Guest post: Nostalgia

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Guest blogger Kate Marshall takes a trip down memory lane with a post on Mead’s iconic black-and-white composition books…

Regular readers may know that I’ve been journaling for a long time. I started out using Mead composition books and Parker Vector cartridge pens. After a few years I switched to all sorts of random books. A few weeks ago, though, I used a regular composition book for the first time in about 15 years. The paper was not that much fun to write on. Had it always been like this when I was an awkardly-dressed middle-schooler who clearly didn’t know better about paper quality? Or had copybook paper quality just deteriorated since the early ˜90s?

Well, I did some lazy experimenting and found: it’s a little of both. My current pens (quality stuff like Lamys and Pelikans) were not big fans of my 1993 and 1994 journals: feathering, bleeding, and the writing experience just felt scratchy. Then I found some Parker Vectors on eBay and tried them in a new copybook, along with the fancy-pants pens. Aaannd it was not great. It’s like writing on cheap copy paper: lots of show-through because the paper’s thin, some feathering, etc. It made me sad. When I was little, I never worried about how the ink interacted with the paper or the nib wasn’t playing nice with the ink. As much as I love using good tools now, I sometimes wonder if it’s possible to write twenty pages on a scratchy legal pad with a 99-cent ballpoint and not care.

Nah 🙂

10 thoughts on “Guest post: Nostalgia

  1. I’m a fan of Norcom Composition Notebooks made in Brazil as well. I use one every day with a MB 144 classique fountain pen with an F-M cursive italic nib and either Sheaffer Skrip Black or Parker Quink Black inks. No feathering or bleed-through. Last late summer I purchased 12 or so of these Brazilian comp notebooks for 25 cents each!

    For a higher quality comp notebook, one might consider this one, though I’ve not ever tried it:|level=2-3|pageid=2438

  2. Imagine a marbled comp notebook with Rhodia paper…But then, somehow, the plain, beautiful ordinariness of this quintessential American school supply might be lost. It is one of the few items from my childhood that you can still buy cheaply, casually, at a drugstore. While the paper quality has decreased tremendously, I am even more afraid of the shift to those awful floppy covers that Steve mentions. Those are really hideous!

    I wonder what the history is of these notebooks, when they first appeared and what changes have been made in their design through the years. I sent an inquiry to Mead and to Roaring Springs (which still makes them in the USA, by the way)but received no response.

      • Only the notebooks from Roaring Springs seem to be made in the USA anymore, unless I have only encountered new-old stock. Roaring Springs make very interesting comp notebooks, by the way, including the classic ruled type, another with gridded paper, and a blank version.

        Don’t hold your breath for a response from Mead…From what I can tell, marbled notebooks seem to become common from the 1950’s on. But I might be wrong. Surprising how little information is out there about such a quintessential American object.

  3. Another vote for the Brazil-made Norcom composition books. I don’t use fountain pens, either, but these particular composition books have a cult following over at The Fountain Pen Network. Wal-Mart carries them (in wide-rule format), and during back to school time they’ll have stacks for 50 cents apiece. Last year Norcom went to a flimsier cover stock at least on the ones it supplies to Wal-Mart, but I found that Office Depot carried Norcom Brazilians with the heavier cover, college ruled, for $1.00 apiece. Back-to-school time is when one finds the best selection of these. I’ll be interested to see if this year’s crop can be found with the sturdier covers. I’m worried that Office Depot may have scored the last of those, but we shall see.

    For the life of me I don’t understand why some vendor of quality paper doesn’t come out with a version of the standard composition book with quality paper and the heavy cardboard covers of long ago. To me, they are the ideal notebook — wonderfully proportioned at 9×7 inches, 200 pages of lined paper securely stitched to the cover. They are also a uniquely American notebook, so it’s a shame the way we’ve let this icon become an also ran in the world of notebooks.

  4. It depends. Many contemporary marbled comp books are terrible indeed, but those that are produced in Brazil for the American market seem to have much better paper. Always check where the notebook is made. If it says India or Vietnam, chances of it having good paper are slim. Look for the Made in Brazil notebooks by Norcom and some other companies. CVS drugstores have their own brand of notebook, Calibre, which contains decent paper and has a somewhat old-fashioned label on the cover. Truth be told, I usually use pencils in the comp notebooks, so the problem of ink bleed-through isn’t as much of an issue for me.

  5. The quality of composition books has declined, for sure. As a schoolkid (1960s) I used Royal “Vernon Line” composition books, with varnished (water-resistant) covers (!) and watermarked paper (!). This was standard-issue stuff that could be had at any stationery store. Not a single photo to be found online, but there’s a picture a Royal inside-back-cover in R. Crumb’s Crumb Family Comics (1998).

  6. I wrote my first attempts at novels (back in middle school!) in Mead marbled composition notebooks. I felt a curious pride as I would fill them up and stack them high. I guess because they were bound they felt more grown up to me than my Big Chief tablets I’d used before. My mom still has all my old composition notebooks with those early stories. Thank you for the memories!

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