Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: Renaissance Art custom composition book cover

Beautiful rustic brown leather...

I LOVE composition books. They're old friends. My oldest ones are now getting yellowed and crackly, but they date back to the mid-80s, so I guess they've done OK. I used them for journals, mostly, and for my early attempts at poetry and fiction. The oldest are thin, squashed down, with well-thumbed edges and bits of the white portion of the marble pattern and some of the letters filled in with blue ballpoint. Didn't everyone do that as a kid?

Even now that I've grown up and can afford more exotic and expensive notebooks, I still fall back on my old standard time and time again. They're cheap, readily available, comfortable and familiar. I still like to doodle in the top margin, scribble notes in the side margins. I still have times when I'll write a word three or four different ways inside the cover as I try to remember how to spell it, or do math problems (like figuring word count) in the margins or inside the covers. I love the size: not too small or too big. The wide ruling lets me stretch out a bit as I write. I like the way the pages crackle and pop at the stitching as you turn them.

And if you can find the Made in Brazil ones (Wal-mart usually has at least some, typically for less than a buck each), they're pretty fountain-pen friendly, too. You can write on both sides of the page with all but a really wet nib (or Noodler's Baystate Blue). There's occasionally some show-through, but very little bleeding or feathering. Much better than the Moleskine I'm currently using for a journal, for that matter.

Point is, I like 'em. But...let's face it, they're not exactly very stylin'.

Enter Renaissance Art.

Close-up of the tie

Renaissance Art is a small company that makes leather book covers, homemade journals, leather folios, etc. Their work has a rustic, old-world look to it. They have a strong following among folks on several of the writing related forums where I hang out, so I'd seen their name tossed around quite often. When I started looking for a cover to protect and add a bit of style to my cheap comp books, they were one of the first places I checked.

They don't list this particular cover on their site, but they'll make you pretty much anything you could wish. Since I was confused as to how to proceed, I dropped them an e-mail and got a very timely response in which I was directed to customize the large custom book cover to get what I wanted. I was able to easily customize it right there on the site. I went with brown leather, marked out the dimensions and noted that this was for a comp book, since Arthur (the company founder and typically the one who will respond to your messages) had mentioned they have them in the studio, and I figured they might be able to get a more accurate measurement in person.

The toughest part for me was picking a closure style. Normally for the standard book cover they offer either no type of closure (just a simple cover), a wrap and tie, or a strap that tucks into a couple of little loops to hold the book closed, medieval style. Since I carry my notebook chucked into a bag with lots of other stuff, some sort of closure was a given, to keep it all protected. I originally asked about having a wrap with a snap instead of the tie. It seemed the tidiest, least fussy way of keeping the book closed. For years, I've scorned any of those frou-frou journals with the tie closures. It just struck me as pretentiously earthy and silly. But in considering the snap, I started to think about the reasons why I'd disliked snaps on things like purses in the past: they can wear out eventually, for starters, though I think the ones RA uses aren't liable to do that any time soon. But if they do fail, they're hard to replace. Also, you have only one small spot where you can close the book, and you have to be precise. It means you also can't overstuff the thing with a stack of paper that day. Not very flexible. And it only holds in one spot--it doesn't snugly wrap around the whole book to hold it all together.

And when I finally broke down and played with a few of the tie style journals at the bookstore, I had to admit that in general, it was pretty easy to close them quickly.

I still feel a little self-conscious about the tie when taking out the notebook in public. But I have to take back much of my original thoughts on the subject. I like the tie. The one that came with the cover is very sturdy and attractive, and I can imagine it wouldn't be too difficult to replace if I eventually wear it out. It wraps around twice and tucks under--easy. I played with some tying methods as well, but a simple tuck works just fine. The biggest downside is that my two cats are *fascinated* by that long cord. Neato! A Tarzan rope just my size!

