Radley A5 notebook. A mini review.

As fountain pen users know, finding another dream combination of pen, ink and paper is one of life’s pleasures. And we could all use some of those now.

A month ago, whilst spending a weekend away in Cambridge my wife was browsing the sales in Radley, the handbag shop, when I came across a display of A5 notebooks. These were reduced from a rather ambitious £28.00, to £6.00 and so I cheerfully added a couple to our purchases.

It turned out that the notebook was remarkably good and I wished I had bought a few more to keep in stock. Many reading this post may not have access to a Radley shop, but nevertheless I hope some comments about my approach to notebooks may be of interest.

Description.

This is an A5, soft cover journal, with 160 ruled pages (80 sheets). The pages provide 21 rows at 8mm line spacing, which I find ideal. The lines are dotted, in grey, on a cream paper and so not obtrusive. Each page features the little Radley dog logo at the foot of the page, which is not in the way.

Radley A5, 160 page notebook. With Cross Bailey Light fountain pen.

The cover is a vibrant red with rounded corners and a pleasing texture that feels like leather but is not. “Radley, London” is stamped elegantly in gold letters on the front. The cover can be flexed although it offers some support and protection. Of particular benefit, the pages are stitched, so that the book can be opened flat without risk of pages popping out. There are two page markers, in matching red ribbon. However there is no elastic band or expandable pocket that you would find with a Leuchtturm notebook.

Neatly sewn pages with lined, cream paper.

Paper quality.

Trying a different notebook can be a risk, if you intend to use a fountain pen. Those first few strokes will tell you whether the paper is “fountain pen friendly” or not. Does the ink bleed through? Is there feathering? Is there show-through at levels which mean you can use only one side of the paper? How does the pen feel on the paper surface? Is it too rough, or too smooth, or is there a squeaky coating and feeling of resistance?

Happily, I was delighted with the paper in all of these respects. I tried first with my recently bought Platinum Curidas, with a Japanese medium nib and Platinum blue black ink. The paper surface felt silky smooth. There was no feathering, no bleed through and although some show-through, this was perfectly acceptable. The nib is on the fine side for a medium.

The one point to note however, was that the line width was slightly wider on the Radley paper, than with the same nib on my customary Leuchtturm journal paper. This implies that the paper is perhaps more absorbent, or less or differently coated than Leuchtturm. Yet when I looked with the loupe, there was no feathering to give the tell-tale woolly edges as if writing on blotting paper.

Saturday morning activity.

I do enjoy buying a new notebook. For the last few years I have been using Leuchtturm journals a lot, which are paginated and available with plain paper, ruled (rather too narrow for me) or dotted or square grid. For unpaginated notebooks, I often paginate them, measure the line spacing, and test out the paper on the back page with a variety of inks and pens from my “currently inked” pen cups to see what works and what does not.

I tried the Radley notebook paper with various other pen and ink combinations. There was no bleedthrough with Waterman Serenity blue. Monblack Irish Green did bleed through quite badly in places where pressure was applied. Some roller-ball pens also did not do so well: the Uniball Air micro black ink did bleed through, whereas the Uniball Signo 307 retractable gel pen did not.

Rohrer & Klingner, Salix iron gall blue black ink.

So, what was that dream team combination that I mentioned? I recently discovered Rohrer & Klingner’s Salix, an iron gall blue black ink, sold in London at Choosing Keeping, in Covent Garden. I have been using it at work recently, in one of my Cross Bailey Light cartridge pens. (Ahem, confession: I bought six of these pens, a few months ago as soon as I heard about them!)

The Cross Bailey Light is a fairly humble entry level Cross cartridge- converter fountain pen with a steel medium nib. I have been careful to check the nibs on all those I bought and they have all been smooth, wet writers. This works particularly nicely with Rohrer & Klingner’s Salix ink, a classic blue-black which darkens as it oxidises, as the blue turns to a grey-blue black.

Random poem selection, from William Wordworth. Cross Bailey Light with Rohrer & Klingner Salix, iron gall blue black in.

The Salix ink is also water resistant, a useful quality when addressing envelopes but also giving some protection against spills or other liquid related incidents.

A water resistant ink will often perform well on papers which at first do not seem fountain pen friendly due to bleedthrough and so it is worth trying this before giving up on the notebook for fountain pen use. Another advantage of R&K Salix is that you can go over it with a highlighter pen, which is great for study notes. It also flows well, looks nice and gives a lovely shading and performs well on the Radley notebook paper.

Discovering that you can go over R&K Salix ink with a Sharpie highlighter, without smudging.

Finally, I went back to the Cambridge Radley shop another day but they were out of these notebooks. But then I later came across another Radley store in London’s O2 Arena shopping centre (a brand outlet mall) where, not only did they have plenty in stock but they were discounted even further to £4.00. Let’s just say I bought a reasonable number.

Inky Pursuits round-up.

Here is a brief round-up of some of my recent fountain pen related activities.

Currently inked.

If you had met me when I was aged 11, and asked me then about my ink pens and accessories, the sum total would have looked something like this.

