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Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Perkeo and other Folding Portable Typewriters

My Easter gift to myself, a gorgeous little Perkeo, has arrived safe and sound. Sadly, however, I cannot yet use it to write a typecast, as there is a minor problem with the carriage gripping on the escapement rack (maybe I should read the manual that came in the original case with it). Nonetheless, I’m able to photograph it, and in doing so compare it with other folding portables, such as the Corona 3 (my latest one was kindly given to me by a dear friend, and bought on Trade Me in New Zealand), the Bijou (Erika) and the original, the Standard Folding.

The Perkeo was made in Dresden, and that’s about 250 miles, I believe, from Heidelberg. Yet I immediately wondered if the tiny typewriter took its name from Perkeo of Heidelberg (born Pankert Clemens, or Giovanni Clementi) who was a notable court jester in 18th Century Heidelberg. Perkeo now appears to be the name of a Nottingham, England, IT company.
Wikipedia tells us Perkeo is an unofficial mascot of the city of Heidelberg (I have especially fond memories of its printing machines) and region, as his name, story and image have been connected with a variety of festivals, traditional songs, and cultural and scientific institutions. That the name comes from the court jester seems to be confirmed by an excellent German typewriter website:
The Perkeo was made by Clemens Muller AF, which also made the Urania. Judging by machines from the late Tilman Elster’s collection which appear on the European Typewriter Project website, put together by Tilman and Will Davis, this model is a 3 and was made between 1924 and 1933 (I haven’t located a serial number as yet). The next two scans are from the 1923 A Condensed History of the Writing Machine:

When I put the Perkeo beside the Bijou (Erika), I found them almost identical. Yet the Bijou, of course, was made by another Dresden company, Seidel and Naumann.
The Bijou-Erika folding three-bank portables are claimed to date from 1911, which, if true, means they precede the Corona 3. There is also a suggestion Corona threatened legal action, and S & N stopped making them pretty pronto. Not sure just how true this all is, but certainly the diagrams in the handbooks for the Perkeo and the Bijou-Erika are also almost identical. The question is, if either S & N or Clemens Müller AG were frightened off by Corona, how come the Perkeo was still being made in the early 1930s? (Bear in mind Otto Petermann was still "prefecting" the Corona 3 well into the 1920s, having started "converting", or modifying/upgrading it from the Standard Folding in about 1909-10.)

Apparently Clemens Müller AG had been around since 1855 and was one of the oldest sewing machine factories in Europe. Early 20th century typewriters were designed by one Heinrich Schweitzer.


shordzi said...

Greetings! Have you located the serial number yet? It should be on the bottom left corner of the main frame. A truly magnificent machine, and with an Austrian pedigree.

Moroz said...

I was looking for some info about my folding Erika typewriter, when I found this blog. Reading the typewriter serial database, folding Erika had a nice success in Europe, they made it from 1910 to 1928, so none stopped production soon.
Plus, this machine was made BEFORE the Corona but AFTER the Standard Folding.
I am trying to understand if S&N paid some rights to the Standard Folding Typewriter co. or if they won some legal issue...
I mean, measures and materials are really different, but folding system and general look are really identical, so there must be something behind this.