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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Pateman's Pearler*: The Imperial Model 50 Typewriter

*Pearler: Australian informal expression for something impressive, excellent, pleasing.
Another unexpected bonus from Project Typewriter Tidy-Up last weekend was that I finally got around to "dealing with" my Imperial Model 50 standard typewriter. For the obvious reasons of size, weight and the space they take up, I keep as few standard-size typewriters as possible. The exceptions are typewriters I feel are essential to my collection, such as the Remington 2, Underwood 5, Smith Premier 10, Royal 10 and Fox 24 (and not counting Hammonds, Olivers, Yosts, Adler 7-Empires or  the Royals 1 and 5, which I don't consider to be quite standard-size anyway). While I wouldn't rate the Imperial Model 50 as "essential" to this collection, I couldn't bring myself to part with it. It just looked so grand, so impressive.
For all that, the Imperial Model 50 had sort of "disappeared" behind a large number of other typewriters in my home - it was out of sight and out of mind, at least for the time being. But during what started out as a search for my first model Imperial Good Companion portable - and happily finished up as a major three-day sorting out of machines - I came across the Model 50.
By that stage of Sunday evening Lea Collins, the propsmaster for The Street Theatre's stage production of Max Cullen's Lennie Lower Show, had already called around to pick up a Remington 16 for the play. We had settled on the Remington 16 because it fitted the period in which the show is set - Lower was "the comic genius of Australian journalism" in the late 1920s and early 30s.
However, while the Remington 16 generally works very well for its age, there was a problem: the main "typewriter action" on stage involves about 15 incidences of Cullen-Lower sitting down to type - usually when he's very frustrated and agitated. That means 15 occasions on which paper is to be rapidly fed into the typewriter. Because it had sat idle in Toowoomba in Queensland for many, many years (at least 60), the Remington 16's feed rollers and paper bail rollers have flattened out against the platen. This means feeding paper into it and adjusting the sheet is a fairly delicate operation - not something that can be done in haste!
In these circumstances, Lea thought it wise that we should discuss another option. So, having "re-discovered" my Imperial Model 50, and for a range of reasons believing this to be the more ideal machine for the stage play - age, look, availability in Australia in the 30s, the loud sound of the bell, etc etc - I decided to roll my sleeves up and tackle it.
I was given the Imperial Model 50 some years ago by a Canberra woman. It was in a bit of a mess - "the grandkids have been playing with it," the donor apologised, with patently genuine contriteness. But that only meant the ribbon was spread all through the typebasket. Otherwise, I could see that the typewriter was in pretty good condition, and could be easily cleaned up and possibly made to work.
But I had made a few vain attempts to fix it before Sunday, and had quickly given up each time. "I'll come back to it another day," I kept promising myself, placing the Imperial Model 50 back into the "too hard basket".  Well, yesterday was "another day". Expecting a call from Lea at any minute, I felt it was a case of "now or never".
The textile drawband had snapped. This is very common with Imperials of this age, as the fabric is not well made and eventually wears and becomes quite brittle with the strain. The problem is that metal tags are riveted to each end of the drawband, and the connecting points on the main spring and carriage are specifically designed to fit these tags (or the other way around). After electing to use nylon fishing line as a substitute for the textile cord, I found I could employ the same tags without much difficulty.
The Imperial Model 50's carriage is easily removed. This feature was patented in the US in 1926 (application filed exactly 87 years ago on Friday) by this typewriter's inventor, Arthur Bott Pateman. However, to remove what remained of the original drawband, rewind the main spring and attach a new drawband, it is necessary to also remove the entire top plate of the typewriter. Again, this is easily done - there are only four screws. Once the main spring is rewound and the new drawband attached, however, replacing the top plate is no simple matter.
Parts of the top plate include not only the main spring drum and the mechanism protruding from the back of it (this latter part slots down beyond the back edge of the base section), but also the levers which connect with such things as the spacebar, the back spacer key, the ribbon vibrator, ribbon movement mechanism and the colour selector switch. To replace the top plate properly, making sure all these connections are made while at the same time slotting the main spring's mechanism down beyond the edge of the base section, is a very delicate operation which takes some very careful manoeuvring.
I managed it, and let out a very loud whoop of delight (which would have woken up son and cat, plus neighbours) when I did. At long, long last, this great typewriter was back to being fully functional. Well, almost ... there is only one small problem left: how does one get the ribbon to reverse direction? Anyone know? I kept my typecast with the Imperial Model 50 to a bare minimum because the ribbon ran off the spool. There's obviously got to be a way of getting the ribbon to go back the other way. Help!
Finally, a brief look at the Imperial Model 50's inventor, Arthur Bott Pateman, who I have mentioned many times on this blog before. Pateman was born to a single (or already widowed) mother, Amy, in Islington, London, on August 7, 1886. At the age of 14, he had already moved to Leicester, the home of the Imperial, was lodging there and working as a shoe machine operator in John Gordon Chattaway's boot factory. In 1905 the wealthy Chattaway's daughter, Sophia Lilian, married typewriter inventor Hidalgo Moya and in 1908 Chattaway took over Moya's typewriter company to establish the Imperial Typewriter Company. Pateman went to work for Chattaway and Moya and by 1911, aged just 25, he was Imperial's works manager. This was a momentous year for Imperial, as investors Joseph Wallis Goddard and his brother-in-law William Arthur Evans took control of the company from Chattaway and Moya and had Moya travel to Canada to recruit Swedish-born Eric Julius Pilblad to succeed the ailing Moya as Imperial's general manager. Pateman worked closely with Moya, Pilblad and Arthur Tomlinson in developing Imperial's downstroke portables.
Eric Pilblad
Even before Moya and Goddard died in 1927, Evans and Pilblad had decided Imperial should make a conventional standard-size typewriter. The task of designing this fell to Pateman, still the company's works manager but also now its head design mechanical engineer.
Hidalgo Moya
Pateman began taking out British, French and Italian patents on the Model 50 in 1925 and in the US in 1926. The Model 50 started production in 1927. The machine seen here, serial number H2708, was made in 1935.
Over the years Pateman rose through the ranks at Imperial to become a director, managing director and finally board chairman. According to a biography of him in the "Diamond Jubilee 1902-1962" issue of Imperial News, he was "responsible for the design and success of Imperial typewriters". Pateman died in Norfolk on August 28, 1972, aged 86.
What will now become of my Imperial Model 50? Having finally fixed it, and used it, I think I will give it to a good home.


