"To hold a pen is to be at war." Voltaire

I take a look at my collection of pens from a simple Dex to the Sailor Progear Imperial Black, Pelikan M805 piston filler and custom Edison's.

The feel as the nib glides over a crisp white sheet of paper. The ability for me to capture my thoughts, knowledge and inspirations. Loosing myself in a world of words and sketches for hours & crystallising my dreams; sometimes the writing is practical, other times expressive. My hand varies between illegible and almost neat depending on the time I have available and my mood.

The technical side of me realises that the performance of a Lamy Safari isn't that much different to a Pilot Custom Heritage 92 especially with some tuning. The rarity of the metal delivering the ink from the feed to the page doesn't significantly impact the ability for me to write my thoughts to paper. But the combination of a beautifully tuned nib and a stunningly designed pen does make a difference to how I enjoy the writing process. When I have a great pen in my hand, rather than a good one, I irrationally enjoy the process more even though every ounce of my scientific mind tells me there is no reason for this.

If I enjoy certain pens more than others, or for certain tasks, regardless of the technical merits, should the same not be said for the paper I am writing on? I pondered this thought for the first time as I scribbled in my Rhodia N. 16. pads. The paper was smooth and well behaved coping with the task at hand admirably. This of course is not entry level paper and is my benchmark upon which all other papers are judged, but the experience is technically almost perfect not experientially perfect. Is there a Edison Menlo fountain pen of the paper world & with this notebook have I found it?

"Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead" Gene Fowler

Enter stage left a plucky startup company from the midlands of England. The company talks about their belief in the power of writing, by their products a true understanding that quality matters and makes a difference to the experience. The array of options available for just their main product leaves me falling down a rabbit hole towards the experience I crave.

I cannot remember when I became aware of the William Hannah notebook, perhaps via a review by 'Scribble' or a google search but I am extremely glad I did. There are 15 beautiful combinations of leather and suede colours available as 'standard' options on the company website, but to me that seemed a bit like buying an off the rack suit on Saville Row. Possible but not the experience you goto Saville Row for.

My experience of purchasing a William Hannah notebook started innocently enough, all I was doing was window shopping. There are five standard colours available for the outer leather and immediately the first challenge presented itself. The dark green leather appeared to be smart and a bit different whereas the whiskey brown and black colours bring a more traditional look to the table.

Further complicating the matter were the suede linings, a plentiful 9 colours giving a mere 45 combinations to choose from even though a black suede was missing from the lineup. Then you have the stitching with 15 colours available with a separate choice available for both the inside and outside. Already 10125 combinations potentially available if you were stuck for inspiration and the option to emboss the cover with your initials if so desired.

It is no surprise that it therefore took me over a week to make up my mind. I narrowed down to two options:

  • Option 1: Dark agave green leather outer and a lime green suede, with contrasting stitching on both the outside and inside (lime green and dark green respectively).
  • Option 2: Black leather outer with an orange inside suede, finished with orange outer stitching and black inside stitching to give contrast.

In the end I chose the second option as the book would appear very traditional on the outside, with a hint of colour, but bright and vibrant inside. I could have gone either way and been happy. So I clicked on the configurator, put in my options and to my despair black internal stitching wasn't an option, the closest option being navy blue. I dropped a quick email to William Hannah and within a few hours had a response that of course I could have the exact stitching colour I wanted, all I needed to do was add it to the comments section at the checkout screen.

Next up it turns out that you have to pick your paper choice. William Hannah have selected a rather good 100gsm paper, but in a fit of further customisation you can choose between grid, dot, lined and plain rulings in 10 different colours. A further 31 options. I eventually chose a selection of grid, dot, lined and plain papers in both orange and grey.

Then there was the wait, or lack of one. I have ordered custom leather products before, they have taken from 1 week to multiple months to arrive, so I wasn't sure how quickly this would be delivered but in less than a week it was at the local sorting office.

The presentation was superb, a thick black cardboard box opened to reveal a piece of tissue paper held closed by a WH sticker. Forgetting myself I tore the package open, completely ruining the effort put into the packaging but I didn't care as there it was. Smooth black leather staring back up at me, orange contrast stitching and my initials neatly embossed in the bottom right hand corner.

The leather and suede combination felt thick and yet still supple. The leather was flawless, smooth to the touch with only a hint of grain. The only other adornment beyond my initials is a circular metal disc with the William Hannah logo elegantly etched into the surface. This disc is going to operate as a point to affix extra bits to the book, for now there is a pen loop available, but even without it looks great. On the back cover the William Hannah logo is neatly embossed near the bottom, understated as it should be.

Inside the suede is really orange, but not luminous. It has a smooth but textured surface which enables it to grip the pages well. The stitching on the book is almost flawless, being both straight and even, the exception being just above the top ring where it isn't quite perfect. I only noticed this however due to the amount that I am using the product and the fact that everything else is beyond reproach.

The Atoma style rings are made out of stainless steel, made precisely and have a hole in the middle. The hole may not do anything, but the combination of the restraining bar and hole make the pages turn much more easily than any of the Atoma books I have used in the past. When I want to go somewhere I just flip the cover and everything is going to end up ok, with a normal Atoma book I have to be considerably more gentle and careful or pages will get squashed at the binding. The main problem with this kind of binding method for me is using the left hand page (as a right handed person) as the rings get in the way. To combat this I tend to either take the page out or lift my hand up slightly.

So how does the paper look and feel? Not as smooth as Rhodia, but feathering is extremely well controlled and due to the extra thickness showthrough is almost non existent. I find myself able to use both sides of the paper with almost every pen that I have used with it. It feels thick and luxurious as should befit a notebook of this sort, holding well in the rings. I love the dot grid orange, the standard grid is a bit too bold in the orange but pretty good in the grey. I really like the feedback given with a nice fountain pen, some pens I find have a habit of skipping on Rhodia but it has never occured on WH paper.

I have spent a long time looking for products to compare this to, but apart from a bespoke leather cover to hold a standard notebook I couldn't. Atoma make a pretty nice leather version of their book but it isn't in the same class, functional and a step up on the cardboard versions but not elegant or luxurious.

Incase you hadn't noticed yet I love this product. I enjoy getting it out of my bag, opening the covers and thumbing through the thick pages before scribbling my latest notes. Unfortunately I cannot use this type of pad at work, the pages need to be fully bound, otherwise I would never put it down.

A few minor flaws aside this product is superb. It truly is luxurious and very enjoyable to use especially with a high quality fountain pen. It fits nicely on a desk truly completing the writing experience. The paper is good and robust and the contrast stitching, oh how I love the contrast stitching. The leather is picking up some marks and scuffs as time goes on, if you want this book to stay as good as new keep it on your desk, mine is learning the story of my life.

Where to Buy:

William Hannah only sell direct, but this is a good thing as the service is just superb. I would highly recommend this product.