Empire portable typewriter

Summary & Introduction

Empire / Aristocrat portables are Hermes Baby clones, made in England under a licence agreement. The manufacturer was British Typewriters Ltd. in West Bromwich, England.
The first version of the Hermes Baby was produced as Empire portable from 1936 to 1948, with a hiatus between 1940 and 1945, 1 when bombing of the factory and the subsequent war effort of British Typewriters Ltd. stalled production. 2 Name variants are The Baby Empire, Empire. Service Model, Baby Empire de luxe. Production resumed in 1946.
Only in 1948 British Typewrites Ltd. started to produce the second Hermes Baby model with its characteristic gull-wings), and which had been in production in Switzerland since 1940 („Jubilee model“). The post-war production would be marketed under the name of Empire Aristocrat.
In 1958, British Typewriters Ltd. was taken over by Smith-Corona Marchant. Production of the Empire portable continued for some time under the new owners, but was phased out in 1960, thus ending the production of the Hermes Baby in England in its 25th year.

Three of the Empire portable models in my collection correspond to the first Hermes Baby model. 3 Recently a fourth Empire portable joined the collection. It is a specimen of the last series of Empire portables produced. Thanks to my fellow collectors who kindly provided photos of the various models.

This entry is part of research for a book project on Swiss typewriter. The information contained herein is not complete and preliminary. Thanks for your corrections, comments & further information!

Pre-war models of the Empire portable

The Baby Empire

The Baby Empire #1803 (1936), © Carl H. 2014
The Baby Empire #1803 (1936), © Carl H. 2014

Machines labelled „The Baby Empire“ start the honourable Empire line of portables. 4 According to the Schinke 1955 age list the machine with serial number 1803 shown above was produced in 1936. 5

The Baby Empire

The Baby Empire

As is stated on the paper tray of the above shown The Empire Baby #2574, this typewriter was „Assembled in our West Bromwich factory from foreign parts imported from Switzerland„. The type font is Iris Nr. 207.

Technically, „The Baby Empire“ corresponds to the first Hermes Baby series produced by Paillard S.A. in Yverdon, Switzerland. 6 More than that, the decal stating that that the parts were imported from Switzerland prove that the very first machines were actually produced in Switzerland, and only assembled in England. So „The Baby Empire“ (at least the specimens known so far) was genuine Swiss Hermes Baby production. The machines exported to England did, however, have their own line of serial numbers, different from the machines produced under the original „Hermes Baby“ brand. 7

serial numbers „The Baby Empire“ source
niedrigste* / lowest 1803 (1936) 8 correspondence C. H. 2014
höchste* / highest 2574 (1936) 9 G. Sommeregger collection 2014
 
*Es handelt sich um die mir bisher bekannten Seriennummern. Haben Sie eine „The Baby Empire“ Schreibmaschine dieser Bauart? Danke für die Bekanntgabe weiterer Nummern (auch wenn sie nicht die höchsten oder tiefsten sind): e-mail

Baby Empire

Baby Empire #15036 (1938), © G. Sommeregger collection 2014
Baby Empire #15036 (1938), © G. Sommeregger collection 2014

On this „Baby Empire“, for the first time we see the logo with the lion. The number of keys and overall layout, including the „pinch“ mechanism for line advance, remains unchanged.

The lion logo, of course, is a spitting image of the Landseer’s lions in Trafalgar square. What a fitting symbol for the Empire typewriter!

Logo on Empire #P3 07 04 (1946)
Logo on Empire #P3 07 04 (1946)
Landseer's Lion in Trafalgar Square. Source and ©: http://www.speel.me.uk
Landseer’s Lion in Trafalgar Square. Source and ©: www.speel.me.uk

Baby Empire de-luxe

Baby Empire de-luxe, # 19627 (1939), © S. Slater
Baby Empire de-luxe, # 19627 (1939), © S. Slater

This Baby Empire de-luxe features a margin-release key, plus a new line change lever instead of the pinch mechanism.

The above machine has got black finish, and plastic keys. There is, however, a second variant featuring grey finish, and metal rimmed keys. The specimen shown below was produced in 1940.

Baby Empire de-luxe # 29270 (1940), © T. Fürtig collctection 2014
Baby Empire de-luxe # 29270 (1940), © T. Fürtig collection 2014

Empire. Service Model

Empire portable typewriter
Empire. Service Model # 52111, G. Sommeregger collection

Empire logo

The first „Empire“ I acquired for my collection is actually the most mysterious one. It is designated Empire „Service model„. Noticeably different from the other machines, research still needs to be conducted as to its exact history and age.

