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Monday 15 April 2013

Imperial Portable Typewriters 1908-1978: Part III – The Last of the Good Companions and the Coming of the Goodish Messenger

Nick Beland's Imperial De Luxe 5
American writer and typewriter lover Robert Neuwirth raised a highly relevant point in his comment on Part Two of this series, when he mentioned his Imperial De Luxe 5.
Imperial Good Companion 5,
segment-shifted, serial number 5H923
The De Luxe 5, an export rebranding of the Imperial Good Companion 5, is the model which makes the Imperial Typewriter Company name in any way familiar in North America. Yet Imperials remain a relative rarity in that part of the world. Cameron Kopf, for instance, is eagerly awaiting the arrival in “The Woods of Northern California” of an Imperial Good Companion 4, being brought across the Atlantic by an English friend who won it on British eBay.
Tino's Imperial Good Companion 5
Imperials were notably excluded from Will Davis’s Portable Typewriter Reference Site, which first went online in March 2000 (more later on Will’s excitement at finally acquiring an Imperial, an IGC 6, in August 2010). Presumably this reflected the difficulty in finding IGCs in the US. But perhaps even more telling was the Imperial Good Companion 5’s total exclusion from the work of British typewriter collector and historian Wilf Beeching, Century of the Typewriter. Why on earth did Beeching so completely ignore it, even in his revised 1990 edition?
Nick Beland's Imperial De Luxe 5
One has to wonder, indeed, whether the Model 5 was not always meant to be largely for export. It would seem there may have been as few as 37,000 of them ever made, which today would make them fairly rare anywhere. The IGC 5 surely did sell in Britain - after all, Rob Bowker at Typewriter Heaven has one:
Rob Bowker's Imperial Good Companion 5
Two have sold on British eBay this year, including one just 10 days ago for £45 (it went overseas). IGC 5s also appear occasionally on Australia eBay and Trade Me in New Zealand, where Imperial typewriters are generally common. But the IGC 5 or the De Luxe 5 pop up nowhere near as often as earlier IGC models.
Nick Beland's blog masthead
And yet Model 5s have been found in the most unlikely of places. Nick Beland ("Philosophothought") unearthed, and secured for the princely sum of $5, a De Luxe 5 in a yard sale in Washington State in June last year. See his blog post on it here
Sold for £20 on British eBay in January
There is no mention of this in Beeching, but the IGC 5, which came out in 1957, was the first new model Imperial Good Companion made at Imperial’s factory in Hull, built in 1954, 118 miles almost due north of Imperial’s then headquarters in Leicester in England’s East Midlands. Imperial had decided to bring out a new standard model, the 66, and to ease pressure on the Leicester plant by shifting the production of portable typewriters to Hull. My friend Elizabeth Manning Murphy was gifted an IGC 5 after a tour of the Hull factory in 1961 – at that time the model was about to be phased out and be succeeded by the Models 6 and 7. Production of Good Companions ended in Hull in 1963.
One certain departure from the Imperial norm marked by the IGC 5 was the use of colours other than the previously standard black (first IGC, Model T), battleship grey (Models 1, T and 3) or metallic green (Model 4, though a few did come in cream). While mostly metallic green, some IGC 5s were produced in as catching a hue as a stark, dark red.
This red IGC 5, which I bought on Trade Me in New Zealand, is now in Richard Amery's Collection.
Richard Amery and I admire Richard's cream IGC 4 and IGC 5 at Richard's home in Sydney.
There were also cream models. On many, a black tray extends under the keyboard, something repeated on the IGC 7. With the IGC 7 there was also a return to some brighter colours, such as on this two-tone salmon pink and cream model:
Imperial Good Companion 7,
segment-shifted, serial number 7G412
For all that, the most astonishing thing about the Imperial Good Companion 5 and De Luxe 5 is its shape. It stands out like a sore thumb among the Good Companions that Imperial made from 1932 to 1966. Abandoned, albeit briefly, was the boxy shape of the Model T of 1938, and more or less continued through the Models 3, 4, 6 and 7. In its place are the sleek, curvy lines of the German-made Torpedo 20 of 1950. Richard Polt commented on Nick Bleland’s De Luxe 5: “There's a good reason it feels like a Torpedo: I think it IS one, or at least a descendant of one.” See Richard’s review of his IGC 5 here
Richard Polt holds his Imperial Good Companion 5, which he imported into the US.
As I said in Part II of this series, the IGC 5 has to be a very close cousin of the Torpedo Modell 20.
Torpedo Modell 20
We shall never know why Imperial adopted this new look for just one model. Interestingly, however, for the IGC 5Imperial returned to the segment-shift designed by Herbert Etheridge for Torpedo in 1930 and first used on the IGC 3 in 1951. The IGC 4, introduced the same year as the IGC 5 (1957) resorted to carriage-shift. Similarly, in 1961, the Models 6 (and 6T) and 7 were introduced to the market almost simultaneously, one (the IGC 6 and 6T) with carriage-shift and the other (the IGC 7) with segment-shift. Strange but true. There seems little point in trying to guess why.
