R. L. Allan’s Journal (Third Generation)

I've written in the past about the original Allan's Journal, about matching Bibles with notebooks, and even about my search for the perfect tan notebook. Now, with the debut of the third generation of Allan's Journals, it's time for another installment in the occasional series. This time, the journals are available in two sizes and a variety of colors, in both buffalo grain goatskin and highland goatskin. They're designed to be ideal companions to R. L. Allan's spectacular line of quality-bound Bibles. 

It might be too late to snag one with stocking-stuffing in mind, but if you'd like to try, I'll start off with the ordering and pricing information. You can order the Allan's Journal directly from R. L. Allan in Scotland, paying £20 for the Pocket Journal and £25 for its big brother, or you can get them through EvangelicalBible.com in California, where you'll pay $35 and $42,respectively. The Pocket Journal measures 6 1/8" x 4 1/2" x 3/8", with 256 pages of lined, lightweight writing paper, and comes in your choice of black, tan or brown highland goatskin. The full-size Journal boasts the same number of pages, measuring 7 3/4" x 5 1/16" x 3/8", in your choice of antique brown or black buffalo grain goatskin. Every journal has a sewn binding, a ribbon bound in, and art-gilt page edges.

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Above: The Pocket Journal line-up: black, tan, and brown.

Below: The full-size Journal in antique brown buffalo grain goatskin.

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If you paid attention to the measurements, you'll notice that while the Journal and the Pocket Journal have very different scales, they're both the same thickness. Or should I say thinness? Because they feel very thin in the hand. The lightweight paper delivers a high page count in a slender package, which is wonderful for portability, though there are some trade-offs, as we'll see. 

The Journal's size makes it ideal for, well, journaling, while the Pocket Journal is scaled best for jotting. You'll tuck the Journal into your briefcase, while the Pocket Journal travels, well, in your pocket. (This isn't rocket science.) 

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Above: The two sizes compared.

For a better idea of real world scale, let's look at how the two options compare with popular compact Bibles, in this case the Cambridge Pitt Minion in brown goatskin and the R. L. Allan Personal Size Reference ESV in red alhambra goatskin. The Pocket Journal is slightly smaller than a Pitt Minion, while the Journal is a touch taller than a PSR.

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What about the Moleskine? Here we have a paper-bound Volant on top of the black Pocket Journal, with the antique brown Journal underneath. The Pocket Journal is taller and wider than a Moleskine, so it fills a pocket better. The softbound goatskin cover rides better in a pocket than a hardback Moleskine, too. In fact, I'd recommend that you carry the Pocket Journal in your back pocket for awhile to accelerate the break-in process. 

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The Pocket Journal's highland goatskin cover doesn't have the out-of-the-box limpness of the Allan Bibles bound in the same stuff. Instead, it's slightly stiff in the same way the buffalo grain covers are. The character evolves with use, though, softening, losing a bit of its shine, looking comfortably lived-in. In that regard, I'd compare these journal covers to the Cambridge Pitt Minion ESV, which started out stiff for my taste and with use has grown so … perfect … that I can't believe I was bad-mouthing it a few months back. The journals have semi-yapp edges, but they project straight out. Some time in the pocket seems to help mold them around the pages.

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Like most small journals, these do not spring open and lie flat. They'll open flat, but you have to hold them that way. Nothing surprising there. In terms of fit and finish, the Allan journals are comparable to the much pricier ones offered by Smythson. In other words, very nice. Like the Smythson notebooks, these come with ultra-thin paper, the same lined sheets bound in the back of some Allan Bibles. That makes them skinny, but it also means you have to choosier with your writing instrument than you would with an ordinary notebook. 

I rounded up the four pens I'm most likely to use on a daily basis: a Fisher Space Pen I carry in my pocket, a pencil-thin Scheaffer ballpoint that fits in my Filofax loop, and two rollerballs from my briefcase, a Parker Duotone and a Montegrappa. Most rollerball inserts seem to come in Medium (like most fountain pen nibs), which is pretty useless for me, so I've switched these out to Fine points with much better results. Here's how they did on the page:

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And here's what you get on the reverse:

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(Now you know why I don't do much hand modeling.) Everything I wrote left an impression visible on the reverse side, and the rollerballs were quite pronounced. No ink bled through, but writing on both sides of this page with a rollerball would look a bit chaotic. As with Bible paper, I'd recommend using ballpoints or those nerdy looking archival pens. This is comparable to what I've experienced with my Smythson notebooks, by the way. 

