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Tomoe River Letterpress Books From Justwrite Pens – A Review


Jamerelbe
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Background - and Disclaimer!

A little over three months ago now (in April 2014), one of my local (Australian) online pen stores began stocking Tomoe River paper for the first time. I’d heard so much about it, I wanted to give it a try – but hadn’t been prepared for the cost of importing paper myself – so as soon as it became available in the online store (www.JustWrite.com.au), I placed an order. AU$16.50 for 100 A4 sheets, that’s not exactly cheap… but then again, this is a very unique paper.

 

In conversation with Kevin Watson, the ‘proprietor’ of JustWrite Pens, I discovered that he’d linked up with a printer by the name of Jo Olive – proprietor of ‘Olive and the Volcano’, a local letterpress studio – and commissioned her to produce a line of notebooks using Tomoe River paper.

 

These arrived instore last week – and Kevin offered me the privilege of receiving a couple of sample copies, in return for an impartial review. Let me stress from the outset, I have no relationship with JustWrite Pens, nor with Olive and the Volcano, other than as a customer – and a periodic recipient of JustWrite products for review. That said, it’s hard to understate how thrilled I am, not only to have access to Tomoe River paper from an Australian supplier, but now to have access to these beautifully presented notebooks as well.

 

With no further ado, on to the review:

 

Packaging

The notebooks arrived in a cardboard container large enough to hold 2-3 of the A5-sized books – and to protect them against bending, folding, or creasing – a decided advantage if your only way of obtaining these books is through the mail! On opening the container, I found two Tome River Notebooks – one A5-sized, and one A6 – each with a beautiful paper wrap-around advertising the product: “Handwritten Letterpress Notebook – Tomoe River Paper”. Each notebook was also wrapped in a plastic bag, fitted to size, that provided additional protection while in transit.

 

http://i.imgur.com/13g9ea3.jpg

 

The Paper

The paper used to make these notebooks should be familiar to anyone who frequents the Fountain Pen Network (and/or Fountain Pen Geeks!). Made in Japan by Tomoegawa Co Ltd, the paper is extremely thin and lightweight (52gsm, compared with 80gsm for normal laser paper, and 90gsm for Clairefontaine) – and yet one of the most fountain-pen-friendly papers going around. Even with the wettest of pens, Tomoe River paper is feather-resistant and bleed-through resistant –and though the translucency of the page makes ghosting inevitable, even this is not much of an issue, unless you’re holding it up to the light. There is a trade-off though: the dry-times for fountain pen ink tend to be a little longer than usual – though maybe comparable to Clairefontaine?

 

In terms of colour, the paper in these notebooks is too pale to be called ‘cream’, but not ‘light’ enough to be called ‘pure white’ – so I’ll go for ‘off-white’. Its texture is beautifully smooth, allowing for just a hint of ‘feedback’ between paper and pen.

 

http://i.imgur.com/KoXByIR.jpg

 

If you want to know anything more about Tomoe River Paper, you’ll get a better idea of its properties from some of the other reviews on this site. Suffice to say, it’s a beautiful paper that works extraordinarily well with almost any fountain pen / ink combination – as long as you’re prepared for the slow dry-times, or prepared to use a bit of blotting paper.

 

Each notebook has 60 sheets / 120 pages – compared with a Clarirefontaine A5 Cahier or a Staplebound Duo (9x14cm), both of which I purchased from my local OfficeWorks store… and both of which contain 48 sheets / 96 pages. By way of comparison, I’d say the Tomoe River notebooks are about 2/3 the thickness of the Clairefontaine, despite the larger number of pages in the former. I should also point out, the paper is unlined. I’ve suggested to Kevin that future shipments could come with a lined backing sheet – for now, buyers will have to make their own.

 

The Cover – and Quality of Construction

The JustWrite Tomoe River notebooks are presently available in two sizes – A5 and A6 – but the cover, the binding, and the finish on each are identical.

 

The cover is made of black, 450gsm cardstock. That’s thinner than the comparable Clairefontaine products – I’d say the Cahier and Staplebound Duo were closer to 600gsm – but thick enough to provide some protection, and thin enough to be easily folded back.

 

http://i.imgur.com/NtQoNI8.jpg

Clairefontaine Stablebound Duo (Left) vs A6 JustWrite Tomoe River Notebook (Right)

 

The notebook has been bound together by machine stitching – black thread to match the card stock cover. In terms of the ‘look’ of the product, that’s probably my only quibble: at the centre of the notebook, the black thread stands out starkly against the white paper – I wonder whether staple binding would have been a little less obtrusive? But the only time you’ll notice the threads is when you’re sitting right at the midpoint of the book – so maybe I’m being too picky! The machine stitching is regular and secure, and double-stitched at top and bottom, so there’s no risk of this product falling apart!

 

http://i.imgur.com/phLT7n2.jpg

 

Lightly embossed on the bottom right of the front cover of each book – and subtle enough that you could miss it if you weren’t looking for it! – is an embossed enscription (or should that be ‘debossed’? The imprint goes inward:)

NOTES .

