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Moleskine Notebooks

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Moleskine Notebooks are oilcloth-covered1 notebooks, manufactured by Modo and Modo of Italy, based on a design by a small stationer in Tours, France. The standard Moleskine Notebook measures 9 x 14cm and features the following: lightweight, acid-free paper, a foldable pocket in the back cover, a cloth ribbon attached to the spine to serve as a bookmark, and a woven elastic band attached to the back to keep the book closed when not in use. The name (officially pronounced mol-a-skeen-a, although it can vary) comes from the French spelling of 'moleskin', which the oilcloth covering resembles, and is a trademark of Modo and Modo.

This small, pocket-sized notebook has picked up a remarkable following among professional and aspiring writers, artists, designers and diarists. This is in part due to a marketing campaign by Modo and Modo to claim that the moleskine's design was used by many famous writers and artists of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Such a pedigree might not be enough, for the casual consumer, to justify the notebook's premium retail price (approximately US$10-12). Contemporary fans of the Moleskine, however, also cite its slim size and design features as useful for writing 'on the go', especially for travel purposes.

The Myths of Modo and Modo's Moleskine 'Users'

Much of the Moleskine mystique may be attributed to Modo and Modo's marketing campaign, which cites a literary and artistic pedigree that seems quite fantastic. According to the pamphlet included in each Moleskine notebook, many famous writers and artists have used moleskine-style notebooks. The consumer should bear in mind that Modo and Modo's claims are based on the Moleskine's original design, and not the Modo and Modo product.

Included in the list of 'users' are the following:

  • Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989) - He described his notebooks in detail in his book The Songlines (and is responsible for naming them 'les carnets moleskines'). He purchased his notebooks from a stationery store in Paris, who was supplied by a stationer in Tours, France, until the stationer closed down in 1986 due to the death of its owner. Chatwin's notebooks are the basis for the Modo and Modo product; the company's website quotes extensively from The Songlines.

  • Luis Sepúlveda (1949- ) - The other author quoted on Modo and Modo's website, Sepúlveda describes the occasion when Chatwin gave him a moleskine notebook in his book Full Circle (1996). Interestingly enough, he describes the notebook itself as 'the kind preferred by writers such as Céline and Hemingway'. It's not clear if Chatwin told him this, or if he is quoting from Modo and Modo's later marketing hype.

  • Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961) - Famous for the book Journey to the End of Night (1932). It would seem that unless Sepúlveda was quoting from Modo and Modo's marketing hype, his quotation above is the only documented basis for Modo and Modo's claim.

  • Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) - In the opening essay of his memoir A Moveable Feast (1964 posthumous publication), Hemingway describes working on a short story in a Paris café. He writes the story in a notebook which fits in the inside pocket of his coat. It's not clear if the notebook was a moleskine design, since Hemingway doesn't give a detailed description, but his essay 'A Good Café on the Place Saint-Michel', is the basis for Modo and Modo's claim.

  • Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) - Seven pocket sketchbooks are kept at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; a picture of one of these books appears on the Moleskine website. Since the book pictured has a cloth band attached as well as a hidden pocket that can barely be seen in the back cover, it could be said to be a 'moleskine' design; but it's not clear if the book was manufactured by the same stationer who made Chatwin's notebooks, or if the book was made by another stationer.

There is one writer who gives a qualified endorsement of the actual Modo and Modo product. Author Neil Gaiman states his liking of the notebook in the 23 September, 2001, entry of his weblog.

Modo and Modo have also tried to show the Moleskine's appearance in TV and films, which has led to one of their most ludicrous claims: that the 'Grail Diary' of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a Moleskine. The only basis for this claim is the use of a cloth elastic to hold the Grail Diary closed; in actuality the Diary was a custom-made prop.

Tips for Using the Moleskine Notebook

  • Although the book will fit in a back trouser pocket, if you're going to carry it on your person, it's less damaging to the book to put it in your jacket pocket. (Although the book is light, placing it in a shirt pocket is not recommended.)

  • Always use the elastic to keep the pages closed. The pages may be acid-free, but they are not waterproof. Keeping the book closed tightly with the elastic will limit any rain damage to the page edges.

  • The ideal writing instrument for the standard size notebook will have a fine point (ie a maximum of 0.7mm). Either pen or pencil will work nicely.

  • If you're using the notebook as a creative writing aid, Bruce Chatwin recommended numbering each page for use as a reference guide.

  • Chatwin also suggested placing your mailing address in the inside cover, along with notice of a reward for recovery in the event the book gets lost. (The Modo and Modo version provides a space in the inside front cover for this information.)

1Vinyl-treated fabric.

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