The Allan’s Journal – pocket notebook par excellence

Allan's Journal closed I recently finished using a small Allan’s Journal as a daily journal. In the end I decided not to buy another one to replace it, but that wasn’t because it was bad, just simply a few aspects of it weren’t quite what I was after.

The Allan’s Journal looks rather like a Bible in construction, as you can see from the pictures, with a tough, flexible, leather cover, a ribbon, red under gold edges to the very thin pages, and even what it is embossed on the cover. (Fewer pages, but still a lot for a notebook.) They are in fact made by an old Scottish company that usually specialises in making Bibles. When considering an order, I theorised that there are certain characteristics of a portable Bible or other religious text that are desirable for a notebook – they need to be tough, long-lasting, compact, easy to carry and be able to store a lot of information – so I was interested to see how well this theory held up.

Price

Allan's journal open First of all, this journal costs £22. You should be aware of this at the start. However, given that it lasted me for slightly over three months, and I write a lot in my journals, this works out to be pretty good value as far as I’m concerned. Worldwide delivery is free, too.

The larger, A5-ish version costs £25, and that would last for even longer.

According to the website, several colour and size combinations are out of stock as of time of writing, and are due to be reprinted in late 2011.

Size and construction

The pocket Allan’s is around the same height and thickness as most A6-ish pocket notebooks, but noticeably wider. You can get it into a large pocket, but not a small one. In practice I only occasionally pocketed it, mostly keeping it in my bag, but it’s fine for jackets and combat trousers. It has 256 pages, because the paper is so thin – see below regarding the paper.

The (real) leather cover is flexible, though not floppy, and thick enough to be tough. You’d have to be very unlucky to damage it beyond a scratch or two. It is “semi yapp”, which means that the edges of the cover extend a little way beyond the edges of the pages, to protect them on the sides as well as the faces. I never experienced the slightest hint of it coming apart.

I found the binding very secure as well, but the book also opens and lies very flat, without needing any force at all. Opening flat (or not doing so) is one thing that always annoys me about notebooks; I found that the Allan’s was the best I’ve seen so far.

Paper

Allan's journal with writing samples There are two things you would immediately notice on opening an Allan’s journal – how thin the paper is, and how narrow the lines are. It’s almost airmail/onionskin paper thickness, and the paper has a light 4mm rule, the thinnest I’ve yet seen.

What you would not immediately notice was how amazingly good this paper is. It isn’t shiny and impermeable as you might suppose – it has a normal level of absorbency, and inks dry quickly on it and look pleasant. On the other hand there was no bleeding or feathering from any fountain pen or normal ink that I tried, from fine to broad. (Sharpies do bleed through the paper, but that’s not unexpected.) Despite this the paper is tough and won’t easily tear. It is absolutely the best thin paper I have yet come across, even including the Midori Traveller’s Notebook ultra-thin paper that I’ve mentioned before, which is not by any means bad, just a bit shinier and easier to smear on.

Due simply to how physically thin the pages are, you can sometimes see writing through from the other side, but because the ink isn’t bleeding through this isn’t a problem – I rarely even noticed it. On the other hand, the 4mm ruling did get on my nerves on occasion. When I was in the mood to write with a fine nib it was, well, fine. It’s very difficult to write tidily with a medium or larger nib with that ruling, though, and I like to do that at times.

This sounds great – why aren’t you getting another one?

This was a useful purchase because it has convinced me that I really don’t like pocket journals any more. It’s basically the perfect pocket journal, apart from the height of the lines and maybe that it’s not hardbacked, but I could get used to both of that. Given that, after using the Allan’s for three months, I was still thinking “yes this is great but I wish the pages were larger, I can’t fit all my thoughts in”, I can safely be sure now that I should not be using pocket notebooks as my main journals, and that I should stick to A5-ish for my journal and Rhodia pads and little pocket cahiers in my pockets, for small notes and ideas and shopping and to-do lists or whatever, not to record the happenings of the world for posterity.

