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Friday 17 June 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (XXVII)

One week to Typewriter Day
One doesn’t need to trawl too far in the archives of US typewriter patents to find something from Charles Spiro. By my quick count, there are 34 of them, dating from 1885 to 1927, a period of 42 years. And this man was a New York watchmaker?
Quite apart from typewriters, Spiro designed a wide range of things, from pencil sharpeners (above, 1908) to “the art of photography without a dark room” (1890) and a motion-picture camera (1917).
But his main interest appears to have been in typewriters. Typewriter historian Michael Adler wrote that Spiro “accumulated as many different patents for minor improvements in design as possibly anyone in typewriter history”. Yet among his 34 typewriter-related patents, 11 are for type-writing machines, so it was far from a case of just minor improvements.
Indeed, Spiro is responsible for four notable typewriters – the famous Columbia typewheel machine of 1885 (above), the legendary Bar-Lock of 1889 (also above, both images from the Martin Howard collection), the Visigraph of 1910 and the Gourland of 1920 (both below, the Visigraph from the Thomas Fuertig collection, the Gourland from the Mr Martin website).

But Adler points out that a few of Spiro’s typewriter designs didn’t make it past the drawing board. And, sadly, it would appear that the design we have before us here, one for which Spiro was issued a patent on this day in 1891, 120 years ago, was just such a failure.
Ah well, even the great typewriter inventors couldn’t win them all …
Charles Spiro was born on January 1, 1850, and died in 1932. He is seen here with his grand-daughter Rosemary, in a family photograph taken in about 1930.
On this day in 1903, the Norwegian Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen set out on the first east-west navigation of the Northwest Passage by leaving Oslo.
On a later expedition, to the North Pole, Amundsen took with him a Corona. The Corona Typewriter Company was, of course, always quick to publicise any such unusual use of its machine, as this advertisement underlines.
On the Writers and Their Typewriters list on his The Classic Typewriter Page, Richard Polt points out that there is a little Erika three-bank typewriter which belonged to Amundsen in the Polar Museum at Tromsø in Norway. The explorer certainly had a preference for compact folding typewriters.
Also on Richard Polt’s list is the American journalist and author John Howard Griffin, who was born on this day in 1920 in Dallas, Texas.
Much of Griffin’s writing was devoted to racial equality and he is best known for darkening his skin and journeying through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to experience segregation in the Deep South in 1959. He wrote about this experience in his 1961 book Black Like Me. Griffin died in Fort Worth on September 9, 1980, aged 60. He had been left blind by an accident in the US Air Force in 1946, after which he began to write. He is seen here using an Underwood electric.
Stan Laurel of the Laurel and Hardy team was born on this day in 1890. Laurel was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston, Lancashire (now Cumbria), England.
A comic actor, writer and film director, his film acting career stretched from 1917 to 1951 and included a starring role in the Academy Award-winning The Music Box (1932). In 1961, Laurel was given a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work in comedy. He died in Santa Monica, California, on February 23, 1965, aged 74.
Apparently the colour of Laurel's Olympia portable has been the subject of some debate. By freeze-framing a colour home movie shot late in his life (second image below), fans decided it was grey. Previously a claim had been made that it was light green, and this colour machine was put up for sale in 1998.
The story goes, "Someone claimed to own the machine and supposedly typed a phrase on the typewriter that was in one of Stan's letters and it matched perfectly. He decided to sell the typewriter ..."
This is the one in the masthead at Letters From

1 comment:

shordzi said...

Excellent entry, thanks for covering Stan Laurel! On the heavy side, the Underwood Electric is a true tank and probably the heaviest typewriter in my collection.