A single Parker pen and bottle of Quink. “Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line?”

Somehow in the intervening years, (but particularly in the last few) the pen accumulation has mushroomed and I have an entire drawer full of inks, the use and enjoyment of which has become a major hobby.

However, my number of “currently inked” pens at home, in a neat array of pen cups, has grown to an all-time high at 31, (not counting a couple of others kept at my place of work and another in my jacket pocket). Here is what 31 pens looks like.

The 31 currently inked, bunched roughly according to ink colour

This is due to a combination of factors: a number of new arrivals; an eagerness to try out new pen and ink combination ideas without waiting for another pen to run dry, and a general reluctance to flush away good ink.

The currently inked list. Note, five all inked with Tavy blue black, three with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai, three with Graf Cobalt blue and two with Montblanc Royal blue.

I do not really see this as a problem. (Perhaps THAT is my problem!) I could go and flush them all this evening, but this would mean wasting the equivalent of almost one entire bottle of ink. Whilst I could cut down, I do enjoy having the choice of all these pens at my finger tips. And the joy is that each and every one feels different.

Recent purchases.

At the end of January, I bought a Montblanc Meisterstuck 145 Classique with platinum trim. As usual it came fitted with a Medium nib but I had six weeks in which to request a free nib exchange. I did visit a Montblanc store in London where I was able to try out the various nib options. I was very tempted by the Broad, which would have been my choice if I were to have swapped. But in the end I did not want to part with my Medium nib that I had grown to enjoy. The nib had taken a few weeks to run in and in short, we had “bonded”.

In the early weeks since buying this pen, I tried a different ink on every fill but have now settled on the lovely Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, for the time being.

Another purchase, made at the London pen show in March, was the new Leonardo Officina Italiana, “Furore”, in a vibrant orange with gold colour trim and a Fine nib. In a rare stroke of genius, I have paired this with Waterman Tender Purple – a fun ink for a fun pen and am loving the combo. Also the feel of this nib on Leuchtturm journal paper makes me want to exclaim “Ooh, that’s lovely!” every time I write with it.

The artificial light does not do this justice.

My only other pen purchase from the show was my Diplomat Excellence A, Marrakesh, with a Fine nib in 14k gold. This has been inked with Tavy and I have been using it happily for my daily journal. The first fill had been with Diamine Cherry Sunburst, which I did not enjoy so much with this pen; perhaps it was just too matchy matchy for the metallic brown pen.

Unexpected gifts.

In February I received a wonderful surprise gift from a pen friend in Australia, who sent me his Pilot Custom 823 and Graf von Faber-Castell black Guilloche, both with Broad nibs and both fantastic pens. The 823 had been a grail pen for me and difficult to find in the UK. On my last visit to Hong Kong in 2017 I had hoped to have a chance to do some pen foraging and perhaps bag an 823 but my shopping plans were cut short by a bout of Sciatica and so the 823 had remained on my wish list. So I was extremely happy when one arrived on my doormat out of the blue.

Then in March, having read of my new Classique and my dilemma over whether to go for a nib exchange, my friend sent me a superb, 1970’s Montblanc 146 with a broad nib, which unlike the modern versions is an all gold finish and rather softer too. The pen also had a solid clear ink window instead of the small rectangular windows that the modern piston fillers have. This was an extremely generous and unexpected gift and you can imagine how thrilled I was on opening this package.

Montblanc Meisterstuck 146, with Broad nib. Believed to date from the 1970’s.

London Pen Club.

Our pen club met on 6 April, with a good turnout of around 15 people. Being the first gathering since the London pen show, a few of us had some new goodies from the show for others to try. My orange Leonardo Furore drew some admiring comments.

John had brought along his Montblanc 146 and 149. I was interested to compare these alongside my 145 and 146 and got a photo of them all in a row.

The first and third are mine…the 145 and 146.

Cameron had brought a recently acquired Pelikan M815 shiny stripes Stresemann, which was impressive, being heavier than the normal M800’s due to the metal in the barrel.

Penultimate Dave brought along an entire pen case of Arco beauties from his collection and some lovely Conway Stewarts which felt good in the hand.

However, I am pleased to report that I was feeling very content with my lot and did not feel the need to acquire anything else. Whilst it is always great to try other people’s pens, and many of brands that you just do not see in pen shops, I was happy in the end just to know that they exist. I felt, for the moment at least, cured of the need to acquire any more pens!

Harrods and Selfridges.

To put this to the test, I took the opportunity after the pen club meet, to visit both Harrods and Selfridges, to have a browse around their fountain pen departments and see what was new.

In Harrods, there is a particularly good range of Montegrappa pens. I had a second look at the “Monte Grappa” models, a recent range of retro style piston fillers, in black, navy blue, lavender or coral. They are available with either steel nibs or 14k gold nibs, the latter version being £445.00 in Harrods.

I was pleased to discover a very quick route to Harrods’ pen department currently located on the third floor, as “Pens, Books and Games” rather than the “Great Writing Room” of the past. (If you walk round to the back of Harrods, in the Basil Street entrance, take the escalator to the third floor, go left through Stationery, you will get straight to the fountain pens. You’re welcome).

