What do I say for my last post of 2017? First and foremost, thank you! To all my readers, I can’t express how much I appreciate your friendship and support, which allows me to write here on what’s become a near-daily basis and reinforces my belief in the importance of making space for the “analog” side of life. This has been a hard year for many reasons, both personal and professional, and regardless of what else was going on, knowing that I had at least one hour a day to spend here, focusing on something that brings me nothing but joy, carried me through the rough spots.
While there won’t be any major changes to the blog for 2018, I’ve spent the past couple of months refining my “mission statement” and thinking about where I want to focus my attention. The Gentleman Stationer is, for the most part, a product review site, but I try to write my reviews and articles from the perspective of someone who actually uses analog tools on a daily basis, often for hours at a time and in situations where functionality is key. One of my goals for 2018 is to refocus a bit on this central theme, and not let myself get carried away trying to publish the hot take on the latest new release. I have a few ideas for new features in the hopper, some of which are more developed than others, but at a minimum you can expect more in-depth reviews of products that I consider “daily drivers” - tools that you can rely on to get your work done every day. I also miss writing the monthly Digital Divide newsletter, and I’m working on a way to bring back more content that allows me to explore those themes more than I have. Unfortunately, given my day-job related time commitments, I always seem to run into the “hours in the day” problem….
My Top Five Daily Use Stationery Products
So, taking all of this into account, I decided to approach my overall “Best of” list from a different perspective than I have in the past. I want to talk a bit about those products that I end up reaching for everyday without thinking, that blend into my workflow to the point where I basically forget that I’m using them. I’ve reviewed most of these products on the blog, and for those that I haven’t, well, I plan to fix that soon.
- Baron Fig Mastermind Desk Pad. It’s silly to say that any stationery product is truly “life changing,” but if I had to name the one product that improved my workflow on a daily basis, it would be the Baron Fig Mastermind. This dot grid desk pad has become not only my all-purpose jotter/scratch paper, but as I've gotten used to writing in "landscape mode," it even serves as a great medium for rough drafts. Baron Fig’s paper handles all kinds of ink very well, and I appreciate the fact that it’s more absorbent and not thick, like Rhodia or Clairefontaine. This means that ink dries quickly. Both the Mastermind and the open-calendar Mastermind “Week” pad, were huge wins for Baron Fig this year. Now they just need to make a standard legal pad and and a huge desk blotter, and I’ll be set for life.
- Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter. A product I’ve not reviewed yet, since I’m still working on how exactly I want to cover this somewhat unique notebook/binder/Trapper-Keeper. The Roterfaden is expensive, yet it’s incredibly versatile and really the only thing I’ve tried to date that’s allowed me to easily carry multiple full-sized notebooks. I can appreciate the Traveler’s Notebook, but the inserts are too small for most of the writing that I do. It’s quickly become an essential part of my daily carry.
- One Star Leather Baron Fig Confidant Cover. As you may have gleaned from how much I’ve raved about the Mastermind, I pretty much committed to using Baron Fig paper exclusively for the majority of my writing. I use Confidant notebooks for journaling, but the cloth covers tend to get pretty grungy, and they’re not the most durable. My One Star Leather Confidant cover fixes this, and the tan bridle leather looks great as it ages.
- Lamy 2000 4 Color Ballpoint / Sailor Imperial Black Multi Pen. As I mentioned in my “Top 5 Pens of 2017” post, I use one of these two multi pens on a daily basis as my primary writing instrument. I can’t go on enough about how I love both these pens, and if you’re someone who likes to switch between ink colors on the fly, I highly recommend either one of these. (Note: if you need a mechanical pencil option, go for the Sailor.)
- Filson Original Briefcase. I have four bags, but I often wonder why. 350 days out of the year, I carry this one, and apart from some (very attractive) aging and softening of the leather straps, it still looks like it did the day I bought it. One of the criteria for an item making its way onto this list is that it has to be worth the money, and this bag paid for itself a long time ago.
If, tomorrow, I had to ditch all my stationery and pick five tools to keep for the rest of my life, I’d be happy with these. No fountain pens? I use them all the time, and I’d certainly miss them, but at the end of the day they’re not essential. For most everyday tasks, the multi pen or a pocket ballpoint has become the everyday carry pen of choice, and for situations where I really need to focus on a conversation or a meeting, they’re the most reliable and least distracting option.
Trends in Stationery from 2017
Here's a few general thoughts on trends I noticed this year, both positive and negative. It will be interesting to see whether these change or continue as-is in 2018.
