The Legendary Pocket Pen that Rescued it from Bankruptcy in 1968 - Introducing the Pilot Elite S Pocket Pen and its Rich Family History

by Wai Tat Jerry

 

Dimensions 尺寸資料
Length capped 含蓋:11.5 cm
Length uncapped 不含蓋:10.1 cm
Length posted 套蓋:14.2 cm

From its establishment in 1918, Pilot has not only been a renowned fountain pen manufacturer, but also a dominant player in the Japanese stationery industry. However, despite its formidable reputation, the company faced a near-closure in the 1960s. Leading Pilot's remarkable comeback from the brink of bankruptcy was none other than the Elite S Pocket Pen, which we are excited to introduce today!

 

The Bankruptcy Crisis of Pilot: The Fall from Grace

Since its co-founder Ryosuke Namiki successfully developed Japan's first domestically produced 14K gold fountain pen nib in 1916, Pilot has held a prominent position in the domestic fountain pen market. However, in 1968, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the company faced its most severe crisis yet.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Pilot invested a significant amount of capital in research and development, introducing groundbreaking products such as the Super series from 1955 to 1959 and the world's first retractable fountain pen, Capless, in November 1963. They also constructed a state-of-the-art integrated factory in Hiratsuka in February 1962. However, these endeavors put immense financial strain on the company.

The advertisement of Pilot Super in 1950s.

The advertisement of Pilot Capless in 1963.

Pilot's Hiratsuka Integrated Factory, established in 1962, had a reported monthly production capacity of one million pens. Image source:https://www.pilot.co.jp/100th/history/

 

Furthermore, Pilot's flawed business strategy at the time failed to meet market demands adequately and relied heavily on fountain pens, neglecting consumers' other writing needs. Additionally, the influx of inexpensive imported fountain pens from China further eroded Pilot's revenue.

The Pilot Super 500, launched in 1958, gained attention for its distinctive feature: an extra-large embedded nib that extended towards the end of the pen grip. The pen's high production costs and avant-garde design made it financially challenging for Pilot. As a result, each sold pen reportedly resulted in a loss, turning these pens into rare and sought-after collectibles. Image source:https://www.reddit.com/r/fountainpens/comments/11fdz36/pilot_super_500/

 

Despite increasing sales efforts and internal restructuring starting in 1965, Pilot's attempts yielded minimal results. Finally, in February 1968, Pilot ran out of cash, facing a critical turning point.

Pilot swiftly implemented a series of rescue measures and comprehensive reforms. Alongside securing financing agreements with three Japanese banks, they addressed the excessive stockpiles in the market, suspended dividend payments, and undertook significant organizational adjustments, reducing the workforce from 2,700 to under 2,000 employees.

However, despite these substantial sacrifices, Pilot recorded a deficit of over 2.1 billion yen in its fiscal year-end in 1968.

 

The Savior - The Debut of the Elite S Pocket Pen

During a time of uncertainty and apprehension, Pilot was in dire need of a significant breakthrough to restore the trust of the market, investors, and employees. It was precisely at this moment that the development department unveiled their masterpiece, the Elite S fountain pen, a culmination of cutting-edge technology.

The first Elite S pocket pen

 

The Elite series had initially debuted in August 1962, featuring a design centered around long fountain pens. However, in October 1968, the Pocket Pen (model name ES-200BS) was introduced as the first short fountain pen in the series. The "S" designation set it apart from its longer counterparts.

The first pen of the Elite series: the E-200MT. Photo from: https://www.ebay.com/itm/235368171033

 

To turn the tide, Pilot spared no expense and enlisted the renowned Japanese entertainer, Kyosen Ōhashi, for a captivating television commercial. In January 1969, Kyosen Ōhashi took to the screen, confidently showcasing the Pocket Pen.

The initial TV commercial for the Pilot Pocket Pen featured Kyosen Ōhashi holding the pen and reciting five seemingly ungrammatical sentences in Japanese. Concluding with the question, "Do you understand?" The lines spoken by Kyosen Ōhashi were actually a carefully crafted tanka, a traditional form of Japanese poetry. With a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7, these five lines conveyed the essence of the Elite S pocket pen: "a compact pen," "remove the cap," "immediately place it on the end of the pen," "write instantly," and "pen down your thoughts smoothly." It was a clever way to highlight the unique features of the Elite S..

