16 April 2014

Then and Now....

It was sometime in late 1986 I think that I bought my first Filofax. I was thinking this morning how much things have changed in 28 or so years.

Back in 1986 I used to commute in to London on the 8:03 from Tunbridge Wells every morning, smartly dressed in my pin stripe suit, carrying a brief case and a copy of The Times.

I had seen an article in The Times about Filofax organisers and how they had become a popular 'must have'. Straight away I wanted one!

There was no internet back in 1986 to go on line and search around on, only local shops. I didn't find any in the local shops in Tunbridge Wells at the time. So I put the idea of this new organiser thing to the back of my mind.

Every month I had to pay a visit to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) office in Kingsway, London. It was a short walk across Waterloo Bridge and it was always a pleasant walk if it wasn't raining! At the time there was a shop called Chisolm's Office Supplies, it wasn't a very big shop, but the front part of the shop was dominated by an island display of various Filofax organisers and inserts. I had found somewhere at last!

The display had a sloping top with drawers underneath containing the stock, all made in polished wood. You could open each organiser and look at the different layouts and admire the different leathers. Sadly this shop is no longer in Kingsway, replaced with a building society or a coffee shop I guess.

I collected a catalogue and took it home on the train to study and to try and work out which Filofax organiser to buy. The list of inserts was baffling, no pictures to show you what 'Week per view, Monday start' actually looked like. It was a bit hit and miss as I recall. I had made a list of what to look at next time I was over there.

Eventually I bought my Winchester in Personal size and started adding many different types of inserts to it and started using it.

Of course there was no internet or Facebook to share pictures of my latest purchase with.. in fact I don't think I would have thought to take a photograph of it, remember this was in the days of 35mm film.

Come forward 25 or more years and we now have access to the internet (on our phones too if we wish). We can search from a huge range of sources for things, ask questions in specialist groups or on Philofaxy even. Everything seems to have speeded up or has it?

We have all got used to placing an order on line and expecting it to arrive within a few days and the item is exactly as it was shown on the website, there's no surprises about how you visualised the layout from the description or what shade of purple did they mean!

We can shop around so much easier too without wearing down countless pairs of shoes. With a few mouse clicks you can compare prices and the cost of delivery from a variety of sources.

There's one problem with high speed shopping, the time it takes for goods to reach you in another country hasn't got that much faster unless you pay for air freight shipping.

I can order something off the Filofax UK website and if it comes by courier then it normally arrives within 48 hours. But that is just one package. Scale this up to large shipments say to the USA from UK and things will still be sent by ship in a container. And unless someone can tell me differently... ships haven't increased in speed in the last 25 years? Increased in size and efficiency most definitely...

Filofax USA I hear you say.... is there any news? Yes there is... I had an interesting exchange of emails with our friends over in Filofax USA on your behalf. I know some of you have been getting quite frustrated at the low stock levels on the Filofax USA website, I think the staff possibly share your frustration too!

The low levels of stock at present have been mainly down to the move of stock from one warehouse to a new one in Texas, they put a message up on the front page of their website a few weeks ago.

The good news is that they are hoping to return to normal stock levels by the middle of June with shipments arriving at intervals over the next few weeks until they get back to the full range again.

Even better news is that they will be stocking the new 2014 range of organisers and new colours in the 2014 range much earlier than in previous years.

This page seems a lot more 'colourful' than it did a few weeks ago, with new items appearing each week on the site.

Obviously it will take a week or two for the USA stockists to get their stock on the shelves, but I'm sure you will all be pleased to be able to buy 'locally' again rather than having to pay for shipping from UK or Europe.

Thank you to our friends at Filofax USA for sharing this information with us here at Philofaxy.


  1. Good post Steve!
    I was interested to read your recollections about Chisolm's, a place I'd only heard the name of. It sounds wonderful. I have an ambition to recreate the shelves of Filofaxes that used to sit in Heffers bookshop in Cambridge in the 1980s. I've actually got enough old ones to make a fair imitation now!

    The idea of ordering things when you're not quite sure what you are going to get has some charm too - the air of mystery can add something to the whole experience!

  2. Loved reading this. I originally come from just outside Cambridge and remember the shelves of Filofaxes in Heffers Bookshop. I was at school and 6th form in the 1980's and when I left school I did get a much cheaper version from Whsmith's to keep track of my a level work etc. I still liked spending my lunch breaks ( I used to work summers in Cambridge) looking at the binders thinking one day ....... Now I have 4 , need to sell one of them, and a busy job which justifies using it. Trying to find anywhere that does have a hands on range is so hard and I think that if they still did people would in fact probably buy more regularly. If they were put next to digital devices too it would be interesting to see what would be more tempting!

