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To paper aficionados, Rhodia is a familiar name. But for many people, when you've seen one notepad, you've seen 'em all. But that is not so. This blog is for you.

When you write on paper, be it with a pencil, a ballpoint, a rollerball or a fountain pen, the two react in different ways depending on the quality and type of the paper, the ink and even your writing style: you may press hard and have big, loopy letters, or you may be a bit of a mouse and write tiny words with a delicate paw. Sometimes - especially with letters writ large in a broad-tipped ballpoint - the paper will curl up as you write, which is annoying. Nobody likes unrolling the pages of a notebook before it can be closed. And if your preferred weapon with words is a fountain pen, you may find you can't use the other side of a sheet of paper because the ink has bled through. Same with marker pens, especially alcoholic ones.

So what do you do? You may like big fat ballpoints to write your big fat words, or enjoy the extravagant inkiness of using a fountain pen, and don't want to give up that pleasure (and why on earth should you?) So trade in your paper - try Rhodia.

Established 87 years ago in Lyon, France by brothers Henri and Robert Verilhac, the company is now part of the Exacompta-Clairefontaine family and operates out of Mulhouse, near the Swiss border. The covers are distinctive: the bright orange with the black twin pines logo remains their signature 'look', although there are plenty of other colours to choose from, but what links them is their simplicity. They look very ordinary, but their plain Jane style hides some very useful features. They're water-resistant for a start. They wouldn't emerge unscathed from being left outside in a rainstorm, but they'd fare just fine if caught in a summer shower. The covers fold over; it's such a simple thing, but being able to open up your notebook and tuck the cover neatly back without it either flipping forward again or falling off altogether is small pleasure. The staples that go through the cover are attached using a process called 'Sangrif' which basically means that while visible on the front, they're not on the back, so there's no risk of bits of metal catching on clothes or skin, or scratching either yourself or your desk.

The raw material for the paper is sourced largely from waste product - sawmill waste and cuttings from pruned and thinned trees - which renders the paper not only sustainable but wholly recyclable. It's then processed in the Clairefontaine mill in Etival, which was established in 1858 and supplies what's widely regarded as some of the best paper in the world, catering for all applications from school exercise books and writing paper to calligraphy and fine art. Once in the Mulhouse factory, the page layout is printed using water-based ink and then microperforations are added, which makes tearing off sheets of paper a curiously enjoyable experience - and results in a cleanly-edged document instead of the sort of bit of paper that you'd stuff into a pocket. Finally, a stiff card backing is added, which provides a sturdy surface to lean on if you have no table to hand. Although the manufacturing process is machine-driven (or it would take a very long time to produce just one notebook!) each step is supervised by a living, breathing human being.

The result is a writing surface that is robust enough to withstand the onslaught of a wide variety of different types of pen, from a standard ballpoint to a finely-wrought fountain pen nib. Its satin finish is smooth without being slippery, satisfyingly opaque and beautifully white. It makes using a notebook, practising calligraphy or keeping a journal a deliciously pleasurable experience.

So, like we said, why not trade in your paper? It's that simple. It might cost a bit more than you're used to, but don't swap your pen of choice for something less worthy just because the paper can't handle the truth.

7 September 2021


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