Bill M said...

Congratulations on the repair. I doubt there is any typewriter you could not bring back to life.

That is a great looking typewriter. Nice type face too.

McTaggart said...

Hi Robert, if you are looking for a good home for your Imp.50 look no further. Send it to me, I love them.
I learnt how to repair typewriters in London and my first typewriter was such a machine. Later, I worked for the London branch of Imperial..
On the ribbon reverse problem, does the ribbon have eyelets fitted? otherwise, no reversing...

Richard P said...

That's an impressive machine. I have never gotten my hands on an Imperial standard -- in Yankeeland they're as rare as hen's teeth.

Jason Hoeltzle said...

I just 'found' a 1930 Imperial Model 50 last night along the road! I guess left to the trashmen by its owner? Its a bit dusty, but other than a few rubber bits being dried out (paper hold down rollers, bumpers ect) and the textile cord you mentioned being broken as well...its actually a fine machine.
As far as reversing the ribbon, there are small tabs under the ribbon drums, they should be able to be moved forward and back on either side. Depending on their position, dictates which direction the ribbon will travel. I've also come to find...the two chrome tabs on either side above the keyboard act as a keyboard release! Press them both down and pull the keyboard forward. It will follow the rails underneath and disconnect from the main body allowing easy tuning and oiling/maintenance. My plans are to restore/clean it a bit, without taking away from its natural aged beauty.

David Lawrence said...

Robert, my dear friend, if you have not yet found the 'secret' of reversing the ribbon transport manually, here it is: Reach under the top plate, in the middle, less than one inch in, a teeny metal nipple, protruding down from a left-right shaft, flick this either way, and your transports will delight you with a reversal of direction.

Peter Mac said...

Hi Robert, thanks for your wonderful and thorough blog post. I too have a 1935 Imperial 50- love it! I recently acquired it for a relatively modest fee. It needs a bit of a clean up and service. I intend to get stuck in soon with this. All the best from South Africa.

Mark said...

This morning I dug out the Imperial 50 that I've had for nearly 40 years - I got it as a Christmas present as a child, fitted a new ribbon to it, and started typing. It works pretty well, considering it hasn't been touched for more than 10 years. Then I Googled "Imperial 50" and came across your post.

The ribbon reversal mechanism is automatic. The spools are designed with a tab attached to the central spindle. When the ribbon reaches the end of its travel, it pulls that tab, which swings out and engages with a lever on the typewriter beneath the ribbon spool. That changes the direction of travel. There is a linkage between the left and right sides, which runs beneath the front rail above the type basket. As described by one of your other commentators, this linkage can be moved from side to side, manually, to change the direction of travel.