William Hannah is my new true love
You’ve heard of all the big names in the discbound planner and notebook system, right? Happy Planner, Arc by Staples, Levenger Circa, Tul … and William Hannah. Wait. You haven’t heard of William Hannah? Oh no! Well, let me introduce you to my new best friend. Read on for a nerdy, in-depth review.
But first, let me jump back in history for a moment.
A mini timeline of Pam’s planners…
- Pre-2012 – we’ll cover that another day (it was a mess!)
- 2012 until 2015 – various leather traveler’s notebooks
- 2014 until 2016 – Arc discbound notebook by Staples
- 2016 to present – bullet journal notebook and leather TN
I’ve always had a love for leather. That’s what drew me to traveler’s notebooks in the first place. We’ll talk about my vast TN collection at another time, if you wish. It was during this era that I first published a blog post about how to make your own TN inserts (yes, I moved that old tutorial to the Stationery Nerd website, so it’s here for you to enjoy now).
But it was my love of organization and a need to keep the different areas of my life compartmentalized that drew me to a discbound notebook system. Being able to move pages around, create sections within a single notebook, archive finished sections to make room for more pages, and the ability to make the notebook as fat or skinny as I wanted based on the size of discs I used. My lime green Arc was a workhorse for me and helped me stay organized as I grew a successful graphic design freelance business on the side while working a day job.
But there was one major drawback of the Arc discbound notebook. It wasn’t leather.
I looked around at the other brands to see if there was higher-quality options for covers. I did switch to aluminum rings from the plastic and that made a big difference. But no matter which notebook I looked at, it was all the same – it just didn’t feel comfortable. As awesome as the discbound system is for planning and staying organized, it was not a pleasure to carry.
If Midori and Arc had a baby…
Let’s pretend that the Traveler’s Company (formerly known as Midori) and Staples Arc notebook (or Happy Planner, Tul, Levenger) got together and made sweet stationery love. Taking the best part of traveler’s notebooks (the leather) and combining it with a discbound system to create a perfect love child where you get everything you love in a single notebook. And let’s also pretend that the stationery gods have blessed this baby with superior paper genes and it is a straight-A student, all-star athlete, and class president.
That stationery love child is not just a fantasy. It’s real! And it’s the notebook of my dreams!
William Hannah … my stationery love child
Before I dive straight off a cliff on this love child thing, let’s just step away from the stationery love child thing. LOL! William Hannah notebooks combine the discbound system that helps me stay hyper-organized with the luxury of fine Italian leather that is a joy to carry. And the paper by William Hannah is some of the best I’ve experienced in any notebook I’ve tested or reviewed here on Stationery Nerd (with more than 50 journals tested, that’s high praise from this nerd!). And to top it all off is the endless combinations you can create with the unique customization system they’ve built. It is truly a bespoke paper system.
The William Hannah brand was born in London in 2015 which was right in the middle of my love affair with discbound systems. As the new kid on the block, it took a little while for news of this notebook to reach me in Michigan, USA. It was just about the time when I had moved out of my Arc and into a new system that I first learned of William Hannah and realized that it was probably the perfect option for me – if I ever went back to discs again.
I have followed the William Hannah brand since that first discovery and have drooled from afar. But the time was never right to move back into a disc notebook … until now.
A few months ago, David, the owner of William Hannah, reached out to me as a fellow stationery nerd to introduce himself. He generously sent me a notebook to try. And now this notebook has become part of my daily routine and for the New Year, I’m moving in more fully as a way to keep my business organized and blog posts flowing here on the website.
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William Hannah Customization
Let’s start with the fun part! Customizing the William Hannah notebook is just the first step in how you make it truly your own. The steps you take in the ordering will result in a notebook that’s uniquely yours.
- Choose the size of the notebook – A6 or A5
- Choose the “off the shelf” color combination you love most (If you need a specific color combination that’s not listed, you can choose the Bespoke version to build one that’s perfect for you.)
- Choose your personalization – up to 4 letters imprinted on the cover
- Choose your paper style – blank, lines, dots, grid, calendars, planners, trackers
- Choose your paper printing color – yes, you choose what color the dots, lines, or grid are printed in (this doesn’t apply to the calendar or planner type pages).
- Choose your accessories – pen loop, dividers, bookmarks
I chose an A5 notebook with Whiskey outer leather and Kingfisher inner suede. The color combination makes me so happy! When it came to picking the paper for my notebook I struggled with what to do so I just got a variety. The notebook comes with 60 sheets and you can customize in 20-sheet increments. I ordered 20 sheets of lined paper with blue lines; 20 sheets of dot grid paper with grey dots; and 20 sheets of square grid with grey grid lines.
I decided that the grey grid paper was my favorite and I’ve filled up all of my pages already – so I’ve ordered more grey grid. Plus, I’ve also ordered calendar pages, dividers, and bookmarks. Yes, folks, I’m moving in!