A lot of people do prefer pocket journals, though, and if you are one of them, unless you

(a) absolutely demand a hard cover – and as mentioned, this is not all that floppy, overly floppy covers annoy me as well; (b) refuse to write with anything smaller than a medium nib, or don’t like lined paper in the first place; (c) have very small pockets; (d) really love thick paper; and/or (e) are a huge cheapskate

you should definitely have a think about getting an Allan’s journal.

For the moment I have moved onto an A5 Leuchtturm notebook, but I look forward to trying out the larger Allan’s that I bought at some later date.

Links

Leuchtturm Jottbook

I recently acquired three small softcover A6 notebooks made by Leuchtturm, a Swedish company that I’ve seen more about recently, and already own a few notebooks from. These are called “Jottbooks” – they’re around the same size as, and fit a similar niche to, the pocket Moleskine cahiers, Field Notes, and the Clairefontaine “Life Unplugged” notebooks. So I will write about them.

Construction and design

Like the Moleskines, they are stitched rather than stapled, which makes them easier to open flat(-tish) at any page, rather than just at the middle. (They won’t lie flat, but when you are using them, they don’t try to spring back into shape.) The covers are rather nice – shiny, textured, plasticky, like some sort of leatherette, tough but thin – they come in a good selection of bright colours as well. The feel of the covers as well as the colour selection makes the design feel quite 60s, in a good way, and definitely more durable than the card covers of Moleskines and Field Notes.

Inside, like other Leuchtturm notebooks, they start with a page for your name and address, then have a place for an index. The Jottbooks only have one index page with only 19 rows, so you won’t be writing the contents of every page in it – the larger notebooks have more index pages. (You could always write on the back of the page if you run out of space, as it is blank.)

There are 60 pages in each book, leaving it quite thin but larger than a Field Notes. The last 32 of those are perforated at the sides for you to rip them out. I’ve never really felt the need to tear out more than a few pages in a notebook, and 32 perforated pages is way too many, in my opinion.

It doesn’t have a back pocket. Back pockets are a silly Moleskine feature, particularly in thin notebooks like this. You don’t need a back pocket.

With each Jottbook comes a pair of stickers, one with two lines on it and one blank. Presumably these are to apply to the outside or the inside of the cover and write a title or subject on.

Paper

The paper in Leuchtturm notebooks generally is good, and pretty much the same across the whole range. I don’t think the quality is quite as good as the Clairefontaines, but it is proper paper that you can use big fat wet pens with. (See the last image in the gallery above.) On occasion there is some very slight feathering, but no paper is perfect. It’s 100gsm apparently but isn’t thick.

It’s slightly yellowy/cream off-white – lighter than Moleskine, not as white as Field Notes or Clairefontaine.

Each page of the book after the name and index pages has a space for the date at the top and a page number at the bottom. This is slightly redundant for me as, reflexively now, I date every page I write anywhere and timestamp each entry, as well as numbering the pages in any sort of journal or book – I check my watch, write the time down, underline it and then continue with the note. I’ve trained myself to do this and it is incredibly useful and you should do it too – when looking back through notes it’s pretty vital to be able to see what order they came in and when you wrote them.

Anyway, it is good that Leuchtturm are encouraging people in these habits, but their printing doesn’t quite agree with my manual scheme. In my journal:

  • I write the date on the inner side of the top of the page, closest to the centre – the date that I started the page on the left hand one, and the date that I finished the page on the right hand one, so that I can immediately see which dates the two pages span.
  • I write the page number on the outer side of the top of the page, and I continue page numbers between journals. (I am currently 3/4 of the way through page 1349, for your information; I only started continuing page numbers relatively recently too.)

The former dating structure can be continued with the pre-printed date area, but I can’t journal using the printed page numbers, unless I record an “offset” for them at the start. On the other hand, I’m not going to be using these as main journals anyway, more special purpose notebooks or casual jotting things, and for those purposes pre-printed numbers are a bonus. In general, +1 for encouraging people to think about the archiving of notebooks and not just assume they are going to throw them away.

