Penaphernalia: Franklin-Christoph Command Center Folio
I, like many fountain pen nerds, work in the technology industry. I’m not entirely sure why so many fountain pen people work in tech. Perhaps it is a way for us to escape from our modern prisons of grey-fabric cubicle walls and blue-tinted LCD screens—one of our few links to the world of tangible things rather than the world of electrons, photons, bits, and bytes.
When I first started using fountain pens to take notes at work, I would travel from meeting to meeting clutching a wirebound notebook in my hands. Before I knew better, it was whatever cheap, generic, POS notebook the company kept in the supply closet. Before long, my snooty tastes and preference for wet pens with wider nibs required I invest in some better paper. So, I could often be found with the bright orange Rhodia wirebound notebooks or the shockingly candy-colored offerings from Clairefontaine. After about a year of this, I decided I wanted to class it up and get myself a nice folio or notebook cover.
I’m a sucker for leather goods, so while browsing the Franklin-Christoph website, as one does when one is a fountain pen nerd, I decided to look through their leather folio covers. I’m a big fan of most of Franklin-Christoph’s products, and have been since the purchase of my Model 19 “1901” fountain pen.
Franklin-Christoph offers their leather Command Center folio in three sizes: A6 ($70), A5 ($100), and the monstrous A4 ($130). Since I usually use A4 notebooks for my work notes, I opted for the A4 version of the folio, despite what I considered to be a rather excessive price for a leather folder. The folio, which comes in solid black leather and a black/brown leather combination, looked well-made and very attractive, however, so I ponied up the dough.
The command center folio comes with your choice of a Franklin-Christoph side-bound journal (which I have reviewed here) or a Franklin-Christoph top-bound notepad. I opted for the A4 journal with my folio, and have been using it as my main journal ever since. I like their journals quite a bit, and I recently picked up three more A5 journals from Massdrop when they had them on sale.
When my folio arrived, I was both pleased and disappointed. The folio looked wonderful, and felt as well-made as it looked. The quality of the leather was top-notch, and it lacked that very acrid chemical smell you sometimed get with leather goods. (Franklin-Christoph uses vegetable-tanned leather, which probably helps alleviate some of that “chemical” smell.)
I was disappointed, however, at the coloring of the leather. The F-C website photos show the brown/black folio with a fairly high degree of contrast between the dark black and the lighter brown leather colors. Either I had been sent the wrong folio, or they had changed the brown of the leather they used for the two-color combination, because the brown on my folio is barely distinguisable from the black. I think I can see some brown in the pieces that are supposed to be brown, but it didn’t look anything like the photos on the website. I was a little disappointed, but not enough to send it back.
The Command Center Folio exhibits several trademarks of the Franklin-Christoph design aesthetic. Made of top quality leather, with nice, taupe-colored stitching, the folio also features cut-off corners, reducing the possibility of damage to the folio corners over time. The front of the folio has a zippered flap, which could easily hold a cell phone, iPad Mini, Kindle, or other small electronic device. The back cover has an embossed Franklin-Christoph logo.
The folio employs a thick, elastic strap which can be used to hold the notebook closed. While I appreciate the though behind this particular feature, I find it to be more of a nuisance than a feature. I suppose if I carried around a lot of loose papers in my folio, I could see that as being a benefit. For the most part, I just found it annoying. In the end, I kept the elastic wrapped around the back flap only, so I could keep it out of the way.
Inside, the folio features a leather flap on the left for holding loose papers (I use mine to hold a wad of paper towels in case of a pen-blowout during a work meeting.) The interior is lined with a textured, almost plastic-y, fabric in black. On the right is where you attach your notebook or notepad.
The folio was designed to accept both top-bound and side-bound A4 notebooks. As mentioned earlier, I had ordered the A4 journal to accompany my folio, but after a while, I pulled it out of the folio and replaced it with a topbound, wirebound Rhodia or Clairefontaine notebook. The main reason for this change is due to the sheer amount of table real estate the folio and notebook take up when open. It’s fine when I’ve got a nice expansive surface on my writing desk or dining room table at home. At my cramped workstation or at crowded conference room tables, the A4 folio was just too big. With a topbound notebook I could flip my used pages over the top of the folio, and fold the front cover behind the back, thus allowing me to take up much less space. It wasn’t really possible to do that with the sidebound journal.
Also on the inside of the folio are two leather and elastic loops which function as a double pen loop. (Two loops for one pen, not a loop for two pens.) Because the back of the flap is elastic, it holds pens in a wide ranges of sizes, including very large pens like the F-C Model 19, Edison Collier, or Montblanc 149.
I should mention that there are two issues on the inside of the folio that bug me. The first issue is the stitching. On the outside of the folio, the stitching is perfect: even, nicely spaced, and straight as a ruler. On the inside, the stitching was a bit sloppier. The difference was minor, but when you have such light-colored stitching over black fabric as a design element, it makes imperfections really stand out.
The other, and much more significant, issue for me was around the slots for inserting notebooks or journals. I’m not sure if my folio was just sloppily assembled or if this is by design, but neither of the slots (for the topbound or sidebound notebooks) lays flat. They curl up at the edges, as though they weren’t cut straight or sewn properly. Because the stiff fabric doesn’t lay flat, the notebooks don’t lay flat either, especially as you get toward the end of the notebook. I found myself having to hold the paper flat with my left hand while using my right hand to write. More than once, I ended up smearing ink in places I didn’t want to because the notebooks wouldn’t lay flat.
Now, in the grand scheme of things, this is a fairly minor complaint. But for a $130 leather folder, and from my previous experience with Franklin-Christoph products, I expected higher quality.
I purchased this folio toward the end of 2014, and I recorded the video review above about a month after I received it. I have continued to use the folio for the past six months or so, and I still use the folio to carry around my notebooks on a day to day basis at work. But these days, my notebooks never get “attached” to the folio. The issue with the back flap made it annoying enough to write on my notebooks that I have just given up on keeping the notebook inside the folio when I write. Instead, I leave the notebook loose inside the folio, remove it when I get to my destination, and set the folio aside during the meeting. It’s not ideal, and were something to happen to the folio, I probably wouldn’t purchase another one to replace it. What good is a leather folder for your notebook if you can’t use your notebook while it’s in the leather folder?
The Franklin-Christoph Command Center folio is very attractive. And were it not for that one issue, I would probably love it. If you’re not as compulsive as I am about things like that, it probably wouldn’t bother you at all. But between the color disappointment, the uneven inside stitching, the notebook slots that won’t lay flat, and the high price point, I’m rather ho-hum about this folio.