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Thursday, 15 August 2013

Royal Portable Typewriters 1958-1972

Late November 1960
Scrolling through the often richly coloured pages of LIFE magazines from the 1950s through the 60s makes one realise what a great source of information these must be for Mad Men creator Michael Weiner.  One gets a definite feel for the fashions, fads and foibles, the idioms and idiosyncrasies of the USA of the period.  Most particularly, this exercise is an acutely accurate guide to what was hot and what was not in corporate advertising back then - as well as to the style of such ads. And how launching products and their associated ad campaigns were handled.
It is also useful for typewriter enthusiasts, to get an good indication of what the various major typewriter brands were pushing - and when. And to whom ...
Early September 1961
After all, a series of full-page colour advertisements in LIFE would have been far from cheap.  When Royal, for example, embarked on a heavy advertising campaign for a particular model, or models, it would hardly have been for "yesterday's machine". It was for the company's "latest thing". The timing of these ads is thus telling, as is the way Royal spelled out what it saw as its target audiences for particular machines. 
"Royal Workmanship and Quality"? 
You're kidding, Royal!
Late October 1967. This ad very clearly states: "The New Royal Mercury Typewriter was made for kids."
We find, for instance, that the first Japanese-made Royal, the Mercury, manufactured by Silver-Seiko for Litton Industries, was expressly intended for CHILDREN. That's right, the style of Silver-Seiko and Nakajima portable typewriters that was to become so universally popular across all age groups from 1967-77 was originally devised to be used by littlies, not adults (or even those in their mid- to late-teens)! 
It is also interesting to find that in late 1967 Royal launched the children's Silver-Seiko portable concurrently with its ongoing promotion of the Safari made for Litton by Messa in Portugal.
The Futura is one fascinating example of all this. It was designed by Laird Fortune Covey for the Royal McBee Corporation in June 1957.  Most guides and reference sites that I have seen state the Futura was launched on the market in 1958 - which would add up. These include Will Davis's Portable Typewriter Reference Site.
Early December 1959
Yet Royal's advertising campaign for the Futura didn't start until just before Christmas 1959, and continued heavily for almost two years. Oddly, Thomas Russo's book Mechanical Typewriters shows a gold-plated Futura being presented to the National Office Machine Dealers' Association, allegedly in 1954,  as the four millionth Royal portable! 
 Russo dates this gold-plated presentation Futura to 1954, yet the Futura wasn't designed until 1957. Below, the plaque does not state a date.
That hardly seems possible. (Wikipedia says Royal produced its 10 millionth typewriter [all sizes] in December 1957). In reality, Royal had not launched a completely new design for its portables since Henry Dreyfuss came up with a new mask for the Quite Deluxe in August 1945. The cosmetic changes to this during the ensuing 12 years were marginal, to say the least. In late October 1956, Royal clearly stated:
Reference in this ad to the "96-Year Test" relates to the June 1953 robotic typewriting test to which this model had been subjected at the Royal laboratory in Hoboken, New Jersey:
February-March 1954
(As an intriguing aside here, Royal advertised in LIFE only two portable models throughout the 1950s - with the Futura sneaking in to join the Quite Deluxe in the last month of that decade. Royal NEVER advertised the Royalite in LIFE, nor other Dutch-made models, such as the early 60s Futura-lookalikes the Arrow and the Parade (as well as the updated Royalite '65, see Wikipedia list below; I'm not sure where the Heritage was made). Is it because these were made in Holland that they weren't marketed in the US the way the Futura and Quite Deluxe were? On the other hand, the work of a British typewriter historian, Wilf Beeching, jumps from the Dutch-made Diana [1953] to the Japanese-made Mercury and Portuguese-made Safari and Sabre, the last three of which Beeching dates from 1970, three years after they were marketed in the US.  Conversely, Russo jumps from the QDL to a Silver-Seik0-made Fleetwood, with the transistor radio in the case, and doesn't include the Royalite. Most curious. It's little wonder Will Davis's sites are so valued, as they give a more complete and accurate guide.
With the Futura, it is clear Royal saw its target market as college and university students, This would make the appearance of a Futura being used by Emma Stone (as student 'Skeeter' Plelan) in the 2011 movie The Help, set in the early 1960s, as one rare example of movie-makers getting the era and model of a typewriter absolutely spot-on (I must confess I didn't it was at the time of seeing the movie, being under the misapprehension the Futura came much earlier):
Naughty, naughty Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (played by Emma Stone) - putting Liquid Paper anywhere near a typewriter is worst than using WD40 on one!

 Late August 1960
Mid-May 1961
After Litton Industries took over Royal in the mid-60s, the next major Royal typewriter advertising campaign in LIFE magazine started in early September 1966, with the Safari, and then embraced two other models, the Ultronic electric and the Mercury. This ad is from December 8, 1967:

Early October 1966
Early September 1966
Late May 1967
In mid-September 1971 the Apollo was the new focus:
Here is Wikipedia's incomplete stab at a rundown:
A large number of machines, mostly Dutch-made, are tellingly not mentioned here. They include:
Arrow
Parade
Heritage (branded a Royal, but made for Montgomery Ward)
Futura in a Safari body
QDL in a Royal Skylark body (nothing like a Royalite!)
Century (descendant of the Diana)
Administrator (off-shoot of the Diana)
Safari IV (made in Bulgaria)



6 comments:

Richard P said...

Thanks for collecting these.

The Futura and the Ultronic are great space-age designs, IMHO.

Interesting that the Mercury was "made for kids." I've given a few to kids myself.

Miguel Ángel Chávez Silva said...

Very nice machines.

I'm very intrigued by that "harrowing experience in Hoboken"... I assume the "96-year test" with that "typing robot" consisted of a mechanical "hand" of sorts pressing the keys... but it would be great if they actually had a "robot" in mid-1950s typing "the whole works of Lincoln" and "14 times the words in the complete works of Shakespeare", dumping them on the typewriter from a "small" computer...

TonysVision said...

I enjoy "reading between the lines" of the color ads and the TV ads, imagining the target audience and strategy that come out of the ad agency meetings, especially now that we are churning through the TV series "Mad Men" via Netflix. So the ads you have come up with here for the Royals of my high school and college years are especially interesting.

Our family at the time was out of that fray, though, as in 1957 the folks bought me the Olympia SM3 which was my friend until going into storage when computers and printers arrived in the 1980's, and then re-emerged to seed my renewed interest in typewriters about a year ago.

Disciple of Night said...

I picked up one of these Seiko typers yesterday, a Signet. $17, ultra-portable, and everything works.

Ian Ransome said...

Hi, just in case you're up and about in Oz, I'd really appreciate some help...am trying to fix a Silver Seiko model for my daughter's birthday... Thanks, Ian in Cambridge, England.

Linus Kafka said...

I love my Futura! I am proud to hail from the town next to the hometown of "Blonde Carol Evans" (She's from East Orange, NJ, and I from South Orange). But as a proud son of New Jersey, USA, I can not let one small error pass: Hoboken is not in New York, but across the river in NJ.

Thank you for all your wonderful posts!