Ask The Desk: Long-lasting, Archival Notebook

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Brody recently emailed me this question:

Since I got back into pens, I have become really enamored with Fountain Pens. I have been burning through notebooks trying to find good fits for FPs. I also started journalling – one for my daughter, one for my son, and one for me. I started off with the Piccadilly leather-something… and now I realize that if I keep going with this journalling, when I start vol. 2 I might not find a good match. Piccadilly seems to be erratic and in odd supplies. Are they going down for the count?

Anyway – I want to find a good journal that is solid and will last a long time, as well as something archival AND in a format that is likely to be around over the years as I fill them up. Knowing that nothing forever, what’s a good bet? Although I don’t use Leuchtturm 1917, I thought maybe it would work well… many colors and solid paper. Other thoughts?


Piccadilly does cater to the budget market like overstock shops so it can be hit-or-miss to find their on a regular basis. Their web site lists retailers who stock their products. Some people have mentioned issues with the binding over time with Piccadilly so I wouldn’t rely on it for archival journals and keepsakes. I use a Piccadilly for work notes which are not relevant by the end of the week so I don’t plan to pass mine down to future generations.

If you are actually looking for multi-color pages, The Ciak Multicolor Journal might be to your taste.


Fabriano used to make one too, for years, but I can’t seem to find anyone selling them now which is sad. They do make a version with an array of white, cream and kraft colored paper but not the rainbow of colors they used to make.

Fabriano has made paper for centuries I think so they would be a good bet though I have not used the paper with fountain pens but it is designed for artists using pencil and pen so it might work well. You may be able to find some Fabriano sketchbooks in a local art supply store.

Rhodia Webnotebooks might be a good option. Excellent paper for fountain pens, well-constructed hardbound books and Clairefontaine has been around for awhile and people love the Webnotebook line so they should be available for years to come. There aren’t a ton of cover colors, black and orange at present but their smaller Rhodiarama line have many different colored covers.

Leuchtturm 1917 neon covers

I think the Leuchtturm1917 should be around for awhile, its good quality and reasonably priced. Its not super high end paper so some wider nibbed pens might bleed but it has the potential to be a book you’ll be able to find for years to come. They come is several sizes and configurations and have lots of cover color options, including a up-to-the-moment neon option at present.

The classic black, artists sketchbooks from Stillman & Birn, Canson or Cachet might also fit your needs since they are all similar sizes and designed for artists so the paper quality is good (usually 65lb or higher) and reasonable priced (between $10-$15 for a 8.5×11″ size). They are available in an A5 and a US Letter size no matter which brand you choose. Some offer a square or spiral bound option as well. And, to butcher a Henry Ford quote,  you can have colored cover you want, as long as you want black. Any art supply store will carry one of these brands (or something comparable) so you’d always have access. I’d recommend the Stillman & Birn to start — the Alpha series paper is not too thick and excellent with fountain pens — though its not as widely available as the other more widely distributed brands.

Cachet Classic Black Sketchbook

Most modern notebooks should have fairly low acidity paper, even if its not labelled “archival.” The artist-grade sketchbooks are definitely archival. I would recommend storing completed journals and notebooks in a dark, dry location (like an opaque plastic tub in  a closet or attic) after its completed to protect it from light degradation or moisture which will could be a bigger threat than the archival-ness  of the paper.

Ask The Desk: Less Smudgy Pencils

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Ian asked:

As a student, I frequently have to go back and reference older papers and essays (stored in binders) I have written. Though work in pen poses no problem, work in pencil, especially that older then a month, often becomes an unreadable gray smear due to pages sliding across each other. I use standard HB pencils (both mechanical and woodcase), but have often wondered if a harder grade would help mitigate this issue. Also, I have recently fallen in love with the FC 9000 pencils and am wondering how they are on the smudging issue, especially the HB grade ones.

I called in the pencil experts, the cast of the Erasable podcast to help get you the best answers. Here’s what the boys had to say:

Johnny from Pencil Revolution definitely supports your enthusiasm for the Castell 9000. He says its “definitely smear-resistant, even through some numbered B grades. On binder/office paper, I would not go softer than the B, though, which brings me to what I suspect the problem might be.
Office papers have so much tooth that they take ‘extra’ graphite from the pencil, and it doesn’t stay put, causing it to smear. Certainly some harder pencils will help. But I think a certain amount of smearing on looseleaf and printer paper is unavoidable. Plus, the loose nature of a binder causing more rubbing than a bound book.
Maybe a composition book, where the pages aren’t moving against one another so much, might help?”
Tim from The Writing Arsenal concurred with both Johnny and Andy so there’s a lot of pencil authority there.
My final recommendations are, if you want to stick with loose leaf papers, is to try Hi-Polymer pencil leads, used in mechanical pencils. They tend to be less smudgy than standard woodcase pencil leads available from your local office supply store. Upgrading to the higher quality Faber-Castell 9000 or Hi-Uni pencils might also reduce smudging. You could also try some of Rhodia’s 3-hole punched paper which is not quite as toothy as standard loose leaf paper.
Best of luck and if you try any of this, let us know how it works for you.

Ask The Desk: ID Protection Stamps

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Sandy asks:

Think this is good idea?

I assume the question regards any sort of blotting stamp for security purposes. Folks seem to like these as an alternative to paper shredders as they are smaller, quieter and portable for obscuring personal information on printed material. While shredding makes sense for a lot of papers, sometimes you just want to throw those credit card offers in the trash and the only incriminating information is your address. A quick stamp, stamp, stamp might be enough to make it possible to throw the papers in the recycle bin.

The general term to describe these stamps is ID protection stamps or ID Guard stamps. I definitely think that the Max Korkoro model, with the rolling stamp and ability to refill the ink easily makes a good option. The price for any ID protection stamp seems to be about $10 which seems reasonable.

The only thing I don’t know looking at the photos and description is whether the ink is water resistant when dry. That would be the winning feature. If its water-soluble, then someone might be able to wash the ink off reveal your address or account numbers.

