UNDERWOOD'S LAST INDEPENDENT
THROW OF THE DICE
UNDERWOOD UNIVERSAL GOLDEN TOUCH (1956)
UNDERWOOD DE LUXE QUIET TAB (1956)
UNDERWOOD UNIVERSAL QUIET TAB (1956)
UNDERWOOD DE LUXE QUIET TAB GOLDEN TOUCH (1958)
UNDERWOOD LEADER GOLDEN TOUCH (1958)When, at the end of World War II, Underwood stopped making M1 carbine rifles as its contribution to the war effort, and went back to doing what it did best, that is to make typewriters, it found a much changed industry. Mechanical quality was being superseded in the marketplace by the demand for a "new look".
But its standard machines, most notably the No 5, had established Underwood as a superior manufacturer of these size machines to Remington, with the Royal 10 emerging as the Underwood 5’s more significant rival (although Underwood, at more than five million units, still outsold Royal by more than two to one).
In terms of company sales, the problem with high-quality typewriters such as the Underwood 5 and the Royal 10 was that they were built to last, and DID last.
As for portables, Underwood did as Royal had done in the immediate post-war period, which was to remarket its pre-war model under a slightly modified guise. In Underwood’s case, however, this move to the Leader was not as marked and did not prove to be quite as successful as Royal’s continuing revamping of the Quiet De Luxe had been.
Smith-Corona took a clear lead with its new range of Joe Barkdoll-designed portables in 1950. But of more concern to Underwood would have been Royal’s renewed thrust into the standard typewriter marketplace, with attractive contemporary designs, in the early 1950s.
Underwood elected, however, not to follow the low-profile portable European designs of Olivetti and Hermes, but to build a range that might compete on the home (US) market with the larger Smith-Coronas (that is, excluding the Skyriter) and Royals.
Paul A. Braginetz design 1956It also grasped the need to use brighter colours than the previously standard black or grey. These colours were highly fashionable, if by later standards still largely somewhat muted.
Underwood went to top US designers Paul Artem Braginetz and Raymond Spilman, asking first Braginetz (below) and then Spilman to come up with a line of stylish casings to meet the market demands of the times.
Details about Braginetz and Spilman, and what they produced, can be seen at my post at
Raymond Spilman design 1958Braginetz started in 1956 with the Underwood Universal Golden Touch (below), the most influential new typewriter design of the era, one which was to inspire later designers for Royal and Remington in the US, as well as Olympia in Germany and Brother in Japan.
Adwoa's collectionTo this same range, Braginetz added the simply spectacular Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab and the Universal Quiet Tab.
These three Braginetz designs were to lay the foundation for Spilman’s designs two years later. The Braginetz designs, however, can easily be distinguished from the later ones from Spilman by what Braginetz called his line spacer lever. This unique, distinctive design can be seen on all of the Braginetz portable typewriters.
I set out to feature Underwood portables from my own collection in this series. Unhappily, I have failed to locate my Universal Golden Touch with the golden protruding grille (it’s a worry). And so I have taken the liberty of using an image of Adwoa's beautiful example (above), just to illustrate my point here. Spilman’s most obvious change was to turn this protruding frontspiece (somewhat bulbous in the case of the De Luxe Quiet Tab) into a slightly concave front for a one-piece ribbon cover. And, of course, remove Braginetz’s lever.
This new and hugely attractive range of Underwood portables failed to save this great typewriter company. Outside of the US, Underwood was hit by import restrictions in parts of the British Empire which lingered on more than a decade after the war had ended. In Australia, for example, Underwood had taken over the Stott company for distribution purposes, but came up against a growing flood of Olivettis and other European brands.
By late 1959. Olivetti had a controlling interest in Underwood, and within three years owned Underwood outright. Sadly, the days of US-made Underwoods, and of distinctly Underwood designs, were over.