Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Perfected Notebook

It may be a sign of old age and/or encroaching crotchetiness, but I get annoyed when a manufacturer changes a product I've come to know and love.

Like, for example, suddenly Moleskine notebook quality seems variable.

Yes, we all groused when they moved manufacturing of the beloved favorite from Italy to China (with no decrease in price mind you.) But, our favorite little black book stayed the same.

And then, it didn't.

The paper changed. Now, I have only anecdotal evidence for this claim, but when it's your anecdote, that's all the evidence one needs.

I was at a medical conference taking notes, one fountain pen with me and the bleed through was too distracting. Had to change to a pencil.
Sailor cartridge ink. Bleed through from reverse too!
I've read how different inks react differently to the same paper. Okay, how many pens must I carry? Decided to find a new notebook.

Writer's are an odd lot. They can be funny (obsessive) about writing instruments, paper, books, the weather, whatever. Cruising stationery blogs. Yes, blogs about stationery. Discovered Rhodia Drive, remembered Clairefontaine paper and was offered a chance to review some Moleskine competition.

Rhodia Webnotebook - Blank
I compared the 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 Rhodia Blank Webnotebook to the same size Moleskine.

Rhodia - 192 pages, inner pocket, Clairefontaine brushed Vellum 90g paper, made in France.

Moleskine - 192 plain pages, acid-free paper, expanding inner pocket, company in Italy, manufactured in China.

Right out of the wrapper, the Rhodia feels like the higher quality product. The cover is thicker, feels rubberized (the description calls this "leatherette.") It's soft. In comparison, the Moleskine's hard cardboard cover feels like hard cardboard.

Moleskine is more modestly branded with a small "Moleskine" impressed into the back cover. "Rhodia" is deeply carved into the front cover.

Front and Center
I usually personalize my notebooks, so this may not matter, it's just -- hello, I know.

The elastic band closure has the same tension in both notebooks. It left a noticeable dent in the Rhodia. Purists (fuss pots) may not like their notebook so defaced.

Due to the plush cover and heavier paper, the Rhodia is slightly thicker than the Moleskine.

The Rhodia just fits in a case I bought for a pocket Moleskine (a long time ago from a website far, far away.)

Rhodia felt more substantial.

The paper in each is labeled "cream." To my eye, under my light source, Rhodia cream was slightly warmer than Moleskine cream.

Rhodia paper is thicker, slicker (smooth) and shiny.

Shiny? I thought, this can't be good. Will it repel fountain pen ink?

Compared to this Clairefontaine paper, Moleskine paper felt thin and rough.

Three fountain pens, ink from two companies, two pencils.
I hope one doesn't have to be an obsessed writer to enjoy the sensuality of writing with a fountain pen on really nice paper.

The fountain pen ink wrote smoothly on the Rhodia with no bleed through, no lag in drying time. The pencils, well, pencil-like on hot press paper.

I've already mentioned trouble with multiple inks on Moleskine and the paper has enough "tooth" to roughen the pencil writing.

I was surprised to find, I could get the ink to bleed on the Rhodia.

Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit.
Holding the pen to paper, Noodler's Lexington Gray feathered a nice round spot. Waterman's South Sea Blue and Havana Brown did not.

Rhodia is bound with eight stitches.

Moleskine bound with four.

I know from sewing my own notebooks, this means the Rhodia is the sturdier book.

How sturdy does a notebook need to be? Is it sitting on your desk, or riding in a pocket?

A web search found Rhodia prices $14.75 at Writer's Bloc. Moleskine $10.95, regularly $12.00 at There may be other, better deals to be found by more careful shoppers.

I remember the backlash against Moleskine fans who were labeled pretentious to pay $12+ for a notebook when a 99¢ spiral bound got the job done.

Enjoying getting the job done is worth some extra. The Rhodia Webnotebook is a quality analog instrument. With just a couple of cosmetic grumbles, I recommend it to anyone who has fallen out of love with Moleskine.


  1. The bleed-through is the deal killer (or its lack is the deal-maker, if you prefer). The ink must flow evenly, dry immediately, show crisp and clear on the page, even if all I'm doing is doodling. I don't care much about brands, but I'm fussy about paper quality. So I "get" it.

  2. Anonymous10:18 AM

    I coudln't agree with this more...I used Moleskin for a while and, quite frankly i hated it...I actually bought a few Piccadillys for $6 a piece and I feel they do a better job, albeit slightly.

  3. Amit Y.1:17 PM

    Actually, both cost the same in Israel - NIS 100 (Aprox. USD 28), so paying USD 15 doesn't seem like too much.
    I used Moleskines for my legal work, to take notes, and for my journalistic work (where I used their 3x5 notebooks). For the legal, I moved to a black plain webbie. I tried to move with the small webbies as well, but they're harder to keep open, and the light pages seem to be a plus in that regard.

  4. Anonymous5:38 PM

    I agree that Moleskines may have started to vary in quality once the company began to vastly increase the amount of notebooks they produced due to increased demand, but the notebooks themselves have always been made in China ( It's fine to criticize products that we've paid good money for, but it would be great if people could actually focus on the real reason. (And before anyone asks, I'm from the United States and I use/love Moleskines.)

  5. Well, brave Anonymous, anecdotal evidence suggests when the company changed hands, paper quality took a dump. And there is more than one reference online reporting the China factor occurred post 2006.


Glad to hear from you!