The Jottbooks I have are lined and squared. Leuchtturm do make notebooks with plain and dotted paper as well, but I’m not sure that they put it into the Jottbooks, or if they do you can’t buy them in the UK yet.

Why would one want a Jottbook?

You may or may not feel the need for pocket notebooks like these – I’m not sure that I do, my normal pocket “random thoughts” notebook is a Rhodia pad at the moment and I tend only to use little notebooks for special purposes like dream diaries or work on a specific project) – but I know that a lot of people do, and the Jottbook stands out in a number of areas.

  • The cover is great – tough, waterproof, thin, colourful, feels nice.
  • The book is stitched so durable and opens well at any point – small stapled books irritate me on this point (hello, Field Notes).
  • The paper is good quality and won’t feather and bleed, but it’s not so thick that you only get a dozen pages in the book. There are 60 pages too which is a fair number.
  • The pre-printed numbers save you having to do that yourself, and the structure keeps reminding you to date and index the book.
  • They’re not particularly expensive. I paid £2.99 for each one, and used a 3 for 2 offer. Unless you write vast quantities or use a triple-broad nib that isn’t going to add up to a huge amount of money per unit time.

The Official Chasing Daisies Thin Pocket Notebook Recommendation at the moment is thus either one of the Jottbooks, or a Clairefontaine “Life Unplugged” Duo. The latter have slightly nicer paper but are smaller, are staple-bound and don’t have quite such great covers. Swings and roundabouts really.

Purchased from…

Paperchase “Creative Book”

I often wander around Paperchase looking for notebooks that:

  1. don’t have animals on them, or any sort of cute Japanese-esque design, or are covered with half an inch of frou-frou ornamentation that doubles the price (hello Paperblanks) but which still don’t look embarrassing;
  2. aren’t lined – I can get lined notebooks anywhere and I don’t want lines;
  3. open reasonably flat;
  4. aren’t too expensive.

Near the back of the shop they do have some practical but still attractive stationery, which will also take fountain pen ink. Here is an example that I picked up today.

Paperchase Creative Book set on Flickr

This is called a “Creative Book”. It is a fat sub-A4 squarish ring-bound notebook with a generous 140 pages of plain paper. This is nice paper – it didn’t bleed or feather when exposed to my most ridiculous fountain pen, a Lamy 2000 with a broad nib. (Edit: after some use, I can say that the paper is relatively absorbent, and spreads quite a bit, so even quite fine-nibbed fountain pens will be wider than normal.) The size is convenient for me as well. I find that ring-bound A4 notebooks tend to get a bit squashed when stuffed in a bag, and be a little too tall, but this fits well into my bag with the rings upwards.

Why would I want such a book? I have pocket notebooks coming out of my ears, but sometimes when coming up with ideas it just isn’t ideal to have to scrawl on a little Rhodia pad or Habana notebook where you flip pages every minute and can’t see what you’ve already written without flipping back. Maybe you want to draw a diagram, or sketch a picture or wireframe, or make a mindmap. I used to have an A4 squared book which was good for this, but the size did result in ring-squashage, and the exact model that I had is now apparently not on sale any more.

Paperchase do also make other types of notebook in this style, which I assume use the same paper. There are 80-page A4 books, lined and plain, as well as A5 and smaller, side-bound or reporter-style. The polypropylene covers are tough and attractively simple in design – they look like something you’d find in Muji, and I mean that as a compliment. They’re also relatively inexpensive as well; the Creative Book above was £4.50, and the A4 books were the same price. It’s very hard to get hold of decent quality plain paper notebooks on the high street these days, and while Paperchase is not on every high street it’s still a relatively common chain, so if you share similar priorities to myself you should take a look. (Even if you’re happy with lined paper, they do have a selection of lined notebooks in this range as well.)

Two inexpensive notebooks

Flickr set

For other residents of the United Kingdom, here is a quick note about two inexpensive notebooks to be found in high street stationery shops. (Those outside of the UK might see these around but it probably isn’t worth ordering them specially.)