 

Initially, viewers struggled to grasp the meaning behind Kyosen Ōhashi's words, dismissing them as nonsensical improvisation. However, as discussions gained momentum, the commercial soared in popularity. The catchphrase "Happa FumiFumi" (ハッパ フミフミ or "はっぱ ふみふみ" in Japanese) became a nationwide phenomenon, with young people enthusiastically quoting it. Even during Kyosen Ōhashi's appearances on other programs, he playfully asked fellow celebrities if they understood the lines from the commercial. The advertisement even received the prestigious "Dentsu Advertising Award" in 1969, solidifying its status as an extraordinary success story in the history of Japanese television advertising.

 

The later television advertisement for the Pilot Elite S pocket pen coincided with the full-color transition of Japanese television at the time, presenting a vibrant display. The commercial primarily featured Kyosen Ōhashi, grasping the Elite S pocket pen, as he composed a tanka poem. There was deliberation over whether to use "Happa FumiFumi" or other syllables, but ultimately, "Happa FumiFumi" was deemed the better choice. Additionally, the advertisement showcased the Elite S's 18K gold nib, adding to its allure.

 

Propelled by the immense popularity of the television commercial, the Elite S pocket pen became the go-to gift for celebrating school enrollment or job placements. In fact, numerous students flocked to stationery stores, enthusiastically requesting the "ハッパ フミフミ" pocket pen. By the start of the 1969 academic year, the demand for the Elite S pocket pen had skyrocketed, leading to a shortage in supply. The pocket pen sold millions of units, establishing an unprecedented sales record and solidifying its status as the most beloved pocket pen in Japan. Its significance even led to its inclusion in a time capsule at the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, cementing its place as one of Japan's iconic symbols during the Showa era.

The remarkable success of the Elite S pocket pen played a pivotal role in Pilot's resurgence, allowing the company to overcome its previous financial turmoil. Not only did the company's revenue recover to pre-crisis levels the following year, but it continued to soar to new heights annually. From approximately 10 billion yen in 1967, the revenue climbed to a staggering 16 billion yen in 1973, firmly establishing Pilot as an industry leader. Without the Elite S pocket pen, Pilot would not have experienced such a rapid and remarkable recovery.

 

On a side note, the Pilot Elite S pocket pen's immense popularity often leads pen enthusiasts to mistakenly believe that it was the first Japanese pocket pen. However, the Sailor Mini, introduced by Sailor in 1963, (Know more:Sailor Mini) and Platinum's debut pocket pen, the PK-1000, launched in 1964, (Know more:PK-1000) hold that distinction. Pilot's initial "short version fountain pen" was the Sporty 12 pocket pen, which made its debut in 1962. (Know More:Sporty 12) For further insights into the origin stories of these three pocket pens and the concept of pocket pens, please refer to:關於短鋼

 

 

 

 


 

Elite S Design and Introduction

Although it was hailed as the culmination of the company's technological prowess, the Elite S pocket pen didn't bring many groundbreaking innovations when viewed from a broader perspective. Its design closely resembled the prevailing pocket pens of that time, featuring the timeless black and gold color combination and an aluminum pen cap.

In comparison to Platinum's PKB-2000 introduced in 1963 and Sailor's Mini 21 in 1969.

 

The notable distinctions were the series name "Elite" on the pen cap and the "nail-tip" nib, derived from Pilot's Super series. However, the Elite S's relatively conservative design laid a solid foundation for Pilot to introduce an expanded range of Elite S pocket pens in the future.

 

A Diverse Array of Elite S Pocket Pens

With the soaring popularity of the Elite S pocket pen, Pilot seized the opportunity and expanded its offerings to cater to various customer segments. They introduced more variations of the Elite S as well as the Elite long pens, gradually building a substantial pen family.

Here is a collection of Elite S pocket pens that I have compiled thus far, and I will continue to update the list in the future:

這張圖片的 alt 屬性值為空,它的檔案名稱為 pilot-elite-s-pocket-pen-series-1024x768.jpeg

  

Pilot Elite S pocket pen, black, 18K-gold script nib

The first generation of the Elite S pocket pen was introduced in 1968, featuring an 18K gold nail-tip.

