I've been using the Art of Manliness Virtue Journal for a little while now and have developed strong feelings over it and its design as I progress in my own virtuous journey.
Let's start with the journal insert
The booklet cover is designed to look like an old printed book. It even uses the Baskerville type face which was designed in 1757. Franklin and Baskerville had an on-going correspondence and Franklin quickly adopted use of the Baskerville typeface upon publishing after reading the first book Baskerville printed with it - Virgil's Bucolica, Georgica et Aeneis. You can read a little on their relationship here.
So, that's a nice touch. The text is crisp except for the larger faces shown on the weekly grid pages.
(I could be better with resolve....)
There it's distressed to look more weathered. The lines and text for the entry pages are all grey rather than a full black allowing them to guide but not intrude with use.
Build and paper stock
The insert is built like a tank. It is sturdy, dense, and made from a thick paper stock that feels good in the hand. The paper stock being so thick has merits and flaws. It takes fountain pen ink very nicely. I've been using the rOtring Lava fine nib with both Edelstein Inks and Organics Studio. The Edelsteins in particular flow thick but the paper does not feather or smudge in any noticeable fashion.
Problematically, with use, the the paper causes the book to remain open when bent.
You can see here the pages I’ve used and the gapping happening. I suspect it's a combination of the perfect binding and the thickness of the stock. It has significant fold memory. I think this will do two things with use over the next 3 months.
- Cause the book to grow fat and unwieldy, making it harder to carry with me.
- It will age instead of deteriorate with use.
I will absolutely accept the drawbacks of the paper stock for the fountain pen friendliness and plumping for a well-aged insert. It adds to the appeal.
I really like it overall. Even the cream color of the pages, which normally drives me batty. But each detail feels chosen to illicit the aged and weathered field. The journal feels important without feeling pretentious. It will work with you and look nice doing it for good, long time.
The leather cover
The journal cover is absolutely lovely. The embossing is well detailed and gorgeous. The journal fits well in there, not loose at all so it doesn't shift in use. I think the insert seats well enough that I'm a little worried about getting the darn thing out when I fill it. And, actually, you can see Brett McKay struggling with it in the video linked above.
It's made from full grain leather which you can tell from the unfinished edges on the cover. If you look closely, you can see the grain and the corium layers which have differing density and texture. You can also see the thorough saturation of the tanning and dying. The color is even over the surface and penetrates through the whole thickness of the leather.
The stitching is thick. I'd bet dollars to donuts that it's a single filament polyester thread which is what is used for durable, long last goods where reliability is paramount, like boots. And parachutes.
And it smells just great. You guys, well-made leather goods have a wondrous aroma and if you haven't ever had a well-made, high quality leather good, you really should. (When I bought my Saddleback Leather satchel, I shoved my entire head into it to get as much of the scent as possible.)
The pen loop inside has been useless for me. Fountain pens don't fit well, if at all, nor does the leather hold them in place because of their weight. Fountain pen clips are designed to slip into pockets, over pocket fabric, where the tension in the clip in conjunction with the fabric under the whole of the clip hold it in place.
To benefit from this with the supplied pen loop, you have to partially slide the pen in so the ball of the clip rests on the end of the loop. (pictured above) But you only have a little leather under the clip which doesn't rest against the top of the clip meaning it is unstable. Now, you could slip the pen in the pock on the inside flap...
But it slips out because theres nothing to prevent that in fabric tension or a sewn pocket for the pen.
I suspect none of this is a problem if you use a standard, lightweight ballpoint pen.
The ribbon bookmark is a stiff nylon, I think. It is problematic. It is a little too short and stiff to properly do its duty as a marker. The latter should fix itself over time and may reduce the following problem. Because the ribbon is so stiff and the pages of the book are so thick that they don't close well, the ribbon tends to slide out of place.
The placement of the ribbon exacerbates it. It is sewn directly center on the cover with the long end running to the left, away from the insert. So when you place it, you have increased resistance because of the direction and placement the ribbon is sewn and the pulling.
On their own, the shortness and stiffness, would be minor problems if at all. But add those to the sewing choice and it makes the ribbon hard to use.
If I were to suggest any differences in a 2.0 version, it would be to add a second ribbon of different color and a band around the midsection.
A band would help keep the cover and pages closed, especially over time as it fattens with use. It would also keep the ribbon seated. The Midori traveler's notebook covers could be a good model rather than, say, the moleskin, as the dimensions of the franklin journal would look funny with the latter.
The second ribbon would allow marking the weekly grid and the current day page. Considering that the intended use is to fill out both the daily notes and each weekly box in the virtue grid. I find myself opening the book, moving the marker to the weekly page, filling out the daily page, flipping back to the weekly grid, then re-marking the daily page. It's not the greatest (nor terrible to do) but could be better.
And I'd add a pen pocket instead of the loop, something sewn shut, you could slide a pen into. You'd have to be clever in implementation because you wouldn't want to mar the cover's exterior with a second line of stitching.
Even if you just dutch the pen loop and make the pocket about 80% the height of the cover, you could use that. The pen clip would have the full length of the leather to seat itself on. It would be functional for heavier fountain pens while still allowing for regular ballpoints to sit.
The product is fantastic and I have really enjoyed using it despite some quibbles because of how I use it. The only non-specific flaw is the ribbon and the pen loop issue is probably less likely to happen, but of moderate impact. I fully intend to continue purchasing the inserts on my own moral journey. And I'm really looking forward to what it looks like in a year.