Cover open

I also had a medium sized pen loop added to the basic cover: the perfect size for a Parker 21/51 or other like-sized pens. Most of the time when I head somewhere with my notebook, I drag my whole bag along with me, but this lets me take it all together in one compact package if I so choose. The pen fits snugly into the nice long loop, and combined with the wrap, I have no fears of it falling out and being forever lost: something I *have* experienced with lesser loops in the past.

The turn around time was pretty amazing: I ordered Sunday night, it shipped Tuesday, I got it Thursday. I'm impressed! This wasn't just something to pull off a shelf, either: they had to build it right then.

Opening on the right makes it easier to insert the comp book

The comp book fits in perfectly. There are flaps on each side to hold it in, with the flap on the right being open to make it easier to work the book in. I tried to show that in my picture, but photography isn't my strong suit.

And the leather? Just wonderful. Soft and thick and with a wonderful depth of color. It should only become more attractive with time, and it feels great already. It did have a rather strong smell at first--a little *too* strong, and somewhat unpleasant. A remnant of the tanning process, I'd guess. It has faded fairly quickly to just a nice leather smell. It's not a polished and business like sort of leather, so there is that to keep in mind, and you can see that the pieces are cut and not just punched en masse. I like that aspect, personally.

I'm very pleased with it, and wanted to share it with the world, particularly since I know there are other composition book fans out there who might be interested in one of these puppies. I couldn't find any pictures when I was searching. Maybe this will help the next lost soul!


Strikethru said...

Wow, that's really nice. I have the same impression you had of tie closures-- I kind of thought they just wouldn't really work. Maybe I'll try one.

I know what you mean about new leather smell-- thankfully, it goes away.

Anonymous said...

That's gorgeous. You just can't beat a good handcrafted item--especially one that wraps around a book.

Hmm... Wonder if I could get them to make a typewriter cover?

Duffy Moon said...

...or a carrying case built to fit my Webster XL-747? How cool would that be.

I know what you mean about that vaguely self-conscious feeling you get when you're out in public with an overly-pretentious-seeming tige-shut leather book. Which is why I never go out in public.

Elizabeth H. said...

I just wish I could somehow share the *feel* of it...that's the best part, and I can't really describe it well. It's sooo nice to the touch. And I love the color of the leather, and the way it changes if you smoosh it around. It's just a lovely, well made item, and I'm happy to support true craftsmen of this sort.

Heh...I get the impression these folks will happily make whatever you ask, the weirder the better. Somehow I'd guess they've never done a typewriter cover, though....

My self-consciousness regarding the tie is mostly because it screams "journal" to me. Self-absorbed navel-gazing journal, at that. I'm self-conscious about writing fiction in front of anyone, and writing in a journal (or appearing to do so) makes me all kinda nervous. But I'm still more comfortable with pulling it out at my favorite coffee place than I would be a typewriter. I give big kudos to those who've pulled that off. I'm still skeert.

Anonymous said...

Nice cover. I've ordered from RA before; great people to work with.

As for comp books, I like college ruled; they're harder to find than wide ruled.

My comp book story: I recall purchasing a Meade brand from Office Max that had a plastic outer cover laminated to the inner cardboard liner; when sitting in the hot sunny car the covers would severely buckle due to differential temperature expansion. I mailed a complaint letter to Meade and they sent me a whole pack of the standard cardboard cover comp books as compensation.


Elizabeth H. said...

Hey, I have one of those Mead Five Star comp books with the plastic laminated covers--college ruled. I bought it for note-taking a few years back, hoping it would prove extra sturdy (and at the time, I wanted the college ruling and that notebook was the only college ruled comp book I could find--I've since come to prefer the standard wide-spaced). The cover of mine is all buckled and warped, too. In my case, it was exposed to humid conditions, and I guess that did it. I was ticked off, too, since it was a lot more expensive than a standard comp book. Four or five bucks, I think.

Last time I was at a store that carried them, some of the ones on the shelf already had covers that were curling, so it appears to be a wide-spread unresolved issue. :-\

Yes, I take my comp books wayyy too seriously....