So I suppose I ought to order one and put it to the test, huh?

Ask The Desk: Dilli Flex vs. Noodler’s Creaper

Dilli Flex Nib Fountain Pen vs. Noodler's Creaper

M asks:

I’m new to flex pens and am looking to get an inexpensive one. I know this is a common question but was wondering what your thoughts might be on Noodler’s vs FPR? I’m looking to get either the Konrad/Creaper or Dilli/Guru. So far the consensus seems to be that the Noodler’s pens need quite a bit of tweaking and that quality control is variable, while the FPR pens feel cheaper but generally work better out of the box. Some also say that the FPR flex pens are dryer and have less give.

Would appreciate your thoughts on this!

What I discovered upon receiving this question is that I’ve never actually written up a review of the Noodler’s Creaper. I did a review of the Dilli flex though so I thought I’d use this opportunity to dive deeper and share my opinions about both of these pens.

Dilli Flex Nib Fountain Pen vs. Noodler's Creaper

Both pens use a split nib to create flex. The Dilli nib is a brushed finish while the Noodler’s nib is a shiny silver. The Dilli nib is slightly larger nib. Both pens use a twist piston fill mechanism which need to be filled with bottled ink. Neither pen can be fitted with cartridges or converters.

Both pens are lightweight plastic bodied pens. The Creaper has some chrome metal detailing on the pen that  makes it look like a bit higher end and a bit more durable. The Dilli just feels plasticky to me.

The Dilli nib is in a set spot, it seats into the feed in a specific location.

Alternately, there is a lot of play in how low into the pen barrel you can move the Creaper feed, thus allowing for more or less flex. The further into the pen you move the feed though, the more likely the pen is to write dry or not apply ink to the paper. As I cleaned and re-inked it, I could tell that finding the “sweet spot” for the placement of the nib and feed might be a series of trial and error experiments. I did my best to place the nib and feed in a “normal position” comparable to my non-flex nib pens and it worked well.

With both pens, I had no issues getting ink on the paper. Goulet Pens has some detailed information and videos about working with the Creaper pens and notes that they need to be completely flushed upon purchase to remove any traces of machine oil from the manufacturing process.

Dilli Flex Nib Fountain Pen vs. Noodler's Creaper

When writing, the Dilli had less resistance on the paper but I didn’t get as much thick-and-thin line variation on the paper. The lightest line width seemed a little wider than the lightest line with the Creaper. The Creaper had a little more resistance on the paper and a bit more spring but I liked the line variation a lot more.

I prefer the Creaper to the Dilli for a lot of reasons. Part of the joy of fountain pens is a pleasant visual experience and, to me, the Dilli looks and feels cheap. At some point, when filling it, some ink got inside the body of the Dilli pen, between the piston screw and the ink reservoir, and I cannot get it out. It now has dried ink inside a demonstrator body so it looks gross (you can see it in the top photo at the beginning of the post).

There are a few other options fro Noodler’s for the flex nib as well. The slightly larger Noodler’s Konrad can be fitted with one of the Goulet Pens #6 nibs, if your adventures in flexible nibs takes a turn for the worst, so you’ll still have a usable pen.The Ahab was specifically designed to allow for a larger ink reservoir. The Creaper, the Ahab and the Konrad are all available in a wide array of colors and finishes that will create a pleasing visual experience as well.

FPR also offers a few other pen models that feature their flex nib and that might be more visually appealing. The Triveni line look more upscale with prices in the $38-$45 range and available with a flex nib. The Guru is a bit less expensive than the Dilli and looks like it can be completely disassembled which might eliminate my crusty ink issues.

A flex nib Dilli is $18 and the Creaper is only $14.

Ask The Desk: Tea Cup Pen Caddy

Tea Cup Caddy

Lynda sent an email asking where she might find the Tea Cup Caddy featured on the blog back in January 2012.

I tried to email Lynda back directly but the email address must have been mistyped so I’m posting the reply here.

The tea cup caddy was sold through Black + Blum and is listed in their Design Archive so, as far as I can tell, the item is no longer available. For other interesting pen cups, you might check on Modcloth or at Anthropologie.

Ask The Desk: Stamp Pads and Federal Supply Service Notebooks

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Federal Supply Service Notebook

Zack was curious:

Re: Federal Supply Service Notebook
I was wondering if you have ever seen one of those books in a golden color? I have one ins the green but would love to have a few golden colored ones.

It appears that like Henry Ford might have said, “You can have any color Federal Supply notebook you want as long as its green.” That said, if you’re looking for a durable notebook in a golden color, you might want to try Rite in the Rain.

the stamp pad fairy visited today. let the nerd testing begin!

Rachel asks:

 I love the stamps I bought at your store!

I’m a stamping neophyte and have two basic questions about care and storage.  What is the best way to clean a rubber stamp when I want to use a different color ink?  How should I be storing my stamp pads?  I have rubber bands around them now to keep the lids on, but wonder whether I should have them in some sort of air-tight container to keep them from drying out.

Thanks, Rachel! I’m so glad you like the stamps.

To clean stamps, I use a damp paper towel on a ceramic plate to clean my stamps between colors. After stamping, I wipe the stamp gently on the wet towel and then use a dry towel to remove any excess moisture. If a stamp gets left with ink on it, I will add a drop of dishwashing liquid to the wet paper towel to loosen up and remove the dried ink.

I do not recommend submerging the stamps in water or ever using any harsh soaps or detergents to remove ink.

On a particularly crusty stamp, dip an old toothbrush into a cup of water with a couple drops of dishwashing liquid and then gently scrub the stamp to remove ink build-up.

If you use a stamp pad regularly, keeping the lid closed and stored flat, should be enough to keep the pad from drying out.

As for storing stamp pads, I either use a rubber band to keep the lids sealed or bits of tape, depending on how often a particular stamp pad is used. I store my large stamp pads on their ends so tape or rubber bands are a must for keeping them from drying out. But stamp pads, no matter how they are stored, will not stay fresh indefinitely so use them up and re-ink when possible. Happy stamping!

