Moleskine pencil

Moleskine has slowly been unveiling a new collection from designer Giulio Iachetti. Included in the collection is a pencil!

Moleskine pencil

The pencils I obtained came in cardboard and plastic packaging. There was no simple way to open the package that I could determine, so I used kitchen scissors.

Moleskine pencil

The set includes two pencils, a sharpener, a clip, and a set of stickers.

Moleskine pencil

The pencils are very handsome, finished in matte black, including a finished rounded cap. The shape is not what I was expecting – the 13cm long pencils have a rectangular carpenter pencil format, though the lead is a standard cylindrical shape.

The packaging indicates the pencils are from the Czech Republic, the wood cedar (which should be clear from the photos) and the lead a 2B grade.

Moleskine pencil

The markings are a subtle black on black. “Moleskine” on the narrow side:

Moleskine pencil

And the grade on the wide side:

Moleskine pencil

An impressive product. I was recently speculating with an online friend that interesting new pencils are going to start coming from third parties and virtual brands, rather than the manufacturers. And the Moleskine seemed like a perfect example.

There is just one problem – with the smooth finish and rectangular shape, I couldn’t get a proper hold on the pencil. I tried various grip formations without success. Perhaps it takes some getting used to, but without forming an uncomfortable vice grip, I just couldn’t find a way of grasping the pencil for writing.

This was unfortunate, as the pencil has a great appearance and the lead seems to be high quality.

Unsatisfactory (to me) broken letter formations when my hand lost grip on the pencil:

Moleskine pencil

The sharpener is quite different. Do you see what I mean? You may want to compare with a standard sharpener:

Moleskine pencil

The blade is flush with the top of the sharpener, so the pencil will have to be inserted at an angle. Different, though I’m not sure about the impact on usability. The pencil set was sufficiently expensive that I didn’t want to sharpen the pencils just to test how they sharpen.

Moleskine pencil

The cap is interesting. It grips the pencil with a friction fit, and has an interior plastic piece to ensure point protection. The cap is surrounded by a rubberized metal clip.

Moleskine pencil

To me, it looks great, but official photos show the pencil being clipped to the side of a Moleskine, rather than the top.

Moleskine pencil

It is great to see the introduction of a compelling pencil set with really sharp looks, but I am torn about the usability question. I am curious about what others think – have you tried the Moleskine pencil?

Notebooks from Laywine’s

Notebooks from Laywine's in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Between online selling and big box stores, many types of smaller businesses are feeling the pinch today. The independent stationery store is unfortunately a relic in many places. One exception may be New York City. (See these posts at Pocket Blonde. New York looks great!)

One way of fighting back is to move up the food chain and specialize in higher profit areas like custom stationery or fountain pens. Yet even that is getting tougher as online selling grows. I often read that the Lamy Safari is a great $20 fountain pen. But every retailer in Canada that I’m aware of charges between $42 and $46 for this pen. At $46 plus 13% sales tax, that is $C51.98 (or $US51.08 at today’s rate). So is it a great $51 pen? And just where is it sold for $20? Well, online. Yes, it might actually be $21 or $25 plus shipping, but that’s still nowhere near $51.

So you can see the challenge that a brick and mortar retailer might have. Now think about $200 vs $500 for a pen. (I think this ratio continues to hold up, from what I’ve observed.)

Laywine’s is a store in Toronto that I recently visited. I think they’ve found one good way of competing with online retailers – by comprehensively stocking a broad array of all these brands that we see promoted online. In fact they had many products that I’ve not previously heard of, despite my keeping up with several stationery websites and blogs.

I’m not mentioning looseleaf paper, agendas, fancy journals, or correspondence oriented stationery – and trust me, they have plenty of items in those categories as well.

So let me mention some of the notebook brands and items they have:

Clairefontaine and Rhodia – they’ve always stocked these brands, and comprehensively – the Rhodia pads from the tiny jotters to (my favourite) the mighty A3 sized No. 38. The ring-bound Clairings and Pollen paper and new tobacco-coloured (age bag) 9cm x 14cm formats were standouts for me.

Moleskine – This store was selling this brand when they had fuzzy faux animal print covers and we thought they were made in Italy. They still have a full line, including the new A3 and A4 formats.

Field Notes – Here it starts to get interesting. Laywine’s has this brand in regular and “special edition” formats. I bought an orange pack and three-colour pack. Much cheaper than mail order as well.

Doane Paper – another brand that I associated with online marketing. I learned of them from the reviews at the Pen Addict blog. I wasn’t aware that they had a retail presence. I walked away with several formats (and wish I had bought more).

Behance – we’ve looked at Behance in the past. Laywine’s again has the full range, as far as I could tell.

