May 2013, amended May 2016
I should like to offer an explanation and an apology regarding the maintenance of the Historic Hetchins web site (www.hetchins.org). A conscientious reader has brought it to my attention: a) that information at the web site is often cited by sellers at ebay, and b) that not all of the information at the web site is current. This has sometimes led to an unfortunate situation, especially regarding the rarity of certain models. Hypothetically: if, at the Hetchins web site, a certain model (the SuperSpecial, let us say), were listed as being rather rare, and if a seller at ebay had such a bike for sale, he might cite the web site as justification for a certain asking price--whereas, if the same model had not been listed at the web site as rather rare, then a lower price might reasonably be expected.
There are, of course, ancillary but related issues. For example, the question just how rare "rare" is. In a certain sense, any Hetchins is rare compared to, for example, a Raleigh, because fewer Hetchins were made than Raleighs, whereas a Hetchins is not so rare as, for example, an Ephgrave. For the purpose of this communique, "rare" means "rare for a Hetchins"--either produced (then) or extant (now). Secondly, any collector of collectable items knows (or should do) that rarity alone is not the sole or even the primary factor determining desirability (which may or may not translate into dollars at ebay). Rarity will be only one factor among many which, together, determine the desirability of a collectable object. A unique piece of junk is still just junk.
A definition: A one-of-a-kind does not qualify as a "rare model"; it qualifies as a one-of-a-kind. An unknown number of Hetchins frames were one-off special orders, built for customers who had special wishes and thick wallets. To qualify as a model, at least two recognizably similar exemplars must have been built.
The 'organigram' looks like this: I, The Editor, run and update the web site; Len Ingram held the documentary evidence which formed the basis for information pertaining to frame numbers and quantities of models produced or extant and subsequently published at the web site. Len transferred most of the documentary evidence (by then digitized as Excel files) to this Editor shortly before his death in April 2016. The documentary evidence consists primarily of two sorts: photocopies of the original shop sales ledgers, and the Hetchins Register. The sales ledgers list original production (including dates and serial numbers, usually but not always the model, sometimes the original owner or sales agent, rarely some special information such as 'on loan' to a racing team or 'show bike'). The Hetchins Register lists the frames we know to have survived.
The rarity of any model might be determined by either of two factors: scarcity of the original production run (as evidenced by the sales ledgers), or a low survival rate (evidenced by the Register). High production runs tend to higher survival rates, but this is merely accidental, not a necessary connection--that is, we cannot infer it, we must empirically verify it. It goes without saying that there are more Hetchins in existence than we currently know about (i.e., than are listed in the Register). What the Register does not show is when a frame is lost, e.g., thrown away during house clearance, rusted away in a shed, melted down in a garage fire, etc.; disappearances are not reported to us.
While the original Hetchins sales ledgers might seem to be the definitive authority on such matters as the rarity of a given model, there are nonetheless discrepancies, for several reasons.
First, original sales ledger entries end in 1967. After the fusion with Jackson Cycles in 1986, different sales ledgers were kept. So there is a gap of nearly 20 years, during which we have no documentary evidence at all for quantities of models produced. We have copies of the sales ledgers from 1935 to 1967, but--secondly--for the period from 1986 onwards, we are not in possession of copies of sales ledgers and have no access to originals; for this period, we have to write (email) the current proprietors of Jackson or Hetchins on a case-by-case basis regarding specific framesets. Total modern production figures (since 1986) are not available to us. It is not that somebody is trying to hide something from us; it is rather that it's not our business: Jackson and Hetchins are, after all, going concerns with proprietary rights to their production information. Donald Thomas (Jackson) and David Miller (Hetchins) have always been forthcoming in answering queries regarding specific framesets, and for this we are grateful. They have also kindly given us at least ball-park figures of quantities they were producing, from time to time. This information was given in confidence; to ask for more would be impertinent and might jeopardize the flow of future information.
[Editor's note, February 2021: Jackson Cycles were acquired by Woodrup Cycles. We no longer have secure access to the records of Hetchins produced during the Jackson-period, 1986 - 1993.]
