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.

Field Notes Winter '16 Black Ice Review

Let's start with the elephant in the room: the Perfect binding on these books is just fine and the binding does NOT prevent it from laying flat. If you can't get yours to lay flat, then you're just being too dainty with your books. Fold it over, break the spine, and go. If you don't believe it can happen, you haven't tried it. Here's a video.

“Black Ice”, should be the last big release of the year for Field Notes, barring some yet-unannounced collaboration. The Winter 2016 Colors release taking another step forward in changing up their style, somewhat a trend for them this year. These are the first books to use PUR binding, a form of Perfect binding. They also feature an embossed foil cover that is a mirror-like finish.

With the shiny wrapping paper.

Like a (em)boss!

Perfect-ly PUR

Dunno where this is gonna go.

If you’re a subscriber, the extra is a 2017 year-at-a-glance calendar on kraft paper. They went a little light on the subscriber extra this time around because everyone who buys a pack of Black Ice gets a square of Draplin-designed wrapping paper and corresponding gift tag. It’s neat, and pretty, but fairly un-useful when compared to something like a sticker or pin or an extra book. The extras this year have been decent, I’m not saying they aren’t, but with competitors like Write Notepads out-innovating you and going all out with the membership perks, I think a kraft paper calendar is weak. It’d be different if every pack of Black Ice didn’t get the wrapping paper, if the wrapping paper was the subscriber extra. But I digress...shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth during this holiday season.

Ruled...again!

The cover is 100# Cover with DDC Orange printed on it. My review book’s back cover bled a little into the last page on the top and bottom corner. Then it’s covered in foil and embossed with the Field Notes word mark and all the other writing that is traditionally on one of their books.

Paper-wise, this is 70# text paper, similar in weight to the Workshop Companion edition. But it is smooth instead of pulpy. And bright white. And FUCKING RULED.

That’s right! Lined ruling, with a DDC Orange double rule on the top margin and light gray lines underneath. I LOVE lined books. I do not write super small. I can sketch and draw without needing a grid. It always upsets me that the default seems to be Graph, so I’m happy to see line-ruled getting some love here in a limited release.

First Carhartt, now this? It definitely DOES feel like Christmas! Maybe people are finally starting to see the light? One can only dream.

 

The Practical Applications are winter-based, with clever lines like Bruised Tailbone Count and Yeti Spottings, with some sports references thrown in, like Penalty Box Ponderings and Curling Rosters. There’s even a reference to Ice Castles in there…see if you can find it.

Pencils work great in the book, barely any smudging by any except the darkest pencils. Erasing is another tale…B and lighter erases fine, but 2B and darker sticks around pretty well. Not nearly as bad a Workshop Companion, but it’s not gone either. Pens on the other hand, especially fountain pens, are not very friendly. Fine tip rollerballs or ballpoints work just fine, but fountain pens feather pretty bad, especially the wider nibs. I was happiest with the Pilot Precise V7 Fine Tip in this book.

Practical Applications.

Ghosting from darker pencils on the opposite page. 602 and darker smudged.

Not too fountain pen friendly. Feathering and some acceptable near bleed-through.

I was skeptical about this release when I first saw it, especially with the Perfect binding. I knew I’d love the ruled pages and loved that it was a normal paper and a normal size. I honestly believe that the lower page count helps them lay flat better than something like a Write Notepads pocket notebook. (Field Notes are 48 like usual and Write is 64). It took getting these in my hands to truly appreciate them. I suggest that if you’re on the fence, check it out and unless you find something horrible I didn’t find, you won’t be disappointed. Check out the full video review.

Available from Field Notes, $12.95

Carhartt x Field Notes

Field Notes has once again partnered with a heritage clothing brand, this time iconic workwear brand Carhartt of Dearborn, Michigan. 

Earlier this year, Field Notes did a collaboration with L.L. Bean. These books with Carhartt are a step up from those books. The Bean books were essentially kraft books with a couple different cover designs. These Carhartt books are heavier and heartier, with a full complement of retro-y goodness on the back covers.

Starting with the front covers, each one is a different color and utilizes the Carhartt "C" logo in an interesting way. It reminds me of the start of the Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz.

Red with orange logo. 

Blue with yellow logo. 

Dark green with light green logo. 

Each back cover has a different outdoor theme on it. Red has hunting, blue has fishing, and green has camping. This seems odd to me that something similar wasn't done to the L. L. Bean books, because providing clothing for these 3 things are what they have built their company on. This is not to say people don't wear Carhartt to hunt, fish, or camp in...but they bill themselves as tough clothing for workers.