I still have the Midori Traveller’s Notebook for general journalling but I’ve felt recently that I also need a separate book to hold proper full-scale drafts for a couple of projects I am working on, so I decided to pick up a couple of bag-friendly options from my local WHSmiths. I’ve noticed that there are a lot more notebooks recently that claim to have high-quality paper, 80gsm+ without show-through, but I’m never quite sure how they will feel in practice. Black n Red make some excellent notebooks structurally with 90gsm paper and tough binding, but I’ve never got on with their paper – I like it for calligraphy, where I am putting a lot of ink down, but for general writing it’s too shiny and doesn’t absorb ink as I would like. (Also, Black n Red paper doesn’t like iron gall inks, even the mild FP-friendly modern varieties like Lamy Blue Black and R&K Scabiosa; they leave a very irregular line. I do like these inks.)

The two I got were spiral-bound A5-ish notebooks, the Oxford A5 recycled and the Pukka Pad “Jotta”, and both of them are surprisingly good. (Both £2.99 by the way.) Both are spiral bound, which I dislike but which is manageable. The Flickr set shows quite a lot of the detail, but here is a summary: both sets have…

  • spiral binding, with the same wire loop diameter despite their differing numbers of pages
  • card covers, reasonably durable probably but not heavy
  • wide ruling. For journalling I dislike wide ruling or ruling at all, but for writing drafts, it leaves lots of space for editing and annotating.
  • a complete lack of bleed- and show-through from ink on one side of the paper to the other
  • micro-perforations on the left to allow the pages to be removed easily without having to rip them out of the binding
  • the same height of page

The Oxford has:

  • 140 pages / 70 leaves
  • 90gsm “Optik” recycled paper. Yes, I know, “recycled” still makes me think of horrible fibrous stuff only useful for writing on with a pencil, but this really is nothing like that. Lovely and smooth with no feathering from inks, but not all shiny like Black n Red paper.
  • A red margin and punched holes
  • Slightly wider pages than the Pukka Pad. The Oxford’s pages, perforation to left edge, are the same width as the Pukka Pad’s from left to right paper edges including binding.
  • A large margin between the top of the page and the first ruling.

The Pukka Pad has:

  • 200 pages / 100 leaves
  • 80gsm paper that with my wettest pen showed very, very slight feathering. If I wasn’t utterly anal about these issues I expect I would not have noticed, and it doesn’t put me off general use.
  • No margin or punched holes.
  • A very large margin between the top of the page and the first ruling. I am not sure why, but it’s huge.

There really isn’t a lot between them. On the one hand I think that the Oxford has slightly better paper, and the pages are punched with a margin which makes annotating and filing easier. On the other hand, the Pukka Pad’s paper is perfectly good and some might prefer pages without holes or margins. I’m impressed with the quality of both of them, and would happily use either. I am not sure about larger versions (both companies sell a variety of notebooks up to A4) but if anyone would like to send me any free samples I would be happy to test them….

Notes on the Midori Traveller’s Notebook

A few thoughts after having used it as my standard journal for a few weeks:

  • I don’t actually use it while travelling. Not that I travel much anyway but I can’t see that it would be all that preferable when doing so – it is durable yes, but the flexible cover would make it awkward to write in when there isn’t a convenient flat surface, which is more common when travelling.

  • The plain paper refills are my favourite.

  • The extra-thin paper does take ink very well, but I had two problems with it. Firstly, ink looks a little odd on it; it seems to dry with a little edge around the letters rather than shading as it does with normal paper. Secondly and more importantly ink is much more prone to smearing, even after days of drying. This may be unavoidable if it isn’t going to bleed, but I found it annoying enough to stop using the refill after ten pages or so.

  • On the subject of annoyances, if anything is likely to make me stop using the thing, the way that the pages don’t lie flat is likely to be it. Particularly as you approach or leave the middle of the book and the cord starts to force the edges of one side up even more. Having a secondary refill in there doesn’t help either. This is a basic issue with the design and I doubt there’s any getting around it – I will just have to decide whether it is annoying enough to overcome all of the plus points.