intricate for my ham-fisted efforts; I have learned to keep things simple, and go with bold designs. Corporate logos and road signs offer much potential for this medium of expression, but I am sure I'll branch out into other areas such as portraiture.

The stamps shown above are glued to a wood block, with a layer of rubber from an old mouse-mat in the middle to absorb pressure, as the Speedy-Carve does not compress much.

It's been a lot of fun doing this - I hope you don't mind this minor diversion from the core mission of this blog: pencils and pens.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Return of the Green Ink Brigade

I'm looking at a mid-green ink, to go in my Pilot Capless. I want something in between the two greens I currently own: Diamine Woodland Green (too dark) and Diamine Kelly Green (too light).

The front-runner so far is J. Herbin Lierre Sauvage, followed by Caran d'Ache Amazon and perhaps Waterman Green in third.

I would be grateful for any views on the relative pros and cons of these inks. I can get Pelikan Brilliant Green locally, but only as a last resort.


I'm sure by now many readers will have seen the appalling riots that took place a few days ago in my home town, London, and elsewhere in England. The authorities are dealing with the problem; Parliament even sat today in a rare emergency session (during the Summer Recess, no less) to discuss the matter. Residents in the affected parts of town have responded by cleaning up their communities.

The violence is confined to the cities; the small town where I live is completely safe. Watching the live television coverage of the looting, it was clear that only certain stores were being targeted for robbery. I looked in vain to see if any stationers had been raided. Consumer electronics, branded sportswear and training shoes, jewelry and alcohol were obviously high on the wish-lists of the looters, but not stationery. There were no people filmed with arm-fulls of lever-arch files or pockets stuffed with Staedtlers. Palimpsest, living closer to the action, confirmed as much with this post about a local branch of Ryman which was unscathed.

As she says, "a riot is a complex beast" and I'll not offer any explanations about it here. It now emerges, though, as the first defendants appear before the courts, that many of those arrested and charged for alleged crimes were not feckless youths but in fact people who should have known better, such as a teaching assistant, university graduates and even a graphic designer: the kind of people for whom stationery might have been an attractive target.

Friday, 5 August 2011

"Having a Lovely Time, Wish You Were Here"

First, let me apologise for the long gap since my last post. It was over a month ago, on 30 June. I have no excuses for this; I just needed a break from blogging, as I was busy at work.

That's not to say that I have not been busy on the stationery front. I made my first visit to a local branch of Staples where I bought a Stabilo Boss 40th Anniversary highlighter set (eight Boss highlighters in a mug), a Colop S120 mini self-inking date stamp and spare ink pads, and some sealable plastic storage boxes from the Really Useful Box company. The Boss mugs come in three colours: green, yellow and orange. Mine is the green mug, with the message "I AM THE BOSS" (see link). I intend to use it as a desk-tidy. Perhaps I'll get the others, too.

The boxes I bought were a 4-litre flat box for storing some astronomical equipment, and a 0.55-litre pencil box. I liked the latter so much I bought some more, in order to store a collection of pencils I was very kindly sent by Gunther in Germany. I have four of them now, but I need more, in order to organise my burgeoning pencil collection in a sensible way.

As for Staples itself, it pretty much met my expectations: all the basics covered well enough, some special offers, lots of stock, but not much exotica. That's fine by me, it's another outlet to peruse from time to time when I'm in the area. Their stores are some distance away (about 25 miles from my house in each direction) so I doubt I'll make special journeys to go, but the prices are reasonable, certainly in comparison with the Stationers That Shall Not Be Named.

But on the main point of this blog post. It was this post in the Guardian that piqued my interest yesterday. I am a part of the Fountain Pen Network postcard exchange scheme, and have three correspondents around the world, in California, Australia and Shetland. I regret to say however, that I am very lax about keeping this up (as my penfriend Richard in Georgia, USA would probably agree) so I send probably only two or three times a year. The last time was in April, just before the Royal wedding. Like blogging, I have to be in the right mood to do it. The process of selecting suitable cards, writing the message and sending them is not the problem, but remembering to do so in the first place. I try to make an effort on the rare occasions I travel outside England, and certainly sent postcards when I went on holiday in Turkey in 2009.

