Lamy aion Fountain Pen

The title of this post may just as well have been A Surprising and Very Generous Gift, given the pen recently turned up out of the blue in my letter box. These types of things will occasionally happen when good friends stop by the Lamy store in the company’s home town of Heidelberg, Germany, though it certainly doesn’t make me any less grateful a recipient.

Written correspondence between myself and said good friend, is often filled with pen related matters — some of which in recent times has centred around this particular pen when he spotted it at a Lamy exhibition in Frankfurt late last year. It was then titled the JM1 (for reasons now apparent), and slated for release in 2017.

So, on the receiving end of a very kind and generous “this is that pen we were talking about, see what you think” — what follows is, well… what I think.

Look and feel

I’ll be honest with you. Upon arriving home from work and picking up the pen my first thoughts were: wow, its bigger and heavier than I expected; gee I hope I can use this; and I think there will be many who won’t like it. To be entirely honest I wasn’t overly keen on it myself.

In the few days and weeks that followed, much to my absolute surprise, this opinion completely turned around. Ultimately I cannot speak for how it may or may not suit other pen people’s tastes or writing styles, though it quickly aligned with mine.

So right from the outset, I’ll make it clear I’ve many positive things to say about this pen, however didn’t know I’d love it until I used it… a lot. Had you asked me the same question on the first day or two, it would have been a very different story, which perhaps doesn’t bode well for a quick in-store test if someone were considering a purchase.

img_1350
Lamy 2000 (L) and the larger aion (R)

Those initial first impressions were influenced somewhat by the product shots I’d seen, which to me, were of a pen somewhere in the Lamy 2000 size range (comparisons to which are inevitable, and for frame of reference I’ll run with that at times in this post). In reality, its bigger, and a lot heavier. I’d also go so far as to say it feels even bigger and heavier than what it actually is when compared to the 2000.

First thought: this will be too heavy for any long form writing.

Reality after more use: the balance makes it perfect for longer writing sessions and I’ve found it as comfortable as many of my other favourites.

First thought: this design doesn’t seem to be a huge departure from the overall theme you see in some of Lamy’s other pens.

Reality after a little reading: oh… I get it. That’s absolutely spot on then.

A little more on that.

Lamy’s design aims

Sidenote: I am not much of a designer so take the following within that context — though I guess I am a consumer with an opinion.

Probably a relevant question here is whether I should be required to research the manufacturer’s PR release or product sheet about a pen to know whether I like it or not? The answer of course is no, though in doing a little reading I did find I developed a better understanding of what appears to be scope and philosophy of the design behind the Lamy aion.

Whether it is a decent pen or not is another, more straightforward question entirely, which I’ll deal with in other parts of the post. I say straightforward simply because that is largely a matter of personal opinion and preference, and I’m happy to outline my thoughts on that.

Lamy seems to cop its fair share of criticism for releases which may be seen as less than innovative or not different enough for some tastes, and though I could be wrong, think it is inevitable the aion may be seen in the same light.

Again, whether the design and functionality of the pen suit your particular preference is entirely for you to determine, however as for the merits of the design or Lamy’s decisions in general, perhaps a little background and context is helpful.

Disagreeing with the design of something does not make the design wrong, nor prove the company got it wrong, and perhaps most importantly — does not make you wrong. It simply means it’s not suited to your style, taste, or how you may use the particular product from a functional perspective.

In looking at the product sheet from Lamy, a few things stand out:

On the company itself:

Its success story began over 50 years ago with the LAMY 2000: in 1966, the model established the clear and unmistakeable design which still defines the style of all the brand’s products today – the Lamy design.

On working with Jasper Morrison:

Designed by the British industrial designer, Jasper Morrison, this is absolutely in harmony with his conviction that good design is maximally simple – yet, at the same time, maximally functional.

About the aion:

…epitomises the Lamy design

…this is minimalist

An attitude absolutely compatible with the design principles of the LAMY brand…

…uncompromising modernity…

There are many more quotes I could pull from the three pages of information on the pen, and of course any of the above can be debated on their own merit (particularly how maximally functional the pen may or may not be). I do think however, Lamy has — and probably always have — clearly shown their views on what these types of statements represent to them, and largely banked what appears to be a very successful company on them.

If that is the aim, kudos to Lamy. Kudos to Jasper Morrison, who appears to have nailed the brief.

There will invariably be different views on what is modern, minimalist and functional — as there should be. There will be those who prefer pens with perhaps a bit more flair, colour and variety, and not derived from a familiar theme — as there should be.

Notwithstanding the above, I think Lamy has successfully achieved what they set out to create. No pen is for everyone, and individuality both in opinion and purchasing makes this hobby what it is after all.

The Pen

Back to matters at hand.

The aion comes in two colours: black and olivesilver (yes — one word). Though I expect an eyebrow or two to be raised over the naming here — to be honest, does it really matter? I say no — particularly if you’ve checked the names of car colours, house paint or even fountain pen ink offerings lately (none of which I have any issues with either mind you).

As you can see from the images, the model I have is black, which as you would expect is darker than the 2000’s makrolon. The matte and anodised finish, while not as dark as your high gloss resin pens, as you’d expect doesn’t reflect the light like those either. The only contrast to the barrel are the silver nib and spring-loaded Lamy clip.

