In case you're not familiar with them, Baron Fig started on Kickstarter a while back where a little over 4,200 backers pledged nearly $170,000. I was not one of those backers. I'm a Kickstarter skeptic. It doesn't mean I didn't think they had a great product, but I've been burned more than a few times by Kickstarters that appear to be wonderful products, when in reality, they're rather useless, or they don't show up at all. That's not a slam on Baron Fig as I think they fulfilled their Kickstarter pretty well; I just personally am a little leery of Kickstarter when I don't have experience with the company I'm backing.
Because of my apprehension, I'm just now getting around to jumping on the Baron Fig Bandwagon and using their beautiful products. I started with the Apprentice because I love pocket notebooks. I use Field Notes, Owl Stationers, Backpocket Journals and Nock Co. notebooks all the time. I figured these would be a good addition to the mix.
Upon opening the notebooks, I was blown away by how beautiful they are. The soft, gray, textured cover, deep purple band and sunflower yellow stitching just really stands out and makes for a lovely presentation and a beautiful notebook. You can tell designers made these books because the colors and style are killer.
The paper (of which there is 48 pages) is an off-white color in blank, ruled or dot-grid options. I went with ruled for mine, and the ruling is spaced well for such a small book, which makes it easy to jot notes and not have to cram your letters into a tiny space. But the spacing is also tight enough to give you plenty of lines on a page for longer notes. The paper is smooth with just a little tooth to it, which is nice as your pen isn't sliding across the page with reckless abandon, leaving your chicken scratch even more, well, chicken-scratchy. And, the last 6 pages are perforated for easy removal, perfect for tearing out a grocery list for your significant other, or passing off a phone number to a co-worker, friend or potential client.
The books are bound with a beautiful yellow-gold cord rather than staples, which is a nice touch. The midpoint of the book shows off this binding well and the subtle gray of the lines carries over the color of the front cover. Snazzy. There's no external branding on this book, which I like (they have their branding marked on the inside of the back cover). And on the inside of the front cover is a block for jotting down your pertinent info in the event your pocket notebook should leave your pocket and find its way onto the subway or bus or plane. Or, if you're feeling especially nostalgic or thoughtful, you can put in an inspiring quote to help you start each day right. The block is blank, leaving the words you put in there entirely up to you. I like this.
There's no doubt these books are beautiful. The designers were clearly that: designers. They made a lovely, handsomely-bound notebook in stunning colors and paid attention to every detail. And I can definitely get on board with that. But the best part of a notebook, for me, is the usability. And these just aren't all that usable for what I do.
First off is the size. My measurements have them at 3-7/16" (W) x 4-15/16" (H). It's a weird size. I'm sure it's something metric (I don't have a metric ruler handy to double-check specifics), but Baron Fig doesn't have any measurements on their site whatsoever, or at least I couldn't find them (NOTE: I did find them with the help of a friend under the FAQ section which is located at the bottom of the page and this notebook is technically sized at 3-1/2 x 5). But on the actual product page, where this information would be most useful, all they say about the size is "With intelligent adjustments to size you can use one page with more breathable (and usable) space than leading notebooks." I don't really know what that means, but as far as I could tell, the size isn't adjustable. Maybe they made intelligent adjustments? I don't know. But most of my pocket notebooks are 3-1/2" (W) x 5-1/2" (H) so I have a lot of holders, accessories, sleeves, etc. that fit that size notebook. Why Baron Fig went against the grain on this and created this notebook shorter and wider is beyond me, but i think it wasn't a smart design. Yeah, it fits in the back pocket of my jeans a little better than a Field Notes or Owl Stationers book, but it gets lost in any of my 3-1/2 x 5-1/2" notebook sleeves. And, uh, it's smaller so "more...usable space" is pretty misleading. I realize sometimes in life, we decide that less is more, but less physical space is less physical space. There's no way around it. You wanna get all zen and have "more with less?" Go downsize your shoe closet, not your notebook.
