Adolphe Saalfeld in a Horbick, 1907

Doomed Horbick linked to the Titanic

WILLIAM Horsfall and his brother-in-law, Spencer Bickham, were well established as a card clothing manufacturer in Manchester when in 1902 they decided to branch out into the then new world of motor car production.

By there were already 36 different brands available in the UK, with many more to follow in successive years. 

The company, making textile machinery, was founded in 1835 and had built a reputation for quality, which it carried over into its car-making venture.

But what would they call their car? A simple mix of their names produced the Horbick.

Perhaps not the most alluring name by modern standards, but logical back in the day – and fact is, they built some very good cars.

After starting with an MMC engine in a 1900 prototype, they used twin-cylinder Forman engines in 1903.

The next year they used Johnson, Hurley & Martin twin-cylinder motors for the entry-level Horbick Minor version but from 1905 also offered the larger Major, which had a four-cylinder motor and from 1907  their six-cylinder car appeared with White & Poppe engines.

Their largest model, the 45/60hp six, used an engine of their own design – one of which is said to exist somewhere in Australia.

There are no records to show how many of each model were built, but the top-end models attracted clients from as far afield as India, where they found favour among the Indian monarchy, among them the Nizam of Hyderabad. 

Another client was Adolphe Saalfeld, a German-born chemist who in 1896 had become a British citizen and built up a thriving business in Manchester.

He owned Saville House, in Manchester and in 1907 bought a Horbick, the top-of-the-line model.

By 1912 he had developed a range of perfumes which he planned to market in the US.

He packed vials of samples into a leather pouch, bought a first-class ticket on the ill-fated Titanic – and was among the 705 people who survived among the 2208 who had boarded the great ocean liner.

Unfortunately, his bag of perfumes went down with the ship.

Fast-forward 89 years and the RMS Titanic Inc salvage expedition recovered Adolphe’s leather pouch some 4km below the ocean’s surface – amazingly with most of the vials intact.

RMS salvage expert Dik Barton said his crew was on a mission to recover personal effects for an exhibition when they came found a small leather pouch.

“We didn’t know what we discovered until we hit the surface,” he said.

“But we immediately knew it was special when we took the pouch from the collection basket of artefacts. 

“A scent filled the entire lab with Edwardian perfume.”

On closer inspection, researchers from Eastern Michigan University found three separate satchels marked with Saalfeld’s name, containing more than 20 vials of oils.

Expert perfumers then broke down the perfume into its component chemicals to recreate the scent and today you can buy QVC’s Titanic Legacy 1912 Fragrance.

What does it smell like?

Here’s QVC’s definition: “Distinctive discovery. Inspired by actual essences recovered from the wreck of the Titanic, Legacy 1912 eau de parfum surrounds you with the fragrance of delicate lemon and nerolis, alongside blushing rose and warm, sheer amber. A testament to the enduring nature of history, this scent also honours the legacy of British perfume maker Aldophe Saalfeld, who had to leave his precious case of perfume vials behind when he fled the ship.” 

The delicate blend of pink, amber and fresh lemon is available for £127 or about  $250 in Australian dollars at qvc.com. 

So while ex-Horbick car owner Adolphe Saalfeld’s perfumes miraculously live on, what about the Horbick cars?

The company had sold some to a UK taxi company, which was so impressed, in 1909 it placed an order for 2000 of them.

The smell of success, one would imagine.

However, Messrs Horsfall and Bickham had a serious think, declined the order with a polite ‘no thank you’, closed their car plant and returned to what they knew best: making machinery for the textile industry.

It seems to have been a good decision, since the company is still going to this day, albeit with a few name and company structure changes and is now known as Carlco Securities.

Horbick and scores of other car makes of that era have long disappeared. 


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