Lamy 2000 (top) and aion (below)

As far as the shape is concerned, there is no real taper to speak of in the cap, a minor one nearing the top of the pen, and a slightly more pronounced one as the grip approaches the nib. As you can see from the comparison table and image, at its widest point, the Lamy 2000 carries similar girth to the aion, however once the 2000’s taper begins (towards either end), any similarity quickly ends.

Key size specification comparison with Lamy 2000 (numbers courtesy Goulet Pens):

Specifications Lamy aion Lamy 2000
Diameter – body 12.9mm 13mm
Diameter – cap no clip 14.3mm 14mm
Diameter – cap with clip 17.2mm 16mm
Diameter – grip 10.6mm 7.9mm
Length – body 137mm 125mm
Length – cap 64.3mm 65mm
Length – overall closed 143mm 140mm
Length – overall posted 162mm 154mm
Weight – body 21g 15g
Weight – cap 12g 10g
Weight – overall 33g 25g

I’d tend to agree with the sleek, modern, minimalist group of descriptions you’d find on the Lamy product page. Yes, the aion is created in the spirit of the 2000, however the brushed aluminium and matte finished aion is a very different pen in its own right.

A little more on the construction from Lamy:

…the aluminium housing elements are formed by deep-drawing. The surface structuring is computer-controlled by robot-supported grinding. For its unique finish, the components of the LAMY aion are first brushed, stained, polished and, in the case of the grip, blasted and then finally anodised.

For a firsthand look at the manufacturing process, I refer you to the aion product page which contains a video demonstrating these steps in the pen’s construction. Precision and quality control are words which come to mind when viewing.

There is slight change in both the appearance and texture between the grip and the rest of the barrel. To me, the anodised grip feels a little smoother than the matte-finished barrel, though I have not found any issues with grip or control when writing.

At the junction of the two (which unscrews to allow access to the cartridge or converter), the small seam can be felt by a finger running back and forth across it, however is imperceptible during use. Given the change in texture, having a seam probably makes no material difference, so to sound somewhat ridiculous, the seam is probably as seamless as you could find, with the exception of those on the 2000 which are effectively invisible when closed.

img_1348The cap can be posted (as Lamy’s product images show), however to do so feels impossibly heavy to write with, and thankfully more than enough length exists in the pen to use it without posting the cap. While we’re on the cap, the snap closure is a very solid one, requiring some force to disengage, almost preventing a thumb and forefinger one-handed snap-off which I tend to do on occasion.

A couple of other points to note here. When snapped on, the cap itself spins freely, and if I shake the pen there is a small rattle between the cap and the body. As I’ve mentioned, there is certainly no danger of it coming loose, however there is some play there. Whether this is the case as standard or simply on this particular pen I’m not 100% sure, however seem to recall something similar mentioned on Reddit. Occasionally when recapping the pen, I need to slightly readjust my direction before the cap snaps home.

Though I point these things out, I have no great issues with them in day-to-day use, where pen performance and writing comfort are more important to me anyway.

The nib

The aion series of fountain pens are fitted with a steel mono colour nib in silver, which although very similar, is a departure from the usual form, as you can see from the comparison image below.

Lamy Safari with 14k nib on (L); aion (centre); Lamy Pur with steel nib (R)

Lamy describes the nib unit:

For the first time, a Lamy fountain pen has been equipped with a series-exclusive, newly-formed nib. Jasper Morrison gave it an unconventionally-proportioned outline, thus giving the writing instrument an avant-garde character

Although I perhaps wouldn’t go that far in my description (don’t think I’ve ever referred to anything as avant-garde), it is certainly something new for Lamy, and I actually quite like the nib shape (more on writing performance later in the post). While I don’t necessary think one of the original Lamy nibs would look out of place on the aion, to my eye the broader “shoulders” of the tines certainly suit the fuller overall profile of the pen.

The remainder of the nib as it fits into the housing appears to be identical to the Lamy nib units we are all familiar with, and from what I have read (again via Reddit), a Lamy rep somewhere has confirmed it can be swapped with other Lamy nibs in the usual way.

In any event, when talking nib shape, a picture certainly will provide you with far more than my words, so I’ll end this here. In doing so though, again even if not something extraordinarily new — kudos to Lamy for providing something different, which I’d say successfully ties in with the overall design of the pen.

Specifications

Full specification list courtesy Goulet Pens

Pen Lamy aion fountain pen
Body Colour Black
Body Material Aluminium
Trim Silver
Cap type Snap on
Refills Bottled ink; proprietary cartridge
Filling Mechanism Cartridge; Converter
Grip Material Aluminium
Nib Colour Silver
Nib Material Steel
Nib Size Medium
Diameter – body 12.9mm
Diameter – cap no clip 14.3mm
Diameter – cap with clip 17.2mm
Diameter – grip 10.6mm
Length – body 137mm
Length – cap 64.3mm
Length – nib 16.5mm
Length – overall closed 143mm
Length – overall posted 162mm
Weight – body 21g
Weight – cap 12g
Weight – overall 33g

Though the key points in relation to the specifications remain the size and overall weight, in isolation these are only chapters of the story. A story which is only complete when balance and function put them together. That said, this certainly isn’t a pen you’d carry in a shirt pocket all day.

