One can read about the historical dime novels on the Field Notes website here, though reading the actual dime novels wouldn’t be my cup of tea. Field Notes states, “After reading a few Dime Novels, we found that, by today’s standards, the stories are generally melodramatic, moralistic, and frequently politically incorrect. On top of that, they’re just plain dull.” However, Field Notes continues, “that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the books as designed objects.”
And that shows. These notebooks are beautiful objects. In fact, they are so nicely designed and beautifully constructed that I may not use mine as a typical memo book. The Dime Novel notebooks seem to deserve better than shopping lists and appointment reminders and such.
Actually, the Dime Novel notebook encourages that thinking, that sense of this notebook as a parallel product. The Dime Novel varies from the typical Field Notes memo book format in a number of ways. Right off the bat is its size and quantity.
Each pack contains only two Dime novel notebooks, for $12.95, but the notebooks are larger, and have more paper, than the smaller memo books. All of the technical specifications are on the band: 72 pages of blank paper, and a size of 4 1/4 by 6 1/2 inches.
Height and width are slightly larger than a Hobonichi Techo, which in turn is slightly larger in height and width than the usual Field Notes memo book.
There is another Field Notes notebook, the Pitch Black Notebook, which came out this year, but which I don’t have, so can’t show you. The Dime Novel is slightly smaller in height and width than the Pitch Black notebook, but the Dime Novel has more pages. A Pitch Black Notebook is 4 3/4 by 7 1/2 inches, and contains 64 staple-bound pages.
If you’re a Field Notes fan, you’ve probably grown to love the jokey lists of (pretend) Practical Applications inside the cover of each new set of memo books. As if underscoring that this is not just a larger memo book, the Dime Novel doesn’t have a list of Practical Applications. Instead, the back cover features a jokey list of (pretend) other publications, as if Field Notes really were a publisher of dime novels.
That’s a corner of the back cover. You can see that the text and the frame is debossed (pressed into the paper) before being inked. That’s true for almost everything else printed on the front and back covers, including the spine shown on the first page, above. As a printing nerd, I love this.
Even better, in a completely over-the-top touch, Field Notes adds a cherry to the printing techniques sundae by plunking an embossed (raised) circular medallion right in the middle of the front cover.
If you get the quarterly subscription, that medallion reappears on a little pin they throw in for subscribers.
Of course those references to Chicago, Illinois, use our state’s old-time postal abbreviation of “Ill.” It’s a nice retro touch, and I say retro because you probably have to be at least my age to remember that. But also it could be of the moment, if you interpret it as slyly suggesting that Chicago is the “illest” (best) city. Which it is.
And don’t @ me. It is on the button. It is known.
As a typeface fan, I want to touch on that, too. Field Notes usually uses the Futura family, which is a strong, straightforward sans-serif; see the “Field Notes” logo on any front cover, always Futura. But because the Dime Novel is an homage to books printed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Dime Novel also uses the serif typeface Century Schoolbook for some of the dime novel lingo on the front and back covers. To see that, check out the photos, above, of the covers.
That typeface, and maybe even the preponderance of dime novel-inspired text on the front, may be jarring to some Field Notes fans. Or perhaps the Futura will unsettle fans of the otherwise old-fashioned dime novel theme. It’s true that the Dime Novel does have a different aesthetic, which you can see even in the typefaces. I happen to like it. I always like when Field Notes goes big, and is willing to carry out a theme so wholeheartedly. Doing the same thing over and over with little tweaks may be the route to easy profits and fan satisfaction, but it’s not very creative and not very inspiring. Instead, every once in a while Field Notes drops something analogous to Bringing It All Back Home. I think that is awesome.
Going back to the relative mundanity of the cover color, the cover of the Dime Novel is a warm brown, darker than the color of the classic Field Notes kraft paper brown, and slightly red or orange.
The binding is awesome. Most Field Notes memo books, and also the Pitch Black Notebook, are staple-bound, in a process called saddle stitching. A machine folds the paper and cover, then attaches them with three staples in the spine. Instead of that, the Dime Novel notebook is constructed like a paperback book, with a squared spine, using a more upscale binding technique.
