It is no accident that the name Zephyr was applied to the paper floats made by Ernest Talbot. Many people have speculated that the name had something to do with David Slater’s Zephyr reel, and more than one person has been disappointed when I told them there is no connection.
Without the First World War, we would not have seen the invention of the Zephyr float. The Zephyr car was originally designed and manufactured in 1913 to test the Zephyr patent pistons.
The pistons were remarkably successful, and so was the car. So a plant was started planned for large-scale production in 1915.
With the start of the war, the whole plant was turned over to manufacture the Zephyr pistons, and the plans for car production ceased. However, the few manufactured models ran under war conditions during the entire war period and proved exceptionally reliable.
Many makers’ aero engines used the Zephyr pistons, including the Rolls Royce Eagle engines fitted to the Vickers-Vimy. This aeroplane was flown by Allcock & Brown when they became the first people to fly non-stop across the Atlantic in 1919.
Advert for the Zephyr aeroplane engine pistons.
Factory in Lowestoft where the Zephyr pistons were made.
I wondered how an individual based in Lowestoft, a seaside town, could patent a float, especially a range of Match Fishing floats. Although the river Waveney runs into the sea here and the Norfolk Broads are nearby, the area was not an established Match Fishing.
Ernest Talbot was born in 1879 in Norton – a suburb of Sheffield that was a hotbed of Match Fishing with thousands of anglers and almost a religion to many people who lived and worked there around the turn of the 20th century.
He was educated in Sheffield and lived in Dore, another part of Sheffield well known to many subscribers.
After graduating from Sheffield University College in 1901, he went to work for an auto repair company in Sheffield.
In 1902 he moved to another car manufacturer in Manchester. Then, after two years, he took up the job of Manager of the motor car workshop of the Mansfield Engineering Company in Nottinghamshire. He also started this new venture before joining James and Davison in Lowestoft.
James, Talbot & Davison was established in 1912 as Motor Engineers, with a change to the company occurring in 1916. With the end of government contracts in 1919, the company could look forward to resuming production of their now well-proven Zephyr car fitted with Zephyr pistons. However, there was a problem!
After the end of hostilities, the company, along with many others, had problems getting raw materials. They needed help sourcing the cylinder blocks and even tried to have them made in Belgium, but poor quality led to the demise of the Zephyr motor car.
The company eventually became Zephyr Cams making camshafts. It was in business until 2002, when the company was liquidated after an asset-stripping scandal that even raised questions in the House of Commons.
With no cars to make, Talbot turned his thoughts to angling and floats. Without a doubt, he had many thoughts and ideas on this simplest of angling accessories.
Advert for the Zephyr car and Pistons
The first application was made in January 1919, followed by another application in July and the complete application later in the same month. Finally, in March 1920, the completed specification was accepted.
His application was so floats could be lighter and as small as possible.
The basic principle was that the float was constructed from a continuous piece of paper with an eyelet fixed to one end. It was then wound spirally, and the other end set to stop it from unwrapping. Fig 1 on the patent drawing shows the single coil with eyelet fitted.
A second coil is placed next to the first, and they are joined together with a strip of paper. The two pieces are then pulled apart by each eyelet to form a hollow chamber in the shape of a spiral helix, as in Fig 2
The eye is used to hang the float whilst it is painted and made waterproof. This eye is retained and used for passing the fishing line through whilst the other eye is removed, and a rubber band is used to hold the line to the float.
1919 patent application drawing.
The second application had made a few improvements, mainly because the manufacture would be cheaper and more widely applicable.
I suspect that better ways were found to make the floats during manufacture.
No longer were the two coils butted together and covered with an overlapping piece of paper to make the joint.
Now one coil was slightly smaller than the other, and the two coils were telescoped together as per Fig 5, A5 slots into A6.
The eye was used to hang the float up and to apply the dye, gum or waterproofing. This was applied thickly and allowed to collect at the end, forming a bead and a quicker method of finishing the float, as in Fig 6 and Fig 7 A7.
Another improvement was the use of formers to shape the float. For example, an elliptical shape would produce a slim line float offering less resistance to the current.
Slider floats are slightly bent and have the bottom section on a bent former. The upper eye for the top half would be wound in during the manufacturing process or fixed into a hole in the side of the float, as in Fig 6 A8.
A different former could be used to produce a complete range of floats of varying shapes.
