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...From Your Friends at NoteMaker
Thanks for reading our review of the Monsieur Notebooks Leather Journals. For this review we have used a Monsieur Notebooks leather sketchbook and ruled leather notebook. We've happily tested a Kaweco fountain pen, Lamy Safari fountain pen, Fisher Space pen and Palomino Blackwing Pencil in each.
Monsieur Notebooks are handmade leather journals. They are made in India, providing fair wages and working conditions, and feature covers of genuine leather (vegetable tanned). Monsieur's stated mission is to endeavour to make the finest notebooks. Believing that a good notebook can be a great companion, to help the creative process or to provide encouragement for our leisure, the makers of these notebooks clearly care for the quality of their journals. It's nice to know that they have been made by like minded people, real paper lovers who know just how much fellow paper lovers can get out of a great notebook.
2) Intended Use
Monsieur notebooks sit in between a standard everyday notebook and a luxury leather journal. They represent excellent value for something so capable, robust and long-lasting. We're told that Monsieur Notebooks provide Affordable Luxury for your Daily Doodles and this is a pretty good way to put it. Because they use a premium material, leather bound journals are often treated as very precious, under lock and key, so to speak. This is certainly not what we are supposed to do with our Monsieur Notebooks! They are very tough and made to go with you wherever you go, to be used and used and then to be treasured once full. Tough love is the order of the day!
Monsieur notebooks come with an informative paper label telling us the size, paper and source of whichever style you have picked up. They are shrink wrapped. The monocled Monsieur logo one finds on the paper label (and again, debossed with an odd combination of levity and elegance, on the back cover) is really endearing and the little hand drawn sketches and typography suggests the intended use nicely. Luxury that wants to walk among the masses, I think.
4) Colour Range
Monsieur notebooks come in a great range of colours. The natural, real leather is, like all real leathers, individual in its little imperfections and markings. The vegetable tanning process leaves us with a hearty, warm, character-rich cover. The starting colours are black, brown, tan and red, with more to come, but, as mentioned, each individual notebook will offer a unique interpretation on this starting colour. The palette is mature without being boring, kind of classic and appropriate to be taken to work with you.
Available with ruled paper, plain paper, as a fountain pen journal or as a sketchbook, each monsieur notebook is the same except for the paper inside. We'll get to the paper below but for the moment, the common features to any Monsieur notebook are;
- Leather Journal - half way between a hard cover and soft cover notebook. It is very stiff at first but such is the nature of leather. With time and use, it will soften.
- Flexible - again, owing to the great properties of leather, each Monsieur notebook is pretty flexible. You can bend it all the way around on itself and it won't do any damage. The binding is really tough and the cover itself, leather, is obviously super-tough.
- Binding - Monsieur notebooks have stitched 'signatures' of paper which are glued to the leather cover. A signature is that little grouping of paper inside. Being stitched is great! It means they will sit nice and flat for you.
- Extras - Monsieur notebooks have an elastic closure to keep things nice and secure as well as a ribbon place marker so you know where you are up to.
As mentioned quite a few times, these notebooks have genuine leather covers. The leather is vegetable tanned. This is a traditional method that has stood the test of time, initially done because the chemicals derived from plant sources were the easiest to find and persisted with because it works. It's quite stiff at first but softens with use. Think of any genuine leather item and you will already know how this cover is going to behave. Over time, it just gets softer, nicer, warmer and more cherished. Leather is a premium material for good reason, of course, and all of those reasons apply to these covers. It's just something special, sensual... a lovely feeling.
There are three paper stocks used by Monsieur notebooks. The standard paper stock used in the plain and ruled journals is 90gsm ivory paper. It's more a natural or slightly off-white than ivory/cream. 90gsm is quite thick for standard notebook paper and it has a fairly substantial feel. A nice alternative to the super smooth Clairefontaine or Rhodia paper stock, it offers a bit of 'tooth' for your pen. This paper does bleed and feather a little with a broad nib fountain pen or a medium nib pen with a heavy, dark ink. However, it is a-okay for a fine or extra fine nib fountain pen. They are quite nice to write in as the substantial feeling of the paper is nice to thumb through as you turn each page. In the same way that Monsieur notebooks sit between an everyday book and a premium journal, this standard paper stock is better than standard fare without being up to the Clairefontaine premium quality that we find in Rhodia Webnotebooks and Clairefontaine exercise books.
The Monsieur Notebooks' answer to this is to create a special edition Fountain Pen Journal with 100gsm paper. The finish on the paper offers the same degree of 'tooth' as mentioned above but the stock is thicker and more resistant to bleeding and feathering. A broad nib Kaweco Fountain pen performs very happily on this paper stock and it will handle pretty much anything your pen and ink can throw at it.
Finally, the Monsieur leather sketchbooks are more than just plain page notebooks. They feature serious 140gsm art paper. Proper cartridge paper, it has a nice degree of texture to get the most out of your favourite art supplies. Charcoal, Graphite, Colour pencils, Markers et al come alive with a little bit of texture to work with and the specialty paper is excellent for most art mediums.
As mentioned above, signatures of paper are stitched and then glue bound to the leather cover. This is a pretty conventional method for binding with leather and is used because it works. The nature of the stitching makes it easy to open your notebook nice and flat whilst the leather cover is robust enough to protect the spine without creating a cumbersome or rigid hard book cover. The book is really well built and the Monsieur Notebook teams invites us to practice the tough love described above.
9) Writing Experience
Alluded to above, Monsieur Notebooks offer a really nice writing experience. The paper is capable - better than normal, though not the best. The binding is excellent, versatile and tough, creating a notebook that is happy to be used on a desk or on your lap as you sit on a train. I guess the standard for a notebook to pass is whether it encourages us to write, that is, whether we enjoy the act of writing in and of itself, or if it merely supports the act of writing. These notebooks definitely encourage us to write...or draw...or sketch, think out loud or use our pens to cerebrate in any other way. That old expression applies, that these are greater than the sum of their parts. The paper, cover, closure and binding all work together, all work for you and your pen. The more I've used the Monsieur Notebook, the more I want to use it, to enjoy the luxury as it walks amongst the masses of each day.
Thus far we've been concerned mainly with details and very practical information about how the Monsieur notebooks perform and what they are made of etc, etc...There is a catch with all of this that we haven't talked about. Actually, it's not a catch, it's more like a trump card.
The covers are genuine leather! We've obviously talked about that, but what does it mean? Of course it means you have a notebook which is thoroughly robust, more than capable of dealing with any trials and tribulations you can take it through from day to day. You have something that loves to be used and that gets better with time. And use! That's proper durability, not merely to survive but to get better and better as it does.
After a couple of weeks your journal will have already transformed into something better than it was and after a couple of years it will pay proper homage to its contents. There is something undeniably, yet ineffably beautiful about a leather bound book. It's something special that perhaps defies articulation. The best things often do!
And that is the trump card with a proper leather journal or notebook. You have something that wants to be used everyday and that is capable, in 1, 2, 5 or 10 years' time, of telling the story about it.