What can be said is that this „Service Model“ is a simplified model, stripped down to the essential parts and missing even a line spacer.  Just as the previously shown Baby Empire de-luxe, it has got rimmed keys. It has got the serial number 52111. The typeface is Iris No. 207.

Looking for clues, I looked at the outward appearance, and the the serial number.

1. As to the design, the name „Service Model“ might well refer to the service in World War II. This would fit the patriotic logo with the British flag, and scarce resources would explain the stripped down equipment of the machine. The rimmed keys are the same as with the previously shown Baby Empire de-luxe made in 1940. If the rimmed keys indicate vicinity to this model, we could locate the production time of the Service model around this time.

2. The known serial numbers 10 might give us another clue.  Serial numbers in the 50’000s are neither listed for the Empire portable production, nor for the Swiss Hermes Baby output. 11 However, the Schinke 1955 age list lists 55’000 number for another „Empire“ model: the Empire Junior typewriter. 12 According to this list, serial numbers up to 55’000 would fall in the production year 1939.

3. The Service Model’s Iris typeface Nr. 207 might lead us on yet another track… more of this at the given time.

The producer – British Typewriters Ltd. 

The licence to build the Hermes Baby in England was secured very early on from the original manufacturers, Paillard S.A. in Yverdon, Switzerland.

The central figure in the history of the „English Hermes Baby“ was Norman William Reginald Mawle. Mawle, at the time General Sales Manager of Imperial Typewriter Co. Ltd., 13 concluded the contract on his own behalf, meaning the contract was not in the name of Imperial Typewriter Co. Ltd., but his own. 14 A daring venture, but he succeeded and subsequently got production started with British Typewriters Ltd. in West Bromwich.

British Typewriters Ltd. has its roots in the pre-existing firm Geo. Salter & Co., West Bromwich. Salter had a tradition of producing typewriters since 1892. 15

The Empire brand has a separate root: „EMPIRE“ was registered as a brand on 30th January 1920 by and for „The EMPIRE TYPEWRITER CO., LIMITED“. 16

From the above said we know that at least ideas, if not plans, to introduce an „Empire“ branded typewriter on the market were around in 1920. Now, how did Salter come to produce an Empire typewriter? To cut this highly interesting story short (please read in-depth on R. Messenger’s page), the Blick Typewriter Co., Ltd., run by George C. Rimington, took control of the typewriter business of Geo. Salter & Co., Ltd., often referred to as the „Salter Typewriter Co.17 in 1922. 18 The resulting venture was British Typewriters Ltd.. 19 Ernst Martin tells a different story, relating West Bromwich’s Empire production to the famous Canadian brand of the same name, but this time he might have been wrong. 20

The Salter factory, under the control of Rimington’s Blick Typewriter Co., would produce the British Empire No. 12 standard typewriter, itself a successor model to the Blick-Bar. 21 

The new machine had been announced by Typewriter Topics magazine with the name of „British Blick„. 22 Advertisement shows a „British“ „N°12“ labelled machine by The Blick Typewriter Co., Ltd.. 23

Production of the British Empire No. 12 standard typewriter started in 1924. 24  See Robert Messengers British Empire No. 12 with the serial number 2562, corresponding to the production year 1926 (click to enlarge): 25

Production of the British Empire Mod. 12 ended in 1931. After 1931, no more production of „Empire“ typewriters is recorded. 26 This gap must have paved the floor for a business opportunity Mr. Mawle was not ready to miss.

The English Hermes Baby, so to speak, was introduced in 1936. 27 Not so well-known is the fact that British Typewriters Ltd. also sold Hermes 2000 typewriters under the name of Empire Junior28 29

Post-war models of the Empire portable

Paillard S.A. in Switzerland had introduced a gull-winged version of the Hermes Baby in 1940. 30 It was only after Word War II that British Typewriters Ltd. could resume production of typewriters. Production had stopped in 1940 following an air raid in November 1940, which heavily damaged the production plant. 31 For the rest of the war, British Typewriters Ltd. suspended the production of typewriters and switched to war production.

According to the testimony of the managing director, N.W.R Mawle, production of typewriters resumed in 1946. 32 Mr. Mawle states that production resumed with the „Aristocrat“ model.

However, an authoritative age list of Empire typewriters suggests that the pre-war model (Baby Empire de-luxe) continued to be built from 1946 to 1948 (now merely called „Empire“, and with plastic keys). 33 The same age list dates the start of the „Aristocrat“ production to 1948.

From 1946 until the end of production in 1960, we find the following labels (in chronological order): EmpireEmpire Aristocrat, and yet again Empire.