A separate company, The Zephyr Anglers’ Supplies Ltd, of the Waveney Works in Lowestoft, was set up. The range of floats was launched in 1919 with 15 different sizes and priced from three to nine and a half pence. The sizes were thin, medium and stout and in 3, 4, 5, and 6 inches, and the Sliders in 4, 5, and 6 inches.
First advert July 1919
September 1919 with London agent added.
November 1919 Why to use the float
January 1920 with export agent
The first advert and a review of the floats appeared in the Fishing Gazette on July 12th 1919. Marston reviewed the floats, and from his judgment, the readers are made aware of his fascination with watching a float drift downstream.
Marston slightly dismisses some of the claims made by the float makers, but he agrees that they are “wonderfully cheap.”
In August 1919, the company took an advert in The Angler’s News & Sea Fishers Journal, giving the individual sizes of the floats.
In September 1919, they appointed an export agent also responsible for sales in London.
In January 1920, 7 more sizes were added, four eight-inch floats, including the slider and three Flat Tops 2 2½ and 3 inches. They also appoint an agent for France and Spain.
In the next issue, we will see how the floats continued to evolve, and I will deal with how to date them.
I would appreciate it if they let me know the whereabouts of the salesman’s sample board that passed through the auction rooms a few years ago.
Zephyr Floats Part II
In 1933, Talbot returned to the patent office with a new design for manufacturing his floats. This patent 417,604 was finally accepted in 1934
Previously the paper was a long narrow strip; for one of the floats, the paper used was a piece ⅜ inch wide and 25 feet long. This caused some problems in manufacturing larger sizes, as some coils would collapse before fully extended.
On other large sizes, the diameter would be greater than that required. Another frequent problem was that the whole coil would spring open if the overlapping sections were not glued during manufacture.
In this patent, there would be no coils of paper; this time, the paper would be in the shape of a rectangle, square,
parallelogram or a section of a circle.
All the shapes were cut to size, and the float was then wound on a mandrill. Fig 1 in the patent drawing shows the mandrill. This would produce a cone as per Fig. 2. Once two cones had been made, they would be telescoped together with a ferrule. Fig 3 shows the ferrule.
The complete float was then held together with a paper strip glued over the joint with the size of the float printed on it. This is shown in Fig 4 A5.
If a longer float was required, a section, A6 in Fig 5, was inserted between the two cones.
This new method of construction helps us in dating the floats. From January 1919 to March 1920, the floats are dark green, almost black, with Pat. Pend. They are hard-to-find items, and I have only ever seen two.
From 1920 to 1934, the floats are dark green with many close coils. The label has Zephyr Pat. 2190-19. printed on it.
Patent drawing 417,604 showing the construction of the float
From 1934 onwards, the floats came in olive green and light brown. Some of the floats from this period have the 1919 patent details on them. I suspect that this was just a case of using up old labels. I have never seen a float with a 1934 patent label.
Detail of the first patent manufactured float showing the closely wound paper and joint.
Swcond patent detail showing how the two ends slotted together.
Gradually the float range was increased, including the Fairy Antennae and the ZR Zephyr Rolls made to the suggestion of H. Rolls, the Bedford tackle dealer and Match Fisherman.
Also, the floats used for match fishing were introduced during this period.
Four other floats, of which I have very little information, were also made. These were the E, the BP, the FP and the pelican quill. I know that during 1950, Field Fishing Tackle from Kentish Town London stocked a complete range of Zephyr floats, and the 5BP, 6BP, and 7BP were sold, as well as a pelican quill.
Advertising leaflet for the Zephyr-Rolls floats and price list
I believe that the FP stood for Flat Pelican; an example is shown in the photograph of the FT floats.
When assembling a collection of these floats, the collector must realise that they were all handmade. Consequently, they all vary slightly in shape, size, colour and tip colour.
The company made other tackle items, including Zephyr rods, but I have yet to learn of them. You might be lucky and come across a packet of float caps.
The two packets illustrated come from different eras. The packet containing 15 or 16 caps has DEPT 10 on it. This was the address of The Army & Navy Stores in London and matched the description on the price list. This has 5D on it as a price and would place it after 1955
The other packet has 3D with a dozen caps and is earlier.
Ernest Talbot did go into partnership, and Ernest & Turnbull were in operation during the 1950s
Ernest Talbot died in January 1966, aged 86, at the White House in Harleston, next to where the last floats were made.