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You say Golmet, I say Golmet

As today is St. David’s Day, the traditional feast day of the patron saint of Wales, I decided to showcase a drawing instrument that was actually manufactured in Wales. The Auto-Liner by Golmet was designed for the sole purpose of drawing equidistant parallel lines for hatching, adjustable to different widths and advanced by a simple ratchet mechanism.

Golmet Auto-Liner front and back

These so-called section liners were relatively uncommon in Britain, where drawings were traditionally cross-hatched by hand or, in earlier times, by watercolour wash. For anyone new to section liners and their use, there is a good historical survey by David Riches on his Mathematical Instruments web site.

Golmet was a family firm established by Alexander Golten, a Slovak engineer who had previously run a manufacturing business in Prague before emigrating to Wales just before the outbreak of war in 1939. The family were sponsored by the British Board of Trade to start an engineering business on the recently built Treforest Industrial Estate just outside of Caerphilly.

As a consequence, the company was originally called Metal Products (Treforest) Limited, but by the early 1960s it was trading under the name Golmet, presumably a portmanteau of Golten and Metal. When I first encountered the name, my assumption was that it should be pronounced the French way – i.e. with a silent “t” as in “bouquet” – but perhaps it should more properly be Golmet as in “bucket”.

Alexander’s family came with him, as recounted by his son Desider Golten (formerly Goldstein) who joined the family business in 1944 after completing his education. Several members of the Golten family are named in various patents, including another son Marcel Golten who was linked to the related Golmet Doors Ltd., but unfortunately died young according to an account by his wife Judy Hornung.

As well as the large number of patents relating to sliding doors, there were also improvements in ironing boards, step ladders, folding chairs, and even building components, while by the 1980s Desider Golten had branched out into the assembly of electronic devices. Although the Auto-Liner is marked “Pat. Pending” on its Perspex ruler (note also the unfortunate “Made in England”!) it seems that this particular patent might not have come to fruition, as my searches to date have drawn a blank.

Golmet Auto-Liner ruler markings

In any case, it would have been difficult to patent the basic section liner design as this was essentially a clone of an earlier model produced by August Löffler of Vienna, marketed under the name Auto-Schraffo (roughly the German for Auto-Liner). As well as being a standard section liner, the Auto-Schraffo was able to draw radial lines by means of a simple pin through the end of the ruler, as my attempt below demonstrates.

Auto-Schraffo used to draw radial lines

The earlier versions – dating from roughly 1913 to 1933 – were made of wood, but in March 1934 a new Auto-Schraffo with metal base was described in the journal Internationale Maschinewelt.

Auto-Schraffo new 1934 model

There was a general trend after the Second World War for British manufacturers to produce their own versions of well-known German instruments, Lee Guinness’ Riefler round system imitations being perhaps the most ubiquitous. However, one significant way in which Golmet’s Auto-Liner differed from its Austrian antecedent was in the provision of standard screw fittings that allowed it to be mounted on a drafting machine. This feature was even touted on the Auto-Liner’s packaging, which leads me to wonder if it may have formed the substance of Golmet’s patent application.

Golmet Auto-Liner packaging

Due to the absence of patent information, it is unclear when exactly the Auto-Liner was introduced. Moreover, it is one of those drawing instruments that does not seem to appear in any of my British catalogues. Most of the Google Books references to the Auto-Liner date from 1950-51, which is probably when it was first manufactured.

By 1954 it seems to have made its way to the United States as mentioned in The Publisher’s Weekly which stated that:

…Dietzgen has just begun to import a neat device called the Golmet Auto-Liner priced at $10, which is a kind of pint-sized version of the Paraliner mentioned last month.

A rebadged illustration of what is clearly the Auto-Liner appears in the 1956 (17th edition) of Dietzgen’s catalogue. The fact that it was labelled as discontinued in the accompanying price list suggests it might have had a relatively short production span.

Golmet Auto-Liner in Dietzgen's 1956 catalogue

One clue to its demise might lie in the the very feature that differentiated it from its competitors: the drawing machine mount. When I attempted to fit my copy to a Blundell Harling “Weymouth” drafting head that is designed to take standard British drafting machine scales, the measurements of the Golmet section liner had me puzzled. The two drafting machine screws are spaced at 1 3/16″ centres, which is nothing like any of my drafting machine scales, which are closer to 2 1/4″ centres.

Golmet Auto-Liner mount detail

However, I noticed that the retractable centre pin – one of three intended to secure the base to the drawing board when used as a standalone instrument – had exactly the same screw thread as the drafting machine fixings. By removing this pin (seen above at the 3-inch mark) and replacing it with the adjacent drafting machine fixing, the two screws were now at 2 1/8″ centres, much closer to the usual drafting machine scale.

In this configuration it would just about fit the Weymouth head, but for one major problem: the mechanism of the section liner gets in the way of the protractor head regardless of its orientation. Looking at the widely used Allbrit drafting machines in Stanley’s post-war catalogues, it seems that the same problem would have been encountered.

Why the drafting machine screws are at the right hand side of the base is a mystery. Also, the centre pin cannot realistically be exchanged with the adjacent screw as its additional height makes using the advance lever very difficult, so it would have to be left out where it could easily be mislaid. So in spite of the claim on the box that the Golmet Auto-Liner “can be fitted to any standard drafting machine”, I can’t for the life of me figure out how to do it!

Before we leave Golmet, it seems a good time to mention another of their drawing-related products, the Super Golmet four-colour pencil.

Super Golmet four-colour pencil

Once again, this was a close copy of an earlier German instrument, the famous Fend multi-pencil which also provided the basis for Rotring’s 4-Farb Kuli slider model. Golmet produced at least one other version, marketed under the name Golmet Quartette, which only adds to the confusion around the pronunciation of their company name. Like the Auto-Liner, it is also marked “Patent Pending”, and also like the Auto-Liner the patent is nowhere to be found.

Even so, the Super Golmet is an undeniably elegant pencil, beautifully finished (some Golmet pencils were rhodium plated) and surprisingly weighty in the hand.

Super Golmet four-colour pencil point detail

The company also made innovative ballpoint pens and a large variety of cigarette lighters, unsurprisingly all fabricated almost entirely of metal, and presumably likewise manufactured on the Treforest Estate.

Given the quality of the Auto-Liner and Super Golmet pencil, it seems a shame that Golmet did not produce more drawing instruments; a Welsh-made dotting pen or ellipsograph would be a fine thing! Nevertheless, the products they left us give a fascinating glimpse of a story that could only have happened at that particular time and place, and perhaps offers some hope for the future.

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