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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Imperial Portable Typewriters 1908-1978: Part II – Good Companions 1, Model T, 3 and 4

Will Davis and the late Tilman Elster say on their European Typewriter Project webpage on Imperial that mechanically the Imperial Good Companion portable typewriter changed very little between the first model of 1932 and the Model 6 of 1961. Will and Tilman say of the Model 4, for example, "[it] displays the fact that little had changed on these machines over some number of years. Most of the alteration is cosmetic." And of the 6T, " ... again [the mask] encloses essentially the same machine."
The first Imperial Good Companion (1932)
What Will and Tilman did NOT look at, however, were the odd-numbered Imperial Good Companions, the Models 3, 5 and 7. These are completely different mechanically, yet their mechanics are enclosed in familiar masks - the 3 in the boxy Model T shape, and the 5 and the 7 in the lower, sleeker styling of the 4 and 6.
The IGC Model T (1938)
While the first Imperial Good Companion, the Model T and Models 4 and 6 are carriage-shifted with identical segment-typebaskets, the Models 3, 5 and 7 are segment-or basket-shifted. The segments and typebaskets on the odd-numbered models are totally different to those on the even-numbered models.
The IGC Model 3 (1951)
It would probably be fair to say the majority of Imperial Good Companions are carriage-shifted and have very much the same mechanics.
The image below, from the late Tilman Elster's Collection, is of an Imperial model called a "Briton", serial number FC709. Ernst Martins says this was a brand name used by Imperial in Argentine.
Like the Briton, another first model IGC in matte black was marketed as a Regent, which was Torpedo's export tradename.
Below, yet another variation from the late Tilman Elster's Collection is decalled an "Imperial Good Companion 1", but it is clearly a boxy Model T with carriage-shift. Serial number JS596. I have seen just a model owned by a young collector here in Canberra. Bear in mind the first Good Companion did not have a model number. 
Yet the more conventional-looking segment and typebasket arrangement, with segment-shift, once more underlines Imperial's close association with Torpedo in Frankfurt, Germany - one which extended to either side of World War II. 
The IGC Model 3, with segment-shift
This segment-shift design was patented in Germany in February 1930 by Englishman Herbert Etheridge, assigned to Torpedo (Etheridge filed an application for a US patent one year later). Etheridge later worked for Imperial in England, but died in 1940, leaving all his worldly goods to fellow Imperial mechanical designer Arthur Pateman. After the War, in 1947, Pateman filed for a British patent for Etheridge's segment-shift design, saying he was acting as a "representative" for the late Etheridge.
The Torpedo Modell 15
Meanwhile, Torpedo had adopted Etheridge's segment design for its portables, starting with the Modell 15 (aka Blue Bird) in 1931 and carrying on through all of its subsequent portable models. The Torpedo Modell 20 and the Imperial Good Companion 5 could, for example, be almost described as close cousins:
So in part two of our series on Imperial portable typewriters, let's look at some of these differences between the first model Good Companion and the Models T, 3 and 4:
From the Typewriter Age Guide (December 1973):
From Wilfred A. Beeching's
Century of the Typewriter (1974):
Some of the Imperial
Good Companions
from my collection:
Serial number B0812

Serial number BR121
Serial number 2G185

Serial number 2B123L
Serial number 3V312
Serial number 4AC640
TOMORROW: The Imperial Good Companion Models 5, 6 and 7 and the Imperial Messenger, the last portable made by Imperial itself.


Cameron said...

Thanks for this post, Robert -- my dear British friend Caroline is about to come visit me here in The Woods of Northern California, and she is bringing me an Imperial Good Companion 4!

She won the auction on awhile back and picked up the IGC personally. I am so excited about getting this machine.

Your post will help me identify the year this IGC 4 was made. Greatly appreciated!

Richard P said...

Thanks for helping us sort out the IGCs. I have corrected the date for my earliest Good Companion (#AC273) to 1935.

So the wonderful segment shift design was the brainchild of an Englishman! Hats off to Mr Etheridge.

rn said...

Great compendium of good companions! I have a '53 GC 3 and a '58 de luxe 5 (the name of the GC 5 in the US). The shift is super-soft on both, but I prefer the boxy style and outlying tab controls of the 3. Understated but sexy.
Rob in NY

Rob Bowker said...

That's really useful stuf. Thanks Robert. I'd heard, but never seen the Torpedo forerunner of the luscious IGC5. Nor did I realise the 3 was a basket shift too.

Scott Kernaghan said...

Great work Rob. These machines look like remarkably excellent typewriters.

That said, I really can't get my head around the bulky structure on these machines. On an aesthetic level, I have to be honest, I find these machines to be a bit... ugly.

I'd love to get my hands on one and try them out, but I just could never see myself owning one, because of the distinctive styling.

Steve Snow said...

Pretty much exactly what the others said; really useful stuff here, thanks!

AlliKeys said...

Found your blog very interesting and helpful. I have a Model T with a Johannesburg (South Africa) company logo/stamp and would like to sell it - so I was trying to get an idea of what they are worth.... Still not too sure of that, but thank you for your blog... I reckon mine is like the 1938 one you have... or maybe in the 1950's... Ah well - live and learn every day - I would never have known there are collectors out there for these machines... Enjoy!

Martin Hatchuel said...

Just bought an Imperial Good Companion 4 at a garage sale - near perfect condition. I'm so excited I could bite! Thanks for this post, Robert - helps to understand a bit about the background to the machine.

Anonymous said...


I have just received an imperial model T in the mat tone but the only number I can see that resembles a serial number is 2HE 063

Would you know anything about this model??


Robert Messenger said...

It was made in 1951.

Sue Vaughey said...

Can you help me with year of manufacture of A Good Companion with serial number FV769. Many thanks.

Robert Messenger said...

Early 1947

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much your information was very helpful. I'm so glad I rescued my mums Model T Serial number BN097. She was going to throw it out! Am I right in thinking this is one of the earliest models from 1932?

Anonymous said...

Oops sorry I think it's 1937 actually

Robert Messenger said...

1938 - NOT a Model T, an IGC.

Anonymous said...

Good info here, thanks. I have an odd model T that I think is from 1942. Its serial no (to right of space bar) is 2X183. There's also a serial no under the left spool 2AAP16. What is unusual is that every pic I've seen of this model has various fractions on the penultimate right column keys. Yet this one has french and german accents instead (acute, umlaut etc).

Thought it may be a french/german model, but the shift lock, margin release, backspace etc are all in english as usual.

Have done a lot of digging online but no luck. Any ideas please? Thought maybe it was adapted for translation use somehow.

Lee said...

Hi, I came across an Imperial Good Companion with serial starting AO. However, the royal coat of arms on the top right is in gold colour instead of the multi-coloured one (gold, blue, red, white) that we usually see. Is this a different version as this is the first time I've come across the royal coat of arms in all gold? Thanks in advance.

Tim Hughes said...


I have an Imperial Good Companion Model T Serial No: 2 GS 076. Can you tell what what year it would have been manufactured?
Many Thanks