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Monday, 13 August 2012

The Facit 1620 Portable Typewriter: Thanks Mr Bowker, thanks Mr Franklin

I seemed to spark some interest in Swedish-made Facit portable typewriters when I  posted on the TP1 in late October last year.
First, Richard Polt pondered on the quality of later models, and in April, by chance, I was given a Facit TP2. Sadly, this wasn’t in good working order, so I wasn’t able to make a sound comparison with the TP1. Not only was the TP2 not in good shape, but at the time I was putting it up against a lesser-quality TP1.
Although the TP1 I had first posted on did, back then, belong to me, in the intervening six months I had passed it on. It was a magnificent machine, in near-new condition, with all the accouterments, and I had acquired it from the Salvation Army for a mere $25.
Behind a Perspex layer screwed to the paper plate was very tastefully but prominently highlighted the name of the Australian distributor, Sydney Pincombe. At about that time my eldest son’s girlfriend’s best friend’s father (Jim Franklin) was coming up to his 70th birthday, and I knew from Emily that she wanted to give Jim something special as a gift. I also knew that Jim had worked for many years for Sydney Pincombe.
It turned out the Facit TP1 was the perfect gift for Jim, and it rekindled his long-lost interest in typewriters. I have since regretted letting go of this particular machine, but it definitely went to a good home. And, as it turns out, one good turn led to another (or two, to be precise).
Rob Bowker
On June 8 this year, Rob Bowker, of Typewriter Heaven fame, very kindly alerted me through Facebook to a Facit 1620 portable typewriter for sale.
So there was Rob in Wallingford, outside Oxford in England, letting me know about a typewriter for sale in Ainslie, a suburb of Canberra, about a 10-minute drive away from my home.
Ainslie, Australian Capital Territory
Yes, folks, from a 10,586 miles (17,036 kilometres) distance, as the crow flies (and it would take a passenger jet 22 hours), my attention was drawn to a typewriter sale about six miles (10 kilometres) from where I live.
As regular readers of this blog might recall, Adwoa Bagalini in Geneva (who also, by the way, has spotted a Facit 1620 for sale - although I don't know whether she bought it) has alerted me to three typewriters (Condor, Rexina and Bar-Lock portable), but these have been for sale in Britain and the US, not practically next door!
The Facit 1620 had been advertised on Gumtree, a site I very rarely visit. Rob emailed me: “I think I saw the Gumtree ad in a Google alert (sad, I know, but it is a good way of taking the pulse of web activity concerning various stuff. In this case, typewriters).”
As for the Facit, Rob added, “I think it might have been Richard Polt who gave an exposition of the finely engineered carriage rails and ingenious tabulator therein that made the Facit name stick in my mind.”
I called the woman selling the Facit, for which she wanted $50. I thought that was a bit steep, but since we were still on a Facit bent, and this was a model I hadn’t seen before, I decided to at least take a look. I must confess I was expecting a much larger machine, but out of its case the Facit 1620 is actually slightly smaller and lighter than the TPs. That was one pleasant surprise.
Not so pleasant was to find the machine out of action. There was a time, not all that many years ago, in the early phases on my typewriter collecting frenzy, that I would have impetuously handed over the $50, grabbed the typewriter and left – only to get home and find I had spent good money on a dud.
But, happily, that’s not the case any longer. On this occasion, I asked to look at the typewriter. When we opened the case, we soon found that the carriage was stuck in place and no amount of effort by either the seller or myself could shift it.
To cut a long story short, the women realised she wasn’t going to get $50 for a machine that didn’t work and we came to an arrangement at a much, much reduced price.
All the while I was thinking there was a chance I would be able to fix the machine at home in my own good time and with my own tools. But no such luck.
Then I remembered Jim Franklin and his many years of experience working as a salesman-technician with Sydney Pincombe, and with Facit typewriters. Could Jim fix it? Would he even want to try, after all these years away from the typewriter industry?
I emailed Rob Bowker in England to let him know the outcome of the transaction. “Well, you can't win 'em all,” Rob empathised.  “Hopefully the Facit isn't like a giraffe with a neck problem. Just happening to inhabit a group of people that contains a Facit technician counts as better than good fortune. It was obviously meant to come your way.”
I had told Rob that, to add to the intrigue of this typewriter – me having been alerted to its availability in a close-by suburb by someone 10,000 miles away – it was actually bought in England!
Anlaby Road, Hull
It was sold by Peace & Taylor on 31 Anlaby Road, Hull, in the north-west of England. As the crow flies, that’s just 140 miles (225 kilometres) from Rob’s home, a small hop, step and a jump compared to the 10,000 miles Rob was from me.
Rob replied, “From Hull? A surprise if £10 Poms found room for typewriters - though I know some people who went out there were followed by a shipping container full of their worldly goods. Or maybe typewriters make excellent ballast in heavy seas?”
Rob added, “I sincerely hope your eldest son's girlfriend's best friend's father hasn't lost his touch. I wonder what he makes of the continuing interest in portable typewritersHas he been to your exhibition?”
Well, as events turned out, Jim attended the opening of the typewriter exhibition and gave me the good news. Yes, his work on it had ensured the Facit was well on the way toward being fully functional once again.
Duly, last Saturday evening, the Facit 1620 was returned to me. I immediately opened the spacious case and started typing. What a revelation! I was thrilled with it!
While awaiting its return, I had of course read as much as I could about this model. There isn’t a lot out there. In fact, about the only detail is contained on Will Davis’s Portable Typewriter Reference Site.
But I was to discover that, in this one instance, Will and I had had completely conflicting experiences with a typewriter (or typewriters).
First, Will had found that the Facit TP2was an improvement on the TP1”. He said it “provided an impressive typing experience.  It was so good in fact that we compared it against the Smith-Corona Silent Super, the Hermes 3000 and a few others.  The TP2 has a number of advanced design features (one-piece, die-cast aluminium body casting) but also has almost no welds or solders - everything is fastener-connected.  This is an excellent typewriter, probably very expensive to construct and one that would be very prone to misalignment or maladjustment were any inexperienced disassembly attempted due to the number of parts and adjustments.  That notwithstanding, we really like it.”
I feel certain that what Will was talking about in terms of misalignment or maladjustment in an inexperienced disassembly was exactly what was wrong with my Facit 1620. In fact, Jim Franklin asked me if I had removed the carriage, and I was able to assure him I hadn’t. Thankfully, Jim’s vast experience with these typewriters ensured he was able to reassemble it properly.
Getting back to Will’s point, I hadn’t been able to make a fair assessment between the TP1 and TP2, but had found the first TP1 I posted on very hard to beat. But now I have found something that might beat it – the Facit 1620 (the sans serif typeface being the one drawback).
Will, however, found the “Facit 1620, which appeared in 1969, is not as good; it's often found broken in the field, and isn't as well made - incorporating less expensive parts and materials … the 1620 is not well made.”
The Facit 1620 I have must be totally opposite to the one Will  tried. Mine is extremely well made, with no sign of less expensive parts when compared to the TP1 or TP2. It seems to me to be at least as well made as the TP1 and TP2, a flawless typing machine that is one of the best typewriters I have used. It is very much, as its promotional material suggests, "a small but professional typewriter".
Rob Bowker had ended our Internet conversation in mid-June with the words, “Hope you have fun with the Facit!” I’m delighted to say that, thanks to Mr Bowker and Mr Franklin, I am now having a great deal of fun with the Facit 1620, and am certain to get a lot more use out of it. Here is a scan with a hanging indent:


