Gestetener Family: A Printing Empire

Sigmund Aviezer Gestetner, born 13 August 1897 was the son of David Gestetener.

David Gestetener, born 31 March 1854, was the inventor of the Gestetner stencil duplicator. This invention revolutionised printing, allowing numerous copies of documents to be produced quickly at a low cost.

Between 1895-1899, David Gestetner acquired several London properties, with settlement on the marriage of Montague Barnett and Elisa Julia Gestetner in 1913. This is evidenced in a Solicitor’s paper which can be accessed at the Keep.

David’s son Sigmund attended the City of London School before joining the British Army on 18th August 1915.

Sigmund’s service record has miraculously survived (It suffered burns in a World War 2 bombing – the majority of British WW1 soldier’s army service records went up in smoke when the War Office warehouse (the Army Records Centre) where they were stored was hit by a German incendiary bomb in an air raid in 1940). 

This document, as displayed below, reveals information about Sigmund’s service. While the home address appears to be London, where his family owned property and where he attended school, Sigmund enlisted in Chatham. He then joined the Royal Engineers regiment where he served as a Corporal.

It appears to show Sigmund disembarked for service on 4 November 1915.

War records sourced from Ancestry.co.uk
War records sourced from Ancestry.co.uk

During his time on the front, Sigmund was gassed. This is shown in his hospital record which notes he was in hospital for 125 days with gas poisoning, being discharged from the hospital on 8 March 1916. This damage remained with Sigmund for the rest of his life, and he died of lung cancer in his later life.

War records sourced from Ancestry.co.uk

After this hospital stint, it appears Sigmund returned to the front line until the war ended. Sigmund received the 1915 Star, the Victory Medal and the British Medal for his service

War records sourced from Ancestry.co.uk

In relation to Sussex, Historian Abigail Green has said “I would draw your attention to the Gestetners at Bosham, who owned a farm there probably from the 1920s, sailed, and used the farm as a Zionist training kibbutz immediately after World War II. Sigmund and Henny Gestetner are the key protagonists”.

We cannot decisively conclude this is the Gestetner family as discussed above, but it does suggest this family may have links to Bosham, a second home perhaps (they were certainly wealthy enough to maintain this). Both Sigmund and his father were associated with the Zionist cause, which does align with Green’s statement.

In the 1920s, the Gestetners continued to trade and grow the firm. A brochure advertisement, estimated to be from 1922, describes the machine as ‘the most up-to-date, clean and economical Duplicator on the market.’ The sales and works departments were located in London, though it is entirely realistic that the family owned land in Sussex.

Below is a photograph, sent by Richard Hadingham. Pictured is Richard’s Great Aunt Dorothy Hadingham operating a Gestetner Machine in 1922.

Courtesy of http://tottenham-summerhillroad.com/ website

Furthermore, this 1927 video shows Sigmund himself alongside Mr. J. Glatworthy, Works Manager, ‘making their daily tour of inspection around the works.’ This video, alongside the picture of Dorothy Hadingham and her colleagues (shown above), gives us an insight into the scale of operations and the staff involved in the production.

The letter below displays how engaged Sigmund was in Jewish welfare. In 1942, Sigmund wrote to the National Council of Y.M.C.A.’s about a London Jewish Centre for Forces of the United Nations. The National Council outline the need for such an organisation, as displayed during World War One, the postwar period and during World War Two. The outcome of this association is currently unclear to us.

War records sourced from Ancestry.co.uk

During WW2, Gestetner Ltd London manufactured grenades.  The Gestetner company was also known for making stationery products and copying machines. The V&A collection holds a Gestetner Duplicator made in London in 1929, given to the institution by Gestetner International Ltd.

Sigmund expanded his father’s firm, passing management to his wife Henny and later his two sons, David and Jonathan. Sigmund also had a daughter, Sophie.

Passing away in 1956 from lung cancer, Sigmund left a strong legacy on the Jewish community. He was a philanthropist, as can be shown in the image below showing Sigmund made a donation to the Jewish Trade School. Furthering this, Gestetner served as leader of the Jewish National fund in Britain and was active in the directorate of the Joint Palestine Appeal.

Jewish Trade School article, courtesy of The Jewish Chronicle archives