Hunting info on the Red book. 

Fishing info on the Blue book.

Camping info on the Green book. 

The covers are 100# cover stock. This heavier weight along with the 60# paper they're now using in the kraft books make for a heavier book built to stand up to some outdoor beating. It remains to be seen if they hold up like the Shenandoah-level heavy books, but they are beefier than a kraft book in every way. Also, cheers to FN for changing the standard kraft books from 50# to 60# paper. Now if they would change the covers to 100# from 80#, we might have a durable pocket notebook.

Practical Applications

I hate rules. I love ruled.

No one is happier than I am to see an all-lined edition. I love line ruled paper in my pocket notebooks, so seeing that all three are lined was a great surprise. Seems to me that graph is king in the pocket notebook world, but I always gravitate towards lined books when I'm trying out a new brand. For the way I write and the way I like to use these, ruled rules.

I didn't do a pen or pencil test for this edition. It is the same 60# paper that is currently in the kraft books, so you should have an idea how your favorite writing tool performs.  

Sealed pack of Midwest goodness.

A quick note about the shipping: I don't think Carhartt knew what it was getting into when they launched these books. Over at the Field Nuts FB group, a lot of people have been complaining about the way these are being shipped to them. Some coming in a plastic bag that clothes normally ship in, others coming in boxes way too big for the books with nothing to hold them in place. Essentially, people are worried about the corners being bent/beat up and using them for collecting and later trading. Carhartt's shipping methods aren't really conducive to that. There have been quite a few people in the group either get their money back or get new books as a result. Mine were shipped in the plastic bag. While I was not pleased with this method of shipping, the 3 packs I ordered were just fine. I had to really study each pack to see which one was the "worst" for opening and using. But I understand why people were upset: the shipping was very expensive for these books. It seemed different across the board for most people, but on an average about double what they'd expected. When I ordered mine, the shipping was going to be $7, regardless of quantity, unless I spent over $100, then shipping was free. I did not get sucked in there. Regardless, these shipped very fast and I was surprised I see them in the mail the same day I got the shipping notice. I basically received them less than 48 hours after I ordered them. I live 90 miles away from FNHQ and that's never happened with them! These books are only available in Carhartt retail shops or on their website.

Available at Carhartt.com. $12.95

Write Notepads Starter Kit

These coasters are too beautiful to get coffee mug rings on...

I'm a big time pocket notebook user. I carry one every day, at all times, whether I need one or not. I'm a fan of the usual suspects: Moleskine & Field Notes. As I got more into them, and started actually researching different brands, I started looking for alternatives. We're all always on that search for the "perfect" version of something, aren't we? Whether it's your EDC pen, that paper that takes your favorite fountain pen ink beautifully and without bleeding, or a balanced pencil that is black as night on the page buts holds a great point, we're on the search. And just when you think you've got it, you see something else and wonder if that might just have a slight advantage to your current favorite. Such is life as a stationery nerd.

While listening to the Erasable podcast, I kept hearing Johnny talk about these notebooks made in Baltimore. Then they came out with a special Edgar Allen Poe edition called Lenore. At that point, I figured I had to go ahead and sign up to another stationery quarterly subscription, because those were just SO COOL.

So I got the Lenore, I got the summer edition Kindred Spirit, and the most recent Royal Blue. But I hadn't gotten any of their standard offerings except for the 3 pack of perfect bound pocket notebooks that they give you with your membership. I needed something in the Journal size and since I liked the paper in the pocket notebook I'd been carrying all month, I thought I'd try out some of their standard books. The starter kit was a perfect way to try it all.

Everything in the starter kit...except for the pocket ruler! I missed it...

Included in the set is a Steno with graph paper, a pocket ledger, a ruled Journal, a pencil sampler, a thin metal "Linear Measuring Device" and a set of the perfect-bound pocket notebooks, one each lined, graph, and blank. They also list "assorted paper gifts". Mine were coasters and some of their new pocket flipbooks in white, which as far as I can tell are not available in their store in white.

I was happy as a clam to get these little guys...wait, those are oysters...

The pocket flipbooks are essentially a pocket notebook cut along the equator. They are perfect bound and perforated, so they can work like little business card-sized notes to leave around. They use 100# cover stock and 70# paper stock just like the pocket notebooks.