PS: You might enjoy my post about different types of stamp pad ink.

Ask The Desk: Scratchy Pens & Jotter Refills

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Millicent asked two questions and I’ve been mulling over them for a few days:

About fine points of any type, be they fountain, roller, ball pen or even pencil.  While they would not be my first choice, sometimes a medium or broad just won’t work. I have found workarounds for pencils to avoid the 0.3 and 0.5 nightmares. I see all the reviews for fountain pens extolling the virtues of specific nibs.  All I get is scratchy frustration, with no apparent sweet spot. Alternate ink and paper don’t seem to help. There are pens sitting unused in my arsenal that deserve court time. Plus there are always ones waiting to be acquired.  Suggestions and recommendations ???

Fine nib pens are not, as a whole, scratchy. I do find that the teeny tipped gel pens, like the 0.25 Pilot Hi Tec Cs, to be a little scritchy, but overall there may be some other issues to consider.

heavy or light hand writing

The only thing I can think is that you might have a “heavy hand.” This is in no way an insult or anything, it just means that you press your pen more firmly on the paper or that you grip you writing tools tighter than others. With fountain pens, if all pens seem scratchy, I would recommend making sure to use a lighter hand — the least amount of pressure to release ink on the paper. You might want to practice just by making loops on paper with the lightest, loosest grip. Once you find the sweet spot, try actually writing.

I think the same process would work with gel or rollerball pens too.

The only other possibility would be the angle that you are writing. If you have a Lamy Safari or other pen that has a molded grip area  that forces a “correct” hand hold, try using that in combination with your lightest touch. Please let us know if you are still having issues.

Millicent’s second question was:

Many pens come supplied with the Parker Jotter style refills.  The issue is that they are almost always black ink.  The first thing I do is change the refill to blue or green.   I refuse to just toss the black refills in the waste bin since they are brand new. They need a good home, just like puppies and kitties 🙂   Any ideas?

Parker-style refill

Anyone in need of black Parker Style refills? Or know of any place she can trade or sell them? Leave a comment or email me through the Ask The Desk link and I can put you in touch with Millicent. Thanks!

Ask The Desk: Typist’s Desk and Purse Pens

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Robert asks:

As a writer, I recently purchased an electric typewriter for drafting content. What kind of supplies are appropriate for setting up a vintage typing desk: lamps, pens, paper, erasers, etc.?

(A still from All The President's Men via The Young Folks)

(A still from All The President’s Men via The Young Folks)

If what you are hoping to do is to create a classically vintage workspace, be sure to go through the Vintage posts for recommendations on classic items to add to your space. If you’re looking for specific items designed to function best (vintage or new) with a typewriter set-up, then here are a few recommendations.

  • Remember that the platen travels so you need to have adequate clearance around your typewriter. Don’t set your coffee cup down in the direct path of your typewriter platen or you’ll end up with a big mess (ask me how I know this).
(via Utrecht)

(via Utrecht)

  • A swing-arm or flexible lamp will be a great option to direct light where you need it. I use a Lite-Source Swing Arm Combination Lamp ($89) that is several decades old on my desk at work. It clamps to the edge of the table for stability and moves in all directions. It uses a fluorescent tube plus an incandescent bulb which can each be used alone or in combination for bright light. A less expensive alternative is the Adjustable Swing Arm Lamp ($15.99). Both designs are classic and would be aesthetically comparable to an electric typewriter.
  • For paper, standard 20lb paper from an office supply store should be fine. I would not get paper any heavier than 20lb (like standard black-and-white copier paper). If you’re looking for classic onion skin-style paper, carbon paper, or other classic style, check out Ebay. I put all kinds of paper in my typewriter but I try not to use any paper that’s too heavy. It will end up having a curl to it as a result of being wrapped around the platen.
  • As for erasers, you could try a typewriter eraser or liquid correction fluid but I think modern correction tape is far more effective, easy to use with no odor and no eraser flakes dropping into you typewriter, gumming up the works.
  • Pens are a matter of taste and preference. If you are using standard 20lb paper to type and want a tool to annotate changes and edits, a red or blue pen or pencil would be recommended. Fountain pens might bleed or feather on standard paper so I would say keeping a stash of pencils would be classic, in keeping with your typewriter. Maybe even a red/blue pencil or a mechanical pencil?

Harvest Thick Red/Blue

  • You might also want to consider a copy holder or other method for displaying a previous page while typing. For a vintage look, this one would be particularly nice.

Phil asks:

Looking to pickup a small ballpoint pen to go in my wife’s wristlet (Vera Bradley Pushlock). My thoughts were Monteverde Poquito or maybe Zebra SL-F1.  Gel is okay, but she prefers a no fuss tool above all else.

I confess that I don’t think I could pull together a better assortment of pocketable/purse-able pens than Jet Pens’ Mini Pens post. And I agree that the Monteverde Poquito Stylus would also be a great choice and it has the added bonus of the stylus at one end for digital devices. If your wife prefers ballpoint pens, she might also like the Kaweco Sport in the ballpoint model. It takes the Zebra 4C refills like the Zebra SL-F1. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with a classic Parker Jotter. Best of luck, Phil!

Ask The Desk: Posterboard Presentation, Orderly Lawyer and Triumph-like Nibs

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I get a lot of Ask The Desk questions these days so I am trying to compile them into weekly digests. And please, if you have ideas or advice for those who’ve sent in questions, please leave your ideas in the comments.  Thanks!

Scott asks:

I am a university student, with a modest budget but an eye for sharp lines.  I need to turn in an A1 size poster with varying sections, basically a mounted essay.  Any top tips or tools that would help a fella, with no cash for print services, produce something that doesn’t look scruffy?

If you are assembling your report on a computer before putting it on the board, you can tile your print outs so that you don’t need to make a late night run to a copy shop for over-priced, over-sized prints.

