Recently Monsieur Notebook got in touch with me to tell me about their company and what they do. After reading their story – just a couple of guys wanting to make awesome notebooks – I thought hey, this is the type of brand I can support. Monsieur Notebook is based in the UK and is run by Ed and Tom, two chaps wanting to get superb notebooks in the hands of creative people such as yourself, and heck they convinced me enough to give them a try!
I’ve been negative towards Moleskine notebooks for a very long time. They’re expensive, cheaply made, and low quality for the price you pay. Monsieur Notebook (I’ll call them MN from now on) are aiming smack bang at the Moleskine crowd with their line of leather (yes, REAL leather) notebooks in a variety of sizes and shades.
So they sent me a free sample to try out, but that got lost in the mail. They sent another out! That got lost too. Maybe my postman is stealing the notebooks for himself, but in any case they simply weren’t arriving. Rather than wait for ages for another to MAYBE arrive, I went ahead and bought one from Notemaker for a couple of reasons:
a. I really like MN’s brand philosophy and the way they do things.
b. I just finished university for another year and haven’t bought a notebook in a while!
So yeah, now I have one of their leather bound notebooks in my hands. This one is A5 size, which is my perfect compact notebook size, in red dyed leather (again, REAL FREAKIN’ LEATHER).
My next post will be a comparison between the MN and its closest competitors (in my opinion), the Moleskine and the Rhodia WebNotebook. I’ve been looking for another suitable alternative to Moleskines, how does MN stack up?
First Impressions + Quality
The notebook is wrapped in easily unwrapped plastic (no using your teeth here) and has a couple of labels in the front shouting its REAL LEATHER claim to fame at you. The MN logo is cute, but really fits the name.
The cover is REEEAL LEATHERRR (okay I’ll stop) and looks great, however it did have some odd white marks straight out of the wrapping, especially where it was bent in around the edges by the plastic elastic closure. I’ll stem this down to the patina of the leather though, and who cares if their notebook is pristine? I prefer mine a bit banged up and well used!
The cover itself is smooth and glossy, like the leather is coated. I imagine this is so it keeps its shape and doesn’t flop around like it would if it had plain leather on there, plus it makes it water resistant and grippier than most leather products. Unfortunately this may lead to it being mistaken for faux leather, as it loses that signature leather look. I suppose this is why they have to remind you several times that it is real leather!
It does behave like good quality leather though! Attempting to rip the stuff like I did upon unwrapping the book just resulted in mild creases, as it should. The cover is also rather thick, around 2mm on average, which means it will hold up to abuse and shows that you do get your money’s worth. It’s also very plain apart from a small embossed MN face on the back cover, which means you can decorate it however you like. This red coloured version is very bright, and stands out well amongst my big pile of beige-coloured notebooks.
The first page is dedicated to your name (and “nom de guerre” aka nickname) and table of contents, all worded in French to suit the brand name. There are heaps of lines in the table of contents, so those super organised monsieurs and mademoiselles will be satisfied. Every page from then on is numbered and has space for a date, but these two features don’t take away valuable writing space. I think this will be the first notebook I actually use a table of contents for!
I’ll finish my first impressions off by talking about the construction, which is… well… not as good as I hoped! Whilst the cover is fairly nice, comparing it to another leather favourite, my Midori Traveller’s Notebook, there is no comparison. The Midori leather is significantly higher quality and feels like leather should. Also the inside of the cover, which can be seen around the edges of the first page, shows that the leather is quite, well, odd. I think the red dye doesn’t quite cling to the underside of the leather, because many brown parts show through (check out the writing test pictures below to see what I mean).
Also, the notebook is stuck on, which would be fine if it weren’t so easy to tear out. Just lightly bending the leather away from the first page caused it to separate. Personally I think a leather notebook should be very sturdy, long lasting. I’ll reserve my final judgments for the coming months of use, but first impressions don’t paint a shining picture for the longevity of this sucker.