The rules (i.e., lines) on the Allan pages are very tight. As you can see from the photos, my tiniest writing fills the space. I'm accustomed to slightly more generous rules like the ones on a standard sheet of Filofax paper. If you have larger handwriting, you might want to take up two lines instead of one for the sake of comfort.

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In theory, I prefer the naturally grained highland goatskin, but there's no denying that the buffalo grain covers are extraordinarily beautiful. I've been using the tan Pocket Journal, but I've been ogling the brown full-sized Journal. Can you blame me?

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If black is your color, then there are two fine options, one in either size. (I don't have one of the larger black Journals to show you, but I imagine they're identical to the black Allan ESV3.) For tan, you need to go with the smaller option. When it comes to brown, I have to say, I'm loving the buffalo grain's complex color quite a lot, and while my theoretical commitment to natural grain leather tells me I'm crazy, I think it's nicer than the highland goatskin in brown. Here's a study in brown so you can decide for yourself:

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The original Allan's Journal was a bit of a Moleskine-killer in my book, twice the price and maybe ten times the quality. The strategy now seems to be different. Instead of competing against the Moleskine form factor, the Pocket Journal scales upward, which makes it more comfortable to write in but not quite as handy. I think it's a good choice. The heirloom quality of these journals make them pretty unique at this price point. 

If it were up to me, I'd probably sacrifice some of the slimness for thicker paper to accommodate a wider range of inks, but there's something nifty about the thought that the paper in your notebook and the paper in the back of your Allan Bible are one and the same.

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I've only had these for a short time. Remind me in a couple of months to check back in with an update. I'm looking forward to seeing how a little use and abuse transform the look. In the meantime, I think these would make beautiful Christmas gifts, don't you?

28 Comments on “R. L. Allan’s Journal (Third Generation)

  1. Maybe if it didn’t say “Journal” on the front. Moleskine still makes the best journals, I suppose.

  2. I have been looking something like this for a long, long time. Something that could even slip into my Brooks Brothers suit or overcoat pocket. The Pocket Journal would seem to be a solid fit. The biggest reason I am balking at purchasing is described in the title of the post “R. L. Allan’s Journal (Third Generation)”. I genuinely want something that I can fill up and buy more that are empty along the way. Third Generation tells me there will be more changes or maybe even a cancellation.
    It would be my chance that they would either change the deminsions, re-work them in a way that is unattractive or flat out discontinue the series. It would seem that the story of my whole life has entailed me falling in love with one product or service of highest quality, only to have the item discontinuted.
    As a 35 year old, I am finishing my B.A degree in Christian History (Baptist concentration) and I want to go on to a ThM and PhD, eventually. I could see something like this carrying me along my way. Something I could give to my girls for them to remember their father and hand down further. But, at the same rate, I am simply afraid of cancellation.
    I would like to ask Mr. Betrand and the other R.L Aland customers here there thoughts on this product with my point of view in mind.
    Thanks so much.
    Wilson Hines
    PS.
    I have already informed my wife that my ThM graduation could
    easily be topped off with a R.L.A ESV :)

  3. I know what you mean, Wilson. I kick myself daily (well, weekly) for not having stocked up on the first generation Allan’s Journal. And if you read the reviews I linked to up front, you’ll see that when Moleskines came out, I bought a case-load of them thinking there was no way they wouldn’t disappear overnight. I still have a bunch of that original batch, still shrink-wrapped. But now I get notebooks for their own sake, not worrying too much about a lifetime commitment. My guess is that the Allan’s Journal will stick around in one form or another, but will change with every printing in response to customer feedback.
    I’m with you on your first point, John. I wish the covers were plain, or that the text were smaller. I’m not with you on the second, though. Moleskines are great, and I use ‘em, but there are better journals on the market. Where they excel, I think, is balancing performance and price.

