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Saturday, 19 March 2011

Bar-Lock Typewriters: From Smiling, Gap-Toothed Monsters to Children's Playthings

It might not be quite as spectacular as the Fox No 24 I received earlier in the week, and of which I boasted in an earlier post, but the 1925 Bar-Lock No 17 which arrived yesterday has its own many virtues. I was delighted to take delivery of it from a lady in Littlehampton, a small country town in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. The sender did not seem to think it was in working order, and maybe the ride half-way across Australia shook it out of its lethargy. But as soon as I unpacked it, naturally I gave it a test type, and it works beautifully. It has, indeed, a very nice typing action, and with its very distinctive look it will justifiably take its proud place among my select group of bulkier desktop typewriters (which now include Remingtons Nos 2 and 8, a New Yost, Royal Bar-Lock, Hammonds No 2 and Multiplex, an Oliver No 5, Empire and Adler No 7, Underwood 5, Smith Premier No 10, Royal 10, Underwood 5, Mignon 4 and Imperial 50, not forgetting the Fox).

The arrival of the Bar-Lock coincided with me receiving an email from Richard Polt, who kindly passed on the scan of an article from a turn-of-the-century issue of The Typewriter and Photographic World which had been sent to Richard by Peter Weil. The article concerned one W.J.Richardson of the [British] Typewriter Company Limited, his Europe-wide agency for Bar-Lock typewriters, and the introduction of the Bar-Lock to New Zealand for use by the Supreme Court. (This old Treos typewriter ribbon tin is marked "W.J.Richardson and Sons Ltd, London, England"):
All this got me thinking about the Bar-Lock and British typewriter companies. Most of us will be familiar with the history of Charles Spiro’s Columbia Bar-Lock and its sale in Britain as the Royal Bar-Lock (below). The late Tilman Elster pointed out on one of Will Davis’s web pages that the British outlet eventually took over the American parent company.
I had always assumed the British Bar-Locks and that country’s Bar-Let typewriters were somehow closely related, and that turns out to be the case. But I hadn’t previously connected the Bar-Lock and Bar-Let with toy typewriters, until I looked at the back of my Bar-Lock No 17. There it states, “The All British Bar-Lock, manufactured in Nottingham, England, by Barlock (1925) Company, proprietors: John Jardine Ltd.”

I knew, of course, that Jardine of Nottingham made many, if not most, of the better-quality toy typewriters with which we are so familiar, particularly the Petite.
Let me start with a little about John Jardine (below). He began his working life as an apprentice clock and watchmaker but, as one Midlands journalist put it, “ended up founding an empire". Jardine got into the manufacture of lace machines in 1872. By 1892 he was employing 500 people in his factories in Raleigh and Deering streets, Nottingham. When he died in 1895, the business was taken over by his only surviving son, Ernest (later Sir Ernest) Jardine (1859-1947). Ernest had had his own manufacturing plant on Raleigh Street, making bicycles between 1884-1894.
Ernest (below) took his father’s company to new levels, and became involved in the manufacture of typewriters as chairman of Bar-Lock in 1925. Tilman wrote, “Front strike designs were prepared [by the British Bar-Lock company], beginning in 1915, and were finally perfected in 1921. By 1925, this company too [like the Columbia original] was in dire straits, and with heavy investment by Sir John Jardine, was reorganised as Bar-Lock (1925) Ltd … [after the war] the company was in trouble. In 1953, further investment led to the company becoming Byron Business Machines, which stopped production two years later. Byron attempted to design a totally new machine, which met with great trouble; finally, in 1958, Byron sold its entire office machine business to the Oliver Typewriter Manufacturing Company.” (Given this last statement, one has to wonder whether toy typewriters such as the Petite and Tom Thumb are not the natural descendants of the Oliver!)
The Jardine version of events is this: In 1927 a Basford factory was extended to cope with a British Government order for 432 machines. In 1930 the company’s first portable typewriter was introduced, the Bar-Let (beautiful, brightly-coloured machines, as exampled below). Almost 59,000 were produced before World War II.
Further large orders were received from the Government and, after the outbreak of war, most of the output of the new Model 20 went to the War Office. After the war, typewriters were in such short supply that output could barely keep pace with demand. In 1951, the Nottingham Journal reported: “Today, more than 500 people are employed in the works, where the Bar-Lock typewriter is manufactured from start to finish, and where every 15 minutes a new standard typewriter is completed.”

Faced with intense competition from US typewriters, in 1953 Jardine made a name change from Bar-Lock to Byron and produced a radical new model (Richard Polt has written about the Byron; his Mark I is below). Almost £1.25 million was invested to produce the Byron – on which a trademark showed the poet Byron's profile surrounded by a wreath. Instead of traditional black, machines were two-tone, dark green and light stone. The typewriters were also equipped with “finger-fit” plastic keys, shaped so as not to break the typist's nails.
As well as a being a remarkable industrialist, Sir Ernest Jardine served as MP for East Somerset from 1910 to 1918 and was created a baronet in 1919. Sir Ernest became High Sheriff of Nottingham in 1928 and died in April, 1947, aged 87. His son was Lieutenant-Colonel John Jardine.

Will Davis’s website includes mention of the family of toy typewriters made by Byron Jardine. Will says Western Stamping of Jackson, Michigan, which made Tom Thumb machines, stopped using its own designs and under a deal with the British company imported the Petite, renaming it the Tom Thumb for US consumption. For what they are, nothing more or less than toys, these are well-made and functional little typewriters. I have dozens of them in my vast collection of toy typewriters, and am constantly impressed by the designs and the work that has gone into making them.


notagain said...

I thought that one toy looked familiar. There's a petite international for sale on as of this post.
I love that Byron but I doubt I'll ever find one.

Richard P said...

Great story that needed to be told.

I have admired models like that Bar-Lock 17 online for their wedge-shaped profile and interesting overall look. Nice to read a review.

In my opinion, the earliest Byron Jardine toys, such as the Petite you show at the end of the story, are modeled on the look of the big Byron. I have one, labeled Revere (also seen as Kamkap), which is painted in the very same "light stone" paint as my Byron Mark I.

shordzi said...

I also just discovered the "Petite". Thanks for this entry.