THE WILLIAM HANNAH DISCS ARE DIFFERENT (but familiar)
Metal discs are a game changer for anyone who has ever used a discbound notebook. Once I switched to the higher quality discs in my Arc (back in about 2015) I knew I would never go back to plastic again. The paper glides smoothly when you turn the page without the “friction” you get with plastic discs. The stainless steel discs in the William Hannah notebook are the perfect solution for this system, too.
The way the discs work in William Hannah is different than any other notebook system I’ve seen. The discs are affixed to the notebook itself to create a spine. Each disc has a tiny hole and a metal rod is threaded through that hole then the rod is sewn into the spine as part of the construction of the notebook.
Not only do you get a more sturdy discbound system – no wobbling – but you also have the huge benefit of the discs being protected inside the leather notebook. The size of the disc is about a half-inch and you only get this one option. It comfortably fits the 60 pages that came with my first order and is now holding the annual calendar pages plus a couple dividers that I’ve just received.
You can order an archive system that comes with a set of larger rings that holds more than 120 sheets, so you can move used pages out of the notebook quickly and add new blank pages in.
The small size of the rings and small capacity of the notebook might be a problem for some people – I’m looking at you, chunky Happy Planner enthusiasts. This notebook is not designed to be chunky and to be crammed with every possible piece of paper or 20 different sections or a whole year of daily calendar pages. It’s designed to be portable and fit comfortably in your hand so you are naturally drawn to carrying it with you wherever you go.
In fact, I love how David from William Hannah has described his mission with the company:
What I’m trying to achieve with William Hannah as being the intersection between ‘notebooks that make you want to write’ and ‘inspiration people to make positive personal changes,’ hopefully helping others to become happier and more successful through writing things down. #BecauseWritingHelps
SAME SIZE AS OTHERS?
I know what you’re asking next …. Because it was a question that was burning in my mind too. Is the disc the same size as everyone else? Can I use all my previous discbound system accessories in this notebook too? YES! It’s the same! It’s beautifully the same!
Back in my Arc days, I had invested in one of the big punches (if you’re serious about disc notebooks, get the big punch – skip those wimpy ones you get at the craft store, you’ll thank me). I also had a whole storage box filled with all these dividers and bookmarks and dashboards and… a lot of stuff. And it all fits! I resisted adding a million extra things (that sleek minimal design is one of the things I love so much about this notebook!). But I added a plastic ruler bookmark and also a sticky-note dashboard to the back.
REFILLS & ACCESSORIES
We’re going to talk about the paper in the next section so I won’t go into those details yet. The William Hannah brand has a ton of extras to choose from when you are putting your system together. Maybe you just want plain paper (dots, grid, lines, blank) or maybe you want a calendar (monthly, weekly, daily). Do you have a preference between horizontal weeks and vertical weeks? You’re covered with both options. There are trackers for habits and a 24-hour time tracker. Weekly planner pages (perfect for meal planning!) and task list pages.
The divider pages and bookmarks are made of a luxurious, textured cardstock that comes in packs of 5 and you choose whatever combination of colors you want (choose from 12 different colors). Do you need a pen loop? You’re covered (and for a bargain price, too!).
Paper Quality and Pen Testing
I’ve hinted at it above, but now we’re going to go all-in on paper talk. David won’t tell me much about this paper (trade secrets!) but I can assure you that the quality of this paper reveals that he is just as much a paper nerd as I am. Quality counts and he’s chosen the best paper for this notebook. Here’s what he will tell us…
The paper is 115gsm and it is British-made. I have been to the mill to see the paper being made, and they test it themselves with a fountain pen and red Parker ink to make sure it performs well!
I can confirm that this paper is a JOY to write on with fountain pens. In fact, that’s what I have been using almost exclusively on the pages I’ve filled. The paper is smooth but not slippery. The ink dries quickly but doesn’t soak into the fibers of the paper to bleed through the page. Ghosting is not an issue and I haven’t had anything (except alcohol-ink Sharpie Marker) bleed through the page.
I’ve tested all the usual pens and water-based markers and everything performed perfectly. There’s a tiny bit of ghosting when I make an overly dark mark but its so minimal that I’d count it as “no ghosting.”
I love that the paper is sourced locally in England and close to the company and that he’s been to the mill to check on the quality of the paper before it goes into my notebook. The attention to detail and quality of the paper makes me a happy nerd.
Features & Specs
Everything about the William Hannah notebook is top quality and feels luxurious. At first glance, the price tag that comes with this notebook might seem a bit steep. The notebook I ordered, with a pen loop and shipping from London to America, cost around $125 (which was a gift from the company owner – thank you, David!). I’ve also spent another $50-ish to replenish my supply of paper and get my notebook set up for the coming year with calendar pages, bookmarks, and dividers. And I can confidently say that this price is a bargain for the quality of this notebook and paper.
Those who know me well, know that I love a bargain. I hate paying full price for anything and I will research a product to death before I open my wallet. That’s probably why I spent so many years just drooling over this notebook on Instagram instead of taking the leap and making a purchase. But now that I’ve held this notebook in my hands and filled it with pages and pages of journaling… I now consider the price tag to be a fair price for the level of quality you get. In fact, as I said above, it’s a bargain.