The Dime Novel’s 72 notebook pages are divided into three individually sewn sections (or signatures) which are bound together into the paper cover. Compare the two Dime Novel notebooks to the staple-bound folded memo book on top.
This is a high-quality bookbinding technique. It looks attractive and well-finished, and it seems structurally sound: I can bend the spine and turn the pages with abandon. Typically this type of binding means the pages would open flat, but I’m not sure the Dime Novel notebook is thick enough to make every page open perfectly flat. Perhaps with time and use.
Inside, the notebook paper is quite nice. It’s an atypically heavy, 70 pound, paper, in an attractive off-white. The paper has some recycled content (which I like) but it still looks almost completely uniform and unmarked (which I also like). In terms of the color, here is Dime Novel’s notebook paper between a Field Notes County Fair memo book, on top, and the Hobonichi Techo, below.
You can see that the interior pages are blank, but each page is numbered, a very welcome feature. As with all Field Notes memo books, the corners are rounded.
As for writing with fountain pens, the paper is better than average. Below is a writing sample with Papier Plume Red Beans and Rice ink in a Montblanc with broad nib, on the left, and Pelikan Brilliant Black ink in a Lamy Safari with fine nib, on the right.
Red Beans and Rice is an ink that can feather a little bit on paper that isn’t perfectly fountain-pen friendly, and here it did, albeit from the wet and wide Montblanc broad nib. In contrast, the Lamy Safari with fine nib, and Pelikan Brilliant Black, is a combination that rarely feathers, and here it didn’t. The wetter Red Beans and Rice took a while to dry; while the Brilliant Black dried fairly quickly. (I’ve revised my original “average” rating to “better than average” since I first published this. I’ve found that most inks don’t feather on this paper — only a few — and those that do, don’t feather much.)
There was absolutely no bleedthrough or showthrough with either fountain pen, as you’d expect with nice, weighty paper like this. Still, you’ll want to choose your pen and ink for this paper, rather than knowing it can tame absolutely any firehose nib and feather-prone ink thrown at it.
The first inside page of the notebook is printed with an engraving of a printing press, so it acts as almost a title page.
Dime Novel is very old-timey looking there. But it’s also the illest.
I love this one. I love the looks. I love the size. I love the debossing and embossing on the covers. I love how the binding looks. I like the rich-looking notebook paper, and I love having page numbers. The paper is fountain-pen friendly enough for me, since I prefer fountain pens with fine nibs. In truth, I can’t think of anything I don’t like about the Dime Novel.
That said, it probably would not replace the regular Field Notes as my rugged, compact, carry-everywhere memo books. I’m more likely to add the Dime Novel to the lineup of notebooks I use at home and for work.
A quick note on price: as noted, you only get two of the Dime Novel notebooks in a pack, instead of three of the regular memo books. But that seems wholly appropriate. It’s bigger and has more pages. The Pitch Black notebooks also come two per pack, and also for $12.95, with slightly larger pages, but slightly fewer pages. To me, the Dime Novel feels like a good deal.
As always, that doesn’t mean it is perfect, or will appeal to everyone. For some people, it might be too different, or too themed. Or maybe just not appealing aesthetically. And some people only want the memo book size. For users of fountain pens exclusively, and users of broad nibs, this paper won’t make your dreams come true; instead, you will say, “I’m sticking with Tomoe River.” But I’m really interested to hear in people’s reactions to the Dime Novel, because I really like it.
What the Dime Novel reminds me of, in a way, is the Byline reporter’s notebooks, which was the Summer 2016 Quarterly Edition. Now the Byline had a very different form factor from a Field Notes memo book, while the Dime Novel is closer to what Field Notes usually are. But both are kind of nostalgic, both were created with a very high level of commitment to the theme, and both are so well-made.
And, just as the Byline was later tweaked and brought into the regular line as the Front Page, I sort of hope a version of the Dime Novel might eventually enter the regular lineup. I expect the odds are against it. But if it happened, I think I’d buy it regularly.