What do Dolly Parton, Joanna Lumley and Steven Spielberg have in common? Well not a great deal, it must be said, apart from the fact that they are the same age - yes, 70! - as Pentel, one of the most recognisable pen brands in the world.
The Japan Stationery Company Limited - as it was known initially - was established in Tokyo in 1946 by Yukio Horie (pictured), who was President of the company until his death in 2010. He was an enterprising sort of chap who started out buying and selling stationery, but soon began to create products of his own. 1955 saw the launch of the Pentel Oil Pastel and 1960 saw the Pentel Pencil, the world's first mechanical pencil with a push button for advancing the lead. Then came Hi-Polymer lead refills, and an oil-based Pentel Pen, the forerunner of one of the company's most successful permanent markers. The 1960s saw the company expand, with two more factories opening in Tokyo, and branches set up in the USA, Hong Kong, France and the UK.
But it was in 1963, a year known for many memorable events - the Profumo affair, the Great Train Robbery and JFK's assassination not least among them - that the company really made its mark on the world. And all because of the Sign Pen, invented by Yukio Horie. This acrylic-fibre-tipped pen revolutionised writing, and its fame spread when President Lyndon B Johnson gave it his mark of approval. It became NASA's official writing instrument, and went into space in 1966. To date over two billion Sign Pens have been sold worldwide: one for every person on Earth in 1946, but just less than a third of a pen each these days.
In 1971 the company became Pentel: 'pen' and 'tell' (to showcase the connection between writing and telling a story). The following year saw the introduction of a very familiar pen indeed: the green Ball Pentel rollerball. Satisfyingly smooth to write with, and offering a bold inky line, it offered a convenient alternative to a fountain pen. Even the Queen was seen to mark her race card with one!
When Britain was baking during the extraordinary summer of '76, Pentel was awarded the Deming Prize - the oldest and most recognised award for quality control. Since then, far from resting on its laurels, Pentel has continued to be innovative and forward-thinking in its development of writing instruments. The 1980s saw the creation of the synthetic fibre-tipped brush pen, the valve-controlled plastic-tipped correction pen and the pigment ink Hybrid gel roller. The last 10 years have brought us EnerGel - affordable pens with quick-drying ink - and Maxiflo Dry Wipe Markers with their ink-replenishment system. Then there is the Orenz, a mechanical pencil in which the sleeve gradually retracts into the barrel as the lead is used, thereby requiring only a single initial click to get the lead started. Genius!
These days, Pentel employs 2,000 people and has a presence in 120 countries. It's estimated that about two-thirds of writing instrument technology in everyday use around the world today has been inspired by Pentel innovation, which is a truly astonishing reflection on the company's achievements. It prides itself not just on its devotion to innovation and outstanding approach to quality, but also on giving back to its global communities, by supporting charities and hosting community events.
70 years ago, the world as a whole was feeling a bit sorry for itself after WWII. The UK was facing bread rationing and the introduction of the TV licence, and Japan was in sore need of a new sense of direction and purpose. And while Pentel was not solely responsible for Japan's rebirth, it certainly played a considerable part in popularising pens, pencils and art supplies by producing things that brought pleasure to people's lives. After all, who doesn't smile at a two year old's crayon drawing, or feel moved by the work of a talented artist, or put real life aside while they read a story that somebody has written?
3 October 2016