TOMOE RIVER Paper

Likewise on the back page, you’ll find the following inscription:

A

HANDCRAFTED NOTEBOOK

A

COLLABORATION

DESIGN AND LETTERPRESS

OLIVEANDTHEVOLCANO.COM

JUSTWRITE.COM.AU

 

http://i.imgur.com/F7Bh7It.jpg

http://i.imgur.com/QH2rOwz.jpg

 

 

The other thing that strikes me as I look at the notebooks is how beautifully finished the edges are – both for the cover and for the sheets. Although these notebooks are hand-crafted, the edging is very precise: the cover and the paper line up perfectly, and the corners of both have been rounded off. These notebooks are well-made, the cover is a good thickness, the binding is very secure. And again, the embossing is impressive - just deep enough to be visible, but faint enough not to be a distraction.

 

The Verdict

As I mentioned earlier, I’d been waiting for these notebooks to be completed with a sense of eager anticipation – and have not been disappointed. I’d hoped to be ‘first cab off the ranks’ in terms of purchasing one or two of these books – and was hesitant to accept them free, for fear that might create the perception of bias when it came to writing up a review. I can honestly say, though, I’m really impressed with these notebooks – so much so that I’m hesitating to write in them just yet (I still have a fair few loose A4 sheets of Tomoe River paper!) – but I wanted to get this review up online, particularly for Australian buyers, so you know what you’re getting if you place an order. (OK, OK, I caved - see writing sample below...)

 

These handcrafted books are well-made, simple yet elegant, and beautifully finished – with one of the most fountain-pen-friendly papers in the world. [Late-breaking news: as I prepared to put this review up online, I received notification from Jono at www.pentorium.com that he’d just published a review also. Haven’t only skimmed it, but I direct the reader to his website for comparison - and some writing samples!]

 

http://i.imgur.com/MoQinMl.jpg

 

At the time of writing, the A6 books (which will easily fit an inside jacket pocket) are retailing for AU$11 plus postage, while the A5 books (my preferred size, personally) will set you back AU$19 each. That might sound a bit steep - but remember, Tomoe River paper is expensive to purchase - and even more pricey to import in any quantity! I should also mention, these notebooks are also available for international delivery – check the relevant product page on the website (www.JustWrite.com.au) for delivery charges.

 

My thanks again to Kevin from the JustWrite Pen Company for providing me with review copies (1 each) of the A5 and A6 Tomoe River Notebooks – I’ll be looking forward to buying more of my own down the track…

 

Any questions about the product, pop them into the comments below - I'll do my best to answer them.

Edited by Jamerelbe
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Great review - black stitching looks mega ugly but doesn't matter if the book is good. Must order a couple and try them.

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Great review - black stitching looks mega ugly but doesn't matter if the book is good. Must order a couple and try them.

 

Thanks for the feedback. Full credit to JustWrite, the photos up on their website show the stitching. Again, it's only visible when the notebook is open to the middle - and if that's the 'price' you pay for secure binding, then so be it!

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Thanks for the feedback. Full credit to JustWrite, the photos up on their website show the stitching. Again, it's only visible when the notebook is open to the middle - and if that's the 'price' you pay for secure binding, then so be it!

Certainly not a deal breaker for me and probably looks great to some folks. Pity he doesn't do a lined A5. Hadn't looked at his website for quite a while and didn't realise he has such a big range of pens not usually available locally. Will have to spend more time wandering online there. Have you tried the cheaper A5 notebooks?

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Nice review. I have a couple for review too; but with yours and Pentorium I'm feeling a touch redundant! Suffice to say, brilliant fountainpen friendly paper, simple, sophisticated design; very nice.

The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man's foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher - Thomas Huxley

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Certainly not a deal breaker for me and probably looks great to some folks. Pity he doesn't do a lined A5. Hadn't looked at his website for quite a while and didn't realise he has such a big range of pens not usually available locally. Will have to spend more time wandering online there. Have you tried the cheaper A5 notebooks?

 

Yep, I bought one of the purple Hardcover PU journals a couple of months ago. The paper is cream-coloured, rather than white (I normally prefer the latter), is lined at 8mm (not the 9mm advertised on the site), and doesn't have the almost glossy feel of Rhodia or Clairefontaine - so when I first tried it out, I wasn't expecting much. But I've been pleasantly surprised - it's a fairly smooth writing experience, and free of feathering or bleed-through. I haven't 'torture-tested' the paper with difficult inks or ultra-wide nibs, but have had no trouble using 1.1mm stub nibs. For the price, I'd say it's a pretty good buy (yes, I did pay for it!). The B5 notebooks are also OK, not quite as feather-resistant - though it's still pretty good; can't comment on the 'Oriental Birds paper, since I haven't tried it!

Edited by Jamerelbe
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Nice review. I have a couple for review too; but with yours and Pentorium I'm feeling a touch redundant! Suffice to say, brilliant fountainpen friendly paper, simple, sophisticated design; very nice.

 

Still worth doing your own review - the more the merrier! I'd be interested to know, what do you think could be improved? The main feedback I've given (before I received the notebooks, but I'm even more convinced now) is that JustWrite supply a 'backing card' with each book, lined at, say, 7mm or 8mm. Card to help protect against indenting the next page if you press down to hard... and lines to assist dummies like me to maintain a regular writing line. Of course, I can (and will) make up a card of my own - but I'll have to cut it to size, and try to approximate the same curvature on the corners!

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I just ordered 5 x A6's on the basis of UR review. Thanks for the review and link to online shop. Jim

 

No worries - hope you enjoy them!

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