The reasons for the decline in postcard sending probably lie in a fatal conjunction of convenience of electronic media, the rising cost of postage, and postage delays. Many was the time that my postcards arrived after I did; it happened after that Turkey holiday, and previous Mediterranean holidays within and outwith the EU. I don't know about the inefficiencies of overseas postal services, but I could guess they have gone the same way as Royal Mail, which has certainly reduced services over time. A first-class stamp was once a near-guarantee of next-day delivery; now it's merely an aspiration.

In Britain, postcard designs are as typical as anywhere in the world, with heavily-doctored photography a common theme (check out the work of John Hinde for example). However, we do have one speciality, which, although copied by others around the world, is not matched by any other: the saucy postcard. And in this area, one name is king: Donald McGill, who practically invented the genre and whose work may still be found at the seaside to this day. Here is a typical example, which landed him in court on an obscenity charge. His work sailed close to the wind in deeply conservative 20th-Century Britain, but was firmly in our satirical traditions such as this or this or perhaps, bringing proceedings to the present, this.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Cursive Handwriting Gets Short Schrift in Germany

I found this article in the Guardian about a campaign by German primary school teachers to abandon teaching young children to write in cursive script very interesting indeed. When I lived in Germany, I noticed that handwritten notices often looked as though they had been written by the same person. I've noticed this in France, too. (The tell-tale for me is the way French people often write the numeral nine with a dog-leg.)

I should have guessed that they are taught how to write in a prescriptive way, using an officially-approved method of handwriting, hence the similarities. I don't remember anything like that in my own primary education; by the time I started school in 1972, British educationalists had already abandoned copperplate script training. I learned my letters and words and wrote them in printed form, then wrote them in script. I used a pencil to start with, before moving on to a (fountain) pen. By the time I moved on to joined-up writing, I was a bit haphazard in how I joined up the letters, and my script was barely legible. I changed it back to a printed form following school reports from teachers who could not read my handwriting easily, and I have stuck with it since. Over time, my handwriting has become joined-up again for speed, and progressively more italic; examples of my own handwriting from school and university show that I began straighter than the definite slant I show now. That said, I have developed some bad habits, such as not differentiating between the letters "l" and "t" clearly enough.

So I have some sympathy for the members of the Deutscher Lehrerverband when they say that abandoning the Schreibschrift will make their job more difficult. Although I am sure my seven year old self would have hated having to copy out letters laboriously in the classroom, in retrospect I would probably have benefited from having to follow such a system for education. On the other hand, I would never have felt the need to change my handwriting to be better understood, and experimented with a way of writing that suited my needs.

On reflection, I think it is probably better to let children work out how to express themselves in print by working out their own handwriting style, than to dump officially-sanctioned script praxis on them. The teacher's job becomes one where they guide the student into forming their own letters, and away from mere "talk and chalk". It is also more difficult, I would think. What do readers who were educated in countries which insisted on cursive writing think? (I'm thinking of you, Matthias and Gunther.)

Mind you, I have often thought of getting a copy book and learning how to write in copperplate style to complement my fountain pens. And then I'd have to get a nice pen with a really flexible nib...

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.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Guardian Pencil Discussion

Pencil fandom becoming mainstream? The Guardian has a discussion about contemporary pencil usage.

Personally I don't consider myself to be a "commodity fetishist" when it comes to pencils, but I enjoyed this article and the comments beneath. I'll be commenting later, when I get back from an engagement I have this evening....

Cult Pens gets a few mentions in the article and the comments, as does Dave's Mechanical Pencils. Nice to see pencils get a discussion.

It would be great if some of the pencil bloggers could contribute to the comments, too.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Staedtler Wopex 2B

Apologies for the first picture - if anyone can't read it, let me know at the usual address.