Thomas De La Rue and Co, UK – Hong Kong banknote manufacturer, 1984-1996
De La Rue plc is a banknote manufacturer, security printing, and papermaking company with headquarters in Basingstoke Hampshire, England. It currently also has a factory on the Team Valley Trading Estate, Gateshead, and other facilities at Loughton, Essex and Bathford, Somerset all also in England.
From 1984 to 1996 Thomas De La Rue plc operated a HK banknote printing plant in Tai Po which was bought by the HK Government and was renamed the Hong Kong Note Printing Limited.
The company was founded by Thomas de La Rue, [b. 24th March 1793 d. 7th June 1866] who moved to London in 1821 and set up in business as a stationer and printer. Working as a “boy of the streets”, in 1831 he secured his business a Royal Warrant to produce playing cards. In 1855 it started printing postage stamps and in 1860 it began printing banknotes.
A detailed company biography is supplied by the hugely informative UK website Grace’s Guides:
1793 The company founder, Thomas De La Rue, was born in Guernsey. After a 7-year printing apprenticeship he moved to London and developed a straw bonnet millinery firm in which he experimented using Macintosh’s patent “for rendering substances impervious to water” and examined substitute leather invented by Hancock.
1832 William IV granted a Royal Letter Patent for improved playing cards. These were of outstanding paper and registered print quality. Many other patents followed.
1833 Thomas, in partnership, rented property in Finsbury, which remained the business home until it was destroyed during the 1940 Blitz of World War II.
1855 The company started printing postage stamps.
1860 The company started to print banknotes. Along with playing cards and postage stamps, these were the main items of the De La Rue business.
1856 Thomas died, leaving a well established family business which had developed several diverse industries.
1876 The company’s first trademarks were for playing cards.
Warren De La Rue, Thomas’ eldest son, born in 1815, became an eminent scientist much involved with the new business world of envelopes and stamps.
1905 Sir Evelyn Andros De La Rue held many patents on fountain pens. The Onoto pen, using a filling plunger, was launched and established a great market presence.
1914 In the plastics field Thomas De La Rue acquired interests in Telenduron products, whereby battery boxes and electrical insulators were moulded from bituminous compounds. Endura-ware tableware products were subsequently produced from thermosetting plastics.
1914 Engravers, printers, manufacturing wholesale stationers. Specialities: the engraving and printing of bank notes, bonds and other securities; the printing of postage and other stamps; the manufacture of playing cards, drawing boards, cardboards, envelopes, account books, albums, index diaries and fancy leather goods; patentees and manufacturers of self-filling fountain pens and inkstands. 
1922 Listed Exhibitor – British Industries Fair. Playing Cards, Fancy Leather Goods, Fountain Pens, Boards, Diaries, Account Books, Albums; Postage Stamps and Bank Note Printers. (Stand Nos. L.51 and L.53) 
1929 Listed Exhibitor – British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of Moulded Insulation Components. Demonstrating the application of over sixty grades of material (a) Soft Plastics; (b) Fireproof Cold Mouldings; (c) Synthetic Resin Mouldings; (d) Coloured Mouldings; for reproduction in quantity from hardened steel discs. (Stand No. MM.41) 
1937 Major business growth led to large investments in the Walthamstow Avenue Works – 1,000 to 1,500 ton presses moulding novolak phenolic resins, and the number of hydraulic compression presses grew to seventy. Phenolic cloth laminate Delaron sheeting was produced for electrical and mechanical use. In collaboration with the British Post Office, De La Rue Plastics Ltd produced components and coloured telephone housings over many years. Moulded phenolic radio cabinets were also major production items. De La Rue Insulation Ltd was established to handle the production of laminated decorative board for construction purposes.
1937 Electrical insulator and bakelite moulders. “Telenduron” Bakelite Mouldings. 
1939 See Aircraft Industry Suppliers
WWII. The Avenue Works and ancillaries were, at one stage, the largest moulding group in Europe and their value was proved when many items were produced for the armed services, including Bakelitephenolic grenades, communications equipment and large items for Wellington bombers. Joint work with groups such as Plessey Co using high dielectric Bakelite materials and producing plastic replacements for metal car components, provided essential support to the war effort. Plastic non-metal toilet seats for minesweepers provided a novel approach. Injection moulding developed with use of new polythene resins for radio and radar, as well as high numbers of cellulose acetate combs.