If you click-through to the Goblet Pens page, you will see the aion carries a list price of US$71.20 with a MRSP of US$89.00.

Although a conversion to Australian dollars at the time of writing is just over the AU$100 mark, I would be loathe to make any strong prediction as to the actual cost here (which would also be a little unfair to local retailers), given various other factors which may be involved in setting local prices.

At the time of writing, my favourite local retailer in Brisbane’s CBD had not any word through on price or release date.

Writing performance

Or in other words, the money ball. Design scope and brief, construction, finish and marketing aside. Its a pen. It needs to write, and write well or we’ve really got nothing much have we.

Life Symphony notebook

The aion certainly does that — and does it in spades. This is a fantastic nib. A stock standard steel nib (albeit in a newer shape), and it writes like a dream if given the best opportunity. I have a blue Lamy cartridge providing the ink, and as far as I can recall, there have been no false starts, skips, or holidays in any strokes over that time. It produces a wet, full, vibrant line and continues to do so for as long as you need it to.

The overall feel of the nib is firm, and takes some pressure to increase the line widths, however I do not find that aspect much different to the other Lamy steel nibs I use from time to time. I’d also mention here, that the only time I’ve found the sweet spot more difficult to find is when I’ve used a slightly heavier hand with the pen.

The real joy in using the aion comes from a fairly high, light grip, and having the weight and balance work for you. Don’t choke down and micromanage those letters and I think you’ll likely find the same. It needs a loose rather than tight rein, and is the “opportunity” I mentioned above. In a pen body sans threads, bands or steps, you really have the option of any grip point you like, and its worth adjusting things a little to see what placement suits the balance of the pen.

Of course we all have our own styles of writing, and if the above doesn’t sound like something amenable to yours, I wouldn’t say this pen is not for you, however I’d give it a thorough test prior to purchasing if that is at all possible. I acknowledge though, in many cases it often is not.

In use

I received this pen in the mail on the 1st of August, and as I finalise this post, it has had what is now approaching four weeks of solid use. I mention this simply because that is generally a far shorter time period than for other pens I write about here.

Having been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to use the pen prior to its wider release, I’m hoping this post may be of some assistance to readers who may consider purchasing the pen once it does hit the shelves.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, most of my pens are either shorter idea-jotters/notetakers, or longer form writers, as I find some pens just aren’t comfortable over longer periods of use. On the day of receipt and for a couple after, I must admit the aion was almost chained immediately to the notetaker pole. There was no way this hefty thing would leave my hand ache-free over a multiple page letter or blog post draft.

Once those initial few days had passed however, it was moved firmly into the long form writer camp, and after a couple of weeks, resides with those pens I’d likely use more often than some of the others. A pen like this one will always default to a notetaker until proven otherwise, which, in continuing to surprise me to this day, is exactly what happened.

I’ve found the overall balance (unposted) to essentially negate the weight of the pen, making it effortless to use over multiple pages. Not only that, it encourages me to use a lighter grip and more fluid writing motion — something which I often struggle a little to maintain. Of course your personal writing style is likely to be vastly different to mine, so consider this simply one viewpoint on the matter.

Is it that good? Well in my view, for the price point it certainly is a great pen with a great nib. Will it be great for you? That I cannot be certain of, and the thing I wish to emphasise here is the key to all of this I guess: for me, the aion is that good because it’s simply that suitable for how I use it to write.

Remember, you are reading the blog of someone who isn’t as fond of the Lamy Safari as many readers probably are. Great pens no doubt — just not a great fit for me. Each to their own, and I think in the coming months we will find strong opinions both ways as the Lamy aion gets into more hands.

Signing off

Whether I’m reading or writing them, I’ve always approached pen posts as tales of subjectivity, with really only a table of specs to the contrary.

After all, the look and feel? My opinion. The weight, balance and what the pen is good for? My opinion — on how it suits me and what I tend to use it for. An underperforming nib is perhaps an exception, but its general characteristics? Just as much what I personally prefer as anything.

And so it continues here. As you can tell from probably too many words above, I like this pen — a lot. Initially? I didn’t like it very much at all. As surprised as I was (and still am), the aion has certainly made an impression by completely flipping my initial views on their head, and I cannot help but think that means something.

Perhaps that is the epitome of great design. Perhaps it is something less profound (ideal weight, a great nib and solid performance). Whatever it is, I’ll take more of it, and although many will say: “this pen is not for me” — I won’t be one of them, and what a positive outcome that is.

My thoughts about Lamy’s design intentions are certainly just that — my thoughts, however regardless of how you view this pen, I’d argue Lamy have achieved what they set out to create. In the end, whether that achievement is enough to add the aion to your collection, only you can answer. In any event, it won’t be long before the question is asked.

Happy writing.

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Yuga Lined B5 Letter Pad

Yuga Lined B5 Letter Pad

Upon seeing these correspondence notepads arrive in stock at Bookbinders several months ago, I had no hesitation in adding one to my shopping list for the next store visit. With my fondness for the Masuya paper in the Monokaki Notebook line well-known to readers here, it wasn’t a difficult decision to pick up another product containing that same paper stock.