First, try to find a design student who can loan you an X-Acto blade and a metal straight edge or ruler. This will help you cut your pieces out neatly. In a pinch, a retracting box cutter will also work. A healing cutting mat is a bonus. If you can’t get one, find a large sheet of cardboard to cut on so you don’t scratch your floor (you want your security deposit back, right?).

(image via The Smartest and His Artist)

(image via The Smartest and His Artist)

To mount them to your board, use a glue stick, not Elmer’s liquid glue as it will cause your pages to pucker and wrinkle. When applying the glue stick, lay your pages out on a larger sheet of paper like old newspaper or a paper grocery bag. That way, you can run the glue stick all the way to the edges. Remember to use a fresh sheet of waste paper or flip over the paper or bag each time you glue so you don’t accidentally attach your report to the waste paper.

For ideas on how to best present your sections, check out some of the infographics on Pinterest to inspire your mounted essay to design greatness! Best of luck!

And John asked:

I am a lawyer who, at any given time, has about 15 matters pending at a given time. I take notes every day, usually on tablets; I then tear off those notes and have them put into a file. But I often miss having my notes handy a few days or weeks later when I need to refer back to them. I see other lawyers using notebooks to keep their notes. I am looking for your recommendation on a good notebook that can lay flat, be photocopied fairly easily, look nice and classy (and not like a high school kid getting ready for math class), and also take fountain pen ink. Have you a recommendation? I thought I would like one with sewn-in pages, but I’m not sure that would be best.

My best suggestion for you, John, the Circa or ARC binding system. The Circa system is sold through Levenger and the ARC system is sold through Staples.

And what I really mean is getting the notebook covers, maybe some dividers and a punch and continue using the tablets you love. You can also purchase the pre-punched paper if you want. Or just get some covers and the discs and a punch, just to try it all out. Really, all you need are the discs and the punch. Find a couple sheets of heavy cardstock to punch for covers or use the clear plastic covers. You could even bind the whole thing from the top just like your legal pads but you could group them by client.

By punching and binding the pages into a notebook, you will have a lay-flat notebook that you can easily put into a photocopier, remove or rearrange pages and a slick, professional looking notebook.

And if you want a really upscale look, maybe the zip-up leather Bomber Jacket cover?

Levenger Circa Bomber Jacket Zip Notebook

And Jim asked me a real stumper of a question:

I picked up a couple of old, used Sheaffer snorkel pens with the intent of rebuilding with parts from Anderson Pens.  one of the pens has the “triumph” type nib. a very unique design.  I recently saw a pen ad on the web showing a pen with a nib that looked almost exactly like the triumph  nib.  unfortunately I did not make a note of that pens identity.  can you advise me as to the names of the other pens that carry a nib similar to the triumph design?

(via Pen Hero)

(via Pen Hero)

I found an article about the Sheaffer Snorkel/Triumph nibs on Pen Hero. It’s a very unique nib that looks like the nib wraps around the shaft in a single piece. Jim wants to know if any other pen manufacturer did a nib like this. I’m hopng one of you out there can help him as I don’t know enough about vintage fountain pens to answer his question.

Ask The Desk: Notebook Questions

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Sandy asks:

Can you please explain what is meant by “volant” and “cahier” in regards to noyebook types?  Especially volant, I do not get why a notebook is called by these two names.  What am I looking for when I want one of these?

Moleskine Cahier

Cahier and Volant are terms Moleskine uses to describe two of their soft cover notebooks. The Volant is the perfect bound notebooks with a leatherette cover. The Cahier notebooks have a cardstock cover and are stitch or staple bound. Other companies have used similar terminology to describe their products as well though I would recommend reading the descriptions carefully as neither of these terms are official terminology.

Moleskine Volant

Nick asks:

Maybe you’ve seen the new Doane Paper 3-ring binder pouch. But it made me want to use 3-ring binders more. The problem with binders is that they don’t stack or sit nicely on a bookshelf.

Do you have any tips for binder storage?

Binders are paricularly challenging to store on shelves. I recommend starting with the smallest width binder to start with so that it is fairly full. When it becomes difficult to put more into it, upgrade to a larger width. That way the binders sit a little better on the shelf. A shelf full of 3″ binders with only a few pages in each don’t sit at all nicely.

If anyone has a better idea, let me know!

Melissa asked:

Can you show me a few choices for a budget notebook for fountain pen writing? I want something that’s thick enough not to bleed to the back, under about $15, A5 size, lined preferred (something like narrow ruled filler paper). Bonus points for purple cover, as that’s my favorite colour.

Poppin purple softcover notebook

Poppin is THE source for those with a color fetish. They offer their medium soft cover in their signature plummy purple. The notebook is $9. I tested the softcover notebook and there is a little show through with juicy pens like the Retro 51 and fountain pens but you can’t beat the price.

Scout Books Mega Book

The Scout Books Mega Books are 5×7″ with cardstock covers. While there are not any currently available with purple covers, the tough cardstock would give you a great surface to paint or collage your own ode to purple. Two books are sold in a set for $10. The paper is 70lb text weight so it can hold up to fountain pens but may have some show through with juicy pens.


Paperthinks is another company I always think of for the color savvy. They stock not one but three different shades of purple to choose from.  Their large notebook is 12 x 17cm (4.7″x6.7″) with recycled leather covers and lined pages.  The regular large notebook has 256 ruled pages (£16) and the slim version has 144 pages (£10) so they are in your price ballpark. When tested, the paper showed a bit of showthrough but the overall quality of the books is good.


Slightly higher than your price point is the Exacompta Club Leatherette Refillable Journal ($24.50) in lilac purple. Refills are $16.50 and available in lined as well as blank and grid. The paper is good quality 64g so it should handle most fountain pens, as well as any gel, rollerball, ballpoint or pencil you used.

