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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Stunningly Beautiful Schmitt Express Bakelite Portable Typewriter

I was very fortunate, having been warned by Richard Polt about the dangers of shipping a Bakelite typewriter, that the German seller followed my instructions to the letter and packed it extremely well. It happily arrived unharmed.
From what I can make out from Babel Fish, the Express dates from 1951 and is a “Very graceful[ly] designed four-row travel typewriter with complete Bakelite housing of Dr Schmitt KG, Frankfurt. Partial production had been taken over by the Merz works. Peter Basten reported in B├╝romarkt (June 15, 1951, pages 370 and 386) on the first presentation of the machine in Holland. Despite good processing, only small numbers were produced. An interesting piece from early German post-war production.”

Wikipedia tells me:
Bakelite, or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, is an early plastic. It is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from an elimination reaction of phenol with formaldehyde, usually with a wood flour filler. It was developed in 1907 by Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland.
One of the first plastics made from synthetic components (although phenol can be extracted from biological sources), Bakelite was used for its electrically nonconductive and heat-resistant properties in radio and telephone casings and electrical insulators, and also in such diverse products as kitchenware, jewellery, pipe stems and children's toys. In 1993 Bakelite was designated a National Historical Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society in recognition of its significance as the world's first synthetic plastic.
The "retro" appeal of old Bakelite products and labour intensive manufacturing has made them quite collectible in recent years. Bakelite and Bakelit are registered trademarks of Momentive Specialty Chemicals GmbH.
Dr Baekeland had originally set out to find a replacement for shellac (made from the excretion of lac beetles). He announced his invention at a meeting of the American Chemical Society on February 5, 1909.
Phenolics are seldom used in general consumer products today due to the cost and complexity of production and their brittle nature. An exception to this overall decline is their use in small precision-shaped components in which their specific properties are required, such as molded disc brake cylinders, saucepan handles, electrical plugs and switches and parts for electrical irons.
Phenolic sheet is a hard, dense material made by applying heat and pressure to layers of paper or glass cloth impregnated with synthetic resin. These layers of laminations are usually of cellulose paper, cotton fabrics, synthetic yarn fabrics, glass fabrics or unwoven fabrics. When heat and pressure are applied to the layers, a chemical reaction (polymerization) transforms the layers into a high-pressure thermosetting industrial laminated plastic.
In its industrial applications, Bakelite was particularly suitable for the emerging electrical and automobile industries because of its extraordinarily high resistance - not only to electricity, but to heat and chemical action. It was soon used for all nonconducting parts of radios and other electrical devices, such as bases and sockets for light bulbs and electron tubes, supports for any type of electrical components, automobile distributor caps, and other insulators.
In the 20th Century, it was found in myriad applications, including saxophone mouthpieces, whistles, cameras, solid-body electric guitars, rotary-dial telephones and appliance casings. The thermosetting phenolic resin was at one point considered for the manufacture of coins, due to a shortage of traditional manufacturing material. In 1943, Bakelite and other non-metal materials were tested for usage as a penny in the United States before the US Mint settled on zinc coated steel.
After World War II, factories were retrofitted to produce Bakelite using a more efficient extrusion process which increased production and enabled the uses of Bakelite to extend into other genres. Jewelry boxes, desk sets, clocks, radios, game pieces like chessmen, poker chips, billiard balls and Mah Jong sets; kitchenware such as canisters and tableware were also made of Bakelite through the 1950s. Beads, bangles and earrings were produced in 15 new colors in 1927.
Common dice are sometimes made of Bakelite for weight and sound, but the majority are made of a thermoplastic such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) which is not as durable as Bakelite. [The Olivetti Valentine is made of ABS.]


Dwayne F. said...

That is an interesting typewriter and your post is timely. I just received a 1935 Triumph Norm6 (I think it is actually a Durabel) with a partial Bakelite body.

The machine is dark maroon with glass keys and should look great with some cleaning. Now I just have to find a safe way to clean Bakelight without damaging logos.

Dwayne F. said...

Sorry for the second comment, but I just took a look at the enlarged photos... oh my goodness, that is a beautiful machine! I love the sublimated pattern. It is so much classier than the machines painted in wood grain.

Richard P said...

I think these are very neat. Congratulations on getting one!

I can't be sure whether the plastic used for the body of the Express is technically bakelite, although it is a similarly brown, hard, brittle plastic. The German literature on the typewriter describes it as "Pressstoff," which just means moldable stuff, i.e. plastic.

Ted said...

Hello Robert, I've just put up a serial number page for Express, based on info from the 1953 and 1962 Herstellungsdaten. We're looking for additional confirmation of 1951 production - can you tell us the serial number of your machine? (specifically, does it start with a "1" prefix?)

Robert Messenger said...

Hi Ted. The serial number is 306082.

Ted said...

ahh, so #82 made in June 1953. A couple other serials have popped up, but none from 1951 so far.

PS: We'd love to have your collection in the database. so many unusual and interesting examples. (: