Planning · Stationery

A contender

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The decorations aren’t printed on the diary cover, just in case they’re fooling you

Okay, so here’s a contender for my 2021 planner setup. I wrote a way back in June about this A5 Filofax Original binder and how I had bought it just to have on hand should I ever decide I want to go back to a ring-bound system. Between then and now it has sat on my notebook shelf, just being pretty. At one point, I took it down from the shelf and did pen experiments with all the included Filofax paper, concluding that the only pieces worth keeping were the coloured sheets, which is odd because in the past I’ve hated those. Once it had slimmed down, I put it back on the shelf because I value consistency and I am consistently ignoring this planner.

Well, I was consistently ignoring it until a couple of weeks ago when I had a really good look at the Stamford Notebook Company’s website. I’ve browsed there before because it’s been mentioned in the fountain-pen friendly part of the stationery-web, but it is far from being one of the trendy brands that everyone writes about, or makes videos drooling over. To be honest, I was there looking at their bound yearly planners, but I ended up checking everything they offer and their ring-binder refill took my fancy. A ring-binder refill to suit A5 size binders (more on that in a moment) with fountain pen friendly paper? I couldn’t exactly walk away, now could I?

Before I go any further, I’m going to say loud and clear that this isn’t an A5 refill. The paper size is 210mm tall by 130mm wide, so the same height as A5 but 18mm narrower. This is the same paper size as the Inspired Stories Daily Planner I am currently using which has turned out to be a very pleasant size in use, so I had no worries on that front. The option I chose, 2021 Week to View, was £10.50 with free postage and packing, which I thought would be a fair price to try out the paper quality and to give me an option for next year. I added a Cahier Cover Refill (soft-cover exercise book) at a cost of £5.95, this time in the ruled paper option. The Cahier refill measures 195mm tall by 135mm wide which means it slips neatly into the back or front pocket of the Filofax Original binder.

So, my order was placed and paid for, and I settled back to wait for the delivery which is where I began to get a little anxious. The days trickled past and no word to say they had dispatched my order. Had it been forgotten? Had I done something wrong? In all fairness, they make it clear that free delivery can be 4-10 days and they offer first class postage or 24-hour delivery as payable options at checkout. By the end of the first week I was kicking myself for not going for a priority delivery, although I had based my choice of free delivery on other companies who seem to predict a long delivery period then dispatch very rapidly. With this particular order, I found the Stamford Notebook Company worked to the very limit of their self-imposed estimate – I placed my order on the morning on Sunday 23rd August 2020 and I received notification of the dispatch on Thursday 3rd September, so the 9th working day after my order was placed. All in all, I would say the dispatch was acceptable, but I would certainly consider paying for faster shipping if I ordered from them again. Whilst I was waiting for the delivery I had plenty of time to remind myself that if everybody offered exceptional service, that would be the standard and no-one would be able to excel.

On Saturday, my package arrived and the real test began. It was nicely packed, not too fancy, not over the top, not frilly, just plain and simple. The paper goods were wrapped in brown packing paper and sealed with clear tape then placed in the brown card wrap-around type of mailing carton. The loose ring-binder refill was securely wrapped in a plastic zip-lok bag, the Cahier was not covered with any plastic. The free shipping didn’t require a signature and fitted fine through the letterbox of the block of flats I live in. The invoice/receipt was printed on really nice quality A4 paper, but I was perturbed to see that the printing had smeared; an issue I suspect with the office printer as the actual products were printed perfectly.

So, at long last, to the crux of this review: the paper and the layout.

Stamford Notebook Company state the paper is British milled, off white, smooth and fountain pen friendly and my initial testing proves that this paper really makes the grade. It is a bit paler than the pages in my Rhodiarama notebook, but definitely edging more towards cream than white. I like cream paper a lot, some people do not.

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I tested my current pen line-up and also checked a couple of felt-tip pens, highlighters, and a CD marker which is the closest thing I have to a Sharpie. I see I managed to smear the ink on one line (the 51 of Parker 51) and I want to note that highlighting over the Uniball smeared, and that it was possible to write over the top of the highlighters using my fountain pen (I say possible, it’s never particularly pleasant). How did the paper hold up to this ink test?

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I’m really pleased. I would find this amount of showthrough acceptable, but in fact the phone camera has picked up more showthrough than I can see with the naked eye. There’s no bleedthrough apart from the CD marker which is to be expected. I’m awarding this paper 10 out of 10. From what I understand, this is the standard paper used throughout their extensive range of notebooks and diaries and I’d be confident about ordering any of their products on the basis of this test.