Adwoa said...

I have indeed spotted about three Facit 1620s for sale over the last year; they seem to have been a popular model here. Unfortunately, every single one of them has been frozen solid, and like you, I am not in the practice of handing over good money for duds. I also don't have access to a former Facit repairman, unfortunately - lovely that your friend fixed this one up for you! Looks like it types beautifully now.

Richard P said...

What a fine typospherious story! Thanks for sharing.

I wonder why these machines get frozen up?

Ken Coghlan said...

How weird is this? I honestly just purchased a Facit 1620 today! Not even two hours before reading this post. Awesome. Looks like it is the version that Will Davis has on his site, as opposed to the one you have shown here, but I am sure it is as nice as you say.
So great to have a Facit repairman around, eh? How convenient!

Bill M said...

Thanks for another wonderful post. I now have Facit number 3 to add to my collection. I am working on a TP2 and my get a 1629 first since they seem more plentiful and less expensive. I had little interest in these since I always read that they were of lesser quality than the TP1 or TP2.

michaeliany said...

Quite a remarkable story. Good looking out Rob!
And I can hardly believe you are still hunting for typers, mr messenger: pretty awesome actually that you still do and continue to be amazed by them

Anonymous said...

Any word on how it was repaired? I'm assuming that what's freezing them up is the choice of lubricant. Old Agfa cameras from the 1950s are known for having their lenses seize because of the lube that Agfa used back then, as opposed to other manufactures, whose lenses are still just as easy to turn as the day they were made.

I have one for sale here that I'm interested, and indeed, found this post because I looked it up. I am willing to attempt to free it up. With an Agfa, it takes the right solvent, a pair of pliers and some patience and you can get it moving again enough to take it apart and then clean it and replace the grease with something better.

But, I don't even have $10 to waste on a real dud.

Any tips would be really helpful.