  3. Good to hear someone who remembers that Indigo.
    I still have an old price list from there, and you can see it if you search on Flickr for "Filofax Heffers".
    Trouble today is that a store with a good selection of anything struggles to stay in business when many customers choose what they want there and then go online to find it cheaper. Only a few places manage to get a good presence in both channels.
    Perhaps we should have a poll on whether people find it more exciting to go into a stationers or an electronics outlet? I think I know which would win in our community here!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post. I think I first learned about Filofax in the early 1990s. I'm sorry to say that I don't have the one I bought way back then. It was before the internet was available in most people's homes, so I never saw variations on how to use one's own binder or how to swap Filofax inserts with others (or to make one's own!). That's why I stopped using the binder back then. I'm so glad to have found this site and to have "rediscovered" using Filofax. I've gotten so many good ideas--and it's such a pleasure to read and see how everyone uses theirs.

  5. In the 1980s, I bought my first Filofax (grey vinyl 7/8, still in possession) at the Barbican Bookshop iin York, where I was living at the time.

    It was a great bookshop, and used to have tottering piles of secondhand books on all the staircases between floors. The Filofax stuff was in rotating wire racks, in the religious section.

    When I went back a couple of years ago they no longer did much Filofax, apart from one or two church inserts.

    Someone told me that after the days of rapid expansion, Filofax seemed to have lost interest in dealing with small shops :(

    More generally, I don't remember seeing ANY shops carrying Filofax before the marketing push of the 1980's, and I wonder who were the dealers in the 1970's and before - I guess Heffers of Cambridge would have been dealers, since I've seen some Heffer brand front sheets that probably dated from the 1960's.

    1. Norman & Hill were the owners of Filofax in the 1970s, and I think it was quite a small market until the middle of the decade, when David Collischon started a business called Pocketfax, selling Filofax products via mail order. It was so successful, that he was able to buy Norman & Hill in 1980.

    2. The UK Filofax site has a picture of one of the Pocketfax brochures here
      (Seventh row down on the left.)

    3. Thanks for the link gmax: I had a look at the Pocketfax brochure, good vintage stuff - I hope we get to see more things from the archive!

  6. Loved your post and recollections of the days before heavy internet traffic. I worked at America Online in the early days and created a lot of sites on AOL for newspapers, shopping web sites, etc. I remember the joy of reading the Washington Post and USA Today online (and not getting my fingers covered in printers ink) and being able to get CDs and books shipped to my door in the early days of Amazon. As shopping sites exploded on the internet, I grew to know my Fedex and UPS drivers by name (even their kid's names and birthdays!) I timed my purchases to arrive in between my business travel, and loved coming home to new planners and inserts most of all. Sadly there are only two stores in my area Farhneys Pens in Washington DC and Pen Boutique in Maryland that carry a very small selection of Filofaxes to actually hold in your hand. Both have web sites, but like most of us I want to see, touch and smell the leather planner I am going to purchase. Both shops are waiting on 2014 Filofax stock. I cannot wait until the new colors arrive.

  7. I too bought my first Filofax, a personal, back in 1986. Don't know the type of Filofax unfortunately, but it will be vintage by now!! In the depths of the loft somewhere. Oh, and how lovely to read about Washington. It always sounds such a lovely city. xx

  8. It was fun going back through the archives! I had never seen most of them. It would be great to know if any of the "oldsters" are still in use, or at least preserved in the deep recesses of someone's attic.

  9. Aaahh, memories! I spent plenty of time and money in Chisholms, and also in Just Facts in Broadwick Street, which was famous in the 80s for carrying every available Filofax insert.

    Thanks for your post Steve.

  10. Thank you to you also for thinking about the Filofax users in the USA.

  11. Thank you for posting an update on the filofax usa website. I am itching to get my hands on my first filofax and have been disappointed that they haven't been in stock for the past month! Now I just need to decide if I want to order from the UK site or another UK retailer and pay a lot of shipping or wait till June! I'm getting impatient!

  12. I am just looking at my original Filofax from Chisholm's. Some one once told that there used to be a lady upstairs punching all the holes and at one stage the company was about to fold and various writers and directors got together to raise money to keep things going..Have I dreamt this?!


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