“I never travel without my notebook – I always, always take my little black Alwych notebook. And pens. And a map of wherever I’m going. And a torch.” – Michael Palin, travel writer and Monty Python comedian
While fascinating in their own right, Alwych Notebooks are but one chapter in a long and intriguing history of Scottish printers and stationers. On the off chance that you get as excited about history as we do, here’s the background. The company—then Nisbet MacNiven—began in 1770 and moved eight miles into downtown Edinburgh, Scotland in 1788 to expand its wholesale stationery. Almost 60 years later, a pair of Cameron brothers joined the business, changing the name to MacNiven and Cameron in 1845. By 1850, another, younger, Cameron brother invented the Waverley fountain pen nib—named for Sir Walter Scott’s popular novels—with a narrow waist and upturned point. This upturned point, which functioned almost as a ball point, was intended to improve writing smoothness and be less appealing to schoolboys who enjoyed re-purposing sharp-nibbed pens as darts. Whether it was effective at decreasing schoolhouse antics or not, the production of Waverley pens was outsourced until 1900, when MacNiven and Cameron bought their own manufacturing facility in Birmingham, England and set about making fountain pens.
Unfortunately, production of the popular nib and other pens began to falter and by the 1920s, the company began shifting back into paper stationery. The classic Alwych Notebook likely appeared by the early 1930s, contemporaneous with the then-produced Greenback ledgers and Denbigh cash books. While production has changed hands a few more times, and the Birmingham factory closed in 1964, the Alwych All-Weather Notebook has remained the same for over 80 years, even down to the styling.
There’s something very Scottish about this notebook. It’s something about the practical, utilitarian quality, made to last despite the unexpected (or quite expected!) thundershower or soft but drenching smirr. Unfortunately for fountain pen lovers, it’s manufactured for slightly less wet inks. But somehow, that too meshes with this notebook’s persona. It’s meant to be carried along on birding expeditions, archaeological digs, backpacking in rural Romania and South Africa, and to jot down notes while surveying, fishing, gardening, or building high rises in the rain. While it perfectly accompanies a morning cuppa, it loves to be out and about. And what do you know, so do we!