In a lot of ways, 2016 was a strange year for me. I started the year in one town, moved to another for work, bought a house, then promptly changed careers. Scary, all this change. One constant has been my girlfriend by my side, supporting me the whole way. I can’t thank her enough. It seemed like every time 2016 took one step forward, it took two steps back. But the Cubs finally won the World Series, so I can’t be too upset.
2016 was also the year that I found an outlet for my obsession with stationery. I found communities online that contained people who are just as crazy about this stuff as I am, and those people helped guide me to find things I never would’ve found otherwise. The people I’ve made trades with this year in the Field Nuts and Erasable Facebook groups have been nothing but generous, helping me jump-start some collecting at little to no cost to me, out of the kindness of their hearts. I’ve loved this stuff for a long time, but never knew quite where to look and what was worth the spend. The reviews, conversation, and trading with these lovely people have been the highlight of my year.
This is NOT a recap of all the things that came out in 2016, as I can’t have possibly used or purchased everything out there. I can save that for the big boys. What I am going to review are my favorite things I used and/or discovered in 2016. Most will have been released in this year, but not all. I’m going over Pocket Notebooks, Standard Notebooks, Pencils, Pens, and other accessories. I’m looking for things that brought me joy…those beautiful, useful, well-designed items that I just couldn’t put down.
There were a ton of new pocket notebooks that came out this year. A couple companies got into the subscription model, some others just put out a ton of limited editions with new cover art, and Field Notes collaborated with a lot of brands this year. But my favorite of the bunch was the Write Notepads Kindred Spirit edition. This was the second in their membership series, and it was a home run. It was the book that sold me on Write Notepads and made me buy a membership. The member package was amazing: it came wrapped in a mini charcoal briquette bag, which had to be torn to get what was inside. There were pencils made to look like matchsticks and a cool trade token. But what I loved most about it was it was all Butcher Orange. 80# cover with 70# text paper that was amazing with pencil, with a cool little flame logo on the cover. It was lined (my fav!) with light orange ink. Instead of doing belly bands, Write makes these little boxes that are badass and look cool as hell. Also, to annoy the collectors and reward the users, they stuffed some of the boxes with Butcher Blue versions of the books, and gave out something special to those who reported they got one…which would force people to open their bags and boxes to check to get the cool thing, but if they decided not to, they wouldn’t know if they had a rare book or would qualify for the cool thing. Clever, and a good way to say these books are for using, not gouging people on eBay.
Honorable Mention: Field Notes x Carhartt
I’ve just discovered Baron Fig this year, after hearing them on a podcast that I was catching up on…I do that a lot, so I don’t remember from what year, episode, or really even what podcast it was. But I did remember the name, and I downloaded their note taking app to try out. Turns out, I don’t really need another place for notes on my phone. But when I found myself with a need for bigger notebooks with softcovers, they were really getting some props on their subscription service that had just launched. I decided to go for it and for my money, the Baron Fig Mystery Black Box is pretty cool. I just got it, but in initial use, it has already become my favorite softcover notebook this year. Here's my review.
For hardcover, you can’t go wrong with the Write Notepads Traditional Brass Ruled Notebook. As a righty, I don’t mind the Wire-O binding, and the paper is killer, as all Write Notepads paper is. I have an expanded thought on these in my Write Notepads Starter Kit review.
This was the year of the pencil for me. I found so many new pencil brands to fall in love with. This was probably the hardest pick I had to make. I ended up choosing the Palomino Blackwing Vol. 24, the black “John Steinbeck” edition. I don’t ever wear black (more of an earth tones guy) and I rarely buy black products (more of a wood grain guy), so for something completely blacked out to win me over is no small feat. Black lacquer, black ferrule, black eraser, and an imprint, but no foil. The real star, however, is the core. The first “extra firm” core from Blackwing, these keep a point better than any Blackwing before it, but don’t give up any of their trademark darkness or smoothness. This core hasn’t yet been made available for the standard Blackwing line yet, but they have released it again in a second Volumes series pencil, the Winter 2016 Vol. 530…so there’s some hope that this core will stick around. If you’re listening, Palomino…let’s have a year-round natural finish, extra firm core pencil. It will become your best seller.
There were a couple cool sharpeners that became available this year, but two stand out for me: the KUM Masterpiece and the M+R Pollux. Out of the two, I have to give the Pollux the edge because it give you an equally long point as the Masterpiece without the need for 2-stage sharpening. The Pollux is a single-hole, brass pocket sharpener that gives a concave long point. It’s expensive and hard to come by, but if you find one, do yourself a favor and grab it if you’re into pencils and love a long point.
I didn’t have much pen activity this year. I did buy my first fountain pen, however…the Lamy Al-Star. With the Lamy green ink cartridge, it’s taken over as my main pen for writing letters and cards. I’ll always be a pencil-pusher first, but I do love this pen and will be exploring other things in the new year.
In my opinion, there is a tie for best subscription extra: Write Notepads Motel Keychain and the Field Notes Subscriber Personalized Reprint Set. The Write keychain is chock-full of retro-y goodness. This thing isn't a facsimile of those old motel keychains, it's like they found the one person left in the US still making these things and got them made. It's amazing. The Field Notes reprints are great. The were a surprise shipment to subscribers. When I had Draplin sign my blue single at the FNHQ Pop-up Shop, it even fooled him. He said "Is this what I think it is??" and started to flip to the back to look for the edition. I told him it was just the reprint and he said "Man, these things are close!" They also did give away these with a "Commemorative Reprint" belly band at FNHQ if you spent $20 or more in the retail shop...so that made the surprise shipment a little less special, but not by much. People close to FNHQ are going to the shop and buying these up to use as trade bait...I've gotten enough in trades to make my own Butcher Orange and Blue 3 packs if I wanted to.
Some other things I loved this year:
Seed “Radar” Eraser: I got this in a trade and saw it on CW Pencils, but didn't buy more when they had them in stock. This is my favorite handheld eraser, bar-none.
Eephus League Halfliner Scorebook: check out my review. If you love baseball, get this.
For a lot of people, 2017 can’t get here fast enough. Baron Fig just launched a subscription service, so I look forward to what they have in store. Word. is always good for some cool covers. Field Notes has been experimenting with different sizes and bindings. Write Notepads KILLED IT this year with their first year of subscriptions, so they’ve set a high bar and are surely up to the task. On the pencil front, Blackwing was been the only people really doing anything different, but sticking the 602 core in a new color lacquer pencil is going to get old, they’ll have to keep innovating. Baron Fig’s pencil sub looks interesting. The pencil space is due for some disruption, as much as a pencil can be “disrupted” and still remain a pencil. I plan on scouring the Kickstarter scene a little more, looking for new ideas, particularly with pens and notebooks…that being said, you can’t beat the classics.
More than anything, I hope to continue to be part of this great stationery nerd community, and to the great writing and photos in the little corner of the internet that we’ve seemed to carve out for ourselves.