Imperial Good Companion 6,
 carriage-shifted, serial number 6AF781
Personally, I find all the IGCs excellent typewriters to use, but feel drawn towards the Models T and 3, while at the same time seeing Scott Kernaghan’s point about them being aesthetically “bulky” and “a bit ugly”. From a purely practical point of view, the Models T and 3 are simply great little typers. I guess the good thing is that Imperial offered at least two distinctive stylings.
Imperial Good Companion 7,
segment-shifted, serial number 7O877
The IGC 5’s influence did not end with Imperial’s return to the boxy style for the IGCs 6 and 7. Smith-Corona designers David  Chase and Phillip Stevens referenced the De Luxe 5 in patenting what became an all-embracing SCM look for the Galaxie series; Carl Sundberg referenced it for the Remington Monarch series; and Charles Jaworski and Ed Johnson referenced it for the new-look Royal portable which, oddly enough, later morphed into the Royal-Imperial Safari.
Imperial Good Companion 5
Imperial Good Companion 6
Imperial Good Companion 7
There was clearly no loss of quality between the IGC 5 and the 1960s IGCs. Will Davis at the Davis Typewriter Works introduced his IGC 6 in August 2010 by saying, “Here is a machine that I've been after for some time - actually, it's from a family that I've been after any one of for a long time … This general design for Imperial portables dates back to the early 1930s and incorporates a geared typebar mechanism not unlike that found in Remington and Remington-Rand portables from the early 20s until 1949. On the Good Companion, the gear rack portion of the mechanism is fairly hidden by the distinctive typebar segment, which is large and raised, apparently to provide better typebar alignment …
“The touch of the machine is light - much lighter than superficially similarly-designed Remington machines. None of that ‘over-the-top’ feel Remington portables are known for exists with the Imperial, making it a lighter and speedier-feeling machine.
"That said, the typebar blow isn't nearly as hard and getting dark impression isn't as easy. The carriage shift moves more back than up, due to the design that essentially results in type slug impact on top of the platen, and this means that gunk or poor lubrication results in somewhat slow return of the carriage to lower-case position since gravity isn't as much of a help as it is in most carriage shifted machines.”
Will Davis's Imperial Good Companion 6
The IGC 6 was the best-selling of the later Imperial portables, and about 68,000 were made. But only about 26,000 of the Imperial Good Companion 7 were ever made, meaning that even in countries where Imperial portables sold well, this is the model that is hardest to find. Sydney’s Richard Amery, who has perhaps the most complete collection of Imperial Good Companions in the world, took many years to track down a Model 7, eventually finding one on Trade Me in New Zealand. Since then two others have come up for sale on Australian eBay, both of which I have acquired.
As if the passing apparition of the IGC 5 hadn’t been surprising enough, in 1964 the Imperial Typewriter Company went in an utterly different direction with its portable typewriters. It produced the all-new segment-shifted Imperial Messenger, which not only looked unlike any other Imperial portable, but unlike any other portable made by any other typewriter company.
Imperial Messenger,
segment-shifted, serial number 8AL632
The Messenger sold reasonably well, and production continued until 1967, almost two years after Litton Industries had taken over Imperial and its Leicester and Hull works (Litton eventually closed to two factories in 1975).  At least 54,000 Messengers were made. At a time when Japanese portables were starting to become more prominent in the marketplace, no other typewriter company took up Imperial’s lead with this wide, flat plastic design.
From the spring 1965 edition of Imperial News.
Will Davis noted in his look at the IGC 6 that “the hinge section [of the segment] is perhaps only half the width of the typewriter …” Imperial changed this with the Messenger, adopting a far wider section, something which necessitated moving the ribbon spools forward of the segment, closer to the keyboard, and thus allowing the Messenger’s low profile. I have not seen this arrangement on other portables, certainly not of this era.
Whereas a heavy Torpedo influence had been clearly evident in all previous Imperial portables, the Messenger represents a completely independent design. It may be pleasing to the eye, but does not necessarily make for an improved typer.
The Messenger turned out to be the last portable typewriter ever made by Imperial in England and it was designed by two Englishmen, Arthur Bott Pateman, who had risen from Imperial design engineer to managing director and finally chairman of the board, and Samuel Alan Leedham.
But it appears that one more Imperial Good Companion was made, the Model 203, by Nakajima in Japan for Litton Industries:
TOMORROW: Imperial portable typewriters made in France, Portugal, Germany and Japan.