Of course there is always the possibility of slight differences in the feel of a paper when presented in a different format, and I wasn’t completely certain about the 12mm line spacing in relation to my writing style either.

After finally visiting the store a few weeks ago (yes I could have bought them online — but what’s not to love about visiting an actual stationery store), as you can imagine — I needn’t have been concerned.

Look and feel

In summary, this is your standard B5 sized notepad designed for use in written correspondence.

Packaged in the commonly used cellophane clear wrap, that new stationery aroma hits you upon opening. I don’t think anyone would disagree that on first tactile impressions, the feel is one of a quality product.

Outside

Visually, the overall aesthetic is one of elegance with a touch of the old school conservative about it — for want of a better term. I quite like the maroon (or burgundy I suppose) cover with white trim, though perhaps the gold embossed bordering around the branding may not have been necessary. The maroon and gold combination does provide a certain “regalness”, and despite my personal preferences around these types of things, minor aspects relating to appearance aren’t overly bothersome to me one way or the other.

Overall? I think it looks great.

The back cover is made of the stiffest card stock you’ll find, and though you could say is perhaps overdone, is indicative of the overall quality in the notepad itself. Further branding, other details, and the made in Japan stamp appear across the top on the front cover overlap.

The pages themselves are glue bound at the top, with the cover opening up and away from the binding. There are no pre-folds or breaks for specifically folding back the cover (a la Rhodia notepads), however if you were a little pushed for space the cover will fold back easily. The only caveat here is the blotting sheet may come adrift if that is also folded back, effectively being attached as the first sheet of the notepad.

When used on my desk at home I generally prefer to leave the cover open above the page.

Inside

As I’ve mentioned above, the front of the notepad contains a stiffened sheet providing a blotting paper between the actual cover and first written page.

The Yuga Letter Pad contains the same Masuya paper as the Monokaki notebooks — the lightweight, cream-coloured lined pages, this time have a spacing of 12mm (the notebook being 9mm) in the familiar soft grey tone. The manufacturer’s basis for the cream coloured paper via Bookbinders:

It was developed in a cream colour to reduce eye strain when writing at night as the light does not reflect as brightly

I can attest to the nature of the paper under light, given most of my writing is done very early in the morning under a small LED white lamp, and with many other paper types there is occasionally some readjusting of position due to glare — not so the Yuga Letter Pad. It indeed provides a very soft return to any light source.

My concerns over the line spacing mentioned earlier in the post were ill-founded, with the 12mm distance looking a lot broader on a blank page than a written one. I recall having similar thoughts before laying ink down in the Monokaki Notebook as well.

Despite my best intentions, at times, a few pages into a letter my handwriting can become a little — shall we say — unwieldy, and I believe this measure of spacing facilitates a certain amount of readability for the recipient. As with many paper types, the lines themselves fade into the background once the page is filled with words.

A little more on this in Writing Performance below.

Specifications

Courtesy Bookbinders Online:

  • Product: Yuga Letter Pad
  • Size: B5 – 180mm x 257mm
  • 50 Sheets
  • Paper: Cream (lightweight)
  • Type: 12mm spaced soft grey ruled lines
  • Source: Masuya, Asakusa Japan.
  • Price: AU $19.90

I’ve estimated previously the Masuya paper is around the 60 gsm mark, and have yet to find anything confirming this. Based on the known weights of other paper and Tomoe River at 52 gsm, as a ballpark figure that is certainly what it feels like, hopefully providing you with some idea of the lightweight nature of Masuya paper.

A little background on the origins of this paper, including how it was ”made for writers” can be found in the product details on the Bookbinders website.

Writing performance

After uncapping a fountain pen and writing those first few strokes, any concerns I had about whether the paper would be Monokaki notebook-like melted away immediately. It’s as good as it should be. As good as I expected. Why I had doubts in the first place I’m not sure – its Masuya paper after all.

In the end, my biggest challenge (if you could call it that) came in determining whether to overwrite each end of the pre-printed soft grey lines, given there is an invisible margin around the border where the line ruling stops more than 20mm from each end (okay, so I did measure it — 23mm if you must know). Each to their own here, however to close out this thought, I decided on about a 10mm left margin and will essentially write completely to the right hand end of the page.

Forgive my silly stream of consciousness as I was testing things…

Look, really, the paper is exactly as I found it in the notebook — much to my overwhelming joy! I’ve written about it before, it remains my favourite, so I will keep things brief.

There is a moderate amount of show-through with certain pens and inks; there is the perfect amount (that is, just enough) tooth for my liking, and remember – just about all of the descriptors you’d use for Tomoe River paper also apply here — as described after my first encounter with the paper in the Monokaki notebook:

Light weight paper, smooth without the slip, handles pretty much every ink and nib, a little show through yet no bleed or feathering.

Of course the difference here being the show through may or may not be an issue depending on whether you prefer to write on both sides of the paper. Although seen through the page, there are no printed lines on the reverse of each sheet, so it appears the manufacturer has a certain view on their preferred approach here.

