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Monday, 20 February 2012

Bulgarian Typewriters

I have been threatening for some time to write about Bulgarian typewriters, and am finally spurred into action by notagain’s request for information from long ago (the request, not the information!). Just about all I can tell you, notagain, is that your Omega 1300F is a пишеща машина Хеброс 1300 Ф (Хеброс means Hebros, an ancient Greek name for a neighbouring river of the Maritsa; the symbol is the "F"). The white trim on your model also comes in lime green and bright orange.
Seriously, though, it has been a difficult job to find anything other than what has already been published, and that’s not much. As Will Davis said on his Portable Typewriter Reference Site, “reading of Bulgarian is impossible on most Western computers”.
About the only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that the best known Bulgarian typewriter brand name, Maritsa, comes from the deep river which runs through Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, where the typewriters were made.
Although Bulgaria would appear to have been one of the last nations on earth – succeeded, perhaps,only by China - to start a typewriter industry, the history of that industry is obscure, to say the least.
This is not unusual. While the history of industries in most countries from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries is more often than not well documented, industry in the second half of the 20th century has yet to be a subject of much interest to historians.
But what clouds Bulgarian typewriter history is, of course, the Iron Curtain, behind which Bulgaria developed from a largely agricultural-based economy to one based on intense industry – all the while away from the prying eyes of the Western world.
It seems clear the Bulgarian typewriter industry started with the manufacture of a toned-down variation of the German Princess portable, introduced in 1948 by Keller & Knappich GmbH of Augsburg. This company, started in 1898 by Johann Josef Keller and Jakob Knappich as an acetylene factory, still operates as KUKA, a leading producer of industrial robots.
KUKA was still making Princess typewriters at least into the early part of the 1960s, as far as I can tell. Although the European Typewriter Project suggests the first Bulgarian typewriter, the Maritsa 11, appeared in the mid to late 1950s, it seems more likely the Bulgarian typewriter industry started later than that. Perhaps much later. Bulgarian typewriters and/or Maritsas do not appear on the Typewriter Serial Number Database, in the 1973 Typewriter Age Guide, nor in either edition, 1974 or 1990, of Will Beeching’s Century of the Typewriter. They did not start to appear in Australia until the 1970s.
I am guessing KUKA sold the rights to the Princess design to the Bulgarians some time later in the 1960s. It is also possible, I suppose, that the Princess and Maritsa were produced concurrently, but since Augsburg was in West Germany, I find that highly unlikely.
What we do know is that the Bulgarian Communist Government ploughed an enormous amount of money into building a typewriter factory in Plovdiv in 1971. This, on the evidence we have, would seem most likely to be the starting point.
Bulgaria’s intensive industrial development picked up pace with major industrial construction from 1966 to 1975, during the Fifth and Sixth stages of a series of Five-Year Plans which started in 1949.
At the 10th Communist Party Congress in 1971, the Government decided to invest 21.7 million lev (about $US10.3 in today’s money) into the national economy for capital investments. Among these was the Plovdiv typewriter factory.
After the Communist uprising of 1944, Bulgaria became a Communist People’s Republic in 1946 and was a satellite member of the Warsaw Pact until 1989. It installed a Soviet-style planned economy with some market-oriented policies emerging on an experimental level under Todor Zhivkov. During this time, of course, its economy was protected by the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON).
Changes swept in by the fall of Communism led to a sharp drop in industrial and agricultural production, and ultimately an economic collapse in 1997. The Plovdiv Typewriters Works was among those businesses hit hard.
By that time the Typewriters Works in Plodiv (above) had produced a number of portable typewriters, starting with the Maritsa 11 and 21 (a Princess 300 clone, complete with ribbon colour selector and touch control switches) and going through to what appear to be more independent designs, for the Maritsa 12, 22, 30 and 300 (although the last two are believed to be originally a Japanese design, from Silver-Seiko) and the Hebros 1300F.
From Adwoa's Collection
This last machine, in Bulgarian the пишеща машина Хеброс 1300 Ф, is also marketed as the Crown 68 and the Omega 1300F.
From notagain's collection
Omega, as with Lemair, Pacific and Waverley in Australia, was a brand name used by an import-distribution company - in Omega's case, one called General Consolidated.
The Pacific Typewriter Company of Melbourne had by the mid-1970s flooded the Australian market with cheap, re-labelled East European machines, mostly from Maritsa but also from Consul of Czechoslovakia.
Lemair, Pacific, Waverley and Omega were all names also applied to the Maritsa 30. This same design was additionally used for the Royal Safari IV.
The earlier, smaller all-metal Maritsas were marketed outside Bulgaria under a range of names, including Bundy and Pacific.
The brand name is often seen as “Mapuua”, which is the Anglicised version of the Bulgarian word for Maritsa, Марица.
The end of the Eastern Bloc impacted heavily on Bulgaria’s typewriter industry, in which the confusion arising from the sudden introduction of free-market capitalism reflected the nation’s broader problems.
The typewriter plant survived at least to the end of 2002, when the  Plovdiv Supreme Court continued to try to settle a dispute over control of the works between at least two companies, Albena Invest Holding and Typewriters Privat. The latter company emerged from among former managers and staff of Typewriter AD. These companies were presumably trying to keep the factory operating - although Albena was accused of trying to strip assets.
It was stated in the 2002 court hearing that the Plovdiv company was "the only company in Europe for mechanical typewriters ... On the Continent we were selling 50,000 units, and the US about 35,000. Now liberated, our niche is occupied by Chinese producers. Before being removed from the factory, [we were] negotiating with the American company Cortex for overseas exports of 150,000 units annually."
These seem quite extraordinary claims for portable manual typewriters in 2002, just 10 years ago. I wonder how true they are.
Albena Invest Holding claimed a 52 per cent controlling interest in venture capital at the Plovdiv Typewriter Works when trouble started over board membership in 1999. Albena had gained control under mass privatisation in 1996, through consolidation and transfer of shares. A 36.4 stake was still held by the state, represented by the Ministry of Industry. The assets of the enterprise at that point were still more than 19.5 million lev.
Beyond that, I know nothing …


notagain said...

Wow! an amazingly thorough job as always. Thanks very much! Now I can look into "Speed Keys," about which little has been written.

Bill M said...

Very informative post! IT is amazing how much these typewriters look like many of the major brands.

maschinengeschrieben said...

Great post. When researching for my post on the Princess standard, I read that the typewriter production was sold to Bulgaria, suggesting that there weren't Princess and Maritsa machines produced simultaneously.

shordzi said...

I love the tag from the Bulgarian factory, but which is still written in German.

shordzi said...

According to information in Dingwerth's Lexicon, Keller & Knappich was very successful in their Princess typewriter business, but sold everything to Bulgaria in 1968. At this point, all production ends in Germany.

Richard P said...

Eye-opening research. Thanks!

They certainly picked a good typewriter design to adopt; the Princess, in my opinion, is one of the best-built small portables.

One correction: I think "Mapuua" is what Maritsa looks like in Cyrillic cursive. (The "i" and "ts" cursive lowercase characters are very similar.)

Kassis said...

I have a Mariza with a german keyboard. Is there a ,market for these???

Kassis said...

I have a mariza with a German keyboard, is there a market for these???