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.
Above: The Pocket Journal line-up: black, tan, and brown.
Below: The full-size Journal in antique brown buffalo grain goatskin.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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:
And here's what you get on the reverse:
(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.
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?
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:
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.
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?