Third, even for the period for which we are in possession of good documentary evidence (that is, from 1935 to 1967), the sales ledger entries are not always unambiguous or clearly decipherable. There are mysteries and anomalies: frames turn up about which we are at a loss how to classify them, and the ledgers do not provide enough information to resolve the riddle. We can give minimum quantities of models made, but there are many gaps in the records, especially in the early 1950s when the Magnum Opus Phase I were produced. There is no sure frame number when Phase I became Phase II; Len had to rely on descriptions from owners. The early Experto Credes are even more difficult, as there are/were so few of them.
Third-and-a-half: our present classification system is based as far as feasible upon that of Hyman and later Alf Hetchin's own ledger entries, and shop catalogs, but these were not in every case unambiguous. There were, for example, 75 SuperSpecials on the Register [as of April 2013]; but some of the early ones had Brilliant lugs [not the ones which we now think of as SuperSpecials, which have lugs very similar to the Nulli Secundus], plus 19 with fluted seat tubes known as Six-Day. So, it is an open question how we should classify those frames: as early SuperSpecials, as Brilliants, or as Six-Days. Obviously, putting 19 frames into a different class would skew the 'rarity ratings' for (at least) two models.
Fourth: no one has (yet had) the patience to count the total number of Magnum Opuses (Opi?), Magnum Bonums, Vade Mecums, and other models, produced, even for the period for which we have original sales ledgers, 1935 to 1967; there were just too many (we are talking about literally thousands of sales ledger entries). The models we (that is, Len and myself) happen to have counted are those which, in our opinion, are (or were) "rare." The reasons being a) it is easier to count smaller numbers, and b) we were curious why certain models survived less often (i.e., made it into the Register) and we wanted to see whether this was due to lower production (more likely) or accident (less likely).
Where the exact production quantity of a certain Hetchins model is known from the sales ledgers, this number is cited at the web site. Note that this holds only for a few 'special models' (the Mag. Opus is not one of them, and neither is the SuperSpecial). However, no attempt has been made to determine production quantities for all models (there were dozens!) with each model listed separately. For all of the reasons cited above. Nor is any such tabulation planned or foreseeable.
The foregoing, I hope, clarifies the issue of "rarity" in the sense of original production runs, and why "rare" is not a precisely definable term in this universe of discourse. In sum, we are not always in a position to state that exactly 24 or 25 (or any other definite quantity for that matter) of a certain model were produced. Alf himself probably could not have told us either.
Now for the matter of rarity in the sense of extant (i.e., survival rate).
For this, I [The Editor] am dependent upon the Hetchins Register, which was maintained by Len (until his death in April 2016). Len and I communicated, though not regularly or frequently, usually only on a case-by-case basis, in response to specific inquiries by an owner or inheritor or occasionally by a prospective buyer or an actual seller (for example, at ebay). I freely confess that my cognizance of the Register was not always the most current and that some of the information on numbers of surviving Hetchins (of specific models) was not accurately reported at the web site. For this, I apologize, especially if this led to misunderstandings or mis-evaluations regarding the rarity (and, by implication, desirability) of items for sale (at ebay or elsewhere).
As of April 15th, 2016, maintenance of the Register passed to this Editor, with Len's consent.
One upshot of maintaining the Register is that a model which was once thought to be rare, might no longer be so. Not because more have been produced in the meantime (though this might be the case, since any previous model can be produced with retro-lugwork), but because our knowledge of the existence of surviving original exemplars changes. More Hetchins having been discovered in attics and sheds are reported almost monthly, and so the numbers of known surviving Hetchins is increasing, sometimes faster than I can update the web site &/or the Register. For example, when I first started counting quantities of models for mention at the web site, about 2 dozen SuperSpecials were known from the Register; in the meantime, three times that number have been registered. As I have a private life in addition to maintaining a web site, there is bound to be a time lag between updating the Register and updating the web site. The hetchins.org web site currently comprises over 500 HTML pages and 4,000+ images, and I have missed a few instances where an update was due or even over-due. I am sorry, if this has caused confusion.
Comments and corrections by conscientious readers are welcome.