My personal approach has always been to write on both sides of notebook pages regardless of show through, however with correspondence I generally do not. On the subject of the Yuga Letter Pad, this approach takes care of any show-through aversion you may have — just not perhaps the cost per sheet. Exactly how relevant that might be is a decision for you to make (further on this below).

A quick word on the concerns about line spacing I mentioned above. At 12mm spacing and 18 lines per page, the calculation to compare it with the 6mm, 34 lines per page Daiso Report Pad is fairly simple. Particularly when I tell you with the smaller spacing I only use every second line — rendering things near identical on this point.

Now is also a good time to take this comparison a little further.

Use case and a small comparison

Versus the cheap Daiso Report Pad

So how does it compare with the $2.80 Daiso B5 Complete Report Pad I have previously been using for correspondence for some time now? Based on price, the difference here is a significant order of magnitude to say the least.

With Daiso’s Report Pad containing 100 sheets at a $2.80 price point ($0.028 per sheet), something like the Yuga is never going to come close at $19.90 for 50 sheets ($0.40 per sheet). Now having done exactly that, I will say comparing them in such a way probably misses the point a little.

On that score, for a far better explanation on the concept of value, may I refer you to Dr Jonathon Deans on the Pen Economics Blog, (though on quite a different scale, insert notepad for pen here):

It’s also not possible to talk about actual vs perceived value, as all value is perceived: there is no innate, objective, actual value for us to measure. In more technical terms, value can be understood as how much you would be willing to pay for a pen, and there’s no objective way of saying a certain number is how much you should be willing to pay for a pen

So, in relation to the subject notepad in this post, I know what I’m willing to pay, however would certainly never assume to know what you, or anyone else should be willing to pay.

So by comparison, is the Yuga Letter Pad a significantly better experience?

For me personally? Absolutely yes. I’d even go further to say I would not have been surprised had it arrived at a $24.90 price point as opposed to the $19.90 it sits at currently. In the same breath, I would of course not necessarily enjoy paying more, however simply make this observation (at the same time imagining in my mind the good folk at Bookbinders saying: oh Peter, we’d never do that…)

Can that be quantified and applied to another user’s perspective? Perhaps, however quite a number of personal preferences and other factors would require accounting for with such an endeavour.

Then of course there is the far simpler: just go ahead and treat yourself approach. Certainly one I’ve been known to follow quite successfully. Far easier to do with a $20.00 notepad than a $200.00 pen of course (though admittedly — even easier with a $2.80 notepad…).

Having written about the more than capable and far cheaper Daiso Report Pad in a previous post, I still admire its ability for letter writing with a fountain pen at such a low price point. Of course in a blind side by side “what’s best” comparison, you’d pick the more expensive Yuga Letter Pad in an instant, however as I’ve alluded to above, that’s not the entire story.

Yes, the Yuga Letter Pad is definitely worth the money in my humble opinion, however at the end of the day, future letter-writing me will probably use both… or something else.

After all, there will be plenty of correspondence written in the years to come, and no doubt I’ll test out plenty of other paper during that time as well. So to conclude things here and perhaps confound this entire section just a little: Masuya paper is my favourite paper — simple as that.

In use

As for the overall use case of note paper like this — you can probably take its title in the most literal sense. This will sit on my desk, be intermittently filled with words and sent to those good friends who receive letters from me from time to time. I don’t think I’m really going to provide any novel suggestions here — nor do you need any. It’s a letter writing pad, and is perfectly suited to precisely that task.

Whereas something like a Rhodia No. 16 notepad may suit equally well for general note taking, testing your new inks or more formal written correspondence, the Yuga Letter Pad appears to have a somewhat more defined role. Of course you could use it for anything you like. I mean let’s face it — pages torn from a spiral notebook will just as easily carry your words across the globe in an envelope.

My intention here is to simply point out (again considering price point), you would not likely pick up the Yuga for scribbling down some random notes and a phone number. It will, however be more than capable for whatever you do throw at it.

Signing off

Having now arrived at this point of the post, I must invariably give you some final thoughts. Interestingly, the further I progressed through the post, I became increasingly unsure of what those might be.

Uncertainty not through any reservation about the paper or letter pad itself — nor the price for that matter. Which in the end I think is precisely the point. With so many options at just about every price point available these days, there really is no single answer. A post such as this will only ever end with the same recommendation: I love this paper, go buy it! So many choices, yet seemingly no choice all at the same time — that is, you simply have to go and buy some yourself, otherwise you’ll be missing out.

That, of course, is not really the case at all is it?

The other little voice in my ear? The cost benefit analysis when compared with cheaper paper as I’ve discussed above. If you are a Tomoe River paper buyer, you won’t bat an eyelid. If Rhodia is a stretch — then the price may give you momentary pause.

Any further assumptions on my part here would be a fool’s errand.

If you do choose to buy some, wield a fountain pen with any great regularity, and correspond with others who do the same, send a few blank sheets with your next letter. I’m sure the recipient will thank you.

In closing, I will say the Yuga Letter Pad is a high quality, well designed and constructed correspondence notepad with wonderful paper (did I mention it’s my favourite?) for the fountain pen user. Although not a budget option, in my opinion belies its price point ever so slightly — and for me at least — that’s value.

