Baron Fig Mystery Black Box Review

Hear ye, hear ye! Spoilers within! As much as you can spoil a notebook, consider it spoiled!

I never really got into Baron Fig. Their products looked cool enough, but I always thought of them more as a new, hipper Moleskine without all the fake Hemingway shit. Maybe it was because they had super minimal hardcover notebooks. Maybe it was their brand messaging (“Tools for thinkers” sounds a little like a restaurant saying “house-made”…no kidding…it’s blank pages for people to fill). I knew they were there but buying anything from them never crossed my mind. Then I heard the CEO on a podcast. I can’t remember which one, and it’s not really important, but he was talking about their app, Mosaic. It was a cool idea for a minimalist note-taking app. What I liked most about it is that it wasn’t a constant ad to get you to buy books, and it was free to use. No bullshit. Just an extension of their brand, free. The only way you’d know they sold note books is if you went to their site from the app for some reason. That’s when I got a little respect for the guy and decided to take their schtick at face value instead of thinking there was some ploy behind the “thinkers” stuff.

The app was cool, but turns out I don’t need yet another place for digital notes, or any other notes for that matter. It’s elegant and well made, and better than some other notes apps out there, but as someone who’d rather grab the book from their back pocket than the phone from their front, I found myself not using it.

This is a long way of saying, they finally got me to buy some stuff from them.

The Black Box comes in a...well, you know.

I decided to jump on the subscription train after seeing a few people’s pictures of the Black Box. I was in need of a new source for A5 sized softcover notebooks. I don’t use them often, but I was getting through what I had and needed to try a new brand. All these things hit at once, so I grabbed the Vanguard subscription. At $49, that’s $4.08 per book, if they keep going with the 3 packs like they’ve done with the Black Box. That’s less than a Moleskin of similar size and style, except it’s 72 pages to the Moleskine’s 80. Plus, you get the cool covers and packaging. At regular price, without subscription, it's $15 for the Black Box. So I leapt into it headfirst.

The first of the Vanguard series is the Mystery Black Box. It has their standard dot grid in it, which I found to be toothier than I thought it would be. Fountain pen does well in my very limited tests, no feathering or bleed. But this paper loves pencil…so much that you’ll be sharpening more often. I understand why people are complaining that the Baron Fig Archer pencils are hard and scratchy…because they are built for this paper, which eats lead for breakfast. Harder pencils worked best for me, HB and above. Soft pencils look great and take to the paper well, but if you’re writing with one, choose something harder, unless you love sharpening. But sketchers and doodlers will rejoice, because I got very little ghosting on the opposite page, and it took a Tombow Mono 6B to get that.

This Baron Fig paper eats pencil. Apsara Absolute is my favorite on it, because it's strong enough to hold it's own a bit.

I don't have shit for pens, but this paper is good for what I use.

Bigfoot, Roswell, Bermuda Triangle.

The covers are the star, though. If it was’t about the covers, you could buy a standard Vanguard flagship size and get the same experience. The Mystery Black Box comes with 3 different covers, each with icons representing some mystery that’s still left on earth. For me, I think Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, and the Roswell Alien Landings. Others have said the same. It’s fairly obvious once you figure out what all the icons are. The binoculars on the Bigfoot book looked like a building of some sort at first, until I realized they were binoculars from a bird’s-eye view.

This is an interesting start to what I hope is a good 4 quarterly shipments. I won’t be collecting these at all, I’ll be using them whole hog. My plan for these is to see how much I actually use the size and go from there, maybe picking up some of the Large Standard Vanguards along the way. I doubt I’ll snag any of their pocket notebooks…nothing here really makes me want to move away from the 3 brands I rotate around with at the moment. Maybe if they come out with some special edition pocket notebooks that bowl me over, I’ll check it out.

Initially, I was on the fence, then they managed to convince me it was worth exploring. At first glance, these books look to be worth it, but once I’m through a book or two, I’ll have a clearer thought about truly recommending Baron Fig.

Available from Baron Fig, $15.