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Saturday 3 September 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (CIV)

Time for some modern history. As modern as today, or just one year ago, and yet stretching back some 80 years. Today we salute what, on this day in 2010, typewriter collector and historian Will Davis (below) was said to have labelled “karmic typewriter mojo”.
It’s an expression worth saluting – and preserving.
Today is September 1st, and Spring has officially sprung Down Under. Sadly, however, this has not led to the start of a season of typewriter spring cleaning – rather, it’s been more a case of cases of spring typewriters accumulating.
No fewer than five portable manual typewriters arrived here today, September 1, 2011: a Citizen X3, a Sears Citation, a Maritsa 11, a Hermes 3000 and an Optima (Aztec 14). All gifts or bargains.
But I was too slow to bid and missed out on a nice Hanimex (Consul), which sold for a low, low $13.80. Shame … And two Underwood 5s went for way beyond $120, and an Imperial Good Companion Model 1 is now racing out of control at $180.
Still, there may be more exciting days ahead for me: My good friend Georg Sommeregger in Basel, Switzerland, has very thoughtfully put me on to something which he knows, from reading my book on portable typewriters, I very much cherish. Georg (below) has also helped me liaise with an Italian seller about another typewriter, one which Richard Polt quite aptly describes as “cute”.
So for the time being, at least, I am subscribing to the point put forward by “typewriter addict” Bobbye Crawford, of Old Hickory, Tennessee, on this day in 2010: “I am so not having luck finding wonderful typewriters,” wrote Bobbye on an online portable typewriter forum. “But these behind-the-scenes stories ease the pain. Happy hunting.”
Bobbye’s positive thoughts for those having some fun and success has rubbed off, precisely 12 months down the track.
I am especially delighted for Richard Polt (above), who heard the siren call of St Vinnies in Cincinnati and in the days leading to Fall arose from his toils triumphant, having returned with a Remington 333 and having “created” a Sterling Silver Surfer. See
For all that, I am still a tad envious about Richard’s Remington 333. This basic Brother model, the Akio Kondo design for which was patented in May 1962, featured in my post of August 14. It is very common in Australia, but sadly we never saw here the Remington variation. Maybe there’s something about the less common colour that makes it more appealing?
When Bobbye Crawford posted on the online forum one year ago, he (or she) was referring to an event which had occurred that day, at 12.01pm on September 1, 2010, and which involved another style of Smith-Corona Silver Sterling.
On his Collapsing World: Letting the Air Out blog, and under the heading “The Silver Lining”, Rochester, Minnesota, collector and historian Alan Seaver, of Machines of Loving Grace fame, began a announcement with the words:
“Detective Polhaus: ‘Heavy. What is it?’
Sam Spade: ‘The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.’
“Last night was rainy. Several storms moved through the area, bringing heavy rain, strong wind, and occasional light hail. The lightning show was spectacular.
“Under normal circumstances, I would not have been out in it, braving the rain-slicked roads in the Mustang. It’s low-traction and high-torque. It doesn’t take much to make it fishtail or hydroplane in bad weather. But no rain clouds would deter me this night as I rounded the Twin Cities and headed north. For you see, these storm clouds had a silver lining.
“A sterling silver lining, to be exact.”
Alan’s search had unearthed this extremely rare sterling silver edition Smith-Corona Sterling. “The body is solid sterling silver, made by Gorham. They were made as part of a promotional window display for dealers in late 1931. The most accurate figure I have located for the total number made is 184. Only a fraction of those seem to have survived.”
When Alan, above, revealed his treasure, reaction ranged from “Oh. My. God. I’m overflowing with jealousy. I bloody LOVE silver!” to “That’s so crazy” to “I could use some of your dumb luck. That’s not a typewriter, it’s a centrepiece!” to “What a gem … good going!!” and “What a fantastic find! Congratulations!”
So “On This Day in Typewriter History” salutes the September One Seaver Smith-Corona Sterling Silver Sterling (try saying that six times quickly!).
The Smith-Corona Sterling was designed by Henry Allen Avery, born and bred in Groton, New York, who had joined the Corona Typewriter Company, aged 17, virtually from day one, when New York state senator Benn Conger moved the organisation to his home town in 1909.
Henry Allen Avery was born in Groton on November 27, 1889, the son of bridge builder Oliver Avery and his wife Hellen Melissa Allen Avery.
Here is a photo of Al Avery taken at the Groton factory the day he celebrated his 65th birthday.
Avery, along with Otto Petermann (below, born Switzerland, 1872) and Edwin L. Harmon (born Moravia, Cayuga, New York, September 8, 1879; died Groton, June 13, 1945) designed the Corona four-bank in November 1926.
Avery’s patents for the mechanism and frame of the Corona Sterling must have been still pending when the machine went into production, because the patent for the mechanism was applied for on August 18, 1933, and not issued until May 21, 1935. The patent on the frame was applied for on August 17, 1933, and issued on July 16, 1935.
Alan Seaver says Smith-Corona introduced the new "flattop" design in November, 1931 “with an unprecedented promotional campaign … These very early versions have a medallion of the Smith-Corona logo embedded in the ribbon cover, and the ribbon cover itself is completely removable ...
“The name honoured the first new portable produced after the 1926 merger of L.C. Smith and Corona and was designed to look like a combination of Corona's portables and L.C. Smith's standards.
“The company wanted to make a splash with their new Sterling model. It commissioned the Gorham silver company to jacket a limited number of bodies in sterling silver for a window display package for dealer showrooms. (Gorham also reportedly designed the special leather case for these that could double as a weekend bag.) These displays would consist of the silver typewriter, a silver background screen of tin-foil and wood, display cards, floor covering, and a glass display case for inside the showroom. The package was available to dealers for $127.50, a good price considering that the silver machine itself was given a list price of $125 (about $1750 in today's dollars).
“Initially, the typewriter and display were to be gold, but as they were designing the new model, countries began to drop the gold standard. At the same time, a run on Federal Reserve notes depleted the US gold reserves and created a panic in the banking industry. Gold was suddenly a lot less appealing. So Smith-Corona switched their scheme to silver.”
At 12.24pm on September 1, 2010, Alan had posted on the online portable typewriter forum, “I think Will [Davis] was on to something when he said that a certain karmic typewriter ‘mojo’ came from the collectors' meeting in June. Since then, he found a never-before-seen Maritsa-Princess variant; Peter [Weil, below] stumbled upon his truly astounding four-bank Allen; Herman [Price, below] caught a never-before-seen Harry A. Smith - and just a little while ago I walked in the door with a sterling silver flattop Smith-Corona Sterling.”

I can merely look at the image of Alan’s much prized typewriter (which made an appearance at the Cincinnati type-in in July, below) and, one year on, continue to drawl. Happy hunting, typewriter lovers! One just never knows what might turn up ...


notagain said...

Great story. happy spring!

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks, notagain. I assume I am right in saying it is your "Fall" over there? If so, happy Fall!

Richard P said...

Nice to see "On This Day" turn its attention to some recent developments in the typosphere. And I appreciate the historical background on the Smith-Corona portables; it really is one of the finest typewriter designs ever, and one of the longest-lived. Cheers!

Cameron said...

You always pack so much interesting information in each one of your posts.

notagain & I live in the same general part of the world, where Fall is indeed just around the corner.

That silver Smith-Corona is the most gorgeous typewriter I've ever seen!