For you? Good question…

Restocking – a trip to Bookbinders

Although I’ve posted an image to Instagram from yesterday’s visit to the Bookbinders store on Brisbane’s Northside, readers of the blog and my social media following are not one and the same, so I thought I’d share a couple of things in a brief post.

img_7934

It was my second visit to the actual store itself — such a wonderful, calming space amid the chaos of rainy Friday afternoon traffic. The Bookbinders team do a fantastic job, stocking great products and provide outstanding customer service. It was great to hear business is strong, with foot traffic continuing to increase at the store itself.

It is definitely worth a visit if you have yet to do so, and of course if you already have, you don’t need me to encourage you to return — I’m sure that is inevitable.

Though it wasn’t a big haul by any stretch, the few key items on my list were ticked off.

Coffee drinking and roasting logs

I’ve written in a recent post about my thoughts and plans for recording my coffee roasting data, and the main reason for the visit was to pick up the new 33 Roasts log from the 33 Books series.

My only concern (immediately alleviated upon closer inspection) was whether the log contained units in degrees celsius as well as Fahrenheit (being a US publication). All good to go here, with units in celsius appearing on the R hand axis of the roast graph. Key details from each of my roasts will end up in a spreadsheet, and the entire notebook contents scanned, indexed and saved for safe keeping and easy search (perhaps a post for another day).

img_7935
A few drops of coffee in the ink is a nice touch

My coffee drinking habits? Well why not 33 Log those as well? When out, I use a modified version of this Day One / Launch Center Pro template (also available as Workflow app action if that is your preference) to rate the beverages cafes serve me, however when at home I’d like to record a little more often in relation to drinking what I’ve roasted myself. The 33 Cups of Coffee log seems like a good way to go here.

Upon completion, these will also be scanned, and I’m thinking perhaps the 4 and 5 star rated cups are worthy of indexing for future reference. I’ll give that one a little more thought.

 

Writing

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Though 40 pages less, a considerable reduction in paper weight from the Life Symphony to the Monokaki

One of the most pleasing aspects of visiting the store was seeing the healthy stock of Monokaki notebooks, which still remain my all-time favourite. Previous posts about those? Yes — here and here if you are interested. Having passed my 50% rule (that is, of usage in my current notebook before searching for another), it wasn’t a hard choice as to what I’d pick up next.

The masuya paper contained therein is a perfect mash-up of Tomoe River-like weight with a little more tooth to the nib. Just the way I like it. In order to share my fondness, some of that very paper will also be going out in handwritten correspondence from the Yuga Letter Pad I picked up as well.

Signing off

Given this was never intended to be a lengthy post, in closing, I think we are very lucky to have the Bookbinders team not only based in Brisbane, but having a brick and mortar presence as well. They are wonderful people with a passion for the industry — something well worth supporting as a consumer.

Happy writing, roasting and drinking.

Life Symphony A5 Spiral Bound Notebook

img_7800An interest in fountain pens inherently carries with it a similar level of attention to paper. Although I’ve written about some budget friendly notebook options on one or two occasions, I’m not averse to paying a little more for them either.

One such notebook — while not prohibitive in cost — is the L!fe Symphony N93 Spiral Bound A5 currently sitting on my desk. For the remainder of this post, I will mostly use Life rather than L!fe, as I do find it a little distracting, and an online search term of Life Symphony Notebook will bring up what you are looking for.

Look and feel

In summary, I’d say the Symphony notebook has no bells and minimal whistles — just high quality design, construction and performance.

Though technically a soft cover notebook, the Symphony carries very thick, stiffened card stock front and back which is about as hard as you’d find in a soft-cover notebook. As the images in this post show, I purchased what is described on various retail sites as the “grey” version. The front cover features some intricate detailing reminiscent of a dense vine, and is quite attractive to my eye. The back cover matches in colour, however is unadorned with any detailing or labelling.

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A colour

To be honest I’m not sure how I’d describe this colour. At the time of purchase, I was drawn to the contrast between the prominent brass coloured double spiral binding and the deeper, slightly more mysterious looking cover. Something enigmatic to provide a little mystery, and shroud what would ultimately be a collection of fairly superficial writing you might say.

Speaking of the binding, those brassy double spirals follow the lead of the cover, in that they are very stiff, providing a solid backbone to the book in a way befitting the overall quality throughout. There is a little wiggle room or “play” in the pages, however I’ve not noticed this when writing, and believe me I would, for it is a pet peeve of mine with spiral bound notebooks.

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Those spirals!

Referring back to the “no bells” statement above — rather than a criticism, is more a reference to a design which appears focused on the essential requirements, and doing them exceedingly well. There are no pockets, bookmark ribbons, elastic enclosures or pre-formatting on the paper other than the 8mm ruling in subtle grey.

I do tend to use ribbon markers if they are in a notebook, however equally don’t mind if they aren’t — avoiding the need to get them out of the way once the notebook is open to write. Pre-formatted page numbering and perhaps a date field? Again, generally used when present, though inconsequential if not. Plain, grid or ruled? Personal preference, for which I’ll take ruled nine times out of ten these days.

