“What do you do?” “Uh… we make personalised stationery”
I thought what it was posting looked really interesting — not just the stationery-related stuff, but some lovely automobilia too, for those of you who might be interested. And it’s a UK company, so I checked out the site.
Personalised Stationery has basically got two lines of business: the first is personalised stationery (duh), like letterheads, wedding invitations, moving cards and the like, which you can design or personalise and order online. I’ve been thinking of having some letterheaded paper and envelopes printed, so that’s what drew me in.
The second line of business is a huge portfolio of notebooks, in many, many different cover designs — some of which are wonderfully quirky and uniquely British. Where else can you get a notebook that looks like a wartime National Savings stamp book, or the Top Secret naval operations orders to Operation Neptune in 1944, or if your tastes run differently, flowers, sugar skulls or spiders?
Indecisive people: watch out
You get the choice of plain, ruled, dot, squared, or seyes ruled — an unusual format from French schools. You also get the choice of sizes ranging from mini up to PQ, which is somewhere between A4 and A5 in size. So you’re likely to find the right format for you.
Of course, design and choice are great, but execution is what counts.
I got in touch to ask for some review samples, which landed a week or so ago. It was a hefty package, with seven different notebooks inside.
As far as I can tell, all the notebooks have the same 300gsm card covers, three staples, and mid-weight 85gsm paper stock. Most of the notebooks I received were lined, with a single dot-grid and couple of plain in the mix. The dotting is pale grey, the lines are light blue. Those notebooks that are billed as journal inserts have square-cut corners; the others have very nicely executed rounded corners.
All are hand-made in the UK (it says so on the back cover of each notebook) and each one is packaged simply with a kraft card belly band. The journal inserts each bear the Personalised Stationery logo (an ampersand in a circle) on the covers.
Putting pen to paper
So, those are the facts. What about the writing experience?
Overall, it’s pretty good. The paper has a little bit of tooth, probably because it’s uncoated. Dry times are fast, again probably because it’s uncoated and therefore absorbent. This made some of my dryer-running pens feel a little draggy, but it will help avoid smudging in quickfire pocket use.
I noticed some feathering, but of an unusual sort: rather than a pervasive fuzziness around all the lines, there was just the occasional hairline of ink shooting off down a paper fiber for a couple of millimeters. By the standards of most pocket notebooks, it’s really nothing to worry about.
Even more impressive is that there’s hardly any show-through and no bleedthrough at all.
I tried the paper out with wet nibs, dark saturated inks, firehose music nibs, and even flex nibs (which tend to scratch into the paper). None produced any bleedthrough, and the reverse side of every page was perfectly usable, no questions asked. At 85g, this is not thick stock, so I was really quite surprised by how good the performance is. By comparison, I’m currently working my way through a Nock notebook at the moment and the reverse sides are totally unusable, no matter what pen I’ve been using.
Counting the pennies
You’re probably wanting to know how a notebook that’s hand-made in the UK compares to the competition on the all-important factor of price.
The A5 notebook has 52 pages, and costs £3.95. Clairefontaine’s retro 1951 exercise books have 96 pages and cost under £2. Rhodia’s 96-page saddle-stitched notebooks are about the same. And both Rhodia and Clairefontaine have a good reputation for quality. So the Personalised Stationery notebooks are not budget options if you’re looking for larger sizes.
On the other hand, Personalised Stationery’s A6 notebooks — just that bit wider than a Field Notes — also have 52 pages and run at £7.95 for three. That’s cheaper than Field Notes or Calepino, both of which have their three-packs running over £9 in the UK. And they only have 48 pages per book. So, if you’re not wedded to the usual 3.5×5.5″ format, Personalised Stationery might be a good option for your next pocket notebook. Personally I find them a bit too wide and a bit too stiff to go into the jeans pocket due to the heavy card stock, and I unfortunately am wedded to the US sizing due to my investment in Nock notebook cases!
For me, the PQ size is the unexpected winner. I like having a notebook that’s a bit more spacious than A5, and still light and flexible (like an exercise book instead of a hardbound notebook).
Ticking all the boxes
Personalised Stationery has nailed two of the most important factors needed to succeed in this most crowded of markets.
First, a quality product. The paper is very good, the build quality even. These don’t feel like products knocked up in someone’s shed; they’re made with care.
Second, a distinctive brand. PS’s is built around choice (of size, of cover, of paper ruling), and its quirky British voice. You know that you’ll be able to get just the right notebook to match your preferences, and with all the designs on offer, you’ll probably find the perfect gift for the stationery lover in your life, too (and if you don’t… did I mention that you can customise the designs of the notebooks, too?).
What’s most impressive is that you can get all this, hand-made here in the UK, for a price that’s competitive with much bigger brands. I wish the company all the best of success flying the flag in this cutthroat market.