And the last question of the week comes from Aziza:

Anyways, just based on some fun movie trivia, would you say the notebook in the series True Detective that Matthew McConaughey uses is an extra large Moleskine? Just curious of your opinion.

mcconaughey notebook in True Detective

I believe you are right. That looks like the A4 Moleskine Folio book. Its 8.5×12″ but I can’t tell if he’s using the sketchbook or plain paper version. I guess I’ll have to watch the series just for the notebooks!

Thanks for all the great questions!

Ask The Desk: Organizing Correspondence

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I recently received a letter from Paul asking:

What are the best practices for archiving correspondence?

My first recommendation was the Paper & Type Letter Ledger which I use to archive all my correspondence. I use this to track regular correspondence as well as any thank you notes I might send. Christmas cards and thank yous get stored in a list in Field Notes since I really only reference those lists once a year. After some thought, I came up with a couple other ideas.

One idea is to tag letters with a sticky note with notes regarding your reply. You can write a few lines about what your reply stated, the date sent and any other info you think relevant. Then you can file the letter. I do store my letters.

I file my letters in accordion file folders by recipient. When I strike up a new correspondence, I have a folder for “Misc. Correspondence”. Once I’ve received a few letters from the same person, they get their own folder.

I read somewhere (it was ages ago so I’m not sure who does this. If its you, leave a note in the comments!) to store letters in 3-ring binders. You can slide the letter into a plastic sleeve with the envelope if you’re inclined to keep that too. Or simply hole punch the letter. Then you can easily review previous letters. You can add a 3×5″ card or sticky note to the sleeve with information regarding your reply. Add divider tabs for each correspondent.

For a digital solution, I saw this post on Lettermo. K. Tempest Bradford recommended using Evernote to photograph and tag your outgoing letters. You can then tag the photo and Evernote may even recognize words written in the letter depending on how tidy your handwriting is. You could actually photograph your incoming post as well and put both images in a collection so that you have quick access to the history of your correspondence. I think this is absolutely brilliant.

Hope these ideas help. Anyone have a different technique for tracking what you’ve written or how you keep your letters?

Ask The Desk: That’s not a pen!

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I received an actual letter from Leah a week or so ago. She asked lots of different questions about pens and tools so I thought I’d include some of my answers here as well as in a letter to her.

She asked:

What pen/nib did you use for the titles of your 12 Days of Inkmas?

The secret is that I didn’t use a pen at all. I used a brush!

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 10.44.46 AM

I got the idea to use a brush from seeing some ink “swabs” on European Paper. They were using a brush to create a lovely little ink swab. I like that a brush was easy to clean and I wasn’t creating a landfill full of q-tips in sampling inks each month.


I’ve used several different brushes that I’ve accumulated over the years to not only create “swabs” but also to create a more interesting header for the 12 Days of Inkmas. I’ve tried to keep up the habit for future ink samples and reviews as I can see the range of shading with the inks this way.

EDIT: The word “Wide Strokes” was done with the Scharff FINELINE 3000 #3, not the #6. Oops!


From left to right: Robert Simmons #2 red Kolinsky hair and synthetic filaments round brush, A. Langnickel 670 #5 Red Sable script brush, Scharff Kolinsky red sable FINELINE 3000 #3 round and #6, and a Silverwhite synthetic 1500S #2 Round.

I’ve acquired brushes over the years from friends, yard sales and various art supply stores. I’m stunned to see how expensive the Scharff #6 brush is ($67)! I’ll definitely take better care of it. I’m confident that any good quality round brush recommended for watercolor, acrylic or oil would make a perfect tool for “swabs” and ink tests. Visit your local art supply or craft shop to pick up a couple.

Just remember to wash out your brushes in water, squeeze dry and reshape the tip to dry. Don’t scrub them and make the bristles flair out  or you risk breaking the fibers and/or hairs. Always dry your brushes with the tip up and don’t leave them sit indefinitely in your wash water or the bristles will bend at a weird angle. If you let them cake with inks or paints, try The Masters brush cleaner. It will save just about all your brushes!

Ask The Desk: Letters in Downton Abbey

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There were some beautiful shots of envelopes and letters on last week’s Downton Abbey episode. I can’t find images of them online. Any thoughts on how to find them? LOVE LOVE LOVE YOUR BLOG!

Laura, Thanks so much for your letter. I feel like I must have been wrapped up in the story this week, watching Downton Abbey because I didn’t even notice the letters! I too searched the internet but so far screenshots from Season 4 are sparse. But you are in luck! Last week’s episode can be viewed and replayed through March 9, 2014 on PBS. I watched up to the Ritz letter for Alfred so you can get a better look at the mark on the envelope.

Screen Shot 201Ritz Letter Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 34-01-31 at 10.30.20 AM

Ask The Desk: Clogged Fountain Pens

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Tom asks:

Several of my fountain pens seem to be clogged.  Certainly the ink does not flow as freely as it did when they were new.

The tried and true cures – such as soaking in a bowl of warm water with two drops of ammonia – do not seem to work.

What is the approved 21st Century approach?

Many thanks,

I have not had a lot of clogging issues myself. I have purchased several old pens that needed cleaning and I just let them soak in warm water for several days, changing the water every day and then flushing the pen completely with good success.

Since it sound like you have more serious issues, I put a call out to some of the folks out on Twitter and here are there responses:

  1. Azizah from Gourmet Pens: Can you disassemble it? Soak it in 10% ammonia and 90% water (section and nib) and flush it out with water.. Should clear it.
  2. Inktronics says: Time for a total tear down and getting the toothbrush out.
  3. FPGeeks says: After Azizah’s advice, next step would be to use ultrasonic cleaner.
  4. Anderson Pens says: How long did they let it soak? Overnight at least if no ultrasonic or use a bulb to force water through the feed.

I would also wonder about the ink that you are using if you are continuing to have clogging issues. You may want to try a new, different ink once you get your pen cleaned out to see if the issue was a result of gritty ink.

I hope these tips help. Let us all know if you have any luck.

