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Tuesday 1 March 2011

Typewriters: Age Shall Not Weary Them

Typewriter talk taking over a British motoring magazine? The passing mention of a 1892 typewriter still in good working order in 1961 sparked a flurry of correspondence to Motor Sport. In the issues for August and September of that year, subscribers seemed determined to outdo one another with claims about their old, still-in-use writing machines, rather than their vintage racing cars.

The first came from a reader who “regularly uses an 1896 Remington Standard No 7 (Alan Seaver's seen above), which has cost only 9 shillings for replacements in 13 months, these being a new ribbon and a new fabric band connecting the spring to the carriage”. The correspondent went on, “All the keys produce letters and all the mechanics work as they are meant to … I certainly would not part with it for any modern machine; I consider the £5 it cost well spent.”

        “Any others?” editor William Boddy invited. He might have regretted doing so. In the following month’s edition, five typewriter-related letters dominated his magazine’s “Vintage Postbag”.  F. B. Humphrey of Ipswich wrote in praise of his Oliver No 9 (another photo from Alan Seaver's wonderful collection, below) “bought for £1 twelve years ago. It was made in 1913 …” “The conclusion is that vintage machinery is completely practical and reliable and far more economical to ‘run’ than present-day tinware.”

        James B. Nadwell of Dumfries in Scotland was still using a 1919 vintage “Corona Folding Portable which I purchased for 60 shillings (£5)”. It had originally been sold by Dodge & Seymour (China) Ltd. “I consider my expenditure on the 692 parts which make up this machine a very good investment.”

R. Michael Dawe of Highgate was using a Blickensderfer No 7 (below, from Richard Polt's great collection) - though, like many present-day eBay sellers, he believed it had been manufactured as early as 1892. “The mechanics of this machine are a joy to behold and all for 2 shillings and  6 pence at a jumble sale. It has not been used much so would you advise raising the compression-ratio and fitting Webers; this should improve performance, because having a repertoire of 84 symbols it takes rather a time to isolate the one desired!”

        Thirteen-year-old Peter Marx of Ferndown was writing on an Empire “portable” (below, from the Martin Howard collection) with a patent date of March 29, 1892. “It has given me reliable service for a year, since purchased at an auction, together with a carpet sweeper, for the princely sum of 10 shillings.” Assuming this Peter Marx was now 63 or thereabouts, and had turned out to be an astute entrepreneur, I Googled the name there are 25 Peter Marxes who are professionals listed by LinkedIn.

Finally, H.N.Holden of Bath wrote about a Remington Standard No 2 bought at auction by his father for 10 shillings. “The key-bed is in the form of a well and the rods connecting the keys to the letters are made of wood for part of the way, followed by metal wires about as thick as bicycle-wheel spokes …”.

        There was some mention of cars in amongst all this. Lincoln MP Geoffrey de Freitas had found a long-cherished Ruston-Hornsby 1922 tourer (the 1920 model pictured below) “spotted in poor condition in Sydney, NSW ... It is believed that one other Ruston-Hornsby is in existence”. De Frietas was preparing to have the car shipped back to England for restoration.
        I am indebted to Peter Gentry of Queanbeyan, outside Canberra, for sending me these most interesting pages from the 1961 editions of Motor Sport. As fellow Australian typewriter collector and NSW MP, Richard Amery, says, “I now believe my membership of two car clubs and my ownership of a 1962 VW and a 1979 Renault not to be in conflict with my typewriter hobby.   In fact, when displaying the ’62 Beetle, I once also placed a ’62 Olivetti Lettera 22 on display with it. Despite the large car fraternity turnout, the Olivetti got just as much attention.”

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