(Harry Marks is a novelist and the host of the literary podcast COVERED, where he talks to authors about their books and the writing process.)
I’m not sure I’ve ever been in possession of such an Instagrammable object. It’s the kind of case Marcellus Wallace might send his henchmen to retrieve from a group of enterprising hipster thieves. By almost all measures, the Writing Box from Galen Leather is the item to have if you want to show people just how bohemian and creative you are, how committed to the analog lifestyle you’ve become. It tells them, “I am a serious writer person.”
All joking aside, the Writing Box is a conversation starter and stands out on any surface. Its solid walnut body frames notebooks and pencils like museum pieces. If you’ve ever walked through a Michael’s (and who here hasn’t?), you’ve seen those wooden boxes meant to be painted or decorated with elaborate filigrees using the burning tools in the next aisle. They’re made of cheap pine (or worse) and the lids are fastened with flimsy metal clasps. The Galen Leather Writing Box is the antithesis of those DIY projects.
A single nickel-plated brass clasp slides over the front to hold the whole thing together. It looks like it won’t be enough, but it’s strong and solid.
Once open, the lid hangs back on two equally strong nickel-plated brass hinges, adding to the vintage aesthetic of the piece. On the left and right of the box’s lower half sit two wooden prongs that can be flipped up and used as supports for the lid in order to create an angled writing surface. It’s a simple piece of ingenuity that adds to the box’s charm and makes it more than just a pretty case. Now it becomes actual tool in one’s writing arsenal, especially when paired with the optional leather carrying straps, which allow the box to be toted. I can imagine using this on the train each day, or on an airplane where the folding tray accommodates not much more than a plastic cup half-filled with Diet Coke.
The inside of the lid is lined with vegetable tanned leather that has been fitted with elastic straps for holding pens, pencils, and other accessories. I’ve stocked mine with some of my overflow stationery items, including a small watercolor set, a Lamy Al-star, a few Pilot Metropolitans, and a Kaweco sport, as well as some of my Field Notes overstock. When combined with something like the Dime Novel edition, the Writing Box feels like an object plucked out of time.
Of course, not all is hunky-dory in the world of the Galen Leather Writing Box. While the box is gorgeous, it suffers from a few flaws not limited to my own. Scour the comments on Galen Leather’s website and you’ll notice a trend of wood warping, some boxes shipped that way, others having warped over time. The lid and the base were perfectly even when I first received my Writing Box. However, after I’d had it open for 24 hours, I tried to close it and found the lid had warped upward and formed an unsightly sneer when closed. I’ve had the box clasped shut for almost two weeks in an effort to undo the warping, but the damage is done.
I also noticed a spot in the corner of the lid where the wood hadn’t been glued evenly and resulted in a 1/8 inch lip near the top. I reached out to Galen Leather for a replacement, which should be arriving in the coming days.
It’s a shame a stunning piece like the Galen Leather Writing Box is plagued by such a widespread problem, as it makes recommending the box difficult. Yes, it is beautiful. Yes, having one will make you the envy of all your other creative followers on Instagram. Yes, I still love mine, even though it looks like Elvis Presley, but for $120 the quality control needs to be better. The good news is that Galen Leather’s customer support has been very responsive and helpful in making things right.
The Writing Box is an analog enthusiast’s dream. I can’t think of a more perfect way to both display one’s collection of fine fountain pens and carry them from home to the coffee shop or the park for a day of writing and sketching. It’s not that warping is a definite on every unit, but it is a prevalent enough issue for me to caution potential buyers before ordering. I hope build quality improves and they’re able to fix the problem — the Galen Leather Writing Box is a one-of-a-kind product.
Seriously, I’ve looked everywhere. No one else makes anything close.