Ask The Desk: Condensation in my TWSBI

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Chris asks:

My wife bought me my first TWSBI for Christmas this year–a TWSBI Mini demonstrator. I’ve filled it with Iroshizuku Kon-Peki and carry it in my front shirt pocket, right next to my heart.

One problem: I’ve had trouble with moisture collecting inside the cap and the grip section of the pen. Initially the cap was the only culprit. Now, the condensation is found in both locations. The cap is easy enough to clear with a cue-tip, but the grip is a little more difficult.

Have you had problems with moisture so collecting in any of your TWSBIs or is there something I could do to prevent it?

I suspect the moisture is a result of condensation from the temperature changes. Especially if you are keeping your pen close to your body, it may warm up. Then when it cools on your desk or faces the arctic outdoor temperature shifts, there may be some moisture that builds up in the cap. I suspect that other fountain pens may face the same issue but without the clear cap and grip, we don’t ever notice it.

A quick search on the internet for “demonstrator fountain pen condensation” revealed that this is not an issue exclusive to the TWSBIs. It appears that most demonstrator pens will reveal some sort of condensation or ink in the cap over time.

disassembled TWSBI mini

My Mini tends to get it less frequently in the grip area unless I’ve recently cleaned it. If I don’t let it dry completely before reassembly, I get moisture in the grip section as well. With a firm push on the threaded end of the nib unit, it should pop out of the grip area allowing you to easily swab out any condensation build-up. Then reassemble it.

I have some of those long cotton swabs on a wooden stick that let me wipe away any moisture or stray ink from the inside of the cap though a standard issue Q-Tip should reach just fine.

Does anyone have advice for minimizing the condensation build-up?

Ask The Desk: Leather Journal

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Amy recently emailed asking:

I was hoping you could help me track down a journal. I found it in a blog post on etsy (I have emailed the author of the post but haven’t heard back yet). If you scroll midway through the post, there is a tan (leather?) journal that appears to have plain pages and looks similar to a large moleskine. Do you have any idea what type it could be?

mystery leather journal

The post is here:

Thanks for your help! Happy New Year!

Monsieur Lether Notebook

When I think of leather notebooks, I first think of Jenni Bick. She stocks so many possibilities including handmade one-of-a-kind options. The other option would be the Monsieur Notebooks ($32-$42) which feature a leather cover and the vertical elastic like was shown in the photo. Its not the same colors but maybe its similar?

Does anyone else have a recommendation for Amy?

Ask The Desk: Kansas City Shop Options

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From Peter:

I am a fellow KC dweller, and have had a hard time finding anywhere to pick up quality stationery. Know of anywhere local to find it?

If you are specifically looking for paper for letter-writing, I would recommend the Paper Source on the Plaza. They carry an assortment of options from companies like Rifle Paper and Chronicle Books. Paper Source also carries paper and notecards in small packets in lots of colors with matching envelopes.

If you are looking for notebooks and other stationery goods, a lot of boutiques and small shops in places like Brookside, Crestwood and Prairie Village often have a table with products. Hammerpress in the Crossroads stocks a variety of desk products like Field Notes and they stock a few Kaweco Sport ALs and a few other writing tools as well as their fabulous cards, postcards, posters and calendars.

I also like Utrecht and Creative Coldsnow (both near Westport) art supplies for a variety of tools. Pencils, erasers, sharpeners, Sakura Pigma Microns, Moleskine and such can be found in these shops.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum Store has some lovely products as well. The museum is always free admission so popping by just to scout out the shop is an option. And lunch in the Rozzell Court is quite a pleasant affair.

For ink and fountain pens, the Pen Place in Crown Center is your best option. They have a wide variety of pen brands, from inexpensive like Retro 51, Lamy and Kaweco to much more expensive options like Waterman, Montblanc and Pelikan. They also stock  lots of ink (Noodler’s, Private Reserve, Mont Blanc, Pelikan Edelstein and many more). The nice thing is that you can see a swab of the inks before you purchase it but their costs tend to be a bit more than online retailers. If you go in informed and take into consideration shipping costs versus must-have-it-now, it might be worth a visit.

Let me know if you have any other sources for paper, ink, pens or office supplies in the KC area or if I left anything out. Hope this helps.

Ask The Desk: Smudge-Free Writing (of particular concern to Lefties)

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Reader Jorge asks:

I was wondering whether you had come across any ‘solutions’ to stop left handed writers from smudging their writing as they/we rub across our hand.

I love ink and fountain pens but I remember I used to make an incredible mess of my work – the only solution was to crook my wrist to avoid the rubbing of the side of my palm.

There are a few solutions for lefties and ink drag. The first is quick-drying inks. Noodler’s Bernanke series is designed to dry quickly. I think Private Reserve has a few quick-dry versions of their inks as well. I find that finer nibs  help since they don’t tend to put down as much ink at one time.

Paper can be a factor as well. High quality papers like Rhodia and Tomoe River let the ink stand up on the paper keeping the inks from feathering or bleeding but making dry times much longer. I am less inclined to reccomend these papers to leftie for this reason.  Seek out a good mid-range paper. I like the paper in the Piccadilly notebooks for being a sweet spot between too thin (bleed and show through) and too fancy (takes forever to dry). They are also quite inexpensive so if I can only use one side of the paper, I don’t feel as bad about it. There are other options for paper as well. I find Moleskine too absorbent and the Clairefontaine (Rhodia, Quo Vadis, etc) paper takes too long to dry for me. I’m sure every writer will have slightly different criteria and you may find the a notebook from a big box office supply store is the perfect one for you.

And sadly, the last option is to try to alter your writing position so that your hand is below your writing. As an overhanded left-hander, I find this option awkward and uncomfortable. But there are many folks who claim this is the best option. If you have left-handed children just learning to write, you may want to try to get them to write in the under writer position to spare them from the challenges that we over-writers have had to face. The UK-based Anything Left-Handed site has a lot of resources for writing left-handed and so many other things!

Left-handed: Overwritingimage

Above is what over-writing looks like. It looks wonky but it is how I learned to write and so its comfortable to me.

