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Monday 20 June 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (XXXI)

Three days to Typewriter Day
When, in May 1995, Irish-born actor Pierce Brosnan, who played James Bond in four 007 movies, paid the equivalent of about $130,000 for Ian Fleming’s gold-plated Royal Quiet DeLuxe portable typewriter, the British press wondered why there was so much fuss about an old typewriter.
A British collector, Bernard Williams, was approached on the subject and put the reporters straight. Typewriter lovers weren’t all that interested in machines that were a mere 40 years old, he explained. More to the point, in Williams’ opinion, the Fleming-Brosnan machine LOOKED like a typewriter!
Williams was quoted by then editor Darryl Rehr in ETCetera as saying, “If it looks like a typewriter from 10 years away, I don’t want it.”
Naturally, I don’t share this view. Regardless on my age, I regard myself as one of the “new generation” of typewriter collectors. I came along on the scene way after Williams had developed his passion. Like Williams, the late Les Owen, Martin Howard, Paul Robert, Tilman Elster, Richard Polt, Richard Milton, Will Davis, Wim Van Rompuy, Jos Legrand and Alan Seaver, and so many other astute and diligent collectors across North America and Europe, had been hunting and finding treasures for many years.
Sure, I look at the online collections of these people with great envy. But I also accept there is a finite number of these old machines still out there. And there is definitely a very tight limit to my budget.
Like others in the “new generation”, I am delighted to own whatever typewriters I do from the late 19th century and from the early part of the 20th century. But in the main, my collection is of typewriters dating from the post-World War I era, and continues on through to the 1970s. I am sure others who have come into typewriter collecting in the past five to 10 years are like me, and very satisfied with what we have.
I have to confess the vast majority of the machines I own LOOK like typewriters, and I have no qualms about that. Nonetheless, I do find machines which are very different in design are a great attraction. When people come to look at my collection, they are invariably drawn to such oddities as the Blicks, the olive-green Olivers, the pre-Good Companion Imperials, the little beauties like the Bennett and the Simplex, the Mignons (below) and Hammonds.
It is natural, I suppose, to wonder about something that is a typewriter yet doesn’t look like what we take to be a “normal” typewriter. All the more so since, not being “normal”, they are more rare, and people have usually never seen such a thing before.
I am happy to have in my collection such machines as the Gundka (above)and the Mignon. And, as well as a Hall, a Lambert and an Odell, one I would definitely love to own is a linear index Edelmann (which means “nobleman” in German).
Late last year, after making arrangements with me to go to Melbourne to be the special guest at February’s I Am Typewriter Festival, a celebration of the typewriter organised by a group of zinemakers, Eloise Peace started doing some research on typewriters.
Eloise, who is coordinator of the Sticky Institute, took herself along to Museum Victoria’s Scienceworks and there made what turned out to be, in typewriter lovers’ terms, a truly amazing discovery.
It was an Edelmann labelled as a Columbia. Of course, typewriter collectors know the Columbia as a Charles Spiro design, a completely different typewriter. Some of those with a particular interest in the Edelmann, such as Jos Legrand and Thomas Fuertig, were aware of the Edelmann being marketed as a Gladstone (Jos's below), but had never previously seen it rebranded a Columbia.
That this rare example of the Edelmann has been given an American brand name may well be explained by the US patent we will look at today.
It was on this day in 1899 that Wilhelm Wendt, of Berlin, was issued with a US patent for what is unmistakeably the Edelmann.
This was the first of three typewriters for which Wendt was issued US patents. The others came in 1902 and 1903. While the Edelmann’s three-row typewheel and carriage look almost identical to those used on the Blickensderfer, the whole design of the second Wendt patent looks like a Blickensderfer with a Hammond-style typeshuttle.
The third Wendt patent, for which he is the co-designer with Richard Horstmann, a Berlin merchant, is something of a different nature altogether.
Getting back to the Edelmann. It was first made in Germany in 1897 at the Berlin sewing machine factory of Wernicke, Edelmann and Co. In 1902 production rights were transferred to A. Greff, then later to another Frankfurt firm, Julius Pintsch.
If there was any doubt about this design being for an Edelmann, it would be dispelled by the emphasis Wendt puts on the “strong impact” of the typewheel. Arnold Betzweiser’s website says “Because the typewheel was mounted relatively high above the roller, the machine had a strong impact, so that it was suitable for writing with copies.” This feature can clearly be seen in the patent drawing, and is stressed by Wendt in his specifications.
Paul Robert at The Virtual Typewriter Museum calls the Edelmann “a very special typewriter” . The Finnish typewriter museum says it was the second mass-produced typewriter in Europe.
Images used here come from various collections, including those of Jos Legrand (Gladstone), Martin Howard, Uwe Breker and the Costa collection.
We have the birthday of a celebrated Australian to mark today. The actor Errol Leslie Flynn (as in, "In like Flynn") was born in Hobart, Tasmania, on this day in 1909. He died in Vancouver at just 50, on October 14 1959 (by all accounts he was lucky to reach that age). The Hollywood star was known for his romantic swashbuckler roles and his flamboyant lifestyle.
The Toast of the Town show, which later became The Ed Sullivan Show, debuted on US TV screens on this day in 1948. Here is Ed Sullivan typing on the New Jersey Broadwalk when he was a Broadway columnist for the New York Daily News in 1936.
Also born on this day, in 1905, was American playwright Lillian Florence “Lily” Hellman. She died in Tilsbury, Massachusetts, on June 30, 1984, aged 79. Hellman was linked to left-wing causes and she was romantically involved for 30 years with mystery and crime writer Dashiell Hammett (and was the inspiration for his character Nora Charles). She was also a long-time friend of author Dorothy Parker.
Hellman was played in the 1977 movie Julia by Jane Fonda. Apparently Fonda tosses her typewriter out a window (it’s so long since I saw Julia I can’t confirm that this is so).
Film critic Pauline Kael said of Fonda’s performance, “It's the dark cloud - Fonda's stubborn strength, in glimpses of her sitting at the typewriter, belting down straight whiskey and puffing out smoke while whacking away at the keys, hard-faced, dissatisfied -that saves the film.”
Stanley Kauffmann wrote, “It's impossible to make the act of writing interesting -it always comes down to the writer staring at the typewriter of stubbing out cigarettes or swigging a drink or tearing out sheets or tapping along with a faint pregnant smile.”
Andrew Sarris added, “Jane Fonda has worked hard to interpret Lillian Hellman without merely idolizing her, but it is in the very nature of the self-absorption of Hellman, and the inescapable solitude of writers, that Fonda's performance slips into posing, particularly when she chain-smokes in front of her typewriter and goes into paper-crumpling tantrums when she is dissatisfied with her copy.”


shordzi said...

My typewriter passion goes all the way from the 1860s to 2011! None of my machines gets discriminated because of its younger age.

Richard P said...

I must get an Edelmann someday. They aren't very rare in Germany, but always seem to bring a high price.