 

Pilot Elite S-KaraKara pocket pen

Building on the success of the initial Elite S, Pilot launched the Elite S - KaraKara in 1969, targeting the youthful market with its vibrant colors and interchangeable pen barrels. (Know more:Elite S – KaraKara)

 

IMG_2404

In the early 1970s, a competition arose among Japanese pen manufacturers to produce nibs with higher gold content, known as the "Gold Nib War." (Know more:K金尖戰爭) In 1970, Pilot joined the fray with the Elite S - 22, which boasted a 22K gold nib. (Know more:Elite S – 22)

 

Pilot Elite S pocket pen, sterling silver cross hatch cap, 18K-gold nib

In 1971, Pilot introduced the ENS-500SS Elite S pocket pen, designed specifically for mid to high-end business professionals. It featured a pure silver grid pattern cap and an 18K-WG nib. While there was also a version with a fully pure silver body, I have yet to acquire it. The introduction of this pen not only expanded the product line but also added richness to store displays, ultimately boosting sales of high-end fountain pens.

  

A second generation of the Elite S pocket pen was launched in June 1974, featuring a revamped nib design from a nail-tip to an embedded large nib.

 

Pilot Elite S pocket pen, employee-specific version, translucent pink barrel, 18K-Gold SF nib

I had the fortunate opportunity to acquire a translucent pink Elite S pocket pen at the 2019 Tainan Pen Show from Mr. Nobuyoshi Arakura, also known as Mr. Pilot. It is said to be a limited edition exclusively available to Pilot employees.

  

Pilot ESF-5000 pocket pen, 18K-Gold nib

Two ESF-5000 Elite S pocket pen. Initially, I believed that these two pocket pens were part of the Myu family, as they lacked the engraving or inscription of the word "Elite" on their caps and shared similarities in their clips and finials with the Myu. However, Mr. PLENTONG informed me that they should belongs to Elite family.

  

IMG_3443

In 2013, Pilot reintroduced the second generation Elite S pocket pen, originally introduced in 1974, under the name Elite 95S. It was offered in black and burgundy versions, with a blue Elite 95S created exclusively for shareholders. (Know more:Elite 95S)

 

 

 

 


 

The Elite family encompassed a variety of nib types, including nail-tip, large nib, and triangular nib. The nibs were crafted from a diverse range of materials, such as steel, platinum (White Gold), 14K gold, 18K gold, and even 22K gold.

IMG_7574

The three most common nib types found on the Elite S pocket pen were the nail-tip, large nib, and triangular nib, each providing a distinct writing experience. Personally, I have developed a fondness for the writing sensation delivered by the large nib.

 


 

Unboxing of a vintage Pilot Elite S pocket pen

I feel incredibly honored to have the opportunity to collect a set of the original Elite S pocket pen, accompanied by a remarkably rare packaging. Now, let me take you through a concise unboxing experience:

The appearance of the outer packing.

Outer packing of Pilot Elite S pocket pen
Outer packing of Pilot Elite S pocket pen 2

 

The milky white plastic pen box of Elite S. I believe it’s a pretty high-class pen box back in the day.

Milky white plastic pen box of Elite S pocket pen

 

Inside the pen box we get an Elite S pocket pen, the instructions of the pen and a quality guarantee.

Milky white plastic pen box of Elite S pocket pen with the instructions of the pen and a quality guarantee

 

A close-up of the quality assurance certificate reveals an interesting detail. At the top, we see the old Pilot logo, which features a lifebuoy with the letter "P" in the center, symbolizing Pilot's enduring commitment to never sinking. (It's worth noting that in the future, we could explore a separate discussion on the logo transformations of Japan's three major pen manufacturers.) On the right side, we find Pilot's longstanding business philosophy, "San‐Sha‐Tei‐Ritsu" (三者鼎立, Three forces in balance with each other), which emphasizes their dedication to pursuing the interests of consumers, retailers, and manufacturers simultaneously.

 

The instructions of the pen, which introduced different types of filling mechanism of old Pilot fountain pens.

The instructions of the pen of Pilot Elite S pocket pen
The instructions of the pen of Pilot Elite S pocket pen 2

 

 


 

Appendix: Using an Ink Converter

When pocket pens were initially introduced, they were primarily marketed as cartridge-only pens. As a result, manufacturers offered limited options for ink converters, making it challenging to utilize anything other than cartridges or custom-modified converters. However, the Elite S series pocket pen boasts a significant advantage—it is compatible with Pilot's current range of ink converters, including the Con-20, Con-40, and Con-50.

