Friday, August 19, 2011

The Byron Typewriter Company & the Byron Mark I








Further reading #1:


Further reading #2:

Illustrious family built an empire of industry in city
by David Lowe, Nottingham Evening Post, Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Jardine's was once one of Nottingham's biggest employers. ... When John Jardine died in 1895 the business was taken over by his only surviving son Ernest (later Sir Ernest Jardine).... By 1930 Sir Ernest had a substantial interest in at least 31 companies – 13 of them directly involved with lace .... He was also involved in the manufacture of typewriters, having become chairman of Bar-Lock in 1925....
  After the war, typewriters were in such short supply that output could barely keep pace with demand. In 1951, the Nottingham Journal reported: "Today, more than 500 people are employed in the works, where the Bar-Lock typewriter is manufactured from start to finish, and where every 15 minutes a new standard typewriter is completed."
  But competition was increasing, especially from America, and Bar-Lock managers realised they had to modernise to survive.
  In 1953 they announced the name was going to change from Bar-Lock to Byron and a radical new model was going to be produced.
  Almost £1.25m was invested to produce a first-class standard machine. The typewriter not only had a new name but a new trademark, the poet Byron's profile surrounded by a wreath, and new colours. Instead of traditional black, machines were now two-tone, dark green and light stone. The typewriter was also equipped with "finger-fit" plastic keys, shaped so as not to break the typist's nails. ... 





The postwar body style of the Bar-Lock, rechristened Byron (ca. 1953)





"Byron typewriter, designed by Herbert Norman James, M.S.I.A., in 1955 and produced by BYRON BUSINESS MACHINES, 16 Berkeley Street, W.1. Left: first prototype of new machine. Right: latest prototype, white balls have been replaced by 'spade' handle on carriage return lever, and finger grip knobs on platen.  Original pastel colours replaced by metallic blue-grey and black."

How do you like that first prototype?

The July 1955 issue of Design magazine (UK) featured an article on the new Byron as a piece of industrial design. Click here to see it (PDF). Photos did not come through clearly on this scan provided to me by the University of Brighton Design Archives, but the text is readable and interesting. Here are a few highlights:

"It is new, not only in general appearance, but also in important mechanical principles. ... The new men [in charge of the company] are almost all under 40 years of age and are keen to make a completely fresh start. ... Its massive appearance is mainly due to the provision of extra space within the casing for carbon ribbon mechanism and to allow for the introduction of a similar but electrified version of the machine at a later date. Herbert Norman James, the industrial designer who was called in as consultant, has evolved a pleasing form which is also attractive when seen from the viewpoint of a visitor waiting at the wrong side of the office desk. ... The plurality of buttons has been carried a stage too far. ... The recent deplorable tendency to incorporate such features in several types of appliance is apparently due to a desire to flatter the user by giving her the sensation of operating a complicated control desk that is incomprehensible to the humbler onlooker.

Herbert Norman James was born in 1918, according to a list of British designers on the web. That's all I know about him. The Design story gives credit for the mechanical innovations to F. S. Hardy and Dennis Whitehead.



Why the name "Byron"? Lord Byron's estate, Newstead Abbey, is in Nottinghamshire, and the typewriter factory was in Nottingham. Do you think the Romantic poet would have used a machine like this?


The following two ads, from 1955 and 1956, promote the new Byron as a "milestone in typewriter history." It clearly was not yet available to the public, but was being exhibited at industrial shows. These images come from Leonhard Dingwerth's anthology of typewriter advertisements.






Finally, here is a 1957 ad (Times of London, Sept. 11) that indicates that the typewriter is under production and available to the public. Only a few such ads exist. They were the last gasp of the company -- at least as a maker of "real" typewriters ...



The failure of the Mark I and the takeover by Oliver was not the end of the Byron typewriter story!

The Revere toy typewriter pictured below bears an uncanny resemblance to the big Mark I, and seems to use exactly the same paint.



In fact, some of these machines were actually called Byron Junior!



Another name variant for this toy is Kamkap. My Revere is stamped on the back as "patent applied for" and made by Petite Typewriters in Nottingham. Tom Furrier shows us a similar Petite which is marked "08-55." Presumably this means August 1955. The appearance of a Kamkap in a 1956 Sears catalogue confirms that it was made before the collapse of Byron.

Apparently Petite was not sold to Oliver; instead, the toy branch of the company continued and thrived into the 1980s. Later toy typewriters from the company are often identified as made by Byron Jardine.

Big Brother and Little Brother:




Byron Jardine continued to create toy typewriters into the 1980s, often labeled "Petite." Here is an electronic talking typewriter manufactured by the company.


If you've read this far, you probably want a Byron Mark I yourself. I can't help you there, but please download the two fonts I've created using this typewriter -- one using a cloth ribbon, and one using a carbon ribbon. (The latter is called "Byron Mark II" -- even if there never was such a typewriter, there can be such a font!) Click the font samples to download the fonts.






