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Note: This is an abridged version of a chapter in British Commerce and Industry 1934
In 1886 S. J. Moore visited London and established the Paragon Check Book Co.
A little building in Ropemaker Street, E.C., then a little bigger building in Charterhouse Building, E.C., were the first "home" of the little company.
Robert Bain, a Scots Canadian, bore the first burdens bravely and never lost heart although he lost much money in the early struggles.
And then came John M. Kelly, Chairman of the Lamson Pneumatic Tube Co., with financial assistance. Mr. Kelly's Company had common interests with Paragon Check-Books. From a factory in Willesden, London, he had already introduced into retail stores a quite revolutionary efficiency equipment. This was the Lamson Store Service Co's well-known wire-rail communication from counter to cashier in retail shops, and later its pneumatic tubes, a feature now of the most modern and busy stores.
Lamson pneumatic tubes are in direct evolutionary sequence from the first form which this type of internal service took. Originally, it was a wooden ball—like a croquet ball split into two, hollowed out and screw-threaded together. Into this the duplicates from the check books on the counter were inserted after being wrapped round the customer's money. The ball was then run along an inclined rail to a central change-clerk and was returned containing the customer's change and receipt via another rail sloping in the opposite direction. In time the need for gravity slopes was overcome by the installation of wires and an arrangement for catapulting the balls from one quarter to another. With this all readers are probably familiar. Many refinements and improvements followed, until the mammoth modern pneumatic installations—to be seen in many stores and at the Prudential Assurance Company's headquarters, newspaper offices, and many other places—were evolved.
Obviously here were two companies with complementary interests, and so in 1888 the first of the many "Lamson Paragon" Companies which now dot the world was registered. Its title was Lamson Paragon Supply Company Limited.
(To avoid misunderstanding it should be noted that the Lamson Store Service Co Limited, and the Lamson Pneumatic Tube Co, have always been operated separately from Lamson Paragon Supply Co but a close connection is maintained between all three, which may be gathered from the fact that the chairman of all is Sir Alan McLean, M.P., whilst Mr. Stephen Herring, who is managing director of the Pneumatic Tube and Store Service Companies, is also a director of Lamson Paragon Supply Co.)
The first directors were Mr. John Kelly (who had taken the leading part in consolidating the Paragon Check Book Company with the Lamson interests), Mr. Robert Bain, who remained a director until his death in 1923, and Mr. David McLean, father of the present chairman. In 1907 Mr. David McLean retired and his son, Mr. Alan McLean, took his place on the Board. In 1912 Mr. Kelly retired and Mr. Stephen Herring took his place, Mr. Alan McLean (now Sir Alan) taking the chairmanship.
In 1915 Mr. Robert Clark died and Mr. J. M. Evans took his place. In 1921 Mr. C. F. Clark, Managing Director of Caribonum, Ltd., joined the Lamson Paragon Board. In 1929 Mr. E. G. Nixon and Mr. W. T. Montgomery also became directors, the latter being the administrateur-delegue of the French Paragon Company.
Robert Clark, however, had all this knowledge in his bones. He was "the exception that proves the rule " — so was the Check-Book. He had been "on the road" before — he merely wanted to have his foot on the lowest rung with the Paragon Check-Book in his hand — and he requested to be placed on commission only. From that day in 1887 until his death in 1915, he was Lamson Paragon. He lifted it from the basement, and built it into huge factories in England and abroad; he also built up subsidiary interests, very considerable in themselves, and he extended the main business throughout the British Empire and the Continent of Europe.
Business grew apace, and in 1890 Mr. Robert Clark was given the management. The company's plant at the time consisted of ten small machines with about fifty employees of all kinds. Within two years all the five floors of the building had to be taken, and within another two, in 1891, Mr. Clark was appointed managing director, and the first set of factories to be known as Paragon Works, at Canning Town, were laid out. These were equipped and ready for occupation by 1893.
In the meantime the company, through Mr. Clark, saw an important future for the use of carbon paper. It was, of course, an essential feature of the Paragon Check-Book. But the typewriter was also coming into vogue, and the dirty and messy papers made at that time (they are still made, unfortunately!) left much scope for improvement. In addition, the carbons used were for duplicating by a pencil only, and not ink. And finally, if carbon paper itself had a future, there should be an equally important opportunity in the manufacture of first-class typewriter ribbons.
This was the origin of the Caribonum Co, which was developed from Le Count's carbon department, of the Lamson Paragon Supply Co., and was severed from its parent in 1908 and made into a separate public company with factories at Leyton. The name Caribonum on carbons and ribbons carries the cachet of the finest of fine products in all countries, and its experimental and research laboratories are acknowledged as the most advanced in the world. But our subject is Lamson Paragon and the Caribonum Company has grown into a public company with a capital of £1,000,000 and a story of its own.
Robert Clark, always progressive, was attracted to advertising as a means of promoting business, and had "imported" from the United States Chas. Ed. Potter, having first convinced Mr. S. J. Moore that the American organization needed advertising as a sales stimulus. The result was that Mr. Potter came to England and organized the Lamson Paragon advertising department, returned to the United States and became absorbed in other interests of Mr. S. J. Moore. Left somewhat stranded, Mr. Robert Clark cabled Mr. Potter "Send Substitute," and the result was the advent of Mr. J. M. Evans, who, as "J.M.E.," became affectionately known to everyone in the organization.
His arrival was of interest, for he was destined to follow Robert Clark in the position of Managing Director of the Lamson Paragon organization.
Mr. Evans speedily became Mr. Robert Clark's right-hand man. For a long time he had no title in the business — he did not need one. He was a "minister without portfolio" until 1911, when he was given the title of Manager.
Mr. Evans is the antithesis of that too familiar figure who when shouldering responsibilities always appears to be pursued by a problem, is restless and unsettled, darting about like a sword-fish—whether literally or among papers—lest the problem should catch him up. Mr. Evans has a restful personality, calm in action, and whimsical in outlook. His is a cool and steady activity, as if he were the head of a Guild of Fellowship, enjoying the personalities of all around him so that all are at ease and unruffled, even to the youngest chit of a girl from school who has just joined the company.
Advertising managers were not so numerous in those days as now — there was less shouting — and Mr. J. M. Evans' task was the strictly educational one of bringing the Lamson Paragon services, not the check book alone as a purchasable object, but the check book and all its implications, to the notice of potential users.
In 1902 the expansion of all these activities had been so great that a public company was formed to take over the business with a capital of £200,000. Further factory accommodation was provided at Canning Town in 1906 and 1907.
As previously indicated, the separation of the Caribonum interests in 1908 enabled the main company to occupy the space vacated, but even this move was insufficient, and in 1912 a bold programme of new building brought into existence the layout of the present factories at Canning Town. In the opening years of the century, too, branch offices and depots were established in provincial centres in England, Scotland and Wales, so that full advantages of Lamson Paragon services and supplies could be enjoyed in all centres of population in Great Britain.
Such are the salient points in the growth of the Lamson Paragon Supply Company from the basement of a city office forty-eight years ago. Many details have necessarily been omitted—increases of capital up to the present figure of £850,000; the acquisition of the Victory-Kidder Machine Co of Birkenhead — an older foundation than the Lamson Paragon enterprise, which, however, enables Lamson Paragon to build its own special machines for itself and its associated companies; (Victory-Kidder has an honoured name in the world of Graphic Art and its machinery is to be found all over the world in great newspaper and general printing establishments); the foundation of Lamson Paragon (South America), Limited; Lamson Paragon South Africa (Proprietary), Limited; and other interests overseas.
Mr. E. G. Nixon became the colleague of Mr. J. M. Evans, and from the outset devoted himself to the machinery programme of the company and its subsidiaries. Mr. Nixon was an engineer — not a printer — and studied the business from an engineering point of view. First he standardized the product. Secondly, he designed machinery to turn out the maximum of production and capable of development if, as proved to be the case, the scope of the utility of products demanded more complex features. His knowledge of Paragon world-requirements made him exceptionally fitted for this work. In the dual capacity of general manager (and director) of Lamson Paragon Supply Company, Ltd., and managing director of Victory-Kidder Printing Machine Co., Ltd., he boasts that, unlike most machinery manufacturers, he has to use the machines he makes.