A few tube stops later I was at Selfridges, where the pens are on basement level. I had a good look around the displays, with a good selection of the high end brands, including Yard O Led, Graf von Faber-Castell, Caran d’Ache, Chopard, SJ Dupont, Montegrappa, Pelikan and a few Viscontis, as well as Parker, Cross, Sheaffer and Waterman. As with Harrods, there is a separate booth for Montblanc.

I noticed Pineider there for the first time, with La Grande Bellazza models in Malachite and various other colours and two demonstrator models, one being the Honeycomb, which I had not seen before. The other with a gold coloured spring inside appeared at first glance like a posh TWSBI Go.

I was able to leave both Harrods and Selfridges without parting with any money. This time.

In praise of the Leuchtturm 1917, A5 notebook.

Those who enjoy writing with fountain pens like to find ideal combinations of pen, ink and paper where the nib glides effortlessly over the page, leaving a beautiful line of fresh ink without feathering or bleed-through.

DSCN2188
Ah, that new notebook feeling!

I am a relative newcomer to the Leuchtturm range, although the company was founded in 1917. I started using their A5 size notebooks about a month ago when my Taroko Design “Breeze” (Tomoe River) notebook was full. The Leuchtturm notebooks are readily available in our local Rymans stationers and although the paper is not Tomoe River, I find it very pleasant.

Available in a wide range of bright coloured hard covers, there are also options for plain, ruled or dot grid pages. In each case, you get around 250 numbered pages. Depending upon which you chose, you get a number of good features (listed on the distinctive wrap-around flyer inside the cellophane), such as:

  • a table of contents;
  • some perforated sheets (8 in the plain or ruled page version, or 12 in the dot grid version);
  • an expandable pocket in the back cover;
  • two ribbon page markers;
  • an elastic loop, for those who want closure;
  • stickers for labelling;
  • thread bound, to open flat and for durability;
  • ink proof paper (that is, fountain pen friendly);
  • 80 g/m2 acid-free paper.

DSCN2193
There is no mistaking the Leuchtturm notebooks with their distinctive wrap-around flyers, which help in finding the paper type that you are after.

I began with the plain paper version. This included a guide sheet to place behind the page you are using, with 18 rows at a width of 10mm, or, on the reverse, a grid of 5mm x 5mm squares.

I have been using the 10mm space guide. This is quite wide and if your handwriting is not large, the spacing may look too wide in relation to your writing size . Of course, you can experiment and make you own guide sheet, ruling your lines at whatever width you choose. For me, an 8mm width is about right and is what I am most used to for general writing and note taking, when using pads of file paper. But I have now made up a few guide sheets of approximately 8, 9 and 10mm for use with different nib widths. You could do this with your perforated pages.

DSCN2207
Line spacing at 10mm. TWSBI Classic (medium nib) with Registrar’s blue black ink.

With so many book colour options and paper options, there is something for everyone. I bought a ruled page version, but found that its line spacing of just 6mm, was too narrow for me. And if I wrote on every other line, 12mm was rather too wide.

The dot grid paper, with dots at 5mm spacing, is a good option and can be used easily to write on alternate rows with a comfortable 10mm row height.

One of the readers of my blog told me that he buys these notebooks when the less popular colours are on sale and then uses them for letter writing, slicing out the pages when the letter is written. This had not occurred to me and sounded quite a good idea.

Likes

The extra features listed above are all very welcome, but it is the paper itself that is the real draw here. It is a creamy, off-white paper, with a pleasant silky matte finish, having a smooth surface, not glossy or coated such as to cause drag.

A fountain pen may struggle to work on a paper that is too glassy-smooth. But a rough, fibrous textured paper is not good either and may clog the nib. Then, there is the issue of absorbency. A paper that soaks up the ink like blotting paper is no good for fountain pens as the ink will “feather” and spread out. And you do not want the ink to bleed through to the other side, so that you can use only one side of the paper.

There are many factors to juggle, depending too on whether your pen and ink writes on the dry or wet side.

DSCN2209
Writing sample with Diplomat Esteem (Medium) with Graf von Faber-Castell Garnet Red. Paper copes well, with even this juicy wet writer. Note also the minimal degree of show-through from the other side.

Dislikes

There is very little to dislike. If I were being picky, I could say that the page numbers could be a bit bigger. However, they are slightly clearer on the dot grid version than the plain.

DSCN2194
Pre-paginated pages.

A degree of “show through” or “ghosting” is inevitable unless the paper is very thick. With this notebook, whilst it is noticeable, I find it perfectly acceptable. There is a certain amount of compromise involved here as thicker papers, whilst reducing show-through, are heavier and make the notebook bigger.

Conclusion

As someone who currently has around fifteen fountain pens inked with a variety of nibs and ink types, I am finding the Leuchtturm notebooks very satisfying. The main problem that I have with them is that I keep wanting to buy another one whenever I pass the shops.

DSCN2190