I’m pleased to say that over the past year, the Writing Box has held up perfectly and it still sees daily use as a lapdesk for journalling and for holding notebooks. My use of it may not be as Instagrammable as some (it’s just loaded with notebooks, no fancy quills and brass rulers) but it’s a core part of my writing kit nonetheless.
So I thought it was high time I got back in touch with Galen to see what was new. Yunus ended up sending me a big box full of stuff to try out, and it felt like Christmas unpacking it. Galen have always impressed me with their customer service, but their packaging is even better.
Everything is beautifully packed in branded boxes and bags, with rustic card documentation, sachets of tea and Turkish coffee, postcards and other little gestures to sell you on the experience.
You can look forward reviews of everything Galen sent me, but I wanted to dive right in with the review of the biggest product, the Medic Bag, and put it in comparison to the Writing Box. Consider these my first impressions after spending a couple of happy days mucking about with it.
The Medic Bag is a small, square-cornered leather bag, designed for toting stationery. It looks at first glance like quite a conventional satchel, but when you open it out, its innovations are apparent.
Let me take you on a little tour.
Closed, the bag stands on its own flat bottom. There’s no grab handle or other means of carrying, apart from a simple shoulder strap that attaches to the back panel, and a little loop that I assume helps you convert it into a backpack.
Aside from a few rivets and stitching, the whole bag is made of rustic, 2mm-thick leather, mostly creatively folded from a single seamless piece. It’s stiff already, but has some reinforcements inside to add even more structure. This thing will not fall apart any time soon.
The leather is beautiful: mine is in ‘Crazy Horse Green’, which is a dark, mossy pine forest green. The hardware is aged brass, which goes really nicely with the green. It’s also available in brown, which will be the unobtrusive choice.
Note that there are no rivets or other hardware on the bottom, so watch out you don’t put it down in a puddle.
There are no outside-accessible pouches or pockets, but this is not really supposed to be a normal bag or manbag.
The main flap fully covers the contents, no gapping around the sides, so nothing will fall out and no dust or water will get in.
The flap is secured shut by a peg and loop fastener that’s simple to open and shut one-handed, after you’ve had a little practice.
Open the flap and you can access the contents of the bag from the top as normal, or you can try its party trick and pull down the front panel entirely. It’s held on at the sides by magnets.
With the flap down, you can see some of the bag’s organisation.
Inside the front flap is a flat fabric organiser, with several card sleeves and a zippered pouch.
Facing outward in the main part of the bag is a row of elastic loops: six narrow, two wider, and one big enough to slip three fingers in. On the far right is a brass and leather keyring hanger.
Here is where I start to have a few concerns about the bag.
First, the elastic loops are pretty tight. Actually, really tight. I struggled to get a Sailor Pro Gear, Montblanc 146 or Lamy 2000 into one of the narrow loops, and for a Scribo Feel I had to use one of the wide loops on the right. I wouldn’t even attempt to put my 17mm Nakaya, Montblanc 149 or other fat pen in here. I hope they loosen up in time. At least the pens are held securely.
Unless you like the very slimmest of pens and pencils, you might find these loops less than useful for your pens.
Second, the metal zip on the fabric organiser faces the pen loops, running horizontally at cap height. Because the bag isn’t rigid, there’s nothing to stop this zip pressing against your pens and scratching them.
Nightmare. I might try to solve this by inserting a thick piece of card into the organiser slot to cover the zip, but that kind of cludge doesn’t seem very elegant. The scratch risk from the keyring is easier to fix: I’ll remove it.
The pen panel is stitched in to the body of the bag on gussets, so the compartment behind it can expand somewhat. This main compartment is a really good size: it’ll hold B5 notebooks, which means A5 ones drop in easily. And it’s thick enough that you can fit three good-size notebooks in there without bother.
The only thing to be aware of is that the construction leaves the bottom of the pen panel free floating, so there is the possibility of any small objects falling out, particularly from the corners. But if you use this back space just for notebooks it’s perfect.
One final note there: don’t use this compartment for anything scratchable, like an iPad. The strap mounts on the outside are attached with screwed rivets, and the screwheads are exposed on the inside. They will mar whatever they touch.
Now, how does this compare to the Writing Box? Well, it’s much more portable for a start. It has straps to carry it with. It’s a smaller size and the soft leather means it fits better into spaces without a lot of clunking around.
The Medic Bag is deeper and has more space inside, partly because the wood of the Writing Box is thick and takes up a lot of the volume.
The Writing Box has two big advantages: it holds A4 sheets, and its rigid sides mean you can use it as a writing surface.
Aside from both looking great on Instagram loaded with your stationery, these two products are very different, indeed complementary.
I would (and in fact do) use the Writing Box at home, as a journalling accessory for my living room.
The Medic Bag I can see being perfect for pen meets, cafe trips and other outings, where you want the ease of carrying a soft bag with straps, and already have a table to actually rest on and write, but still want plenty of organisation for writing equipment. Of course, it’ll also be perfect for artists using pencils and other materials, not just for writers.
The Medic Bag is £177 right now, and since Turkey is outside the EU you’ll probably pay some charges on import. This means it’s not a particularly cheap option. But as far as I’m aware, this design is unique. And perhaps most importantly, Galen uses the best materials, superb quality construction (if you like the rustic look), and you get the outstanding customer service of a small family business. On that basis, I am happy with the pricing.
The only downsides are the scratch risks. Those are pretty big stumbling blocks for me, because I am absolutely obsessed with looking after my pens. I could keep my pens in a pen case inside the bag, but that would rather defeat the design of the bag. I like the Medic Bag a lot, so I’m going to look for a solution to these problems rather than abandoning it. Take that as a good sign.