So now, what do you get in the 2021 Burghley Organiser Refill?

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This is the layout for the Week to View option. I’ve got to admit I’m a big fan of this; it ticks a lot of boxes for me. Lovely bold lettering, minimal intrusion from holiday information (UK Bank Holidays and standard Christian-type festivals of Christmas, Easter, Mothering Sunday, Father’s Day and Remembrance Day noted, plus the change-the-clock days), all 7 days of the week given equal space, and a Notes section where I can write a quote each week. Personally, I could live without the month calendar in the Notes area, but that could easily be covered with a decorative or functional sticker. Speaking of stickers, the space at the top of each page looks perfect for a strip of decorative washi tape. Each day’s box is 45mm from top to bottom line and the Notes area is 38mm. The diary begins with Monday 28th December 2020 and finishes with Sunday 2nd January 2022. It comes with a nice front cover made of black card stamped in gold with 2021 and the company’s name, all very tasteful and looks rather splendid with the black interior of my Filofax. There is a full page yearly calendar for 2021 at the front and a full page yearly calendar for 2022 at the back, these are very legible indeed which I think is due to the font and spacing. There are also 5 sheets (10 sides) of lined notepaper, plenty for pen testing.

The refill diary can also be ordered in a week to page format (their bound diaries have the week on the left and a lined page on the right, so I presume the refill would follow the same layout). They also offer the two diaries as Academic Year designs as well as packs of paper in ruled, plain, grid squares, dot grid or Artist’s Sketch (I believe that’s a heavier weight, toothier paper). Furthermore, there are two size options available: the Medium which I have, or the Personal size which is 170mm high and 95mm wide. I suspect the latter would fit a Filofax Personal binder, but I don’t know that for sure. At this point I’ll note that Stamford Notebook Company make their own leather ring-binder which goes by the name of Burghley and is available in their Personal (135mm x 190mm, costs £95.00) and Medium (170mm x 240mm, costs £110.00) formats. They are only available in black, dark brown and mid brown colours. They look very classy and definitely office-suitable, but you’d need to look elsewhere for a bigger colour selection.

So there are my thoughts on the Stamford Notebook Company ring-binder refills. If I decide to use the A5 Filofax as next year’s planner, I’m sorted for my diary pages. If I think I would prefer a bound diary, I would be tempted to look at the bound offerings from this company, just based on the paper quality. As well as the bound diaries and the ring-binder planner, they also manufacture and sell bound notebooks in a variety of sizes and styles, not to mention their leather items: notebook covers, traveller’s journal covers, and cahier notebook covers. Any of these may appeal to the more flamboyant stationery lovers because they’re available in a lot more colours than the sober Burghley ring-planner. 

In finishing, I’ll just note that I paid for the items I ordered, I have no affiliation with Stamford Notebook Company and these thoughts are mine and mine alone. I’ve been keen to write a review because the only ones I was able to find were for items the company has sent to bloggers and YouTubers for review. I am sure those reviews are accurate and sincere, but I wondered if the paucity of chatter on the internet meant there was something wrong with the product or the company. Now, I’m inclined to interpret it as meaning that their products just aren’t quite as trendy as some others and so they are flying below the social media radar.

3 thoughts on “A contender

  1. Wow! What a great in-depth review. I have a few filofax-like ring binders but they’re only for art journal and stationery spreads. For planning and journaling I prefer a bound noteboook that lies flat. Just ordered the a Hobonichi Techo for 2021 last week. Haven’t used it before but it’s such a staple in the journaling community so I was curious!

  2. Hi, thanks for the kind words. I’m not convinced that I will want to go back into rings for next year’s planning, but it’s a constant temptation. A lot will depend on what I end up doing by way of a day job and whether I need to factor in portability. Not having to print my own inserts in order to get a decent paper quality makes it more likely I’ll go that route, though. I’m glad to say I don’t think the Hobonichi paper would be to my taste – I like it thick with as little show-through as possible. I’ll be interest to hear your thoughts on it, though.

  3. I hear you on having to factor portability. I’ve started paring down the notebook I carry with me from my normal planner (A6ish size) to a passport size notebook and lots of post-its. Also I’ve just accepted that I will be using multiple notebooks to accommodate my desire to use ALL THE JOURNALS. I got my Hobonichi order and the paper is quite thin, but it feels really nice. I plan to use it as a daily scrapbook/art journal so I think it’ll be okay. Mostly images pasted into it, with not as much writing.

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