Empire

Empire portable typewriter
Empire #P30704 (1946), G. Sommeregger collection

The machine featured was built in 1946, the first year of post-war production. 34 The typeface is Gordon Webb & Co. Ltd., Nr. 380.

Empire Aristocrat

The Empire Aristocrat is the equivalent of the gull-winged Hermes Baby.

See the succession of Empire Aristocrat variants over the years:

The first variant of the Empire Aristocrat corresponds exactly to the Hermes Baby gull-wing model introduced in Switzerland already in 1940. The gull-winged cover makes for a big optical change, mechanically however it is still – with a few adaptations – the original Hermes Baby of 1935.

Empire Aristocrat #E62674 (1948), © U. Wachtendorf
Empire Aristocrat #E62674 (1948), © U. Wachtendorf collection

The variant shown started the Aristocrat line in 1948 and remained – as far as we can see – unchanged until 1955. 35 The specimen shown is particularly interesting because of its low serial number E62674. The serial numbers given in the Schinke 1955 age list would only state the end-of-the-year 1948 number G68900. 36 #E62674 leads us to believe that the numbering started with 60’000, meaning that 8’900 Empire Aristocrat portables were produced in the first year 1948.

Empire Aristocrat # 102E501 (1954), © P. Trumpiel collection
Empire Aristocrat # 102E501 (1954), © P. Trumpiel collection

 

Empire Aristocrat 1955 model

In 1954, Paillard S.A. in Switzerland introduced an improved Hermes Baby model, featuring in particular a thicker platen (31,5 mm as opposed to 25 mm on the previous model) and square instead of round keys. It appears that British Typewriters Ltd. introduced this new model in the following year 1955. 37 It corresponds to machines with „S2“ serial numbers.

Empire Aristocrat # S2/250619 (1955), G. Sommeregger collection
Empire Aristocrat # S2/250619 (1955), G. Sommeregger collection

Note that the above machine still bears the logo with the lion. It appears that the 1955 model („S2“ serial numbers) started with this variant. Later on, the simpler text-only „EMPIRE Aristocrat“ plate was introduced. This change took place in 1956 at latest, as can be seen from the machine shown below.

Empire Aristocrat # S2/268670 (1956), T. Munk collection 2014
Empire Aristocrat # S2/268670 (1956), © T. Munk collection
Empire Aristocrat # S2/194E086 (1957), R. Polt collection
Empire Aristocrat # S2/194E086 (1957), © R. Polt collection

1958 features machines with olive-green keys and red functional keys (shift, lock-shift, return, margin release):

Empire Aristocrat # S2/341963 (1958), © R. Messenger 2014
Empire Aristocrat # S2/341963 (1958), © R. Messenger 2014
Empire Aristocrat # S2/352626, © U. Wachendorf 2014
Empire Aristocrat # S2/352626 (1958), © U. Wachendorf 2014

Transition to Smith-Corona Marchant

In 1958, Smith-Corona took control of British Typewriters Ltd. 38 Earlier in 1958, Smith-Corona had merged with Marchant Calculator Company. 39 The newly formed company was named Smith-Corona Marchant.

Production of the Empire portable continued for some time afterwards. A machine # S2/370123 labelled „Empire Aristocrat„, 40 as well as one # S2/397068 labelled „Empire“ (own collection, see below) are known. Both date from 1959. So we may suppose that the change from the one to the other label occurred in this year.

The „Empire“ machine mentioned is a seemingly hybrid machine bearing the labels „Empire“ (front cover), „Smith-Corona“ (cover above the platen), and „Manufactured by British Typewriters Ltd. West Bromwich, England“ (behind), all on one machine. One possible explanation is that it simply took some time for the change of ownership to be reflected in the production output, resulting in these transitional models.

In 1960, production of the Empire portable phased out, and thus ended the production of the English Hermes Baby line. 41

Empire Aristocrat

Empire Aristocrat # S2/370123 (1959), © S. Kernaghan
Empire Aristocrat # S2/370123 (1959), © S. Kernaghan

The above shown machine must be one of the last machines bearing the „Empire Aristocrat“ badge. By this time, Smith-Corona had already bought British Typewriters Ltd. 42 Earlier known specimen of the same design: # S2/352626 (1958). 43

Empire (Smith-Corona)

Empire Smith-Corona
Empire # S2/397068 (1959). G. Sommeregger collection

This machine bears three labels: „Empire“, „Smith-Corona“, and „Manufactured by British Typewriters Ltd. West Bromwich, England“. A machine # S2/278E359 (1959) of the same design is known. 44

In total, production of the Empire portable lasted over a time span of 25 years, starting in 1936 and ending in ca. 1960, with a hiatus between the end of 1940 and 1946.

