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May 2008: Field Notes: Another Paper for Pen Lovers to Try

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • Full disclosure: The best man from my wedding is one of the peddlers of Field Notes, and greased me down — Richard too — with some free samples in hopes we’d give the product a fair shake. We said we’d check ’em out, but we also told him we’d have to say they stank if they stank. There. I said it. Onward.

My dad was a bookkeeper for a fertilizer company in the small Ohio town of Archbold, and these little notebooks are quite familiar to me — except they don’t have the cheesy vinyl covers I remember with gold-leaf lettering that chipped off when you looked at them the wrong way. Extra Fine Points

Because of budget issues and a general laziness about exploring the wide world of exotic papers, I guess, when it comes to writing on paper, I focus on just a few brands:

  1. Clairefontaine — (sold by our friends at Pendemonium) where price and performance meet. Their little notebooks are just exactly right sized for journaling or note-taking, and the paper is excellent, no smear or feathering. Gives me goosebumps with a semiflex (and if you don’t have the pen fetish, quickly navigate away from this page and act as if you never read that — you’ll be OK).

  2. Crane — Ecruwhite Silk Laid is a classic, and probably the best paper to get along with my lefthanded writing if I take my time. I make excuses to snail mail people just to write on this stuff with my favorite pens.

  3. Ampad Gold Fibre — It’s been a classic for a long, long time, and for good reason: It’s good (and cheap at Staples).

  4. Whitelines — I know zero about this upstart Swedish brand besides it looks a little strange, but after someone left a pad on the table I rented last month at the Boston pen show, I’ve had a chance to use it — and like it.

  5. Rhodia — I know architects, and they are annoyingly exacting in their performance expectations when it comes to pen and paper. Rhodia first made its mark with architects; fountain pen people later co-opted their paper of choice. Good stuff, it is.

Field Notes in useThere is a new brand of designer notebook on the block, called Field Notes. Inspired by pocket notebooks farmers and their seed-and-fertilizer-salesman pals used to carry in their shirt pockets, these 3.5"×5.5", 48-page American-made notebooks with graph rules have some breezy, insouciant suggestions for what they might be used: “shoddy sketches,” “shady transactions,” and “half-ass calculations” are three of a list of 30 on the inside back cover.

My dad was a bookkeeper for a fertilizer company in the small Ohio town of Archbold, and these little guys are quite familiar to me — except they don’t have the cheesy vinyl covers I remember with gold-leaf lettering that chipped off when you just looked at them the wrong way. And dirt spots that looked suspiciously like something other than dirt.

Today’s boutique papers competing for the pen-collector’s dollar each have their own marketing spin: For example, Moleskine claims its notebooks were used by the likes of Van Gogh and Hemingway. The way I read the company’s About Us page, it’s pretty clear that Moleskines are “inspired by” those artists’ notebooks. Kind of like the tires on my minivan are “inspired by” the same ones on the car that won the 2007 Indy 500, but no matter how hard I lay on the accelerator I can’t get it to go anywhere near 200 miles an hour.

Field Notes, however, takes a more unassuming approach. They’re plain, perfectly sized little notebooks for jotting down thoughts on the go, cell phone numbers you need to remember until your battery charges, grocery list items, errand-run destinations and the two things you gotta remember per stop. Or, at a pen show, which pens you want to revisit after you’ve given every dealer’s table the once-over.

Marketing and design aside, what fountain people want to know is how the paper performs. Here are the findings, so far, of my field tests of Field Notes. (The paper is, for the record, Boise 50#T White.)

Richard experienced similar results, he says.

Overall, at ten bucks for three, Field Notes cost more than some papers, less than others. The premium price nets you premium paper made in the U.S., which to some people is worth paying a little extra. Main point is, get yourself a pack of these and it will give you a new excuse to use your fountain pens more out there in the world. Either that, or some low-cost substitutes like Office Depot Composition Books or even the ridiculously cool and incredibly free — if you can steal paper off the laser printer at work — PocketMod.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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