Composition Notebooks

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Overview of the Composition Notebook

The marbled design of the traditional composition notebook was first inspired by the printing techniques used in the early 10th century in China and the 12th century in Japan. This design became popular in England in the 19th century and was used mainly for book covers, end-papers, and book edge designs. Over the years, the methods of crafting marbled paper improved and by the 1830s, a cost-effective process was developed known as the pseudo-marbling pattern. Notebooks printed with this method began appearing in Germany and France first and was later brought to the United States in the early 20th century.


We began our search by looking through industry-specific websites such as Design Boom and Eye on Design for information on the history of composition notebooks; government school databases such as the District of Columbia Public School, and media reports and articles on websites such as the New York Times and the Guardian for information on the trends of composition notebooks. After an extensive search through these channels, we found the required information on the history of traditional composition notebooks but found no direct information on the current trends of composition notebooks. To understand the trend of notebook use, we looked into e-commerce websites such as Amazon, Staple, and Mead to analyze the preference of these products based on customer reviews. We were able to determine the modern options of composition notebooks and the customers’ preference for marbled and non-marbled notebooks. Our findings have been presented below.

History of the Composition Notebook

The composition notebook with a marble-designed cover goes back to over 200 years. The marbled cover of this notebook is an example of a timeless design that has not changed much over the years. The marbled design on the cover of the traditional composition notebook was inspired by the printing practices of paper marbling that was used in the 10th century in China and then later in the 12th century in Japan. The traditional art of marbling was used to create decorative papers for book covers in these regions.

The techniques of paper marbling advanced over time and was taken to Turkey in the 15th century. The style and method of paper marbling were slightly different in this country and was known as “ebru. This style was then adopted by the Europeans, later in the 19th century, and used this method to decorate book covers, the edges of books, and end-papers with marbled designs. Paper marbling was found to be a labor-intensive process that involves pigmenting water with color drops and creating designs with brushes before paper sheets are placed on it to absorb the pattern. This method of marbling then evolved into a more cost-effective technique known as pseudo-marbling, in the 1830s.

The agate pattern created in Germany by the industrial technique of pseudo-marbling is considered to be the real inspiration for the traditional marbled composition notebook. Notebooks were first printed with this technique in Germany and France, in the 19th century and were later adopted by manufacturers such as Roaring Spring in the United States, in the early 20th century. The design was never copyrighted and was thus, taken up by Mead during the 1970s. The Marble-designed notebooks are still popular with consumers in the United States today. According to Aron Fay, a graphic designer for Pentagram, the traditional composition notebook has become a cultural icon in modern times. It is used in movies and books to indicate that mysteries, revelations, and secrets "lie within the pages".

Overview of Why People Choose to Use Composition Notebooks

The marbled pattern on the cover of composition notebooks is considered to be a “perfect example of a timeless notebook design”. These notebooks are quite popular with both students and professionals belonging to various walks of life. The London design studio, Pentagram, claims to be a fan of the composition notebook. Aron Fay, the design studio’s graphic designer, admits that he is obsessed with these notebooks and worked on redesigning them with a contemporary design. Pentagram’s partner, Michael Beirut, claims to have been using composition notebooks since 1982.

A blogger who uses composition notebooks expressed a similar sentiment and stated that composition notebooks are workable and durable as compared to regular notebooks. He believes that regular expensive notebooks get fully consumed and eventually becomes worn out, lacking durability. Composition notebooks, on the other hand, are cheap, flexible, and durability. The blogger calls the composition notebook as “truly a ubiquitous product”. Regardless of the brand, composition notebooks are manufactured to have the same size, shape, weight, and are long-lasting. This is a primary reason for its popularity and is always included in the list of school supplies in the United States.

Current Trends

Still popular and in use:

Due to their benefits, composition notebooks are still popular among students and professionals. According to a “hot topic” discussed on GRZEXP, school teachers prefer using composition notebooks to regular and spiral notebooks. The school supply list displayed on the District of Columbia Public School’s webpage is found to feature marble-designed composition notebooks. They are a requirement for appropriate grade level students in all public schools in Washington DC. Clearbrook Elementary School also displays a list of school supplies in which marble composition notebooks are a requirement. Based on the number of reviews present for composition notebook products on websites such as Amazon and Staple, it is seen that marble-designed composition notebooks are preferred more by customers.

Modern options:

While marble-patterned composition notebooks are still in demand by notebook buyers, there are many composition notebooks with patterns that are not marbled. Various designs are featured in modern options such as fashion cover composition notebooks, plain colored, floral, and pastel designed composition notebooks. Based on the product reviews listed on Amazon and Staple websites, it has been noticed that modern-pattern composition notebooks have fewer reviews compared to marble-designed composition notebooks. However, customers who have purchased the modern options of composition books are found to be satisfied with the products.

Modern Designs of Composition Notebooks

The following is a list of five modern designs of composition notebooks that are not marbled -
  • Eucatus' Composition Notebook with 11 customer reviews — Link
  • What's Fun B5 Theme Composition Notebook with 32 customer reviews — Link
  • Five Star's Composition Notebook with 14 customer reviews — Link
  • Mead Composition Notebook with 6 customer reviews — Link
  • Rosalink Green World Composition Notebook with 13 customer reviews — Link


  • "They’re used in books and movies to signal that secrets, mysteries and revelations lie within the pages. It’s the rebellious teenage cousin of the Moleskine. They’re not meant for briefcases—they’re meant for the scribblings of artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat."
  • "The story of the composition book begins way before American companies began selling them to students. The composition book’s unique marbled pattern was inspired by printing techniques in 10th century China. Later, in 12th century Japan, early techniques of paper marbling continued to evolve to produce marbled designs."
  • "In the 19th century, marbling became widely popular, and was frequently used in England for decorating book covers, end papers, and even the edges of books."
  • "Notebooks printed with pseudo-marbling pattern began appearing in France and Germany in the mid-19th century, and by the early 20th century, U.S. manufacturers like Roaring Spring were emulating the design. Never copyrighted, it was picked up by Mead in the 1970s, and remains popular with many brands today."
  • "Most people can trace the notebook back to around 1887, when manufacturers brought the model over from France to the U.S., where brands like Mead, Norton, Roaring Springs, and dozens of others have been pumping them out ever since. "
  • "If you ask why no one has thought to differentiate their brand from the rest, you might also ask why a company like Mead would mess with a good thing; its composition book has been a top seller for decades. "
  • "Did you look at your class’ supplies lists, did you see a combination of composition and spiral notebooks? More and more teachers are using composition notebooks instead of spiral notebooks."
  • "The composition book, as such, is perfect for me because it is super cheap, and each one is basically the same size, weight, shape and durability as the other, no matter which brand you buy."
  • "If you have kids, you may already have a few lying around the house, as the composition book remains a popular school supply"
  • "Not only is the humble composition book ubiquitous, it is the Goldilocks of notebooks. At roughly 9 ¾ inches tall by 7 ½ inches wide, the composition book is not too small and not too large. "
  • "The composition book is flexible, yet it is extremely durable. I’ve said it before, but I appreciate the fact that the composition book has sewn-in pages."