Lefthanded: Under writingLeft-handed : Under writing

This is what under-writing looks like. It looks more like the position that right handed writers use. While it looks more graceful, I find it awkward but many lefties employ this technique and it eliminates a lot of smearing issues.

I hope this helps.

Ask The Desk: Small, Durable Notebook

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Sandy asks:

HI, Love your site. I am looking for a semipermanent notebook approx 3×5 size, not hung up on this size but cannot be big. I need it to keep some things I will look at several times a day, in and out of a bag every day. I was trying a small Rhodia unlimited but the perforations are a problem. Any recommendations? I need it to last about a year. I love what you put on your site and that I can jump to others from here after looking @yours. Happy Holidays.

Paperblanks Safran

The first thing I thought of was the Paperblanks journals. They are hardbound with a nice quality ivory stock. I’ve been using their planner this year which has endured the same sort of  abuses and holding up quite well. They have a “mini” version which is 3.75×5.5″ which is a tiny bit bigger than you wanted but they are available with an assortment of cover options including a wrap cover and a clasp version. Most books are lined but some are available with blank paper as well. They also sell an even smaller version called the “micro” at a mere 2.75″ x 3.625″.


Rhodia also makes a small Webnotebook that is 3.5×5.5″ and the Rhodiarama. Both are hardbound, vertical elastic closures and  3.5×5.5″ The Rhodiarama is available with an array of colored covers and lined 90 gsm paper  ($17) and the webnotebooks are available in orange or black covers with dot grid, lined or plain paper ($15.25).

weatherproof notebooks

If you need paper durability and are more inclined to use ballpoint or pencil, one of the weatherproof notebooks might appeal to you like the Field Notes Expedition Edition, Rite in the Rain or the Alwych. They are all soft cover books but use durable materials to create books that can stand up to inclement weather. Both the Rite in the Rain and the Alwych have over 100 pages each, the Expedition Edition is a thinner volume at 48 pages per book but are sold in sets of three. All Field notes are 3.5×5.5″, the Alwych is 3.25×5.25″ and the Rite in the Rain Memo Book is 3.5×5″.

With this pocket-sized notebook, there are options for leather covers that could turn any notebook into something durable as well as refillable. This would allow the use of any of the pocket-sized notebooks from Field Notes, Word, Doane, Scout Books, Moleskine Cahiers and so forth.

Does anyone else have any other recommendations for Sandy?

Ask The Desk: Pocket, 18-month and Fountain Pen Friendly

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One of the questions on the docket for the Pen Addict podcast this week was from Anthony Sculimbrene (@everydaycomment) regarding a pocket-sized calendar agenda with good quality paper for fountain pens and 18-month or an autumn start was preferable. This is a seriously specific request and, sadly, not many options are available. But I was able to find a few options.

This is the 4x6" academic planner from Quo Vadis, available at ShopWritersBloc

This is the 4×6″ academic planner from Quo Vadis, available at ShopWritersBloc

First, I went to Quo Vadis whose reputation for fountain pen friendly paper is universally acknowledged. I was able to find three options, of a diminutive size, all with 64g paper and using an academic calendar (starting in August or September):

I love my current Paperblanks planner but its a larger size. Paperblanks does offer an array of sizes and configurations but are no longer listing their 18-month planners on their site. A few can still be found on Amazon with a couple different cover options.

And finally, you can always take matters into your own hands and use the DIY Planner site and print out the Hipster PDA onto your favorite paper stock.

I hope this will help you on your way. There are definitely more options available if you are willing to wait for the new calendar year.

Ask The Desk: Moving Announcements

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My good friend Geoff asked me to recommend some “non-cutesy” moving announcements.


My first advice is to start on Etsy. I searched for “moving announcements” and my first few items did not feel cutesy but simple, tasteful and cool.  Clockwise from top left,  library card announcements, the simple, letterpressed cards, the vintage Hawaiiana and the handlettered cards all felt cool enough for a gent.



Tiny Prints had a nice collection of appropriately masculine and urban moving announcements. Since they are digitally printed, its possible to order small quantities and prices start around $1 per card.

Paper Pastries Address Stamp

And, of course, he’ll need a new return address stamp so the first place I thought of was my pal Margaret at Paper Pastries. I think the arrow design would be a good option for Geoff but I bet Margaret would not be averse to creating a more masculine design for the urban gent. Her prices start at $65 for an original design.

I hope these options get him started. If you have any other ideas for good moving announcements, please leave a note in the comments.

And if you have a question for The Desk, click on the “Ask The Desk” button in the blog header. Thanks!

Ask The Desk: Storing Pens Up or Down?

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Reader Teri asks,

“So, should pens and markers, etc be stored point up or point down?”


In my opinion, it differs depending on the pen.

  • I find that felt tip pens like whiteboard markers, Sharpies, Microns and highlighters are best stored with the tip down. It keeps the ink in contact with the fiber/felt tip so that it does not dry out.
  • Rollerballs and ballpoints are best if they are stored upright so they don’t leak or get gummy at the point.
  • Gel pens seem to be okay stored either up or down. I have retractables that get stored point down and capped gels that get stored cap up. Both will occasionally need a little priming to get going but neither seems to leak or gum up at all.
  • Fountain pens seem to like to be stored horizontal which keep the ink in contact with the nib but doesn’t let gravity get too sassy.
  • I tend to store pencils pointy end up but this can be dangerous, especially if you are clumsy or have small children in the house. I’d recommend to store them tip down. Mechanical pencils can be stored tip down as well.

I’ve found these are the methods that work for me but I’d love to hear other people’s opinions and comments.

Ask The Desk: Pen Testing Notebook

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Miquelrius Grid notebook

I’ve had several people ask me recently what notebook I use to test my pens, pencils and inks. A couple years ago, I found a Miquelrius Grid notebook in my collection and decided that its large capacity would make a perfect repository for all my pen and ink testing.