Specifications

The subject of this post:

  • L!fe Symphony N93 Notebook
  • Size: A5 (15x21cm)
  • Cover: Thick, stiffened card stock front and back
  • Pages: 200 (100 Sheets) acid-free paper; estimated at 80-90gsm
  • Binding: Brass coloured double ring
  • Style: 8mm Ruled
  • Features: Fountain pen friendly paper, hand-made
  • Source: Made in Japan
  • Purchased: Pen and Paper, Brisbane CBD, AU$26.95 (December 2016)

Looking around online, you’ll find A5, B5 and A4 variations, available in grey, red, and blue covers. I was unable to find a specific gsm weight rating, however the paper feels very similar to your usual Clairefontaine/Rhodia type weighting. Searching around reveals 8mm ruled, 5mm grid, and plain paper variations, however I am not sure how widely available these options are.

Some online retailers:

Writing Performance

Of course most of the notebooks you see on these pages from time to time are great for writing, and whether they reach the “just about perfect” status is really a matter of personal preference isn’t it. I’ve written ad nauseam about my preference for a little feedback on the page, rather than skating about one a little too slick. No surprises the same thoughts will be applied here.

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Bookbinders Snake Inks Ground Rattler (l) and Eastern Brown (r)

As I write this, I am 130 pages in of the 200 available to me in this notebook, and I’ve certainly no intention of not continuing right through to the last.

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Whether running a finger down the page or forming letters along a line — the paper is quite smooth. Not Clairefontaine notebook smooth (a skater for me) by any stretch, and not quite Rhodia smooth either — however probably not far behind. Therefore, on the feedback/tooth scale I’d say it sits squarely in the upper end of my preferred window.

Currently in my hand is a Pilot Custom Heritage 92 (FM nib), containing Bookbinders Snake Ink Red Belly Black. On cheaper, softer paper, the CH 92 will occasionally want to “dig in” a little, however that is certainly not the case here. Both the sensory and auditory feedback (on a quiet pre-dawn morning), are pleasing to say the least. I’d be happy enough if restricted to this paper for the rest of my writing days.

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Bookbinders Snake Ink Red Belly Black

Using a stiffer nib, such as my medium Platinum President, I find more of that “skating across the top” feel, highlighting the nib and paper interaction, which influences the perception of all our writing experiences. Add to that the usual differences in writing on the left hand page atop the stack of 65 or so filled sheets versus the harder, compressed, yet to be written sheets on the right. Whatever your particular preference or thoughts here — this is great paper for fountain pens.

img_7811Feathering, show through, or bleed are nowhere to be found, and I feel you’d have to use a very broad nib containing extremely saturated, very wet ink to change that to any great degree. You will be safe with most general writing pens. Dry time is commensurate with my Rhodia notepads, or a perhaps a touch faster with certain inks.

At this point I am probably meant to test and demonstrate numerous different pen types to illustrate how this paper handles them all (and I am thankful to those who do), however looking back through those 130 pages, I can find all of about three with non-fountain pen markings (Retro 51/Schmidt rollerball from a Baron Fig Squire out of interest). As you’d expect, handled with aplomb by the paper.

In a notebook bought on the basis of being great for fountain pens, that can hardly come as a surprise, and call this a “review” if you like, however this post is written merely as a reflection on how I’ve found using rather than “testing” — the Symphony notebook over the past few months.

In Use

One of the more common uses for my notebooks is to carry them on my lunch break, perch on a stool at the bar of my favourite cafe, and do some writing. Having purchased the Symphony notebook with this activity in mind, I soon found its suitability for the task was not quite spot on.

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With that iPad Air 2

The notebook itself is fantastic of course, however given its thickness, something as simple as the size of the spirals prevents it sitting nice and flat against my iPad Air 2 when carried together. A big deal? Hardly – though why bother when I don’t have to, particularly when there is plenty of flatness in say, the Baron Fig Vanguard of similar size (not thickness) which is currently fulfilling lunch break longhand duties.

Beyond such silly personal eccentricities, the Life Symphony No. 93 is what I’d consider a perfect desk book, where weight, thickness and spiral size matter less. It’s perfect for long form writing, with the A5 size constraining my hand, which at times can become a little unwieldy and careless on a larger sized page. Brief notes or meeting minutes – all perfect as well, however to me, a notebook like this begs for something a little grander. Perhaps some poetry, elegant prose, or even a your next novel.

In rounding things out here, I’d have to say from a construction and aesthetic perspective, the Symphony is more than well equipped to handle just about anything you could throw at it. Perhaps you’d see some wear and tear from repetitive backpack in/out cycles, though I think it would stand up pretty well.

Signing off

I’m certainly enjoying the quality of both overall construction and paper of this Symphony notebook from Life Stationery. It’s traditional without being staid; functional yet solid; and clean without feeling underdone or sparse. While it doesn’t suit my particular style of carry, it makes a fantastic desk notebook, and if you are someone who always uses a bag, my concerns are a moot point.

Whether a notebook like this represents value for money really comes down to how you personally value quality of construction and overall aesthetics. It is a notebook I consider represents excellent value for money, and would certainly buy one again – for my desk of course.

Recording coffee roast data – a new analogue option

Image courtesy 33 Books Co.

