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Monsieur Fountain Notebook Review


milanjuza
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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.

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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.

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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

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Usage

Since 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 nib
  • TWSBI 580, 1.1 mm italic nib
  • Jinhao 159, M nib

Inks

  • Diamine Green-Black
  • Diamine Red Dragon
  • Diamine Onyx Black

Other 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.

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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

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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 cover
  • Great rustic, yet clean look
  • Hand-made feel
  • Smells great
  • Hardly any bleed-through
  • Wide choice of colours and options (Monsieur range)

What I don’t like:

  • Noticeable feathering
  • Binding and stitching too tight
  • Binding can break rather easily
  • Does not lie flat
  • Spots on the paper
  • Watermark 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: A5
  • Dismensions: 213 x 148 x 20 mm
  • Paper: plain white
  • Number of pages: 192
  • Cover: real leather
  • Binding: glued and stitched
  • Designed in the UK, manufactured in India

 

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To add my two cents, I have bought this Monsieur Red notebook in the non-fountain pen edition as the fountain pen edition isn't sold in Australia. I agree with the binding issue, the video that I watched that asked me to bend the notebook thoroughly, made some of the binding come a bit loose. Didn't fall out of the notebook or anything.

 

The paper was surprisingly alright and behaved fairly well with most of my fountain pen inks using a fine to medium nib. When I used a broad or a stub it tended to feather a bit, there was however, no bleeding. Overall I do like the feel of the entire notebook and would actually look forward to some closer attention to the binding and the availability of the fountain pen version in Australia.

 

Great review btw Milanjuza :thumbup:

Edited by mrchan

Fountain pens are like weapons. They just make your pocket bleed so much.

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Here's a quick update: I got an email from Ed (one of the people behind Monsieur Notebook) saying that they already resolved the "stiff binding" issue. He also acknowledged that sometimes their manufacturer in India does not follow the process they agreed with them which (apparently) results in some of the quality issues I experienced. He is in contact with the factory now and trying to address this. So let's look forward to the next revision of Monsieur Notebook!

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To add my two cents, I have bought this Monsieur Red notebook in the non-fountain pen edition as the fountain pen edition isn't sold in Australia. I agree with the binding issue, the video that I watched that asked me to bend the notebook thoroughly, made some of the binding come a bit loose. Didn't fall out of the notebook or anything.

 

The paper was surprisingly alright and behaved fairly well with most of my fountain pen inks using a fine to medium nib. When I used a broad or a stub it tended to feather a bit, there was however, no bleeding. Overall I do like the feel of the entire notebook and would actually look forward to some closer attention to the binding and the availability of the fountain pen version in Australia.

 

Great review btw Milanjuza :thumbup:

Fantastic review, thanks. Sits well with my view of this notebook. I thought I saw the FP version in Dymoks in Sydney a fair while ago. I know that notemaker.com.au did stock these very early on but have discontinued them. Seem yet anopther example of 'close, but no cigar'. I hope the people behind these can get the technical aspects right as they certainly show promise.

http://img356.imageshack.us/img356/7260/postminipo0.png
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Fantastic review, thanks. Sits well with my view of this notebook. I thought I saw the FP version in Dymoks in Sydney a fair while ago. I know that notemaker.com.au did stock these very early on but have discontinued them. Seem yet anopther example of 'close, but no cigar'. I hope the people behind these can get the technical aspects right as they certainly show promise.

Thanks inkypete, I bought mine from Dymocks here in Brisbane CBD as well. I did like the leather cover very much, a solid one which seems to have nice scuff marks over time to show a good amount of usage which make it so much more personalized. That, you don't see with moleskine (soft leather cover which I like but which has horrible paper). If these issues are sorted out as Milanjuza says, I do look forward to the next iteration of the Monsieur notebooks indeed. Btw, if you handle each and every book, it all feels different from thickness, size of the leather being cut etc. I find that fascinating.

Fountain pens are like weapons. They just make your pocket bleed so much.

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  • 3 months later...

I was underwhelmed, poor QC meant glue stains all over the edges, the book glued crooked inside the cover- obvious to the eye, pages not cut properly. It looked like a half baked product, or at best a rushed one with good materials

 

I have sent them a message, mind you it took many months to get. Hope they respond appropriately.

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Not a huge fan. Bought one, not another...

 

One of the few notebooks (of this form-factor) that I wouldn't take over a Moleskine...

Too many pens; too little writing.

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Not a huge fan. Bought one, not another...

 

One of the few notebooks (of this form-factor) that I wouldn't take over a Moleskine...

That is probably the most damning statement I have ever read. To say you would rather have a Moleskin is the ultimate insult to a notebook. :P

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  • 1 month later...

I just wanted to report that I ordered the A5 fountain pen journal from The Paperie in UK. My journal looks perfect and there are no stitching problems.

 

I believe Monsieur Notebook is now manufacturing in the UK.

 

By the way, the paper in the journal is absolutely luxurious! I wanted to find a substitute for the Exacompta Sketchbook with J. Lalo paper that is not being made by Clairefontaine any more. The Monsieur Notebook really fits the bill. They are using Royal Executive Bond paper inside the journal and it has such a quality feel. Each leaf has some good thickness to it.

 

(reviews of the old Exacompta Sketchbook)

http://www.gouletpens.com/Articles.asp?ID=386

http://www.biffybeans.com/2009/02/review-exacompta-livres-dor-basics.html

 

The reason I bought the Monsieur Notebook was because Clairefontaine customer service said they had no plans to bring back the Exacompta Sketchbook. It's nice to see that someone has stepped up and filled that void in the journal market; I'm quite happy with my Monsieur Notebook fountain pen journal.

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