Miquelrius Grid notebook back

August Ink Drop 2012The book contains 300 pages with a flexible leatherette cover and a glued spine. I’ve ripped pages out over the years and the cover has started to pull away from the spine but the paper satisfied my need for a mid-range quality, bright white paper. Its not as fountain pen-friendly as some other papers but is better quality than Moleskine or office copier paper. It is a good middle-of-the-road paper to give me a starting point when experimenting with inks and pens.

Miquelrius Grid notebook vs. Rhodia Webbie

Autopoint in action

With most tools, besides pencil, I get a little show-through on the reverse side of the page but its not terrible. When I use fountain pen ink with dip pens, I do tend to get feathering and bleed-through. Overall though, the paper in the Miquelrius is a perfect compromise in terms of quality. I don’t want to test all my pens on the highest of the high-end paper because in day-to-day use, most pens end up marking photocopies handed out in meetings, Moleskines, composition books for projects and 3x5s — none of which are necessarily high-quality paper. I feel safe in saying that if a pen performs well on the Miquelrius paper, it will not misbehave too much on lower quality papers and will probably shine on high quality papers.

Parker 21 writing sample

I’ve tested vintage fountain pens, all sorts of inks including over a year’s worth of Goulet Pens’ Ink Drops, pencils, gel pens and just about everything else that’s crossed my path. The frightening thing is that I’m getting to the end of the notebook so I’m going to need to buy another one or change horses mid-race.

Miquelrius Grid notebook vs. Rhodia Webbie

To see all the pen tests and ink tests that have appeared on the pages of the mammoth Miquelrius, check out my Miquelrius Grid Flickr Set.

Uni Jetstream 0.38 black ink

The notebook measures 6 x 8.25″ and is also available in smaller configurations of 100 and 200 pages as well as the mammoth 300 page edition through the Miquelrius web site. A smaller edition is also available at 4 x 6″. Prices start at $9.99 and go up to $16.99. My notebook was purchased at my local Barnes & Noble.

Miquelrius Grid notebook vs. Rhodia Webbie

Ask The Desk: Cambridge Satchel

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Mary Ann asked:

How has the Cambridge leather satchel been working for you?
I am interested in getting one but would like to know more about it from a user.

my Cambridge satchel. tres bletchley circle!

I’ve had my Cambridge satchel for well over a year now. It is a classic English school satchel in medium brown and measures 15″x10″x4″. Its large enough to tote my 13″ MacBook Pro but on most days I don’t carry it with me since I have a workstation at work.

Cambridge Satchel

It is made from very stiff, thick leather. It needed to be treated with mink oil to help soften and loosen up the leather. Once I did that, it became a very comfortable bag to carry. Because of its generally rigid shape though, it is difficult to overstuff it like you might with a nylon bag or backpack.

Cambridge Satchel side view

The strap is adjustable by way of a buckle and is surprisingly comfortable without any extra padding. There’s a lot to be said for leather. I do wish I had purchased the model with the handle on top which would make it easier to pick up and pull in and out of the car. If you walk or take public transportation regularly, you might not need a handle but if you’re pulling the bag in and out of a car, the handle would definitely be advantageous.

It does limit how much I can carry since I can’t overstuff it which has actually been a good thing.

Cambridge Satchel inside view

I thought I’d share a peek inside the bag to give an idea of how much it will hold and still close easily.

Cambridge Satchel contents

Inside is an A5 and A6 hardcover notebook (Piccadilly and Leuchtturm 1917 respectively), my Lihit Teffa Bag-in-a-bag (holds my letter writing supplies), iPad Mini in a Macally cover, my LWA members pen case filled with lots of writing tools, a reusable shopping bag, a granola bar, hankie, Pantone business card case, keys, sunglasses, Swiss Army Secretary pocket knife, and a few loose pens.

The Cambridge Satchels are available in several other sizes and a huge array of colors. For the higher price and super durability of this bag, I chose a classic color (vintage brown) which would not feel dated or too trendy. The 15″ size like mine is $172 from the Cambridge Satchel Company. The Batchel (the same bag with a handle) is $187. And the Backpack model which is the same bag as the Batchel with straps to carry as a backpack is $195.

Bletchley Circle

If you’re looking for a classic bag made of durable materials and simple good looks, the Cambridge satchels are a good investment. I was tickled to see that a bag similar to the Cambridge satchel was carried by Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin), the main character in Bletchley Circle set in London in the 1950s. I told you its a classic.

Ask The Desk: Moleskine Portfolio Book Alternatives

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Yesterday, following Moleskine’s release of their new portfolio books, John from Pencil Revolution asked:

Anyone know of a portfolio type item that is not made by Moleskine?

This is the portfolio book in question. From the outside, it looks like a standard Moleskine notebook but on the inside its a divided pocket accordion book with an elastic closure. The 3.5″ x 5.5″ size sells for $13.95 and the 5.5″ x 8.5″ is $18.95.

Moleskine Portfolio Book

I did a little sleuthing and came up with a couple alternatives:

1. Pocket Accordion Organizer from The Container Store ($10.99): Printed on the side of this accordion pocket book is “I know I put it somewhere”. Inside is a multi-pocket accordion folder for notes and scraps and a notepad and pen. (4.125″ x 6.5″)

Container Store Folio Cover Container Store Folio

2. Knock Knock Crap Receiptables Personal Assistant Organizer from ModCloth ($13.99): This cheeky option includes a notepad printed with “Endless Crap” at the top, stickers for the tabbed accordion folder and comes with a ballpoint pen. (7.25″ x 4″)

KnockKnock Crap Folio

KnockKnock Crap Foilo Inside

3. Paperthinks Memo Pocket Notebooks ($14.95): This is my favorite choice. Its made from recycled leather, includes a notepad for lists and notes and an expandable divided pocket. Its available in 24 different colors including my favorite, lime green. (3.5″ x 6″)

Paperthinks Memo Notes

Paperthinks Memo Notes

Hope this helps and if anyone has any other options, please leave a note in the comments.