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Recently saw an ad on Amazon for the Monsieur series of notebook. The two reviews of these books are not really enthusiastic. However, the books are made in Great Britian, have leather covers, and seem to be pretty decent for paper. Price is not bad either. So I bought one and here's what I noted about it: Good looking notebook, bought the sketch book since I like unlined paper. Tried my favorite Noodler inks and got good results. Noted that previous reviews compared Monsieur to Rhodia and (gasp) Moleskin. So used the same pens and inks in a Moleskin and a Clairefontaine (no Rhodia in hand), got comparable results. See next post for pictures of the comparison notebooks. What do you think? Comparable? Or not?
High res images available on my blog: Vertical Paper When I was recently contacted by Ed Harding and Tom Strickland, the duo behind Monsieur notebook with a question whether I would review their new notebook I was pleasantly surprised and after checking their website I said accepted immediately. A few days later one of the real leather Monsieur notebooks arrived by post. Monsieur notebooks are sold in a variety of colours, sizes and paper types. The one I received is, not surprisingly, the fountain version in brown. http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3830/9692479154_840354c839_c.jpg http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5511/9692476466_8919fec495_c.jpg http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3744/9692477758_fb1e2a2a98_c.jpg http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2844/9692483132_2df990b27d_c.jpg http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5331/9689241061_632aa437a4_c.jpg First impressions The notebook looks really nice. The leather cover is smooth, but has a kind of ‘rustic’ feel to it. And it smells great too! The binding is quite firm and it takes quite a bit of effort to open the notebook for the first time. Without “breaking” the binding a bit it is not easy to use the notebook comfortably. First two and last two pages are ivory, the rest of the paper is white. Pages are blank and are not numbered, but there are few lines on the third page for your name and a few other details. There is no internal pocket, which is not a big deal in my opinion as I hardly ever use it. You will notice though, that the first and last page are not glued to the leather cover centred i.e. the strip of leather you can see on top is slightly wider than the same strip at the bottom. It’s not something that would bother me too much, but I like when things are symmetrical. The notebook comes with a rubber band, which is well made, strong enough to hold the notebook closed, but not too tight to make putting the band on difficult. On the back of the notebook you can find an embossed Monsieur logo. On top of that, you can customise your notebook in a variety of ways including debossing, foiling, custom bands and wraps etc. as well as custom designs. I think that’s quite unique on the market and it could be a real selling point for people who like to make their notebook really special. Materials and build quality I really wanted to love this product, especially because it comes from a UK-based startup. Unfortunately, I found that Monsieur notebook suffers from a variety of quality issues some of which I consider quite fundamental. First of all the binding and stitching is too tight and too “stiff”. The binding does not provide enough flexibility and, as is visible on the pictures below, this causes various problems like stitches “cutting” into the paper and leather cover breaking away from the paper. What you see below is not a result of any excessive use or unusual handling as I took these pictures after less then ten minutes of use. It is, in my opinion, rather a sign of suboptimal manufacturing standards and/or quality control. http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3700/9689242827_79314cc8bf_c.jpg http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3758/9692482226_c323192943_c.jpg http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5550/9692484874_76e1f73d36_c.jpg http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3761/9692482574_153f672188_c.jpg The paper used in the fountain variant of Monsieur notebooks is unusually thick (100 gsm), smooth and white (but not too bright). I noticed that each pages also has a watermark that reads Royal Executive Bond. The position of the watermark changes from page to page — on some pages it is centred, on other pages it is on the side, at the bottom or at the top and is partly “cut” i.e. only part of of the watermark is visible. Initially, I thought I would not mind it but later I started to noticed the watermark more and more. Overall, I found it rather distracting and would much prefer to have a clean page without any watermarks at all. http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3721/9689245103_d3628fcfc7_c.jpg Due to the thickness of the paper, the way it is bound and the stiffness and thickness of the leather the notebook does not lie flat and it tends to be closing itself. That negatively affects the