- Stationery Subscription Services. I really hope these peaked in 2017. A few companies continue to do these really well (i.e. Write Notepads), but overall they seem a bit tired and the concepts and ideas not as fresh as in the past. I’ve allowed all my subscriptions to lapse, and limited edition purchases have been few and far between.
- The Insane Proliferation of Limited Editions. Between Pelikan, Aurora, Lamy, Field Notes, Baron Fig, Blackwing, Montblanc, and more releasing a new limited edition pen or ink seemingly every quarter, I can’t keep track, and I can’t imagine it’s sustainable since many of these pens are priced at $500+, and hang around for months (and in many cases, years) after production is discontinued. While a constant stream of new and sexy stuff is great for generating attention on social media and in the blogosphere, I’d much rather see companies researching and launching innovative new models into their standard lineup.
- Shimmer/Glitter Inks. Robert Oster, Diamine, and Herbin keep pushing out the shimmer inks. While I’m all for expanding the range of ink colors available, the market for glitter ink strikes me as oversaturated. (See what I did there?)
- Tomoe River Paper Goes Mainstream. You can now seemingly find Tomoe River Paper everywhere, and you no longer have to order it directly from Japan as U.S. retailers are starting to stock it regularly. It’s available in loose sheets, pocket notebooks, A5 notebooks, bound journals, and more! At some point it may replace Clairefontaine/Rhodia as the “default” fountain-pen friendly paper, especially given its light weight and the fact that a normal sized notebook can hold hundreds of pages!
- The Typewriter. Is the internet’s current obsession with typewriters, driven by the book Typewriter Revolution and the new documentary California Typewriter, sustainable, or is it just a passing fad? I have a couple typewriters that I use occasionally, and do enjoy, but I still struggle to fit them into my regular workflow. Something I’ll be thinking about/working on in the coming year.
A Look Forward to 2018
And speaking of the coming year, I wanted to close with a few remarks on some products that I suspect I'll find myself using quite often in 2018. Who knows whether they will ultimately stick, but you can look forward to detailed and in-depth reviews of the following:
- Opus 88 Koloro Demonstrator Fountain Pens. I can see these fountain pens fighting their way into my “Top 5 Overall Products” for 2015. These reasonably priced Japanese-style eyedroppers, which are currently sold only by Pen Chalet, hold a ton of ink, sport reliable, well-tuned JoWo nibs, and are comfortable and unobtrusive enough to “disappear” into your workflow. Just be sure to choose an ink you like, because you’re in it for the long haul.
- New Conway Stewart. I had a chance to handle several pens from the recently reintroduced Conway Stewart line during my visit to Vanness Pens this past weekend. While Conway Stewart has existed in various forms since the early 1900s, it was recently relaunched by Bespoke British Pens, the same folks who produce Jack Row, Henry Simpole, and Onoto.
- Nanami Paper Cafe Note. I didn’t purchase a Hobonichi this year, in favor of Nanami’s new B6 notebook. This book is a great portable size, and I love the Crossfield-style layout. There’s also much less pressure in dealing with a journal that isn’t dated and doesn't limit you to a page-per-day. Some days I want to write more, some days much less, and some days you just don’t have anything at all.
- Apple iPad Pro 10.5. I was an early iPad Pro adopter, and while I loved what the larger screen and the Pencil enabled me to do in terms of reducing the amount of “junk paper” that I had to carry with me on a regular basis, the 12-inch screen was a bit too heavy and unwieldy for me to use regularly, and I sold it off after it fell out of use. I experimented with the Microsoft Surface for six months or so, but the handwriting recognition and latency with the Surface Pen simply isn’t as good as with the Apple pencil, particularly if you write small.
- Ink Brands with HUGE Ranges of Colors. While too many competing ink brands selling similar colors risk oversaturating the market, they also, IMHO, performed a valuable service: ensuring that pretty much any shade of any color of quality ink is available at any price point. Say you love the Bung Box or Sailor Kobe colors, but don’t want to spend $40+ on a single bottle of ink? Brands like Monteverde, Robert Oster, Diamine, and de Atramentis, to name a few, can probably get you pretty close to whatever color it is that you’re looking for. This trend shows no sign of slowing down, and retailers such as Vanness continue to introduce new lines of ink from around the world.
Again, thanks for everything, and see you all in 2018!
Disclaimer: This post contains links to sites and companies that are paid sponsors and affiliates of The Gentleman Stationer.