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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Rainy Thai (and Burmese) Typewriter Day

As it turned out, the forecasters were right and we did get more heavy rain today. But I was woken up by blazing sunshine and thought I was going to be able to complete the Smith-Corona Model 88 reintegration project a day ahead of schedule. Before I had a chance to walk down the road to the paint store to buy the dark grey gloss spray paint, however, the heavens opened up - and how.
Yet the day wasn't without its considerable compensations. Within the space of an hour around midday, FIVE portable typewriters were delivered here, four of them as totally unexpected donations. Two came from the departing Canberra typewriter collector Ray Nickson, who dropped over a Thai keyboard Olivetti Lettera 32 and a lovely dark grey Underwood Universal. Oddly enough, the Underwood was bought in Rangoon (now Yangon) in Burma (now Myanmar), right next door to Thailand:
The building where this Underwood was sold still stands, on the corner of 554-556 Merchant Street and 35th Street, Yangon. It's an elegant, three-storied structure built in 1930 by Siegmund Oppenheimer & Co Ltd, a company which handled a diverse range of goods - from engineering and building materials to wines and spirits, military equipment, tents, wolfram-ore bags, hospital furniture, police uniforms, orchids, elephant harnesses and Underwood typewriters. It is now a branch of the Innwa Bank.
Oppenheimer and Co was founded in Burma in 1885 by Siegmund Oppenheimer (above, born Germany 1858; died Nice, France, St Valentine's Day 1920). He was the founding president of the Rangoon Trades Association.
Back to the Thai language Olivetti ... first thing I noticed as I worked through the keyboard was that the carriage didn't move when the two centre keys on each of the four banks (plus a third key on one bank) were pressed. Strange? Closer inspection revealed this oddity:
The nine typebars at the centre of the basket don't have the end nodules on them to activate the carriage. So when you get to those centre keys, you have to remember to use the spacebar to advance. I guess if I knew the Thai language and the reason for the carriage not advancing, it would be simple. Looking at this scan, it seems as if I might have forgotten to press the spacebar after the % sign (or the character under it?):
Ray and I had a quick look through the keyboards in the copy of Beeching's book which I had given him (as a going-away present) and came to the conclusion that this was closest to the keyboard described as "Siamese Standard 2" (Siam is an exonym that was formerly used as the name of Thailand, especially Central, Eastern, Western and Southern Thailand [except the provinces Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat].)
No sooner had Ray left (he and his wife Alice and daughter Cynthia are headed for Armidale, where Ray will lecture on law at the University of New England) than a Canberra gentlemen called George McLean turned up with three portables. George had let me know a few days ago that he had an Olivetti Lettera 32 for me, but then arrived with two Olympias as well - an SM9 in great condition, and a very purposeful Splendid 33, which needs a little bodywork (already started). So yet another "reintegration" is planned.
It was a day of frustration as far as finishing-off work on the SC 88 was concerned, but a very profitable one nonetheless. Not sure what I'll do with the two OL32s, but I'm aiming for Ted Munk's light green suggestion, this time for the Splendid 33. I think it will look great, matching the platen knobs and the shift keys.

4 comments:

Miguel Angel Chávez Silva said...

Very interesting!

I don't know a word of thailandese, but those seem to be "dead" keys of the type you use to combine characters to create a different one. In Spanish we have one dead key - which as you've discovered, doesn't cause the carriage to advance - to add accents to vowels. So, in order to create an á, é, í, ó, ú, ý, you (usually) first press the dead accent key (') and then the letter to be accentuated. This is what causes the carriage to advance. Most likely these four keys contain parts of symbols that combine with others to form specific letters.

Richard P said...

My Thai Olympia works the same way, with quite a few dead keys. I lived in Thailand for five months in 1990 so I can tell you that vowels are added after, before, over, or under consonants. There are also tone marks, since it's a tonal language. So there are many occasions for dead keys.

Ted said...

Ooh, light green Oly 33, eh? That oughta look neat (:

Taylor Harbin said...

It never ceases to amaze me what kind of languages they could fit onto a manual machine...