writing comfort as writing near the seams is kind of difficult. And because the notebook does not stay open on its own, you need use the provided yellow bookmark at all times. I also found that there are small colour spots on the paper. They are not on every page, appear to be randomly distributed and are part of the paper material. But they are frequent and prominent enough that you can easily find the spots just buy flipping through the notebook. Now, I don’t know if these spots are “meant” to be there or if they are down to poor quality control. But even though they are quite small (2–3mm) and may possibly be considered a part of the “rustic” and handmade feel, I would much prefer if all pages were perfectly clean and spotless. http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3696/9692484228_afbda31028_c.jpg http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2854/9689245507_1731fb75f4_c.jpg UsageSince this is a notebook specifically designed for use with fountain pens during my tests I focused predominantly on fountain pens. I used three different pens, three different nibs and three different inks as well as a rollerball and a felt tip pen with pigment ink. Here’s the complete list of tools I tested with: Fountain pens Lamy Vista, 1.5 mm italic nibTWSBI 580, 1.1 mm italic nibJinhao 159, M nibInks Diamine Green-BlackDiamine Red DragonDiamine Onyx BlackOther pens Faber-Castel Ecco Pigment 0.3 black (felt tip)Ohto Graphic Liner black (rollerball)And the results? Well, as with most things on this notebook, it’s a mixed bag. First the good news: the paper is smooth and is pleasant to write on. There is some show-through, but hardly any bleed-through, even with broad nibs. When using the felt-tip or rollerball, I did not observe any major issues. But now to the not so good news. There is a non negligible amount of feathering. Just look at the scans below and compare the feathering between Monsieur and Rhodia. Both tests were done at the same time (within 1 minute of each other) and using same pens and inks. Don’t get me wrong, feathering is a major problem on most papers, and Monsieur performance is not too bad, but for a notebook designedspecifically for use with fountain pens it is just not good enough. http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5521/9689236637_bf2a99ab24_c.jpg http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2876/9689236057_21f415a278_c.jpg http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5323/9689234619_3340d80bc6_c.jpg http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3714/9692473686_337dc95c1d_c.jpg http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2833/9689235245_5ea31366f1_c.jpg http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3783/9692474374_92731911a7_c.jpg More detailed scans: Monsiuer (Lamy Vista 1.5, TWSBI 580 1.1): http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3785/9704990384_ff25f3f06d_c.jpg Rhodia (Lamy Vista 1.5, TWSBI 580 1.1): http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5344/9704990358_8777d5c3a1_c.jpg\ Monsiuer (Jinhao 159 M, Faber-Castel Ecco Pigment 0.3): http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7450/9704990472_281322460b_c.jpg Rhodia (Jinhao 159 M, Faber-Castel Ecco Pigment 0.3): http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5448/9701755939_80e1d85069_c.jpg Monsiuer: http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3703/9701751031_d97572e9eb_c.jpg http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3731/9701754829_1ca9db7aa2_c.jpg Rhodia: http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5480/9704980882_04de3f72e5_c.jpg http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7286/9701742625_1b7c449883_c.jpg Wrap-up What I like: Real leather coverGreat rustic, yet clean lookHand-made feelSmells greatHardly any bleed-throughWide choice of colours and options (Monsieur range) What I don’t like: Noticeable featheringBinding and stitching too tightBinding can break rather easilyDoes not lie flatSpots on the paperWatermark on each page I applaud anyone who has the courage, energy and passion to bring a new product focused on fountain pen users to the market. It’s not easy in an age dominated by ballpoint and rollerball. Monsieur notebooks definitely brings new elements and concepts to the market, especially with regards to materials and the huge variety of options on offer. I was pleased with the lovely leather cover and I really like the rustic look. However, the fact that the notebook does not lie flat, that the binding tends to break and that the paper feathers quite a bit is disappointing. Having said that, I would love to try some of the other variants (dot grid and sketch look very interesting indeed) as they may not suffer from the same issues. I really believe Monsieur notebook and the whole concept around it has a great potential. I believe Tom and Ed will be able to address the build quality issues soon, because Monsieur Fountain could be a fantastic notebook. Monsieur Notebook Size: A5Dismensions: 213 x 148 x 20 mmPaper: plain whiteNumber of pages: 192Cover: real leatherBinding: glued and stitchedDesigned in the UK, manufactured in India