  4. Mark,
    I’m just curious about your statement that there are better journals on the market than Moleskins. Certainly Allans journals are better but are more than double the price (fortunately, I did purchase several of the Allans journals that came in the slip cases and had, in very large gold letters, “Allans Journal” emblazoned across the front. While I would prefer not to have the word “Journal” across the front as these new journals, there is something about the large, gold print “Allans Journal” name across the front of the older model — almost trademarkish — that really appeals to me). Are there any journals you find to be as good or better, but at a comparable price? Second, other than Allans and Smythson, what other journals to you consider “better” regardless of price. I realize this is an opinion thing — but hearing your opinions is why we all pay such a premium to access this blog!! Thanks for another great review and Merry Christmas!

  5. You pay a premium … but not to me! :)
    Journals comparable to Moleskine, worth checking out: Field Notes, Quo Vadis Habana (“made in the USA with Clairefontaine paper”), and of course Rhodia. Pen bloggers seem to be impressed with the latter for its ink handling. Once you step up to leather, the problems begin. The ones at Barnes & Noble typically have glued bindings. The Smythson ones cost and arm and a leg (and an ear). I’m not aware of any journals with comparable quality to the Allan’s Journal at a similar price point. Maybe someone else has come across them. The Smythson and Allan’s notebooks are the only ones I have that I can roll up in my fist, Panama-hat-style. I suppose I should post a photo …

  6. I was very supprised at the size of the lines, but using my custome 005 pigma its perfect so i get alot more writting in a smaller package. I to wish theyre was no “journal” on the front and that they had the bigger size in highland. Overall I am very very pleased tho! Just makes me sad when i have a typo.

  7. Mark,
    Will you be reviewing the ESV Reader’s Edition any time soon? Thanks Mark…

  8. I’m just curious, but does anyone out there prefer writing with a pencil as I do? I use several lead widths depending on the line width of the paper and don’t have to worry about bleedthrough. I’ve used pencil for years for both Bible notation and other notetaking.

  9. DavidF, I sometimes use a pencil for marking up books other than my Bible, but I don’t recall ever using one for journal entries. My preferred writing instrument for journaling is a fountain pen, but I don’t expect that to be a good option when I crack open my new Allan journal at the first of the year, as it essentially has Bible paper rather than the heavier paper I’m accustomed to in my Moleskine journals. I’ve always been afraid I could tear my Bible pages with a pencil – maybe that’s unfounded. What size lead are you using when marking your Bible with pencil?

  10. I want one very much, but the question becomes whether I would feel too guilty writing daily notes, work assignments, etc. in it (and thereby making it useful and not just an objet d’art.)
    Also, someone asked up-thread about Moleskine alternatives. On the value-conscious end of things, Piccadilly makes Moleskine clone that’s similar in quality but about half the price. I think they’re available at Borders.

  11. Doug, I’ve used two lead widths in Bibles before–in a wide margin, I’ve used a 1.1mm width but that’s too wide for smaller areas, so I usually use a .5mm width now. I’ve never torn a page with either, but then with mechanical pencils, the leads don’t get sharpened into an actual point. I also prefer using a 5mm width “drylighter” colored pencil lead for highlighting then a more liquid one. I’m sure it’s just amatter of personal preference but I like the tactile feel of pencil on paper. If I feel the need to erase something, I’ve found that Staedtler’s Mars plastic white erasers work very well on India paper, one just has to make sure to hold the page taut while doing it. In my experience, it gets the full lead mark off the page no matter how hard/dark the lead.

  12. As far as cutting the paper with pencils, I think the bigger factor is lead hardness instead of lead size. Standard hardness is HB, but I like softer, like B or even BB, especially for the 0.3 thicknesses, in Bible marking.

  13. DavidF and Mark B,
    The implement used while writing has also been a dilemma. I have a Cambridge WM KJV, is that a comparable paper to what they used with these Journals?
    Of course, I want to keep the bleed through to a minimum, or a fat zero, if possible. If a mechanical pencil will do the job, that is the implement of choice.

  14. My concern about using pencil is that it would rub off with time. Does anyone have notes in their Bibles written with pencil years ago?

  15. OK, I have ante’d up!
    I ordered tonight.
    I seriously doubt I will see the Journal before Christmas, with Evangelical Bibles being in CA and I in NC, but I will surely be enjoying them before New Years.
    Now to decide on an implement.

