I had wanted one of these as I had one as my first typewriter when I was ten years old. Eventually one came up for which I paid £12.50 which was, we think, what it had cost when new, twelve pounds ten shillings(£12.10s.0d) although its real value today is much more than this. The Empire baby de luxe is a Hermes baby and was made under licence by British Typewriters in West Bromwich, England. It is a very well worn machine and the paint has worn off in several places where it has been handled over the years. This typewriter has been well looked after but smells very strongly of bicycle oil (probably No.2 cutting oil) which has been very liberally applied. It has spent most of its time in a salt marine environment but shows no sign of corrosion.
I do not know a great deal of the history of this machine in any detail. It was purchased in 1939 in Portsmouth, England, a town with a long naval history by its only previous owner, who served in the Royal Navy. It was used a great deal throughout the Second World War and travelled on a number of warships during and after the war until the 1950’s. The label in the cover with the name and rank of the owner has now been removed. It was we think in use until the late 1970’s or so.
This is a basic lightweight typewriter (6lbs) in a tin box and judging by the dents in the metal lid does a grand job of protecting the machine. This one is finished in black with plastic keys but they were available in battleship grey with metal rimmed glass keys. It does not have a carriage lock and none is required. The deluxe baby has a carriage return lever and line selector as does the standard baby but not the service model. The additional features over the other two models include a red backspace key and a margin release key. It also has the added luxury of two shift keys instead of one and the right hand one is also the shift lock key operated by depressing and pushing it to the right at the same time. Simply pressing the key again releases it. The super lightweight paper bail is simply a thick wire bracket graduated every inch. Unlike some typewriters produced in the 1970’s this even has a paper rest. Truly a feature packed portable of the 1930’s!
No allowance is made for age or collateral damage over the years and none really is needed. On removing the metal lid the button on the line space selector is pushed back to release the small carriage return lever which can then be unfolded. This small stubby lever instead of a full sized one would not be liked by some. The small keyboard seems to suit all hands from the petite to the banana fingered. It is surprisingly quiet and has a light touch and after a few lines found I was naturally typing rather quicker than usual. The print quality was good on standard letter paper with a backing sheet and a test letter on headed paper and two carbon copies produced professional quality results. Two paragraphs were added using a 1957 Empire Aristocrat and a 1977 Seiko Silverette which have the same font. It was not possible to tell any difference between the machines. Paper release is rather crude by pulling the cover behind the platen forward with one hand and adjusting the paper with the other. It will handle up to six copies using typing and carbon paper and produce good Banda masters for spirit duplicators but the ribbon has to be removed to do stencils. The vibrator, or for us technical people, the thingy the ribbon passes through, is a simple single loop which works well and there is a lever on each side of the machine to manually reverse the ribbon. There is provision for line drawing and the platen can be made to run free by the adjuster on the left platen knob.
In Flight Test
The Empire baby typewriters reached the far corners of the British Empire and beyond, some are still out there. They have been used in some pretty strange places too and my baby and I are typing this review not far from a 1938 twin engine bi-plane and these were still used by BEA in the 1950’s and later by Channel Airways. As a small boy in short trousers with my typewriter and wearing my BEA unaccompanied child badge on board a Dakota bound for foreign shores I was allowed to play with it during the flight. There wasn’t much else to do after sucking boiled sweets to stop the ears popping except wait till being invited to see the pilot flying the aeroplane, an unlikely event today. The 20 minute re-enactment and photo shoot went without incident but was rather pointless and best summed up by my daughter quoting the pilot’s pre flight briefing and adding her own. In case of emergency put your head between your knees and kiss your typewriter goodbye. I think she said “typewriter” anyway.
Yes, very but so is anything connected to WW2. They are quite rare I suspect because most are already in 40’s collections and often go for high prices. It took me ages to track one down.
No, of course not! It’s a relic, very basic and best left to forties re-in-actors. This one will be appearing at various events throughout the Summer. With all the wonderful machines made in the fifties and sixties why would you ever want a typewriter like this? My first published works were typed on one of these machines and I am typing what I hope will be my last book on this one too. When I type with my baby we are as one but love is a strange animal. Maybe, for others, it’s like a vintage port wine, not worth the money, effort of decanting and best left in the bottle.
The Hermes Baby and its clones like the Empire baby were best in class in the 1930’s, in fact they were the only ones in the class. It was, at the time, the standard by which other lightweight portables would be judged against.