When it comes to discovering and writing about things in the world of pens, inks and paper, I’m usually way behind the curve. What is new and exciting to me is usually old hat to others. For once (and more by luck than judgement) I seem to be an early adopter. The item in question is the Rhodia Heritage notebook. In reality this is more of a ‘first impressions’ than a full-blown review as I’ve only just got my hands on some, but I suspect that they will be popular and wanted to share my thoughts.
In the fountain pen world, Rhodia is probably best known for its range of notepads. Pretty much every ink review you read is written on a Rhodia pad of some kind – and with good reason. Apart from the quality of the paper, the other distinguishing feature of Rhodia pads is their covers: orange, black or white. It’s these colours that form the basis of the cover designs for the Heritage range. That said it’s also about the point where any similarity with the notepads finishes.
Rhodia has backed up the Heritage name with a very retro-looking notebook. Covers come in a choice of geometric patterns – Tartan, Escher, Quadrille and Chevron. (Rhodia don’t list the Chevron design on their own web pages, but I have one so they must exist, right?). I like the Tartan most, but the Escher and Chevron are pretty appealing too. My least favourite is the Quadrille pattern, but that’s just a matter of personal preference.
The covers are made from a nicely textured cold pressed papers onto which the design is printed. Beneath these is a quality codex-bound book made up of multiple signatures. Each signature is made up of three sheets, by which I mean once the paper is folded and stitched you have 12 pages of A5. These are well stitched together and bound, meaning the book opens flat without any need to even threaten the use of force, so a big thumbs up to Rhodia. Perhaps it’s only to be expected from such a giant of the paper world, but it’s also a relief that they got this absolutely on the money – not everyone does.
Where the binding and finishing differs from most notebooks is that there is no cover on the spine, what Rhodia calls ‘raw’. Where you might expect to see at least some binding tape, if not something more elaborate, you get nothing. This differs from pretty much every notebook I’ve ever owned. The only thing remotely close is a Moo notebook. Although the Moo is hardbound, when you open the book up, the front cover falls away to reveal the spine.
I suspect this may make the Heritage a little more vulnerable to damage, particularly if you treat your books harshly. In practice this is only likely to enhance the vintage look and feel. I guess time will tell, but I’m not unduly worried about this.
So, we have a notebook that looks good and opens properly – what’s it like on the inside? I suspect reactions will depend on how you like your paper. If crisp white is your thing, you may struggle with these notebooks. I prefer my paper off-white and with a bit of warmth and I’m pleased to say that Rhodia has backed up the exterior looks with paper that also looks fantastic and is a joy to write on. You get 80 sheets (160 pages) of 90g A5 Clairefontaine ivory-coloured vellum paper, which comes as either a 5mm grid or 7mm ruled.
Lines and grids are orange, with an approximately 1cm margin all round (slightly wider on the bound side of the page). The edge of the page that faces into the binding also has a narrow orange margin, which (I think) further adds to the appeal. Corners are rounded. In case you haven’t had enough orange, guess what colour the end papers are.
In terms of layout the 160 pages breaks down as a 6 page index with 152 numbered pages of notebook. The top right corner of every other page has a rectangular box you could use for the date or some other reference point for your notes/writing.
In use, the paper performs well with no apparent signs of feathering. As it’s 90g paper, you get very little show-through. I did have some issues with show-through using Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki, but that was from my slightly temperamental Onoto semi-flex pen. It’s nearly 100 years old and has a tendency to ‘sneeze’ from time to time, depositing way more ink than it should. That said I’m pretty confident that under more normal conditions, this paper will take pretty much whatever you can throw at it.
This paper has no problem bringing out shading, if that’s your thing. Where it struggles is with sheen. In my experience, pretty much every Rhodia or Clairefontaine paper I’ve tried will suppress sheen, and this one doesn’t seem to be any different. While I like my sheen, this is not enough to be a deal-breaker for me on these books.
A couple of issues with these notebooks seem to be availability and pricing. The Rhodia website won’t sell you a Heritage notebook direct – you have to email them for details of a retailer that stocks them. In the UK, they initially appeared exclusive to Bureau Direct, although Pure Pens have recently announced that they are stocking them. Prices from Bureau Direct are £12.95 per book (you can get free postage on orders over £10), and from Pure Pens are £9.95 per book (you have to spend over £20 to get free postage).
Update – Cult Pens are now also selling these books, but they are asking £16.95! It definitely pays to shop around.
While I was waiting for mine to arrive from Bureau Direct, I wandered into The Pen and Paper and found they were selling the same said books at £6.50 a time! These books aren’t listed on their website at the time of writing and I don’t know if it’s possible to place an order over the phone or by email with them. I should also say that since I discovered what they were charging, I bought 5 of them! I didn’t completely empty the display so good luck in bagging a bargain.
Hopefully these books will become more widely available and pricing will settle down a little. At £12.95 these books are not cheap, but aren’t outrageous when compared to (say) Midori MD or Life Noble notebooks. At £9.95, they become a much more attractive proposition and if you can pick them up for anything like £6.50 – knock yourself out!
Overall I really like these notebooks. In terms of function, they deliver what you’d expect from a high end notebook. In terms of look, they’re really striking and visually appealing. Rhodia has managed to pull off the trick of producing something that simultaneously fits their product range while managing to look nothing like any of their other offerings.