KNEES UP FOR AN
ENGLISH ESQUIREEsquire: A man or boy who is a member of the gentry in England ranking directly below a knight.
There are two ways of looking at this, I suppose: On the one hand, the Honorable Arthur Henry Huth Esq did not succeed in having one of his typewriters go into production. Therefore, the mere two lines he was afforded in Michael Alder’s Antique Typewriters (1997) are probably, on the surface of it, fair and just reward for his lack of achievement.
“HUTH: A.H. Huth of London was granted a patent in 1893 covering a front stroke machine with full keyboard.”
The other way of considering Huth’s contribution to typewriter history – or lack of it, to be absolutely precise - is that this was one very interesting man. And as such, should his ambitions and efforts towards creating a typewriter be simply ignored?
Huth was one of the most well-read men in late 19th century England. And as a man so deeply versed through reading, Huth obviously felt the need for a typewriter of his own design to express some of that acquired knowledge.
He certainly did a lot of writing. Huth has 14 titles to his credit.
Adler certainly deals Huth a short hand in one regard: Huth actually had three typewriter patents issued to him. The one which he was granted in the US on this day in 1894 came in the middle: others were issued in 1890 and 1897.
For this one, Huth opened his specification in a grandiose way: “Be it known that I, Alfred Henry Huth, esquire, a subject of the Queen of Great Britain, residing at Bolney House, Ennismore Gardens, London, England, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in TypeWriters …”
Huth set out his objects as:
“1. To be able to use a larger number of hammers than is commonly provided in such machines. This I do by ranging the pivots or fulcra of the hammers in two parallel nearly semicircular groups and yet so that the type carried by every hammer may print at the same central spot.
“2. To obtain a more perfect inking of the type; this I do by providing a separate inking roller for each type. I mount the inking roller upon a slide which transmits the movement of the finger key to the hammer. During the first part of the movement of the finger key the type hammer remains at rest and the slide carries the inking roller over the face of the type. While the hammer is in movement the inking roller passes to and fro over a surface of felt or other material from which it receives the ink.
“3. To obtain a better spacing of the letters, giving to each letter the room which it naturally requires. I prefer to provide for spacing in four different grades and for this purpose I provide in the base of the machine four pivoted spacing frames. Each finger key by means of a projection upon it gives movement to one or other of the spacing frames according to the space required by the letter to which the key corresponds.”
Sounds like a pretty useful typewriter to me. But, then, it wasn’t manufactured. So what’s the point? The point is to look at a worldly, wealthy, well-situated and educated man and wonder why, at the age of 44, he wanted to build a typewriter. He was obviously wanting for little else in life.
Alfred Henry Huth was a noted bibliophile, having inherited “the magnificent and early printed books gathered by his [merchant banker] father, Henry Huth”. He was born in Marylebone, London, on January 14, 1850.
Alfred’s grandfather, Frederick Huth, came from Hanover but was “driven out of Corunna by the entry of the French … [he] left with his family under convoy of the British squadron and landed in England in 1809. He became a naturalised British subject by act of parliament.”
Alfred’s mother was Augusta Louisa Sophia von Westenholz, daughter of Frederick Westenholz of Waldenstein Castle in Austria.
Alfred’s parents were close friends of Henry Thomas Buckle (above), the historian and author of an unfinished History of Civilization. Soon after the second volume of Buckle's history was published, in May 1861, Buckle travelled to Egypt for the sake of his health. He took with him Alfred Huth, then 11, and his brother Edward, 14. Buckle packed the Bible, Shakespeare, Molière and a few books about Egypt, calculating that the boys would be forced to read them for want of other distraction.
The group spent the winter of 1861-62 in Egypt, from which they went over the deserts of Sinai and of Edom to Syria, reaching Jerusalem on April 19, 1862. After 11 days they set out for Europe by way of Beirut, but in Nazareth Buckle developed typhoid fever, and died in Damascus on May 29.
Alfred Huth became Buckle's biographer and The Life and Writings of Henry Thomas Buckle (1880) is his chief literary work.
His other works include The Marriage of Near Kin: The Results of Experience, and the Teachings of Biology (1875)(Huth had married his cousin, Octavia Huth, in 1872), On the Employment of Women (1882), Speculum Humanae Salvationis, Goethe's Faustus in English verse, A True Relation of the Travels and Perilous Adventures of Mathew Dudgeon, Gentleman: Wherein is Truly Set Down the Manner of his Taking, the Long Time of his Slavery in Algiers, and Means of his Delivery (1894), A Catalogue of the Woodcuts and Engravings in the Huth Library and A Catalogue of the Fifty Manuscripts and Printed Books Bequeathed to the British Museum by Alfred H. Huth.
Huth was a partner in the City of London merchants, Frederick Huth and Co, founded by his grandfather in the early 18th century. He was also a director of the Alliance Assurance Company and a considerable landowner in Wiltshire.
His obituary in the London Times described him “as a man of remarkable attainments in various directions; and though of a very shy nature [he] was most genial among his intimate friends … He kept up the famous library and added to it.”
Huth died at his Wiltshire residence, Fosbury Manor, on October 14, 1910, aged 60.
After his travels with Buckle in the Middle East, Huth had continued his education at Rugby School in Warwickshire and Berlin University. This detail allows us the opportunity to mention that this week the 2011 Rugby World Cup starts in New Zealand. The modern form of this code began at Rugby School in the early part of the 19th century. Typewriters were used to cover the first World Cup, also in New Zealand, in 1987.
But now for another sort of knees up …
On this day in 1883, Arthur W. Pritchard (born 1846, Pennsylvania), a “huckster” of Allegheny, was issued with a patent (above) for a platen-shifting attachment for typewriters:
“The object of my invention is to allow the operator the use of both hands in striking the capital or large letters; and this object I have fully obtained by the use of an attachment which may be readily fitted to the platen shift-key or key-bar, and may be actuated by the knee of the operator from time to time, as may be desired …”
More than nine years later, William Seymour Edwards, of Charleston, West Virginia, was issued with a patent for something very similar:
“This invention relates to attachments for typewriting machines operated from a so-called ‘keyboard’; and its object is to enable the writing to be shifted from lower to upper case and the shift to be held as long as desired, while leaving both hands of the operator free for the manipulation of the ordinary type-keys.
“The invention consists in the particular mode and mechanism for connecting the ordinary shift-key of a type-writing machine to a lever properly supported beneath the machine, whereby the lever can be actuated by the knee of the operator, as desired, and the shift-key depressed and held in depressions as long as needed.”