Blessed be the notebooks of Modo & Modo, draped in cloth of oil, born in Tours of France. Standing tall of 14 by wide of 9, split through mark of cloth and strapped by rubber and cotton with corners curved. Thy name is Moleskine.

I can’t lie, I love these books. I adore these books. These books do things to me that no book should do, especially a book whose pages are empty. The allure of these little books is quite enigmatic, there are countless alternatives, most of which are significantly cheaper. Yet the quality of these beautiful books have won the love of many, the world over.

Note: I’m going to be writing in general about the Moleskine range, however, for the most part will be talking of the Basic Ruled (Pocket) version in mind.

If you’ve ever purchased one of the notebooks in the Moleskine range, you’ll most likely be familiar with the history behind them. In the little pocket in the back of most editions, there comes a small folded booklet explaining their history and origin. “…used by European artists and thinkers for the past two centuries, from Van Gogh to Picasso, from Ernest Hemingway to Bruce Chatwin” boasts the marketers at Modo & Modo. It is Chatwins name which holds the most significance, as he is the one whose notebooks are the basis for the current line of Moleskines.

He ordered a hundred books to ensure a healthy supply

He loved the books so, that when the manufacturer of the books he was purchasing closed up shop, he ordered a hundred books to ensure a healthy supply. The death of the owner of the business whom manufactured these books died in 1986 and his family decided to close down the business. Just over a decade later, Modo & Modo trademarked the brand Moleskine and started to produce a notebook, which is basically identical to that owned by Chatwin, as described in his novel The Songlines;

“I pulled from my pocket a black, oil cloth-covered notebook,
Its pages held in place with an elastic band …
… I wrote my name and address on the front page,
offering a reward to the finder”

It is mostly due to marketing that the names of Van Gogh, Picaso and Hemingway appear in the history of the Moleskine. Van Goghs’ notebooks probably come the closest to the current design. His books had a cloth ribbon to keep it shut, as well as what appears to be a small pocket at the back of the book—it’s hard to tell if the cover is as study or of a similiar material as the current line of Moleskine notebooks, but it comes pretty close. Picassos’ book is also more or less the same, but it is Hemingways association that seems to be the loosest. His mention of a notebook small enough to fit into his coats’ inside pocket is all that was needed for it to be proclamined a moleskineeque design. But really, they are all just pocket notebooks with a dark, durable cover.

You notice it because it is unnoticable

A look at the stories page on the Moleskine site shows various examples of similiar notebooks used by famous creatives throughout history—essentially showing how, historically speaking, the design isn’t unique. In todays world of super crisp-white notebooks, with average stock and bright covers or chunky leather covers or hard plastic covers, it is the simplicity and craftsmanship of the Moleskine that helps set it apart. The book is subtle and not overbearing—you notice it because it is unnoticable—it’s a highly refined design, with the only branding or change in the soft, smooth cover being the imprint of Moleskine on the back, as well as the binding points of the elastic wrap-around.

Opening to the first page, you are presented with a thick paper stock with space to write an “in case of loss” address and how much you’d offer as a reward is found—most likely inspired by Chatwins example. Turn the page again and the paper stock that makes these books so lovely is shown in all its glory, marked with either soft grey lines to write on, a grid or no lines at all—depending on your flavour of Moleskine. It is this stock, as well as the high grade of craftsmanship that sets these notebooks aprart from its competitors. And such a well selected paper stock it is; the off-white stock lusts for the markings of your ink or graphite, giving such a smooth ride, that once you start marking the pages, you don’t want to stop.

The off-white stock lusts for the
markings of your ink or graphite

The Moleskine range has grown quite considerably in the last decade or so. I would go through the list of 30 or so varieties that are available (that number doesn’t include the various sizes—do that and we’d be up in the 80s I would guess) but I’ll save you the trouble and suggest you just go to the Moleskine catalogue page and have a look yourself. It’s safe to say that whatever your need, chances are there is a Moleskine that’ll feel right for you. From standard notebooks with ruled lines to address books, diaries, reporter notebooks, storeyboard books, hard cover, soft cover, card cover notebooks, there is quite a selection. However, the notebook which steps away from the pack is the City Notebook.

The idea behind this new line is that you fill in
your own Lonely Planet inspired guide

In 2006, Modo & Modo released the City Notebooks, a new range of notebooks for the globe trotting types. There are several notebooks in this new series, each based around different cities around the United States and Europe, which include maps, blank & tabbed pages and a number of removable pages. Toted as the first guide you write yourself, the idea behind this new line is that you fill in your own Lonely Planet inspired guide, to help you remember your journey in an interesting way. You can circle the cafe in where you got the great short black or mark off the gallery and describe what it was like to see that painting for the first time, throw in some ticket stubs, a postcard or two and that cute Europeans phone number and you got a great capsule for memories.

To celebrate these new notebooks, there was a series of exhibitions around the globe. Modo & Modo, Lettera27 and local organisations in London and New York all worked together to hold the exhibitions that showed the works done by a huge array of creative folk in their faveorite little notebooks.

Familiar names such as Paula Scher, Paul Davis, Karim Rashid, Ginette Caron and a considerable number of others (128 or so by my count) took part in the shows and displayed some very interesting, intriguing and creative results. Luckily, thanks to the wonders that is broadband internet, YouTube and the folks behind the exhibitions, video tours of their notebooks are available, below is a video of the notebook of Paula Scher, one of many which can be found on YouTube.

The Moleskine notebook works exactly how
a notebook should—it invites you to make a mark

All bizare obsesive love for an empty book aside, when it comes down to it, the Moleskine notebooks are just that—Notebooks. But there is something special about them, be it their paperstock, their history or their craftsmanship. You almost feel like you’re part of an elite group when you can boast that your book is similiar in concept to that of Hemingway or Picaso and that some of the most creative illustrators, writers and designers you know of stand by them. For me, when I start to run my pen on the paper, I enjoy it with a slight smirk. They’re simple, not flashy, they don’t scream in your face, fit in your pocket and are unobtrusive. It is because of this that they succeed. It is this humble nature that the Moleskine notebook works exactly how a notebook should—it invites you to make a mark.