Monday, July 4, 2011

Notebook selection: the bane of my existence

I must admit it. I was one of the people who lamented loudly the demise of the Quo Vadis Habana 1.0. For those unaware of this situation, the Quo Vadis Habana as sold in the United States was a bright white, 90g Clairefontaine paper with a fairly wide ruling. That is, until a few months ago, when the makers decided to standardize the Habana worldwide, and went to an off-white 85g paper with a narrower ruling.

Preferences are a funny thing. I've been struggling with what to say in this post for weeks now. As I was thinking about it on Saturday morning, I realized that I was trying to formulate a neutral approach to blogging about a journal with cream-colored paper that I dislike - I want white paper for journals - and yet I was writing a letter to a friend on Crane's stationery that is essentially the same color, with which, for correspondence, I am quite content.

As my mother always said - there's no accounting for taste.

All confessions aside, here are photo comparisons of some differing journals that are currently fairly popular. I hope this helps you in choosing a journal.

(All photos are clickable to enlarge. Photos have been color-corrected to the best of my ability using a ColorChecker Passport and Photoshop Lightroom 3.4 on a color-corrected monitor. Your mileage may vary; I don't know what your monitor is like, so don't completely rely on these photos please.)

For this comparison, I used a Rhodia Webnotebook 2.0 and 3.0, a Quo Vadis Habana 1.0 and 2.0, a Leuchtturm 1917, and a Moleskine. The form factor of these books is substantially similar; all have an elastic closure, all have document pockets. My focus here will be on the paper itself; if you have any questions about other aspects of the different books, feel free to post in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.

First impressions: The new QVH 2.0 is yellow. This isn't off-white to me, it's the deep cream color of - well, of the Crane's stationery we own that I mentioned above.

There is little discernable difference between 1.0's 90g weight and 2.0's 85g weight. Both are the hard finish one can expect from Clairefontaine paper, neither showed bleed-through and neither really showed shadowing. I can't fault the quality of the paper used.

The ruling is substantially narrower in the new version. If your handwriting is naturally large, as is mine, this could be a problem. On the other hand, it's been a problem with nearly every lined paper I've used since I finished grammar school.

Moleskine tends to polarize a crowd. My husband likes them; frankly, I'm not really sure why. I do like the color of the paper; as you can see below, it's more of a true off-white and less yellow than the new QVH or the Webbies. However, the performance of the paper is inferior in my opinion. Feathering is not uncommon, nor is bleedthrough; unless you don't mind writing on only one side of the paper, it will be an issue. I won't get too far into the perceived disingenuousness of their advertising ("Hemingway used Moleskines!" Well, sort of...), other than to say they are hardly the only company on Earth to rely on or purchase an established brand name. There are several pen manufacturers that aren't quite what (or who) they were when they started out, and in fact there is a perfectly decent grand piano in my living room that was made in Korea and yet bears an old American brand name.

The Leuchtturm 1917 is an interesting thing. First of all, the one to hand here happens to be a dot notebook; though still a bit of a narrower rule than I like, it's less obtrusive. The paper is also more of that true off-white Moleskine color. The paper itself is a bit thinner, at 70g, but still holds its own nicely by comparison with the others in terms of performance. Many of us here in the US aren't as familiar with this brand as we are with Rhodia, Quo Vadis, or Moleskine; based on what I see here, that may well change.

Frankly, in terms of color, performance, and "hand," I don't see a huge difference between the Rhodia Webbies and the new QVH. They are a bit different in size, with the QVH bigger. That's pretty much it. This leads me to wonder about the long-term viability of the QVH. Given the relatively limited market for this type of product, if one considers the many options available, why would one company continue to manufacture competing products that are so very similar?

Quo Vadis, indeed.

In the meanwhile, I am reduced to using as a journal a Levenger Circa system notebook with Rhodia Circa paper, which is currently only available in their rather useless annotation rule. I simply ignore the ruling and write across the page as I see fit. I've also thrown in some of the Staples brand paper, which isn't too bad but not quite the same quality - a bit more absorbent, so not quite as useful for broader or stub nibs.

If anyone has suggestions for a journal with good quality white paper, please let me know!

Joe also points out that many manufacturers make journal covers, and it's quite common to find covers that fit Rhodia Webbies and Moleskins, and even the Leuchtturms - all of which are nearly of a size. It's harder to find a cover for a QVH, which, of course, is bigger. Not impossible, but more likely to be a custom order, and thus possibly more expensive as well.


  1. Great photos, Shelia. I've been white paper notebook deprived too. This search has been more challenging than ink and pens combined! If I could carve out the time, I'd look to making my own. Cheers. Nice blog.—Julie

  2. Sheila, thank you and God bless you. I have been a pen/pencil and pad nut for more years than I care to remember (OK, about 20), and to find other similarly-obsessed humans out there is a wondrous thing.
    I have been fortunate in my line of work (journalist) to travel widely in the former Communist countries of Europe, and found some very obscure and weird-and-wonderful stationery and suchlike. But I keep coming back to reassuringly heavy Rotring pens and reassuringly orange Rhodia blocks. I could sit and write on them all day. In fact, I get paid to. Which is nice. Best wishes and keep up the good work, etc. Craig, Penville, Glasgow, Scotland.