However the pages are thread bound, the elastic is of high quality, there’s an included bookmark ribbon, and the book does lay flat when you bend it around, so maybe I’m judging it too hastily.
- Paper: 192 pages (96 sheets), 90gsm, Ivory coloured (also available in 100gsm and 140gsm)
- Cover: Leather (the moo moo kind, I assume)
- Available rulings: Plain, lined, dot grid
- Available sizes: A7 to A4, depending on notebook type
- Available colours: Black, Brown, Tan, Red, Pink, Green, Turquoise, Navy (depending on notebook type)
- Cool features: Bookmark ribbon, table of contents, page numbering, date entry, elastic enclosure.
- Odd specifics: 7mm line height (for the lined version), 27 lines per page, 13mm header height, 15mm footer height
This particular notebook isn’t the fountain pen oriented version, but it still holds up pretty well to many inks. Check out the exhaustive list of tests below, plus a shot of the reverse side.
(click for full size)
The paper is 90gsm, so it’s quite a heavy grade (for reference, Clairefontaine paper is 90gsm, Rhodia is 80gsm, and typical printer paper is 70-80gsm). It doesn’t hold up too well to feathering, however. Comparing it to your typical Rhodia pad, the Rhodia’s vellum coating prevents the majority of feathering seen in inks like Noodlers Bernanke Blue, despite it being a lighter weight. The dry time is shorter for the MN paper as a result, but if you tend to use feather prone inks exclusively I’d skip the regular MN and maybe try the fountain pen version. That scribble next to the pencil line is rubbed out, just so you can see how the paper “clings” to pencil lead.
The notebook opens flat if you break it in, and by that I mean opening it all the way around – the leather cover barely gets a crease in it after doing so, which is impressive. After opening flat, however, the front cover tends to want to stay open. The elastic strap keeps it closed though.
All in all this notebook is pretty badass, and looks superb too!
Value + Conclusion
The A5/A4 notebook market is a crowded one, and it seems every man and his dog is making notebooks in these sizes at the mo’. However, MN has mixed things up with a wide variety of sizes, rulings, colours, and applications that will appeal to a huge range of people, from artsy watercolour painters, to science geeks (like myself) that just want to get things from their head and onto the lined pages.
The price? Mine (A5, ruled, 90gsm paper) set me back $34.95 AUD (plus $6.50 shipping) from Notemaker. This may seem pretty expensive for a lowly notebook, but you pay for the leather cover and superior quality paper inside, so it’s pretty worth it. Compare this to a silly Moleskine, which can cost anywhere from $25 to $50 and above, and you begin to wonder what the heck you’re actually paying so much for in the Moleskine.
The paper holds up pretty well to a wide range of ink/pen/pencil combinations and extra features like the page numbers and date sections on each page will appear to power users that like to keep things super organised.
That said there are a couple of quality concerns. The cover is leather, no doubt, but isn’t quite the greatest quality especially when compared to the Midori Traveller’s Notebook cover, but there is a hefty price delta between the two, so that’s forgivable. The glue binding the notebook to the leather isn’t amazingly secure too. The paper does feather a bit with feather prone inks, and some rollerball inks too, so I would test a pen out before committing a whole section of the book to possibly feathery handwriting. That said they do have a fountain pen version available that may rectify this (maybe MN could send me one of those to review *wink wink*).
In the end though, there is very few, if any, major points to complain about. MN has crafted a brilliant notebook at a pretty good price considering the number of pages you get, and the fact that the cover is leather. This is a notebook to keep around well after it is filled to the brim with your cruddy handwritten notes and diagrams, and that leather cover makes sure it’s all wrapped up in luxury. Monsieur Notebook is a brand chock full of personality, and their products reflect that.
Overall there’s room for improvement, but there’s a heck of a lot to like about Monsieur Notebook!
Monsieur Notebook products are available in the UK, Australia, Germany, Turkey, and most recently USA and Canada (check out their successful Indiegogo campaign right here).
In Australia I would recommend NoteMaker.
Got a favourite notebook? Let me know what it is in the comments!!