Despite the name they are not actually made from mole’s skin or leather but from polypropylene, a material commonly used in book coverings. After some concern about PVC in the covers they have now been declared PVC-free and they are compliant with California Proposition 65, one of the most stringent regulations in the world regarding the safety and environmental impact of materials.
They are based on the notebooks used by Hemingway, Van Gogh and Picasso, with rounded corners, ivory notepaper, an expandable pocket, ribbon marker and an elastic closure. The name comes from Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines, where he mourns the loss of the black oilskin-covered notebooks called ‘Carnets Moleskins’ which he uses to make his notes. Bought in a little shop in the Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie in Paris, the last manufacturer had closed and they were no longer available.
The notebooks were resurrected by a small Italian publisher called Modo & Modo in 1997 who wanted to design a product for ‘the global nomads, a new creative class who constantly travel’. Trademarking the name Moleskine, they registered on the Italian stock exchange in 2013 and in 2016 had a turnover of €145.2m, employing 500 people between its Milan headquarters and its 80 shops around the world.
Part of the unusual approach Moleskine took was to sell them in bookshops rather than just stationery shops – they were still books after all but just not yet written. Initially booksellers were unsure but eventually they realised the overlap, fitting neatly with the more modern approach of Barnes and Noble and Waterstones. These days no self-respecting bookshop would be without a selection of blank journals alongside their book offering and for that we can thank Moleskine.
They are no longer made in Italy but in China, the change causing a lot of negative feedback from fans. Moleskine like to make the point on their website that paper did in fact originate from China in the 2nd Century, presumably making it some sort of ancestral home to notebooks. An interesting point, not sure how relevant it is.
Pronunciation is an issue for many people it seems. It is an English word for a French notebook, made by an Italian company. Mole skin would be the English way, mole eh skeen the French choice and the Italians would say mole eh skeen eh. Moleskine say anything goes and there is no correct way to say it so make your own choice.
All books have their own ID, printed on a sticker and found in the pocket. It is said that you can use this to identify your book and get assistance with any problems though not sure how well that process works. Some people collect the stickers though and you’ll find threads on Reddit and Facebook about what to do with them.
Very little advertising is done for the books, Moleskine preferring to do their marketing via social media and working within the artistic community. They do a lot of work with architecture, design and illustration, publishing books on the subject and running an archive of artist’s notebooks which is worth checking out.
They have a non-profit operation which is independent from the rest of the company – the Moleskine Foundation. This has a special focus on Africa and uses art and creativity to provide grants to cultural organizations and projects. The Foundation believes that creativity has the power to transform society and produce positive, concrete change
The paper weight is 70gsm, acid free and FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council). There is much debate amongst ink pen users as to whether the paper is good enough to handle fountain pens but for most people, they are undoubtedly the biggest brand with the highest brand recognition.