Scott K said...

Oh, how interesting.
I quite like the deluxe's 'Blister-pack' kind of bulge. I certainly prefer it over the bulkhead look of the 4. I guess it just wasn't as distinctive enough for the designers.

Richard P said...

I'm surprised by the low production numbers for these late IGC's, and interested by the unique position of the ribbon spools on the Messenger.

I continue to love my IGC5; it's just an excellent portable.

Richard P said...

Taking another look at the serial number data you post toward the end of the story: assuming that the system went A001 ... A999, B001 ... B999, etc., then we get 26,000 typewriters made before going to AA, AB, etc.

Unknown said...

I've just been catching up on your posts over the past months of my absence from the typosphere and it was a pleasant surprise to see you used my photos! I just had my Imperial out today, writing a short story.

As a correction, I had not yet moved to Washington when I found this; I found it in Centreville, Michigan.

Tony said...


I have an Imperial Good Companion model 6 typewriter with the serial number 6D 223.

I can see no reference to this serial number in any of the sites I have visited. Can anyone date thsi for me

Robert Messenger said...

1961. Please read chart on this post.

gthawk said...

My wife was kind enough to bring a Good Companion 7 that I bought on U.K. ebay back to New York on her return from visiting her family in the U.K. However, It's serial number isn't consistent with your roster. The serial number starts with a smaller, almost superscript 7 and then is 5U104. The 5 is well formed and definitely isn't an S. Any thoughts on this?

BTW, here's a link to a photo of the machine:


Unknown said...

Hi, I have just found a IGC 7 in my nan's attic, almost how it would have been bought.
Any comments about it would be appreciated.

my comment about the duster being original is an assumption on my part.

ojibway said...

I was given an Imperial Messenger T a few weeks ago.
It seems the "T" is for the Tab model and has a tabulator setting lever to the left of the keyboard.

This one is made for blind or partially sighted people as it has a metal strip across the bail bar with Braille symbols on it.
It also has the 6, y, h and n keys without letters but with tactile rubber centers!


Unknown said...

This was fascinating! Although I'm unable to see the serial number that mine has. Do you by chance know which year '6G 357' would be from? Thank you so much.

Robert Messenger said...

It's right there, at the bottom of the post! 1961.

Unknown said...

I have a model 5 that I really like, but it doesn't have a ribbon return mechanism, which is frustrating. I understand that earlier models had the ribbon return. Any idea why Imperial would have eliminated this feature?