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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Smith-Corona Golden Shield Courier Typewriter

For 21 years from 1960, the British branch of Smith-Corona Marchant operated out of what had been the British Typewriter Company factory on Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, outside Birmingham.
Initially, SCM made in Britain what has been referred to as the "Y Model", or "Corsair line".

The factory had been set up by the British Typewriter Company after it became an off-shoot of George Salter and Co between the world wars.
BTC moved away from the old Salter factory, which was on Thomas Street between Spon Lane and High Street. The BTC offices were on Queen Street. Not being familiar with the area, I rely on the following description of the later factory's location: "The typewriter works used to operate on the High Street, opposite Woolworths, and they moved up to by the [West Bromwich Albion soccer club] ground [The Hawthorns], around about where the Motorway M5 junction island is, towards the Smethwick side."
Most notably, the BTC made Hermes Babys as Empire Aristocrats (see the history of Salter and the British Typewriter Co elsewhere on this blog).
SCM took over the company and the factory in 1960, making BTC an SCM subsidiary. But in 1981 the factory was closed. SCM decided to concentrate its efforts on a single-element typewriter.
SCM bought Olivetti's typewriter factory in Glasgow, which had been established just after World War II, and moved there. Olivetti had been making the Lexicon 82 in Glasgow. Peter Tytell explained this was a golfball portable with a moving carriage - "a minimal redesign of the typebar electric portable to enter the single element game ... Olivetti had originally started to set up manufacture in its Barcelona facility, but then Franco died [November 1975] and it was worried about the stability of Spain, so it shifted to [its British factory] ... When Olivetti moved from this compromise design to a true single element daisywheel portable, it sold off the machine, along with the factory, to SCM. All that was changed was the name and the colour of the plastic for the cover plates." Apparently this later SCM venture in Britain was ultimately no more successful than the first.
Before all this had happened, SCM's business with the Y-Corsair models of plastic portables made in West Bromwich was rapidly dropping off, in large part because the build quality of the typewriters had noticeably (even to loyal staff members) deteriorated as overheads rose.
SCM portables were being sold through Woolworths, but the chain store struck a hard bargain, and SCM received just 50 pence (about $1) for each SCM typewriter sold. Even then, Woolworths were selling them at just 40 per cent above cost price.
Below are scenes from the SCM factory on Kelvin Way, West Bromwich, in the 1960s:


notagain said...

Thanks for the info on the British factories. I have a couple of the plastic ones and have wondered about them.
I'm sure you've already seen Will Davis's writeup of the Golden Shield company, but for those who haven't, it's here:
There's one of these on offer in my area on craigslist, but they want $80US.

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