  16. Fernando, I have pencil notes from years ago in my Bible and indeed some are slightly rubbed but none are rubbed off. I also have notes written with ink that are far more degraded than the pencil from the ink’s oils separating and soaking through the page–of course now with archival quality inks separation wouldn’t be a problem although bleedthrough would still be.
    Wilson, I’m not sure that I’ve ever used a lead that width. My wider width was a Scripto classic, my thinner lead was the Cross Century. Older Cross pencils have a wider lead but I’m not sure of the width, it’s somewhere in between and is very comfortable to write with as well.
    Bill, All my leads are HB or #2 for writing. Softer leads in refill sizes for pencils are hard to find (for me anyway.) I find drawing pencils with softer leads inconvenient to carry for writing.

  17. OK, just picked up the Fisher Space Pen from Amazon for $18.11 with free two day shipping :) I just liked how it appeared on the page and the fact that the bleed through was just very minimal. I am still interested in writing with a pencil. When I was in college I was given a Cross set with a pen and a pencil. I lost the Pencil a long, long time ago. Now, I think it would be fantastic to work with the journal with a pencil, a real good one, at least.
    It is amazing how your taste change with time.
    Thanks to Mark for this fantastic site. I have found several things that I have been looking through the years.

  18. DavidF et al,
    I find http://www.jetpens.com has a good selection of leads down to 0.2mm dia. BB (or 2B) down to 0.3mm dia. Good prices on drafting mechanical pencils too, that take the superfine leads.
    Unless you have awfully big margins, I think you’ll find writing very small with very fine leads helps a lot. It just takes some getting used to.

  19. I ordered Friday NIGHT from Evangelical Bibles. It is sitting on my kitchen table as of right now. That is crazy. Crazy good service. I was blown away. I haven’t opened the box and the Wifey has it on her side of the table. It’ll go under the tree! :)

  20. Those are very beautiful looking journals. It’s kinda funny how it says “journal” on the front, in simple type. Looks cool and old fashioned (I like old-fashioned – in fact, I often use quill and ink bottle when writing). I’d be tempted to buy one, but then, I generally look for cheap alternatives. Even moleskines are too expensive for my tastes.
    I do all my Bible journaling in Pentalic Traveler’s Sketch Books. Well, not just Bible journaling, prayer journaling, life journaling, note taking, etc. The Pentalic books are really cool. They come in a variety of bold colors and are nice, pocket sized. I put them along with my Bible and other church things in my zip up bible case. I like how they accept both ink and dry media art (in case I’m in the mood to sketch along with my journal writings). Of course the price is right, as they are cheaper than just about any other option I’ve ever seen – and the quality doesn’t suffer as far as I’m concerned. I think they are great!

  21. I’m going to be getting one of these soon and I would love to see some pictures of the new caramel tan pigskin journals if anyone has any. They sound interesting.

  22. This site sounds amazing and appeals to it addict in me.

  23. My first /allan’s product was their large Journal in black. Whaich I recieved just recently. I have been looking for such a fine durable journal for lesson notes for a decade or more. I purchased it after reading your first review of these fine journals.
    Now if I could just decide between the Ruby and Brevier Clarendon Bibles.

  24. Hey, I also prefer goatskin cover. Its simple yet attractive. Easy to hold specially pocket diary as its too small there is always a risk of losing it. Liked the pocket journal. Good one.

  25. About journaling with a pencil… I saw an episode on the military channel about soldiers who fought during World War I. An elderly woman was showing an old journal which was found on her uncle who they found dead in the trenches. Everything was written in pencil and it was still pretty clear after all those years. She said she read it regularly.

  26. I have recently discovered pencils that can leave a very dark line almost equal to black ball point ink. Pentel AIN Stein, Pilot Neox, and Mitsubishi Nano Dia offer a 4B super strong mechanical lead in 0.5mm on the Japanese market. Using a high quality mechanical pencil like the Japanese Mitsubishi Pure Malt, Twisbi, or Pilot Stanza, you can carry enough lead for over a hundred pages without refill and still erase words you need to correct. Another beautiful thing is the very low drag while writing at any speed. No need to push hard to get a dark line. I do have great Fountain Pens, but they are only practical when you have an event to prepare them for. Jetpens has these leads in the USA and sometimes Ebay. I also use wooden pencils that are even darker when in my studio. Mitsubishi Hi-Uni makes a fantastic 10B pencil. Dark, smooth and Strong(Very Black). I use them to make value sketches in preparation for a pen and ink drawing using dip pen nibs. My distant second choice is the Faber Castell 8B jumbo.

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