Red, White, & Blue...made in the USA

The pocket notebooks that come with the starter kit are the standard 3 packs. One red ruled, one white blank, and one blue grid. They are perfect bound and use 100# cover stock and 70# paper. These are the reason I wanted to get the starter kit. I've been using a red ruled for a month now as my daily back-pocket carry, and it has held up better that any back-pocket book I've used. The spine can be broken and laid flat or flipped around and it won't lose a page. The heavy cover has taken a beating in my back pocket and has fuzzed up a bit, but not torn or ripped one bit. Of all the pocket notebooks I've used, I would have to say that it is the toughest of the bunch. The paper takes a pencil as well as a fountain pen. I thought that if the paper on their Journal and Steno was just as good, I could see myself buying a lot of them in the future. One complaint though...the graph in the blue pocket notebook is way too small. They use 1/8" grid lines here, which it over half the size of a Field Notes graph or the graph they use in the Steno. Some people may dig it, but for the way I use a pocket notebook, it's way too small.

Write Notepads Graph (left) vs. Field Notes Graph (right)

The Steno also uses a graph paper, 3/16" graph, which is the same as a pocket Field Notes. It is Double Wire-O top-bound with brass wire. This is strong stuff. The stats are as follows: 60pt board stock on the cover, 70# paper inside. The graph lines are a fairly light blue, vegetable-based ink. It is 5.5" wide and 8.5" tall. What I like about the binding is that it is large enough to let everything move freely when flipping over the pages. Oftentimes that isn't the case with wire-bound books.

The Write Notepads Steno also comes with a sweet rubber band for keeping your shit together.

An even bigger rubber band. Oh the damage that thing could do in the office wars...

The ruled Journal is the same specs as the Steno as far as size and paper weight. Side-bound with their brass Double Wire-O. It is narrow-ruled and perforated on the side for clean tear-out. The lines are a little darker than the graph, and a gray tone instead of the light blue of the Steno graph or the light green of the ruled pocket notebook. It also comes with a rubber band that goes along the side of the book to keep it shut.

It says Write Notepads Co in teensy tiny little letters.

The Pocket Ledger is 3" wide by 6" tall. It uses narrow-ruled, green-lined paper with double margins on both sides of the page. Same weight specs as the Steno and the Journal. Top-bound with brass Double Wire-O. It's a "pocket" notebook, but I wouldn't say "back pocket". This thing is too stiff to live back there. It wouldn't get beat up, you would. It's perfect, however, for a front jacket pocket.

Can pencils be sexy? Yes. absolutely. Especially the hex in my Saluki colors!

The pencil sampler comes with 3 vastly different pencils. One round Jumbo, one round Natural Finish, and one hex with maroon lacquer, which I absolutely love because it is the color of my alma mater. I also received what I believe to be an older promotional pencil of theirs, because it was round and natural-finish looking, but had that clear lacquer on the outside that reeks of Musgrave custom pencils. These pencils are all made by Musgrave as well. You can tell just by holding the hex in your writing grip. It is a full hex, not rounded in the slightest. It leaves an imprint in my ring finger from my pencil grip that I call the "Musgrave Dig". They write well, darker than expected, but not smudgy. They are all left-hand imprinted, so you can read it when lefties are writing with them. Every Write pencil, even the ones that come with the limited edition subscription, is that way, except for that early one. I'm not going to post a pencil test sheet, because there is nothing new here. Grab your favorite Musgrave #2 and you'll get the idea.

If you didn't already know this about Write Notepads, they do a 1-for-1 donation to Baltimore Public Schools for every notebook you purchase. Inside there is a school code that you can enter on their website to find the school that received a notebook based on your purchase. That's pretty awesome.

This one helped Alexander Hamilton Elementary.

Overall, this kit is pretty great. If you bought all these things individually, you'd get it for about $70. So at $55, this thing is a steal. You may surprise yourself on what is your favorite item in this pack. I know I did. I was looking forward to the steno, but the ruled Journal caught me the most. It is the perfect size and weight for my needs in that size range. And if you haven't used one of their pocket notebooks before, you won't be disappointed. I thought I'd miss stapled, with it's ability to lay flat, but really...break the spine on your pocket notebook. This thing will NOT blow up. I've had plenty of Field Notes lose a page or two in the center, and covers come loose. This Write one is a tank. Give it a shot.

Gorgeous!

Available from Write Notepads & Co. $55

Disclaimer: I bought all this shit myself...there is nothing to hide.