Though I’ve yet to get my hands on one directly, this bite from Sprudge recently caught my eye. The folk at 33 Books Co in Portland, Oregon, have just released a coffee roasting log: 33 Roasts, which looks just about perfect for an enthusiastic home roaster. Reading about this new offering triggered a few thoughts on how I’ve recorded my home roasting data in the past, and how I might continue from here.

Recording my roasts – so far

While there are many ways to record data when roasting your own green coffee, I’ve generally found analogue systems well suited to my needs, having tried digital methods on and off over the four years I’ve been roasting at home. If I could suggest one thing to someone considering having a go at home roasting, it is to record data somehow. The exact means is not important, however as trends emerge and you look to make adjustments, having something to refer back to is fairly valuable.

So how do I do it? The most obvious means of doing so given my fondness for all things analogue, is a notebook and pen. In the absence of setting up some form of more automated temperature logging and roasting software (the probe, thermocouple and roasting software based “HeatSnob” from Coffee Snobs for example), I have always relied on taking down data points manually (time, temperature and heat settings) — irrespective of whether these end up in something digital or remain on paper. After keeping things in Evernote for a short while, I ended up simply taking the relevant notes down in a pocket-sized Field Notes notebook, and have many filled to the brim with roasting records now safely stored in a shoe box.

Meaningful scrawl in a notebook

In recent months I’ve been using an infrared thermometer gun 1 to capture temperature readings, and manually entering the data on a per minute basis into a spreadsheet template I stumbled across online via the Home Barista Forum. The advantage of course being the roasting curves produced automatically as the data is entered, however I generally don’t have a look at these until the end of the roast, simply following the rate of rise by looking at the temperature change down the column as the roast progresses (also calculated automatically as I enter the raw temperature readings).

Raw data and curves

I’ve found it easier to take note of the readings rather than look at the curve, given I cannot really see it easily working in split view on my 9.7 inch iPad Air 2, with a third of the screen displaying the timer.2

Using one-third split view on iPad for the timer

I have enjoyed using this method, as I can see a visual curve of how the roast progressed, though at times it can become a little tiresome to manually capture and log the temperature readings every minute or so. Again, with dedicated, connected temperature probes this would be a breeze, however that might be a project for another time.

Why the move back to analogue then?

Well, the obvious why not? aside – even when using a spreadsheet, my notebook is always on hand, as I find in the heat of the moment around first crack, it is easier to keep an eye on things and scrawl down the time and temperature data by hand rather than worrying about entering data onto the spreadsheet. Given things can happen fairly quickly at that point in the roast, I usually fill in the blanks on the spreadsheet once the beans are out and cooling.

There are some apparent disadvantages to an analogue system in terms of search, and viewing or manipulating data, however remember we are not talking about a professional, commercial-scale roasting operation here (very far from it actually). Most times in the past I’ve flagged the great roasts and referred back to my previous records be they digital or analogue fairly easily anyway. Having recently begun creating a digital index of my analogue archives (irony not lost), I plan to get around to my roasting logs and do the same. Of course keeping on top of things like this as I go would be a much better idea. You might be surprised how easily things are found with a decently constructed and searchable index. Then again perhaps you might not, for I guess it is common sense really isn’t it.

Finally, there is a simplistic ease in opening a notebook and recording data, without setting up my iPad, opening Numbers, selecting a spreadsheet template, creating a new file, copying some tabs and then entering some preliminary information. Sure, analogue isn’t for everyone, however after using a few different systems (both digital and analogue) over the past four years, I’ve come to know what I like, what I need, and what works best for me.

Reason enough.

33 Roasts: A Coffee Roasting Log

Analogue is well… analogue. Why the need for a pre-formatted option such as this latest offering from the 33 Books company?

For one, I think they look fantastic, and the pre-formatted pages contain just about every field you might need (particularly as a home roaster), along with a notes field for any little extras. A graph to plot those data points on a curve? There as well. Add to that a ratings field for retrospectively adding tasting notes over subsequent days or weeks is also a nice touch.

Image courtesy 33 Books Co.

Speaking of nice touches — from 33 Books Co., something unable to be captured in a pixel:

A teeny, tiny amount of real freshly-roasted coffee is added to the ink in each new edition, which is cryptically noted on the back.

At 5×7 inches — or what I’d call just the right size, the log is similar to my current general note-taker in the Baron Fig Vanguard, or the new upsized Pitch Black Field Notes offering. Incidentally, one my favourite roasting logs in the past was the Field Notes Arts & Sciences edition, which came in at this same slightly larger-than-pocket size.

Signing off

In noting down these thoughts on my coffee roasting logs, of course I’ve yet to get my hands on one of those beauties from 33 Books Co., however the fine folk at Bookbinders are on the case and will come through with the goods pretty soon – of that I’m certain.

Having just taken delivery of a new coffee roaster (another post for another time), what better time to start afresh with my data logging process – and for that, the 33 Roast Log seems pretty much spot on.


  1. Although the readings lack validity, they are reliable for comparisons of minute to minute absolute temperature, and to monitor rate of rise over the course of the roast. ↩︎
  2. Yes I could indeed use my phone or some other time, however the size of the iPad screen is ideal to have the timer visible from a distance. ↩︎