1945 The Avenue Works and related groups employed 3,000 people working in three shifts, producing items such as thermoset car components. Other products emerged using new polymers such as polypropylene, nylon and high impact polystyrene.
1946 The major share of profits came from security printing. Other divisions were:
- De La Rue Stationers – maker of playing cards and Onoto pens
- De La Rue Plastics – had taken time to adjust to peace-time work; had moved the plant back to Walthamstow from Scotland
- De La Rue Insulation – factory being built at Tynemouth, including the manufacture of Traffolyte which had been acquired from Metropolitan-Vickers; entered agreement with Formica Corporation of America to manufacture decorative board
- De La Rue Gas Development – factories leased at Gateshead and Elstree; gas appliances designed and tested.
- Prototype gas cooker designed; would be made by Friedman-Athill Ltd under contract
- Thomas Potterton (Heating Engineers) had had difficulty obtaining castings; acquired Emscote Foundry Co Ltd which was making another, cheaper design of cooker.
1947 The security printing business was not seen as having potential for growth. In order “not to dissipate the efforts of the directorate” by managing 2 separate plastics companies, the moulding interests (ie De La Rue Plastics) were sold to National Plastics. The insulation, industrial and decorative laminates business, De La Rue Insulation, was established in a new factory at Tynemouth in the north east of England. A second area for growth was to be gas water heaters – the company acquired Thomas Potterton (Heating Engineers) and set up another new subsidiary De La Rue Gas Developmentand Perfecta Gas Appliances Ltd. To address the bottlneck in castings, purchased Emscote Foundry of Leamington, which was also producing a gas cooker; production of this cooker had been increased to 1000/month .
1947 De La Rue Insulation – British Industries Fair Advert for ‘The Good Name in Plastics’: Formica Decorative Laminated Plastic, Delaron Laminated Plastic Board, Traffolyte Engraving and Printing Plastic, Delaflex cotton insulating sleeves, Hamofil connecting wires, Hamolac plastic insulated cable, Extruded Plastics, Profiles, Beading, Tubes. (Plastics Section – Earls Court, 1st Floor, Stand No. 829)
1947 De La Rue Plastics – British Industries Fair Advert. Manufacturers of Mouldings by the compression and injection processes from all proved types of Plastic Moulding Materials. Makers of “Telenduron” Bitumen Asbestos Compound. (Plastics Section – Earls Court, 1st Floor, Stand No. 819) 
1959 National Plastics was acquired by Courtaulds, whilst Formica became the laminate group in North Shields, manufacturing and marketing decorative and industrial laminates from 1946. Formica became part of Formica International, with De La Rue holding a major interest in collaboration with US Cyanamid Corporation, which had established the US Formica Corporation in 1914.
1968 De La Rue was manufacturing large volumes of metallic, decorative and electrical laminates in fourteen countries, with huge press capacity in North Shields and in France. Investment in research and development at the Maidenhead Research Centre provided many innovations in the above business alongside the continuing Thomas De La Rue security printing businesses. Formica International was sold to American Cyanamid in 1977.
1969 The playing card business was sold to Waddingtons, while the rest of the company still continues under the De La Rue name.
The De La Rue Group continues to use and develop plastics materials in its many varied business interests including banknote threads, holograms, security documents and printing components. It remains the world’s largest security printer.
Sources of information:
- 1914 Whitakers Red Book
- 1922 British Industries Fair p21
- 1929 British Industries Fair p48
- The Times, 10 February 1947
- 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
- The Times, Sep 18, 1946
- The Times, 10 February 1947
- 1947 British Industries Fair Advert 386; and p80
- 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
- The Times, Oct 31, 1973
- The Times (London, England), Wednesday, December 21, 1994
- The Times, March 08, 1995
- Grace’s Guides – Grace’s Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 119,216 pages of information and 173,136 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
- The World of Playing Cards – A brief history of Thomas De La Rue’s playing cards
- The World of Playing Cards – The history of playing cards which have been in existence since the 14th Century
This article was first posted on 16th December 2016.
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