There are notebooks. And there are notebooks. Some are the type you use to scribble down your shopping list, or shove in your bag in case you have a brilliant idea in the middle of B&Q. But others transcend those lowly functions. They're too nice to cower in the bottom of your bag surrounded by forgotten fluff-covered fruit pastilles; they deserve a higher calling. They need to be your journal or your diary, or contain ideas for your novel, or notes on your travels. They need to be something you take with you when you go away for a weekend, or on holiday, just because they're part of the stash of stuff you want with you all the time, like your phone and your current reading matter. Such a notebook needs to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling or - at the very least - prompt a smile when you take it out to write in it.
Notebooks from the Stamford Notebook Company will do that. Established in the 1950s by Peter Spiegl, a bookbinder by trade, the company is based in the little Georgian town of Stamford, in Lincolnshire, which was once described by Sir John Betjeman as 'England's most attractive town'. Not only are Stamford Notebooks as good-looking as the town in which they're made (which is pretty important when it comes to something that's part of your stash of stuff) the way they're made is both comfortingly old-school and refreshingly forward-thinking.
Old-school, because they're made entirely by hand. Skilled craftsmen and -women use centuries-old techniques to fold, sew and trim the paper, and carry out case-making and casing-in. Even the leather is cut, dyed, sewn and finished by hand, and is vegetable-tanned, which is not only an ancient, traditional method of treating leather, it's organic too. This means that every notebook is - perhaps in only a minuscule way - unique. Even the sizing they use is old-school and relates to how printers indicated the size of a book in relation to the size of the original sheet from which its paper was cut: quarto (a quarter the size of the original sheet: a little smaller than A5) and octavo (an eighth the size, roughly 90mm x 140mm).
And forward-thinking because their raw materials are sustainably sourced. Offcuts from the leather industry (shoes and upholstery) are reprocessed back into usable sheets or rolls. They're then coloured and embossed with the final grain and given new life as a Recycled Leather notebook, entailing far less waste and a consistent thickness. The paper inside the notebooks comes from Kendal in Cumbria, and by sourcing from there, the Stamford Notebook Company contributes to the planting of over 200 square metres of woodland every year through the Woodland Trust Carbon Capture Programme.
The result is a remarkable collection of notebooks for the writer, the artist, the journaler and the diarist, where the attention to detail in terms of sourcing, hand-crafting and presentation - even down to the last length of thread - is eye-watering in its precision. As the Stamford Notebook Company puts it: 'To create a book by hand, that will serve its purpose, is a pleasure.' And it's an equal pleasure to own one.
29 July 2021