The Filofax was an 80s phenomenon. Although the Filofax has a long history dating back to 1910, it was re-invented by Ian Logan, when he revamped the Filofax in 1980. The Filofax, like the mobile phone quickly became a desirable accessory for the aspiring Yuppie. Its image was helped by being on sale in top designer Paul Smith's London store in the 80s.
The original idea for a loose leaf ring binder goes back to Philadelphia in 1910, when the Lefax organiser was invented to hold engineering data.
In 1921, a UK company, Norman and Hill, began making the Lefax. The name Filofax (File of Facts) was coined by a secretary Grace Scurr, who eventually became chairman of the business. In those days the Filofax was mainly used for military, scientific and ecclesiastical data. I remember an advert for the Army from the 80s, it promised new officer recruits a chance to swap the personal organiser for the personnel organiser and stressed that the Army had used Filofax long before the Yuppie.
The transformation from personnel organiser to personal organiser was brought about by David Collischon when he bought the company in 1980. He asked designer Ian Logan to give the Filofax a new image and the executive tool we know and love was born.
The reborn Filofax was designed for business. As well as a diary and year planner, there were forms for business expenses, financial data and world time zones. The new Filofax was now a stylish binder in luxurious leather. There were models with pockets and pouches for credit cards and other important personal items.
The original Filofax 'Winchester' model had 1/2 inch or 7/8 inch rings. There was also a Slimeline wallet version. A large Deskfax version was introduced in 1985 with a specialised range of stationery including banks statements, maps of Britain and the London Underground map.
The original Filofax cost from £20 to £40 depending on the finish. It was available at top department stores such as Harrods, Fortnum and Mason and John Lewis, as well as stationers such as Ryman.
Filofax became the household name for the personal organiser, but it had its competitors. There were rival products available from Regalrule and Mulberry. The Regalrule Executive Planner cost 28. The deluxe version for 70 had a built in pocket calculator. The Mulberry versions used more expensive finishes: pigskin, lizard and crocodile skins.
The original Lefax company also competed with Filofax. They majored on personal service. Assistants at their showrooms in London and New York would spend up to three quarters of an hour with each customer tailoring the Lefax to their exact needs.
Filofax and Yuppies
The Times hit on a new breed in 1985, the YAP (Young Aspiring Professional), probably before the term Yuppie became common currency. The YAPs were in their late twenties and early thirties with a good education and connections in the City. The YAP carried a Filofax for networking and also a tool of social recognition. By 1985, owning a Filofax, said 'I'm one of the in crowd'.
1985 was the year of the Filofax. In New York, American Yuppies were snapping up Filofaxes. They spent over $500,000 on Filofax organisers around Christmas 1985.
Only Fools and Horses
The Filofax was one of the Yuppie accessories that Dell Trotter (David Jason) carried on the BBC TV series 'Only Fools and Horses'. Dell Boy also carried a mobile phone. The Filofax became a symbol of 80s greed. However, in retrospect it gained its status because it was useful in the days before electronic organisers.
The Filofax today
Filofax is still going strong today. Many people prefer its simplicity and charm to the variety of electronic organisers that are available.
Filofax on the web
Your comments on the Filofax
"After trying countless PDAs over the past twenty years, I keep returning to my faithful Filofax (although on average I replace the binder about every five years). It's legible even in bright sunlight, doesn't need batteries or an AC adaptor, and it never crashes or loses data. But mainly, I just prefer to map out my time and thoughts using paper and pencil. It helps me remember things if I write them down, and I can handwrite a quick note faster than I can open Outlook and create a new task or appointment, especially if it requires booting up a laptop! I find that the combination of a PDA or smartphone for addresses and email plus a Filofax make a very portable and efficient office. Apparently I'm not the only one since Filofax is still in business although it seems to be preferred by women since most of its products today are obviously designed for female fashionistas. BTW, Filofax pages feature superior design compared to most other systems; the line ruling was a tad wider and the paper was thinner (so you could hold more pages in your binder), and of good quality for writing. In the company's glory days there were all kinds of accessories available as well as what would now be considered "content" -- all kinds of specialised forms as well as tourist information, maps, phrasebooks, dictionaries, and other reference information. Now if only we could get Psion to start making PDAs again!" Greg Graham
"I remember the early Filofax 'Winchester' also being available in a mega 5/4 inch ring size. I am not a fan of the more modern designs which are made in the Far East, and I have stuck with my original model. And who remembers those Filofax cartoons? One featured a Yuppie pulling a huge Filofax behind him on a pair of wheels, and one featured Thatcher and (I think) Ronald Reagan. Can anyone remind me of them? Were there four in total?" Berk Bone-Bonce
"I've had a 5/4" Winchester for 25 years and it outlasted any phone, electronic organiser, psion, it's been run over by a lorry, chewed by dogs, puked on by sprogs, it works in any country, never goes flat or needs rebooting and is fully backwardly compatible with pen 98, pencil 95 and user 1961. It's just a pity the new ones aren't made to the same standard." Col
My Filofax was given to me as a gift in 1990s when I was at Uni. It's personal size, in Windsor red and stamped. I even still have the orginal Guarantee card with it's serial number in the back. Whilst it looks warn - it's still more reliable and faithful than the ridiculous numbers of mobile phones, iPads and computers I've gone though in all those years. It looks a little warn and has had many refills, but it feels like an old friend so I can't bring myself to replace it. So it was interesting to read a little history here. I'm curious though. Where are they made these days?