Letts – I was not aware of a new notebook line from this established name, and picked up a notebook in a very pleasing and unusual dimension. (172mm x 232mm).

Leuchtturm – there were even more formats here than I’ve seen for sale online (including thick/thin versions and dotted/lattice versions).

Canteo – the first time I’ve seen this fantastic Swiss brand at retail. (I love the 4mm grey squared paper.) The offerings were limited, but they said that more is on the way.

Whitelines – Apart from the many versions I’ve already seen, they had hardcover and glued pad formats that were new to me.

Miquelrius – I’m afraid this was my biggest disappointment. All the Miquelrius notebooks I saw (some in a pleasing composition book format) looked poorly finished, and I’ll have to wait to try out their line.

Apica – another line that Laywine’s has stocked for several years.

There are other Japanese brands they stock, but whose names I’m not sure I can accurately identify.

So by bringing all these brands together, this store is creating a powerful and compelling counterforce to online ordering. They’re benefitting from the online hype without selling online. And, what a great store it is! The photo shows some of my purchase.

I don’t think any single online source has such an array – Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Moleskine, Canteo, Leuchtturm, Apica, Rhodia, Field Notes, Doane Paper, Behance, Letts, Whitelines, Miquelrius, Apica, all side by side.

So if you happen to visit Toronto and like stationery, I do recommend a stop at Laywine’s. Maybe there is a great stationer in your locale that you’d like to recommend?

Moleskine Project Planner

Moleskine Project Planner

Talk about long accordion folds of paper! The Moleskine Project Planner is essentially a long zig-zag folded piece of paper inside the familiar Moleskine exterior – black cover, elastic band, pocket inside the back cover.

I would say it is very unusual, presenting a linear unbroken view of the calendar year.

Moleskine Project Planner

There are some problems, and I’m not sure how to make best use of it. Each day’s numeral has eleven rectangles below it – each of which is 6mm (horizontal) by 10mm (vertical). This isn’t enough space to write anything – maybe just a single character or a check mark. Presumably you would need a pre-existing colour or notation scheme to chart or record something.

Moleskine Project Planner

The reverse side does have an alternate calendar view with a 3.5mm ruled line that could take very small writing.

Moleskine Project Planner

The reverse also has various “helpful” items such as international holidays. There is an error in the Canadian listing, which undermines my confidence in the other presented information.

Moleskine Project Planner

Even if it is called a “project planner”, I can see the format being quite good for tracking personal information such as a budget or diet.

It has also made me think about this paper format – I’m wondering about where one could buy accordion folded thick paper. Moleskine’s Japanese Album is another product that I’ve always thought of as a sketchbook, and now realize could be quite useful for project planning.

The product is just somehow pleasantly clever.

Moleskine Project Planner

Move over Moleskine

Congratulations to Canadian stationer Papterie Nota Bene for being prominently featured on two pages of today’s National Post.

By Nathalie Atkinson, Move over Moleskine is a richly illustrated leisurely look at the fine notebooks and writing implements that many of us enjoy.

What the online article doesn’t show are the photos and prominence that the print edition gives to the article.

The front page of the “Weekend Post” is covered with seven photos and the caption, “Never too cool for school”. Shown are a Roots saddle bag, Hermès Ulysses notebook, Field Notes notebooks and pencils, Erinzam notebooks, Rite-in-the-Rain notebook (with Ticonderoga pencil), Faber-Castell Textliners, and Whitelines notepads. I was certainly surprised and delighted by the prominence given to pencils.

The fourth page of the section has a near full page article, and shows some more photos of stationery items: A Kikkerland Endangered Species eraser, Globus pencil sharpener, Rhodia pad, Very Best mechanical pencil, and Reused News colour pencils. Pencils clearly rule!

The article is a tour of today’s stationery trends, guided by an interview with Russell Hemsworth of Papterie Nota Bene. I’ve never been to his store, but I’ve spoken with Russell on the phone and via email, and can personally vouch for his great service.

We get the scoop: Moleskine has officially jumped the shark, with Field Notes being the new hipster favorite. Longstanding brands like Canteo, Rite-in-the-Rain and Rhodia are also in high demand. And pencils, pencils, pencils!

Thanks to the Post for the article and congratulations to Russell.

Erasers: The Pink Pearl, the Staedtler Mars plastic, and others.

Erasers: The Pink Pearl, the Staedtler Mars plastic, and others.

Let’s take a look at some popular pencil erasers.

When I’m taking notes at a meeting, I rarely use an eraser. There just isn’t time. I strike out the error, and carry on. But at my desk or at home, the ability to correct one’s writing, charts, and drawings is a major benefit of the pencil. It’s especially great when the eraser works well.