SIZES & STYLES
You have three size choices. Two have discs and one is a pocket notebook folio. I am using the A5 size. But if you need something smaller, the A6 is ideal as an every day carry size. The pocket notebook cover will fit a standard Field Notes-size notebook. You can even order the pocket notebook refills that include the wonderful William Hannah paper. All of these notebook sizes are available in a variety of color combinations – leather on the outside, suede on the inside.
Oh leather, how I love you! This is buttery soft and supple Italian leather. It’s the kind of leather you’d expect from a high-end luxury designer handbag. The kind of leather you just want to hold in your hand. (Is it wrong to pet your notebook?) The inside is lined with a super soft suede leather and the color options are beautiful.
I asked David about the thickness of the leather and his answer was:
The leather and suede are Italian, and the combined thickness is around 3.2mm – it’s not an exact science as both the leather and suede are slightly variable in thickness.
Leather Combination Options
When you buy a William Hannah notebook, I think the most fun part of the entire buying experience is choosing your color combination. There are 7 leather colors and 8 suede colors. And you have eleven stock color combinations to choose from. If you want a combination that isn’t already available, you can choose the “bespoke” option and have a notebook custom made for you. The combination I chose is Whiskey & Kingfisher.
- Leather colors – Dark Chocolate • Black • Whiskey • Deep Purple • Bordeaux • Agave • Red Chili
- Suede colors – Lime • Crimson • Kingfisher • Fuchsia • Orange • Petrol • Navy • Ultra Violet
One more thing about the leather (I know! I’m obsessed!). I’ve been using this notebook almost every day for the past 4 month, or so. Mine came with one of the removable pen loops that you can order as an additional accessory. I’ve found that I don’t actually use the pen loop since I tend to just carry a pen case with me – but I like the look of it, so I left it on.
But I was curious about how the leather had changed since I started using it. I took the pen loop off to peek underneath. Wow! I was surprised at how much the leather had developed a patina in just a short time. I have most definitely not babied this notebook at all. In fact, I’ve purposefully beaten it up. If you look closely at the photos, you’ll see some splatters of green fountain pen ink, some sun damage, plenty of scratches … and I may or may not have rolled the leather to give it a bit of a live-in look. (I couldn’t help myself!)
I am falling more and more in love with this leather every single day. And now that I know how the color has aged over the past several months, it makes me want to use it even more!
How I’m using it…
So what the heck am I doing with this notebook anyway? It’s not like I don’t already have a dozen (or so) journals going – why would I need something new? Honestly, I didn’t know what I was going to use it for when I first got it, but I knew I wanted to use it. Every day. Every single day.
So what do I do every day that would require a journal that I love writing in? Morning Pages! Except I already had a system for my Morning Pages routine and didn’t want to start something new for that morning routine of journal writing. So I started a new version of “morning pages” – I’m using that term very loosely here. I’m using it for “Morning Pages for Business.”
Morning Pages is a system developed by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist Way. The idea is to write three pages of long-hand journaling as the very first thing you do in the morning (ideally before you get out of bed). The goal is to dump out all the nonsense garbage from your brain before you get on with your day. That garbage starts to show your thought patterns and, over time, will start to change your life as you deal with that garbage by changing habits and behaviors. I’ve been doing Morning Pages since about 2016 and I can honestly say it has changed my life.
So I decided to use this notebook as a way to write some stream of consciousness journaling that relates 100% to my business ventures. Not just here at Stationery Nerd, but also my freelance graphic design business.
This notebook has become a place for me to brainstorm ideas, plan priorities, look ahead for goal setting and get a handle on the million thoughts swirling in my head every day. I don’t actually write in the morning, though. My habit has become to write for 20 minutes or so as soon as I get home from the day job and before I start working on the business task list (usually while eating dinner on the couch). It gets me in the mindset to be creative and helps me accomplish what’s on the list with a clear and focused mind.
ALSO MY NEW EDITORIAL CALENDAR
I’ve added a William Hannah monthly calendar set for next year and a couple of dividers to the notebook already. Once I finish my current business planner for this year, I’ll move into the William Hannah for next year. This will be a place for me to plan out blog articles, reviews, lessons, products, … and all the things that go into making Stationery Nerd an amazing place on the interwebs.
WILLIAM HANNAH … IN THE WILD
Here are a few shots of where I’ve taken my journal while filling it up in the past several months.
One more tid-bit about the William Hannah company that I was curious about, so I asked. Where’d the name come from? Turns out David and his wife have two children – Hannah is the oldest, William the youngest. How awesome that the company is named for the kids!
As you have probably guessed by now, I love this notebook! For me, there are no drawbacks whatsoever. But I’m not one who loves super chunky notebooks, stuffed with a million accessories and “pretties” – if you’re one of those people, this might not be the right system for you. But if you’re looking for a slim and minimal but luxurious and yummy notebook that you can’t take your hands off of, this is the right notebook for you!
Kitty Out Take
No blog post would be complete without a kitty!