My 1959 Empire Aristocrat S2 model. The last Aristocrat was made at the Empire factory in West Bromwich, England in 1960.
I have been using this typewriter for over two years now and I thought maybe others might be interested in how it performs so I have written a short review of this popular lightweight portable machine which I often take with me on my travels. The Aristocrat is a Hermes Baby made under licence in the 1950’s and is just one in a long line of them which started in the 1930’s. I had learned to type on a thirties Empire Baby which was one of the first of this design when I was 8 years old and I wanted another one but I just couldn’t find one at first so I thought I would buy this later and much improved Aristocrat typewriter. Typically, I found a 1938 Empire Baby a couple of months later. I wrote a review of this machine some time ago which I put on my blog under Typewriters. The Aristocrat proved to be very popular with many well known writers and adventurers over the years and travelled to the furthest corners of the planet. Some of them are still there!
This is a basic typewriter in a tin box so don’t expect many of the extras you see on larger and more expensive machines. It is more of a case of what it does not have rather than what it does. For a start it does not have a tabulator and only a single colour ribbon. In comparison to the early Empire Baby de luxe it is a feature rich typewriter though. The most significant difference is the gull wing ribbon covers which can be lifted independently which first appeared on the 1953 version of the Aristocrat, the earlier baby de luxe having no covers at all. Another most noticeable difference is that the keyboard now boasts a dedicated shift key instead of sharing this function with one of the shift keys as in the earlier models. It now sports a dedicated lever for the paper release although you can still pull forward by one tag the rear paper guide as you had to do with the older models. The paper bale is now a substantial graduated bar with small tabs at each end which makes lifting it easier, a marked improvement on the wire paper bale on the early models. The small folding carriage return lever is retained which now releases a carriage lock of sorts although it really just stops the carriage at a halfway point to make it easier to centre the carriage prior to putting the lid back on. The 1959 model now has square keys instead of the earlier round ones. Another departure is the ribbon vibrator, a strange title for the thing the ribbon runs through and lifts the ribbon up when the keys are depressed. All versions of the Aristocrat no longer have the small levers on each side of the machine to reverse the ribbon as they are all self reversing, progress indeed! This now looks like a conventional vibrator that you see on most other typewriters and replaces the single loop affair of the early baby de luxe. That’s about it really. It is now only fractionally higher and heavier at almost eight and three quarters imperial pounds these machines were easy to travel with on aircraft as they fitted nicely under the seat just as my Empire Baby did under the seats of the BEA Dakota and Viscount aeroplanes when I travelled on them as a child. The later and last version of the Aristocrat had square green keys and mostly were finished in a light green casing, the same as the Hermes Baby. The Aristocrat was discontinued in 1960 after Empire had been bought out by SCM – Smith Corona Marchant. The Empire factory then produced SCM’s Skyriter using the Empire name. A similar but I think a very inferior machine to the Aristocrat. The Empire name was also used on the notorious plastic cased Empire Corona which is the worst typewriter I have ever used and by a considerable margin too!
When I first received the Aristocrat it smelled very strongly of typewriter oil and mechanically looked pristine, super clean. I had thought it must have been serviced and then stored away. At first the keys felt a bit stiff which I put down to not being used for many years. It did improve after a couple of pages but then I gave it a quick service, lubricating very sparingly its important parts that required it. It was only then that I found the slots in the screws retaining the cover were filled with paint and the machine had never had a service at all. After a quick session with the oil can it was a different machine, a light and responsive touch and I felt myself typing rather quickly on it. On taking off the cover you should push the line indicator know back to release the carriage lock and the carriage return lever. Providing you can get used to the short stubby carriage return lever the average touch typist should have no problems with all the controls being in familiar places and producing perfectly good results. However, inexperienced and especially two fingered typists may encounter problems that a professional typist would not. Really uneven typing, rushing the keys by having the first key partly depressed and another at the same time can result in letters being ‘squished’ together and the odd letter not sitting quite on the line of the paper. Some typewriters are notorious for punishing typists for uneven typing and to be fair you do have to try fairly hard to get this typewriter to do this. I found it quite a forgiving machine in this respect, not as good as some of the Adler machines but far, far better than some of the Smith Corona typewriters of the sixties. I did like the way that providing you line the paper up carefully you do not need to re-align it by using the paper release. Just turn the platen and the paper arrives perfectly in line. Even if you do have adjust the paper, it stays where you put it and does not move as soon as you return the paper release. There is provision for line drawing and a short scale by the side of the triangular line drawing aid. I found the typewriter easily takes two carbon copies with room for more if you need it. In the unlikely event you want to make stencils you will have to remove the ribbon, there is no ribbon control for stencil making. On the old Empire Baby the ribbon is fed through a single loop vibrator which was simple, quick and made it a quick clean job to remove or invert a ribbon to use the second half of it. On the Aristocrat this has been superseded by a conventional looking one so it is now a messy job. Why on earth they changed this I cannot imagine.
While I have used this typewriter for numerous letters I have mainly used it while travelling around and writing short articles on it, often typing with the machine on my lap. I have found it to be an easy and fast machine to type with a nice light touch which is just as well as the Aristocrat does not have a touch control. So much nicer to use than the lightweight noisy portable Japanese machines of 1970’s with their carriage returns making a nasty grating noise and more reliable than a few of the Italian portables of the sixties and certainly more durable than those awful plastic machines made by Smith Corona that they used to sell in Woolworth’s in the sixties. I have reviewed two of those machines and one just fell apart when we were using it. In some respects the Empire Aristocrat is like the Land Rover vehicle, a simple and a little agricultural maybe but very tough, or perhaps a Tonka Toy then! All in all this truly portable, go anywhere, typewriter has proved to be a rugged, reliable workhorse which has stood the test of time. It could be the only typewriter you actually need.