Now I'd like to hear from anyone who owns another Byron Mark I, a Byron Secretary, or any other late Byron. Leave a comment here and we can compare our machines!

18 comments:

  1. I kind of want that white prototype Byron. Very space-age!

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  2. Those are some awfully lonely brothers. If they want, they could gain another brother (albeit most likely a Japy clone) off eBay:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Byron-Portable-Typewriter-original-case-key-/370531395964

    Rob

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  3. What a thorough post! Thanks for the comprehensive notes on this rare typewriter. I have never seen one, but I shall let you know if I ever do.

    @rn: How interesting! So now in addition to being branded Patria, Swissa, Oliver, Voss, and Japy, we can now add that this curvy portable was also branded Byron! I wonder what made the design so popular - even the Hermes Baby does not seem to have been copied quite so frequently.

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  4. That's a pretty machine! Plus it would always make me think of this poem by Julia Moore:
    http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/txt/Moore/Lord.Byron.html

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  5. What, that's a great post! Downloaded both fonts, that carbon ribbon really produces a great typeface. Thank you!

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  6. Heh, I just came to the part in Beeching last night where he mentions the Byron, and gives a list of serial numbers. I thought about scanning the list, then realized that you're quoting Beeching in this post, so you already have it. (:

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  7. messing about tonight, I googled in "Ernest Jardine" who happens to be a vague relative of my grandfathers....... never realised he was instrumental in the forerunner of the typewriter/wordprocessor. I've sat in the factory in Basford where Brittains continued to make toy typewriters.
    I do probably want a Byron Mark II ......can I have a tree tral ?

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  8. This font is really great. I've been looking for a good typewriter font. I'll have to read more of your blog =]

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  9. Our virtual typosphere is getting ever closer interlinked: doing research on the Petite toy typewriter I feature here, I came back to your interesting entry on the original Byron.

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  10. i think i actually am liking the byron!

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  11. Update: in January 2013 I finally saw a second Mark I, a light gray machine -- also for sale in Spain (Mallorca)!

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  12. I have found a Byron typewriter in our garage. It's colour is green. the model number is 3/89 - JH. And it also says 'Byron Business Machines, Nottingham'. It is the one without the key.

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  13. Hello, Richard et al.

    Fifty year old who remembers the cartridge-hungry, brown and tan Smith Corona electric purchased at Service Merchandise, Fitchburg, MA during my junior high days. Long gone, never forgotten (like my ex-wife!).

    Forward to September of this year, walking around Amherst, MA common, minding my own business (as the fateful saying goes) and I come upon Bob Green’s lonely manual typewriter on a wooden stool, a hank of crinkled paper in the carriage waving at me in the breeze. A few tentative pecks, and I’m in Bob’s Amherst Typewriter and Computer Store. Two hours later, I’m walking out with a headful of knowledge (thanks, Bob!) and a Royal Futura 800, near mint, in ubiquitous sky blue. I don’t care that it’s one of the most pedestrian machines of the late 1950’s—it reminds me of The Jetsons, it works, and it’s mine!

    Can you see the red marks all over me? Those are the bites. Typewriter bug. Nasty bugger, and undeterred by DEET.

    Richard, I appreciate your segments in The Typewriter In The 21st Century (2011, now available free on Amazon Prime—I watched it twice). You’re exceedingly well-spoken and informative.

    I now click to The Writing Ball. Mama, put the kettle on the stove for hot tea and grab the butt-pillow: looks like I’ll be back-reading here for a while.

    Sincerely, Steve in Illinois. Writer, walker, former doctor and general goofball. And now, once again, typist.

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  14. I am ex Underwood Typewriter salesman, now there was good typewriter I enjoyed being in completion with the Byron/Barlock I always new I would get the order, I notice the address was Arnold Road Nottingham it used to be Barlock Road I wonder why the change a rose by any other name!!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for this story!

      There must be a good amount of historical interest in the Byron Company, as this post on my blog gets frequent views.

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  15. I would like to add to my little tale of yesterday, as was previously stated I was an ex Underwood Typewriter salesman but what I did not say was were, this was in Nottingham the home Byron/Barlock not that this was a drawback I had not been with Underwood for more than a couple of months, I made a cold canvass call upon a Jardine Company in Colwick
    not knowing the connection between Jardine & Barlock they did not buy anything off me [surprise] but if one of the typists
    I met there and she had her way I could have re-equipped the whole office with Underwoods that is how much Byron/Barlock typewriters were liked in there home town. Now Leicester is different 90% of offices in that City had Imperial and that is there home Town, I also worked for them for a period. Hey Ho happy days before the computer

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    Replies
    1. Given the stiffness of my Mark I, I can well imagine that any typist would prefer the ease of an Underwood. If they had managed to follow through on their plan to electrify the Byron, that might have been a different story.

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    2. If they had produced an electric t/w would they have had the sales organisation to market it?
      Remington/Underwood/Ibm /Ollivetti who had sales offices and salesmen in all major Cities They
      were a small player in a very large market without the financial backing., and producing a crap machine into the bargain.

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