I’m continuing on my journey to write about every quarterly edition of Field Notes that I have, with a few exceptions. Last time I wrote about Shelterwood, and for this post, I’m choosing a very old one, Just Below Zero. Not quite season-appropriate but hey, it’s about time! After this, there will be only two left: Mackinaw Autumn and Night Sky. As usual, this post will be image- and trivia-heavy, with a summary of details at the end.
Edited April 20, 2017.
Just Below Zero is the winter release of Field Notes from 2009, 5th in their quarterly edition series (called COLORS back then). With the 35th edition coming up in the summer, Just Below Zero feels like an ancient edition, and it might not look so buzzworthy by today’s standards, but I really love it for its simple winter theme and the “classic” features (I’ll get into these later). It’s also hard to believe that this was almost 8 years ago, and it’s astounding that only 3,000 packs of Just Below Zero were made, while recent editions easily go for 30,000 – 40,000 packs. But it’s clear Field Notes had realized the potential of limited editions (and subscriptions) by then, and JBZ’s edition size was already six times the size of the first COLORS editions (Butcher Orange and Butcher Blue, each 500 packs). Just as its predecessors, Just Below Zero did very well, and 3-packs quickly sold out by the end of November 2009. I didn’t know about Field Notes back then. I only have one pack of JBZ, which I got years later, and I still consider it one of the more special and unique Field Notes editions that I have in my collection.
Just Below Zero is old enough that I often think of it as the first winter edition but it wasn’t. Believe it or not, Butcher Orange was released in January 2009 and is considered the 1st winter edition (Winter 2008/2009), but I doubt Field Notes was thinking about seasonal themes at that point. The COLORS series was still in its infancy after all, and it isn’t until Grass Stain Green (Summer 2009) that they even started naming the editions according to their themes, not after paper names. So I view Just Below Zero as the first edition with the cold winter season as its inspiration. And they convey it through matte covers in three “icy” colors: French Dur-O-Tone “Steel Grey”, Pop-Tone “Sno Cone”, and Construction “Steel Blue”. I should note that Just Below Zero is not the first multi-color limited edition: Mackinaw Autumn, which came right before JBZ, was the first. According to the video An Obsessive’s Guide to Field Notes COLORS: Part One, they liked the result of Mackinaw Autumn so much that they decided to do the same thing for the winter edition as well. I’m glad they did.
The only other major “first” in Just Below Zero, besides the wintry theme, is that it was the first time Field Notes used metallic ink on the covers, Pantone 877 specifically. I really love how the silver ink looks on the matte covers, especially on the medium grey book (“Steel Blue”). Except, the combination of that grey paper with the silver ink rendered the smaller text on the inside cover hard to read, so Field Notes ended up going with a non-metallic grey ink (Pantone 422) instead, just for that book. Next time we see metallic ink in COLORS is County Fair less than a year later in summer 2010. It’s often not a big, defining feature in today’s Field Notes, but it definitely was in Just Below Zero, and I cannot imagine it without the metallic ink.
More notes on the cover stocks used in Just Below Zero. Dark grey is not so rare in Field Notes, but I don’t think we’ve seen this specific French Dur-O-Tone “Steel Grey” anywhere else (see color comparison pictures far below). As for the light pastel blue book, French Pop-Tone “Sno Cone”, we see this specific paper reused in Two Rivers much later in Spring 2015, and in Point Oh edition (not COLORS though). The third book in JBZ with Construction “Steel Blue”, the medium grey one, is quite a unique color, and to this day it’s my favorite grey Field Notes. It’s really hard to describe the color. I’ve said it’s medium grey but that’s relative to the other two colors in the pack. It could be considered a light grey, and it has a strange blue-greenish tint to it. I love it, especially with the silver ink. The only other time we’ve seen this “Steel Blue” that I’m aware of was in the J.Crew edition, which was made roughly around the same time and featured the same Pantone ink colors used in JBZ. Edit: I spoke too soon. The belly band in the 2015 edition of XOXO Field Notes seems to be made with the same “Steel Blue” cover stock.
Other features that Just Below Zero shares with many other early quarterly editions:
- matte French Paper covers (County Fair is the first to break the pattern).
- silver staples (America the Beautiful gets copper staples in Spring 2013)
- graph grid (Fire Spotter in Fall 2011 gets dot grid)
- “Practical Applications” are not edition-specific; they’re the same as the ones in the Original kraft (County Fair again breaks this pattern).
- Innards are Boise Offset Smooth in 50#T in “White” (Balsam Fir is the first with the now-usual Finch Paper Opaque Smooth).
- The belly band is plain white with generic title “Graph Paper” and item number FN-01 (County Fair is the first one with its own custom belly band)
Another fun fact: the Specifications in the back cover of Just Below Zero say the corners are rounded to 3/8" (6.4 mm) but the correct conversion should be 9.5 mm. You see this in many other earlier editions, and it isn’t corrected until Balsam Fir in winter 2010 (later printings of County Fair are also corrected). Edit: this 6.4 mm seems to originate from 1/4", which was the original radius Field Notes used in the very early days, even before Butcher Orange.
Some fun (for me) details
- Just Below Zero is the 2009 winter edition of COLORS, the 5th in the series.
- Item number: FN-01 (later FNC-05)
- Price: $9.95/pack of 3 books
- Edition size: 3,000 packs or 9,000 books
- Printed: according to the old website, September 2009. Back cover says “9,000, January, 2010.”
- 750 3-packs were available through the FN website.
- Only 200 subscriptions were available starting with Just Below Zero, at $129 each.
- Printed by: Service Graphics, Inc., Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
- Covers: one of each color, printed with Pantone 877 metallic silver on the outside and inside:
- Body paper: Boise Offset Smooth 50#T in “White”
- Graph grid inside (3/16"x 3/16"): blue-grey ink in “Frostbite”
- Edition-specific extras: none
- Belly band: thin, white paper with black ink and title “Graph Paper”
- “Practical Applications” are the same as the ones in the Original kraft books.
- Staples color: silver
- Film: Dum Dah Dee Dum: Field Notes COLORS Subscriptions on Vimeo
- Film: An Obsessive’s Guide to Field Notes COLORS: Part One (2009) on Vimeo
Just Below Zero embodies all the reasons that made me fall in love with Field Notes COLORS a long time ago: understated design with simply-executed seasonal theme and colors that are timeless and versatile. It’s still one of my favorite winter editions, along with Balsam Fir and Northerly. No wonder it’s in the top 10 of my Field Notes rankings. I’d love to see another edition like this, especially the “Steel Blue” color. Are you one of the early Field Notes fans that scored Just Below Zero? How do you like it now, compared to when you first got it?