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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Salter Ousts 2700 British Government Typewriters!

'Bring in John Bull's machines!'
I have posted extensively in the past on Salter and British Empire typewriters, which were made in West Bromwich, outside Birmingham in England. Yet it now seems there is still much more to learn about exactly when and how Salter became British Typewriters, making British Empire machines.
Eclectisaurus Antiques & Brocante Typewriter Museum, Toronto

Of the British Empire typewriters, the Empire Aristocrat portable (Hermes Baby) is by far the best known and most readily available. Typewriters in this range, which date from the mid-1930s through to possibly as late as the early-1960s, are certainly quite common in this country. Richard Polt acquired one in the US not so long ago.
At one time I was under the impression the Empire-Hermes line of portables started with the Hermes Baby, relabelled by British Typewriters as the Aristocrat.
Then on Australian eBay last week up popped a rather rare earlier model, an Empire Baby De-Luxe, which is in fact the original Hermes portable design, the Featherweight (most noticeably distinguished from the Baby-Rocket by having no flapping ribbon covers). This was also marketed as the Swiss Zephyr.
I have now seen on the internet a few other examples of this earlier Empire-Hermes, including one in the Creston Museum in British Columbia (below).
Indeed, it turns out I had already posted on this very blog on the Empire Baby De-Luxe, at
At the time of posting that story, I had inaccurately assumed these Empires were all Aristocrats. In fact, the post is about an Empire Baby De-Luxe. It concerns London Daily Express air correspondent Victor Anthony Ricketts, who took a little Empire Baby De-Luxe on the de Havilland DH88 Comet in which he and Arthur Edmond Clouston smashed 11 world records on round-the-world flights in March 1938.
That it is an unusual version of the Empire had obviously not been appreciated by Australian eBayers when the auction ended on Monday. This listing sold for a mere $15.60, after only three bids. I would have valued it at about 10 times that price.
Anyway, getting back to Salter: A few weeks ago I won on eBay a small book, The Story of a Family Firm 1760-1960, which I'd hoped would answer some of the questions about Salter-British Typewriters. The book is a 200-year anniversary history of Salter written by Mary Bache in 1960. Mary Bache was a member of the extended Salter family: her father, Ernest William Bache, patented in the US typewriter designs for Salter in 1928.
Unfortunately, the book contains very little information about Salter typewriters, except that production of an “all-English model” “persisted” under Salter control from 1895 to 1936. At that point, “this department became a separate company and is now no longer connected with the firm”.
At what point, however, and to what extent, the Rimingtons, John M Rimington (born 1841) and his son George Rimington (born 1873), became involved in all this is not spelt out in Bache’s book. The Rimingtons owned the British branches of Blickensderfer in London and Newcastle, and at some stage after 1922 their company also established, or took over (from W.J.Richardson), British Typewriters. The true nature of the connection between the Rimingtons and the Salters has yet to be uncovered.
But this one intriguing paragraph in Bache’s book, covering a period immediately after World War I, did catch the eye:
The typewriter referred to by Bache is probably this machine, from the Thomas Fuertig Collection and seen on the European Typewriter Project web pages put together by Will Davis and the late Tilman Elster.
Will and Tilman wrote about Salter thus:
British Typewriters Ltd of West Bromwich, England, had what we might call three production phases in its life. It began with standard typewriters, then began license production of the small Hermes machines in 1935, and later in 1960 was entirely bought out by SCM-Smith Corona and changed production over to the small machines of that line based on the old Zephyr-Skyriter."
Will and Tilman say of the machine in Thomas’s collection, “This standard machine was introduced in 1924, as this company's first offering. These appear not to have been a fantastic success, although the company did survive with it for 10 years before becoming a license-producer of the small, flat Hermes machine which had just appeared and caused a sensation.
“Some sources indicate that this machine was built by British Typewriters Ltd, but other sources - namely, patents - also indicate that George Salter & Co still had a hand in the business … it seems Salter actually developed this front-strike machine.”
It can be safely read in all this that confusion continues to reign …

1 comment:

Bill M said...

Very interesting. It is a pleasure to read about all the different machines and company histories.