Epilogue

Ending the production of the Empire portable was not due to lack of sales – serial number data suggests that production was in full flow until the very end. 45 So it was a policy decision by the new owners, Smith-Corona Marchant. In 1960, they supplanted the Empire portable production by their own Smith-Corona line of portables generally known under the brand-name „Skyriter„.

In West Bromwich, however, these machines maintained at least the „Empire“ part in their name, and were produced as  „Empire46 and „Empire-Corona“ portables. 47

Empire #4Y-616625W (1962), © U. Wachtendorf 2014
Empire #4Y-616625W (1962), © U. Wachtendorf 2014

On an interesting detail, the typeslugs of this 1962 „Empire“ shown above still bear the „lion“ logo as seen on the last series of the original „Empire“ portables. Also, the zippered cases of the Empire-Corona shown below is the same as those of the last Empire portable series (cf. #S2/397068 above; colour may vary).

Empire-Corona, #4Y664648 (1962), © R. Bowker
Empire-Corona, #4Y664648 (1962), © R. Bowker, typewriterheaven.blogspot.com

 

Date your Empire portable typewriter

Please refer to the typewriter database.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to R. Messenger and G. Mawle for providing essential historical sources. Thanks to Carl H., Th. Fürtig, J. Horstink, R. Polt, S. Slater, P. Trumpiel, U. Wachtendorf.

Further reading

R. Messenger, oztypewriter.blogspot.com

 

last update: 26 June 2016

© G. Sommeregger, typewriters.ch 2014–2016

Notes:

  1. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  2. N.R.W. Mawle, The Birth of the EMPIRE Portable, typoscript, estate of N.R.W. Mawle, by kind communication from G. Mawle to the author, July 2014. 
  3. See http://www.typewriters.ch/collection/hermes_baby.html for details. 
  4. Lowest known serial number: 1803. Private correspondence C.H. July 2014
  5. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  6. See http://www.typewriters.ch/collection/hermes_baby.html for details. 
  7. Hermes Baby serial numbers start with 60001 in 1935, cf. Schramm 1962
  8. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  9. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  10. Other „Service models“ known: # 50402 (Th. Fürtig collection 2014), 51764 (Schreibmaschinenmuseum Partschins 2014).
  11. Cf. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  12. Cf. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  13. Norman William Reginald Mawle, typewritten CV, estate of N.W.R. Mawle, via G. Mawle, July 2014
  14. R. Messenger, The original 1935 £3000 contract between Paillard and Bill Mawle (British Typewriters), 18 July 2014, on-line at http://oztypewriter.blogspot.ch/2014/07/the-original-1935-3000-swiss-francs.html (accessed 10 August 2014)
  15. E. Martin, Die Schreibmaschine und ihre Entwicklungsgeschichte, Aachen 1949, p. 134
  16. The Trade Marks Journal, Wednesday, April 7th, 1920, p. 690
  17. Typewriter Topics (New British Typewriter Combination, in: Typewriter Topics, November 1922, p. 293f) forwards the name „Salter Typewriter Co.“, as well as the 1922 ad shown above, yet on Robert Messenger’s British Empire No. 12, #2562 (R. Messenger collection 2012) states that it was „MANUFACTURED BY GEO. SALTER & CO., LTD. / WEST BROMWICH ENG. / EXCLUSIVELY FOR / BRITISH TYPEWRITERS LTD. / 77, QUEEN VICTORIA ST[REET] / LONDON ENG[LAND]“.
  18. Typewriter Topics. The International Office Equipment Magazine, 1922, p. 293
  19. „British Typewriters Ltd.“ is stated on Robert Messenger’s British Empire No. 12, #2562 (R. Messenger collection 2012): „MANUFACTURED BY GEO. SALTER & CO., LTD. / WEST BROMWICH ENG. / EXCLUSIVELY FOR / BRITISH TYPEWRITERS LTD. / 77, QUEEN VICTORIA ST[REET] / LONDON ENG[LAND]“.
  20. Martin forwards the information that the „Empire“ brand would back to 1892 when the Williams Mfg. Co. in Montreal started production of W. P. Kidder’s second typewriter model. Empire No. 2 came out in 1909. E. Martin mentions that a model 3 came out in 1921, but was sold in Canada only. He further informs us that at the end of 1924, production was shifted from Canada to West Bromwich and was assembled there, until exhaustion of part stocks, under the name of British Empire. Source: E. Martin, Die Schreibmaschine und ihre Entwicklungsgeschichte, Aachen 1949, p. 130f.
  21. Read the full story on ozTypewriter: R. Messenger, The Blick-Bar and the British Empire, ozTypewriter, 20th October 2012, http://oztypewriter.blogspot.ch/2012/10/the-blick-bar-and-british-empire.html (accessed 22. August 2014)
  22. Typewriter Topics. The International Office Equipment Magazine, November 1922, p. 294
  23. As displayed on R. Messenger, The Blick-Bar and the British Empire, ozTypewriter, 20th October 2012, http://oztypewriter.blogspot.ch/2012/10/the-blick-bar-and-british-empire.html (accessed 23rd August 2014)
  24. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  25. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  26. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  27. H. F. W. Schramm, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 11. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1962. 
  28. Leonhard Dingwerth, Lexikon historischer Schreibmaschinen. Für die Zeit von 1940 bis zum Beginn der Elektronik, Neuauflage, Delbrück 2008, p. 109 
  29. It still needs to be ascertained whether British Typewriters Ltd. merely sold Swiss-produced Hermes 2000s under their name, or if there was a Empire Junior production in England. I have information regarding one machine only, and which is clearly labelled „Made in Switzerland“ (Empire Junior # 43342, information via R. Messenger).
  30. cf. http://www.typewriters.ch/collection/hermes_baby.html
  31. N.R.W. Mawle, The Birth of the EMPIRE Portable, typoscript, estate of N.R.W. Mawle, by kind communication from G. Mawle to the author, July 2014. 
  32. N.R.W. Mawle, The Birth of the EMPIRE Portable, typoscript, estate of N.R.W. Mawle, by kind communication from G. Mawle to the author, July 2014. 
  33. H. F. W. Schramm, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 11. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1962. 
  34. H. F. W. Schramm, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 11. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1962. 
  35. „S2“ serial numbers, which we believe introduce the subsequent 1955 model, start in 1955, cf. Schramm 1962. Serial numbers following the old system of numbering (2 letters and six numbers, or three numbers – one letter – three numbers) run into 1955. Still missing a 1955 specimen of the „old“ type, so if you have one, please get in touch!
  36. H. Schinke, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 10. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1955. 
  37. H. F. W. Schramm, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 11. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1962, suggest the change for „ca. 1954“, but evidence suggests that the change occurred in 1955. # S2/250619 is the key to this hypothesis: The „S2“ numbers, yet according to Schramm 1962, start in 1955 with S2/250001.
  38. Smith Corona, Smith Corona: Turning Adversity into Innovation and Creating Ongoing Success. The never-give-up journey of Smith Corona, 2012, p. 21, on-line at http://www.smithcorona.com/pdf/SmithCoronaFullHistory.pdf, accessed 10 August 2014
  39. Marchant Calculators, The SCM Story, p. 3, on-line at http://www.mortati.com/glusker/marchant/scmstory/p3.htm, accessed 10 August 2014
  40. # S2/370123, S. Kernaghan collection 2014.
  41. H. F. W. Schramm, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 11. Aufl., Burghagen Verlag, Hamburg 1962. 
  42. Smith Corona, Smith Corona: Turning Adversity into Innovation and Creating Ongoing Success. The never-give-up journey of Smith Corona, 2012, p. 21, on-line at http://www.smithcorona.com/pdf/SmithCoronaFullHistory.pdf, accessed 10 August 2014
  43. U. Wachendorf collection 2014, on http://typewriterdatabase.com/1958-empire-aristocrat.2641.typewriter (accessed 10. August 2014)
  44. N. Beland collection 2014, on http://typewriterdatabase.com/1959-empire-smithcorona-empire.1645.typewriter (accessed 10. August 2014)
  45. E.g., serial numbers 1959 S2/359851 to S2/401400 would correspond to 42.000 units (rough estimate), cf. http://typewriterdatabase.com/empire.24.typewriter-serial-number-database 
  46. e.g., #4Y-616625W, U. Wachtendorf collection, as seen on http://typewriterdatabase.com/1962-empire-corona.3064.typewriter (accessed 28. August 2014
  47. For serial numbers of this „4Y“ series, see http://typewriterdatabase.com/empire.24.typewriter-serial-number-database. For background on models and designer, read R. Messenger, ozTypewriter, Made in England (and the US): SCM Portable Typewriters of the 1960s, http://oztypewriter.blogspot.ch/2012/06/made-in-england-and-us-scm-portable.html (accessed 25 August 2014)

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