IMG_3434

Elite 95S can conveniently be fitted with the currently available Con-20 ink converter.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Conclusion

The Elite S pocket pen is a highly accessible option for pen enthusiasts. It boasts a large production volume and an affordable price point. Even vintage models from the 1970s are relatively easy to find, and with the introduction of the Elite 95S reissue, it has become one of the most readily available pocket pens on the market. One of its notable advantages is its compatibility with Pilot's current range of ink converters, including the Con-20, Con-40, and Con-50, which adds to its convenience.

While its appearance may seem unremarkable, this pocket pen played a crucial role in Pilot's resilience, allowing us to continue enjoying the pleasure of writing that Pilot pens offer. Its story, along with the pen itself, is worth sharing and cherishing. Through this article, I hope to provide readers with a deeper understanding of the Elite S pocket pen's history. As you collect these pens, you can also appreciate the remarkable legacy associated with them.

Lastly, I want to express my sincere gratitude for taking the time to read this extensive article. Originally written in 2017 with just over a thousand words, it has grown over the years with new discoveries and now exceeds three thousand words. Uncovering new information, assembling historical fragments, and presenting them in a cohesive narrative has been akin to an archaeological endeavor, bringing me immense satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. During the writing process, I stumbled upon Pilot's official chronicle, "パイロット100年の航跡" (Pilot's 100-Year Journey), published in 2019. It provided previously unseen historical materials, including detailed information about the 1968 bankruptcy crisis. The resolution of long-standing mysteries was truly exhilarating!

I look forward to collecting more Elite S pocket pens in the future and unearthing further historical materials to share with you all.

余維達 Wai Tat JERRY YU

2017/04/15 (Rewritten on 2019/11/07; 2023/05/29; 2024/04/11)



References:

  1. Bruno Taut. (2018). Corporate Edition. Crónicas Estilográficas. Retrieved from https://estilofilos.blogspot.com/2013/07/elite.html
  2. 万年筆『エリート95S』新発売,パイロット。http://www.pilot.co.jp/press_release/2013/06/19/elite95s.html
  3. PILOT UNIQUE ELITE COLORED FOUNTAIN PEN, CLEAR SECTION:https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/pilot-unique-elite-colored-fountain-117447074
  4. Glory 昭和CM チャンネル:〈懐かしのCM – パイロット – パイロットエリートS – 1969〉,《Youtube》。https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJovcHh5fVA
  5. TV黄金期の「巨泉語録」 はっぱふみふみ、ボイン,産経ニュース。https://www.sankei.com/photo/daily/news/160720/dly1607200022-n1.html
  6. 陳黎:〈短歌的美與哀愁〉,《印刻文學生活誌》2016 年 7 月,網址:http://faculty.ndhu.edu.tw/~chenli/Qidong_talks.pdf
  7. 大橋巨泉の「はっぱふみふみ」には本当に意味がないの?,ぴゃかじてん,https://pyaka.net/大橋巨泉の「はっぱふみふみ」には本当に意味が/
  8. パイロット100年の航跡
  9. パイロット60年の航跡

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4 comments

Michelle 2020 年 1 月 9 日 - pm 3:59

您好,我近日有幸獲得您第一張照片最左邊那支鋼筆,想請問一下您知道那支鋼筆的名稱/全名是什麼嗎?

Reply
娛生 2020 年 1 月 15 日 - pm 11:02

您好~因為百樂實在推出了太多Elite系列的鋼筆,而我尚未找到所有Elite鋼筆的型號,所以我只知道那枝鋼筆也是屬於Elite系列的一員,不太清楚它的全名是什麼。

Reply
王凱民 2020 年 4 月 8 日 - pm 1:10

想請教 PILOT SUPER系列是哪一款筆呢?

Reply
娛生 2020 年 4 月 8 日 - pm 2:09

Pilot Super是百樂在1955至1959年推出的一系列鋼筆,有Super 100, 200, 300和500之分。但因為是長鋼,我沒有深入研究和入手。
可惜wordpress的回應不能直接張貼圖片。有興趣的話你可以去Facebook「鋼筆﹑自動鉛筆情報局」搵尋「super」看看,有位筆友分享了一系列Pilot Super的相片~

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