I wanted to look at the two leading erasers that I see in the marketplace – the “Pink Pearl”, and the “white vinyl” type, specifically the Staedtler Mars plastic. I’ve also added in a gum eraser, and a kneadable eraser. There are still other types of erasers, but I think these four represent the main categories one would encounter in an office or art supply shop. I specifically wanted to test the Pink Pearl and Mars plastic side by side since they are so well known.

The science behind gum, rubber and erasing is interesting, but out of our scope today. There are some links below for further reading.

For the test, I sought brand new erasers at local stores. The Mars plastic came fully wrapped. The Pink Pearl was in a “blister pack” of three, the Lyra kneadable eraser was partially wrapped, and the General’s gum eraser was loose. The exact models used were:

General’s Gum Eraser No. 136E

Dixon Pink Pearl 101

Staedtler Mars plastic 526 50 UP

Lyra Knetgummi 3467

My reference pencil, the Staedler Mars Lumograph 100, was used for the first round of tests. A second test suite was done with Pentel Hi-Polymer Super 0.9mm HB lead, used in a mechanical pencil. This was partly to contrast the pencil lead types, as well as give the erasers additional tests.

Four paper types were chosen to represent a spectrum of types and quality. Two cheaper papers (Office copy, Moleskine), and two better quality papers, including watercolor paper – Rhodia, and Strathmore cold press watercolor. The exact papers were:

Xerox Business 4200 20lb. 75g/m2, 92 brightness


Rhodia vellum paper 21.3lb 80g/m2

Strathmore Watercolor cold press 140lb 300g/m2

Two type of markings were made – a straight line, and a doodle/shading of a square area.

I took photos as well as having the original documents for comparison. I realized that this also turned out to be a test of the papers and leads from the erasure perspective.

Here is a test sample, the Mars Lumograph 100 on Rhodia, before and after erasure.

Erasers: The Pink Pearl, the Staedtler Mars plastic, and others.Erasers: The Pink Pearl, the Staedtler Mars plastic, and others.

Here are the scores. The erasure results were ranked 1 to 4, with 1 being the best erasure, and 4 the worst erasure.

Chart 1: Lumograph 100 line erasure

Xerox Moleskine Rhodia Strathmore
Gum 2 1 2 2
Pink Pearl 4 4 4 4
Mars plastic 1 2 1 1
Kneaded 3 3 3 3

Chart 2: Lumograph 100 drawing erasure

Xerox Moleskine Rhodia Strathmore
Gum 2 1 3 1
Pink Pearl 4 4 4 4
Mars plastic 3 2 1 2
Kneaded 1 3 2 3

Chart 3: Pentel Hi-Polymer Super line erasure

Xerox Moleskine Rhodia Strathmore
Gum 2 3 2 2
Pink Pearl 4 4 4 4
Mars plastic 1 1 1 1
Kneaded 3 2 3 3

Chart 4: Pentel Hi-Polymer Super drawing erasure

Xerox Moleskine Rhodia Strathmore
Gum 1 3 3 1
Pink Pearl 4 4 4 4
Mars plastic 2 1 1 2
Kneaded 3 2 2 3

Interpreting these results, the Mars plastic is the best or almost the best at erasing lines on all types of paper. Erasing a Lumograph 100 drawing, the General’s Gum eraser performed slightly better. At Pentel drawings, the kneaded eraser did very well, though not better than the Mars.

The overall test winner is the Staedtler Mars plastic, with a nod to the General’s Gum for woodcase pencil artists, and kneaded erasers for mechanical pencil artists. As the results depended on the task and type of lead and paper, the real lesson is that an eraser has to be looked at as part of a pencil/paper/eraser combination, and in the context of usage.

The Pink Pearl was a disappointment. It came last in all sixteen invividual tests, and sometimes left a pinkish smear.

The kneaded eraser has a major benefit that became apparent as my desk got filled with eraser detritus: Kneaded erasers leave no residue, since they absorb the graphite as they erase. The eraser thus gradually becomes darker (and dirtier) over time.

An observation about the pencil lead is that the mechanical pencil lead is much more erasable – remarkably so in some cases. The Pentel markings on the Moleskine and Rhodia seemed to just disappear with the Mars eraser. The mark’s only remaining evidence seemed to be indentations in the paper from the pencil’s pressure – and these require careful examination to see.

The photocopy paper and the artist’s watercolour paper – neither of which were created for pencil use – retained the most graphite after erasure attempts.

Further reading:

Erasers World A collection and information site for erasers. Several interesting company biographies, as well as essays on erasers and eraser materials.

Joy of Erasers Blog devoted to erasers.

Wikipedia eraser article Not bad for Wikipedia.

Chemical & Engineering News Informative non-technical article on erasers.

Staedtler document on erasers (700K PDF) A mix of technical and marketing information about erasers.