And let's talk about the paper some more. Sure, it's beautiful, but it's not great. It's definitely not fountain-pen-friendly and for me, that's a no-go. With a medium Franklin Christoph nib using Iroshizuku Fuyu Gaki, I got bleedthrough and feathering. Where the book really shined was when using pencil. But pen is unusable unless it's a standard gel pen or some such thing. If you're strictly an EF nib person, these might be alright, but the bleedthrough and feathering really turned me off. If I'm going to use a book that isn't fountain-pen-friendly, it's going to be a Field Notes notebook because those fit my sleeves and holders and I think the size and design bests the Baron Fig Apprentice by a wide margin (pun intended).
In the back of the book where the branding is located, they have "Designed in New York City / Assembled in China." The fact that these are made in China, yet they're being sold at the same price as books made right here in America, gives me pause. I'm not going to get on a pro-America rant here because I understand we live in a global market, but I love the idea of stuff made here and I buy a LOT of stuff that's made in the USA. It's important to me and it's something I always enjoy seeing. I'm disappointed that these guys are manufacturing overseas and selling at roughly the same cost as those making their books here. No good.
I don't know if the materials are sourced in China or if they're American-made materials that are then shipped overseas to be assembled (that's an incredibly stupid idea if that's the case), but it bothers me either way. If they are made in China from Chinese-sourced materials, then they're sort of covering it up a little with the "Assembled in China" line. They're either Chinese-made or they're not. It seems dishonest to word it the way they have. And I can't tell which it is because Baron Fig doesn't give very much information about their products on their site. There's an awful lot of chatter about philosophy and ideas on the wind and what not, but there's very little real information about their product. This is disappointing because they don't talk about the paper specs (weight, color, etc.), they don't talk about specific sizes, they don't talk about their material sources, they don't really talk about anything. They say an awful lot without really saying anything at all. When you go to buy a Field Notes edition or an Owl Stationers book, you know exactly what you're buying right down to the brightness and type of paper. That's nice because it's a transparent, no-surprise approach to your materials. These guys are being a little sketchy in my opinion.
These books are beautiful. I'll give them that. They look good, feel good and are presented beautifully. The colors are spot-on, subtle and clean and the notebook as a whole is a delight to look at and hold. But the fact that they're made in China with a US price tag, are sized differently from the majority of pocket notebooks on the market and have paper that isn't exactly usable for fountain pen enthusiasts, puts these at the bottom of my list of notebooks. For non-fountain-pen friendly notebooks, I'll stick with good ol' Field Notes. They're well made and they're made here. For fountain-pen-friendly paper, I'll stick with books from my friends over at Nock Co. where they're sourcing their books right in their own back yard (quite literally as I was able to visit their printer recently with Jeff) or I'll venture out to Curnow Bookbinding or Owl Stationers for their books using Tomoe River paper, a favorite among fountain pen enthusiasts. And yes, I know TR paper isn't made in the US, but darn it, it's nice paper and at least the books are put together here... That's more than Baron Fig can say.
I think Baron Fig should focus less on philosophy (it's a notebook) and more on the product they're putting out. Make sure it works for everyone in their target audience, not just the ones using Sharpie Pens and Pilot G2's. In my opinion, these are just a gussied-up Moleskine, and I am just not interested in that.
NOW HOW ABOUT A GIVEAWAY?
Let's balance out that last bit of negativity with a good ol' fashioned giveaway... If you'd like to try these for yourself, but don't want to plop down the cash for them, I'll send you a three-pack of lined Apprentice books fo' free. All you have to do is comment below between now and Wednesday, November 18th at 11:59pm EST and I'll pick a winner on Thursday, November 19th. You'll have until Friday morning to claim your prize. I purchased these with my own hard-earned cash so come and get 'em and see for yourself if you can get past the stuff that I couldn't. And if you're lucky, they'll come with a handwritten note or doodle in the box.
As always, thanks for checking in. If you have tried these books, I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you haven't, but have questions, let me know and I'll do my very best to respond below!
Thanks for reading,