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Wednesday 2 November 2011

The Alpina: Great portable typewriter now packs 500 horsepower and goes from standing to 60mph in 4.5sec

Yes, the Alpina, perhaps the finest typewriter I have ever used, lives on – at least in name. While production of this magnificent “small office machine” semi-portable stopped in 1963, Dr Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen’s Bavarian typewriter factory gave birth to one of the world’s great modern cars: the 2011 BMW Alpina B7 Sedan, the latest model Alpina auto built by Dr Rudolf's son Burkard Bovensiepen.
Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen was born in Mettmann, a Rhenish town in North Rhine-Westphalia, on November 11, 1907, the son of Rudolf Bovensiepen, a doctor in law and philosophy, and Elisabeth Emma von der Goltz Bovensiepen.
Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen was born into a family which, in 1892, had taken control of the extant worldwide precision machine maker Peter Wolters, established in Mettmann in 1804 by Johann Peter Wolters (1777-1850).
Otto Rudolf’s great-grandfather Friedrich Bovensiepen, a master turner, married Wolters’ daughter Ida, and in 1881 their son Gustav Bovensiepen (1867-1951) joined the company. Gustav took over the organisation in 1892 and in 1927 established the Eisengießerei Hardenberg iron foundry in Neviges, which Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen in later life would manage.
In 1928 Gusta’s sons Hans-Friedrich and Peter Robert Bovensiepen joined the business and in 1934 they became partners with Gustav in running it. When Gustav died in 1951, Hans-Friedrich and Peter Robert took control.
Meanwhile, Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen had graduated as a doctor in law and had written books on Latin legal proverbs and divorce law reform. But machine manufacturing was in his blood and he became a partner in the small arms and ammunition manufacturing company of Kupfer und Messingwerke KG Becker & Co, Langenberg, Rheinland, specialising in brass and copper works.
As the Peter Wolters-Bovensiepen organisation rebuilt itself after World War II, Otto Rudolf found his true vocation.
In 1949, Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen established Alpina Buromaschinenwerke-Vertrieb Bovensiepen AG (below) in Kaufbeuren, a city in the Regierungsbezirk of Schwaben, southern Bavaria, enclosed in the district of Ostallgäu.

He started making typewriters in 1951 and the rounded semi-portables he produced between 1952-1961 have more than admirably stood the test of time. Today Alpinas are one of the most prized possessions of typewriter collectors worldwide.
When Bovensiepen’s son Burkard started to use Dr Rudolf’s typewriter factory to pursue his own interests, in building motor engines, Rudolf Bovensiepen in 1962 sold the rights to his typewriter, as well as the Alpina calculator, to Standard Electrik Lorenz (now Alcatel-Lucent Germany AG), a part of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation.
The Alpina typewriter continued to be made in Kaufbeuren for two more years, then its remaining assets were sold to household appliances conglomerate Vorwerk in Wuppertal.
Eventually, in 1969, the rights fell into the hands of engineer Oskar Mildner, who in 1958 had hand-made the prototype of the miniature Alpina calculating machine (above and below). Mildner was only interested in the calculator-related assets of Alpina and sold the typewriter rights and the Kaufbeuren factory to Olympia Wilhelmshaven.
Burkard Bovensiepen moved the Alpina car company from Kaufbeuren to Buchloe the next year and Mildner restored the calculator machinery (which had sat idle for nine years) and produced a further 1600 machines to the 4000 calculators previously made.
The last Alpina calculator was made in 1971 and the company was dissolved the next year. The factory was sold to the city of Kaufbeuren in 1981 and then on to the former workers.
As for Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen, he remained in Kaufbeuren but moved on to making hydrometric precision measuring instruments, for which he became even more world renowned. In the early 1970s he was a partner with metal importers W. & O. Bergmann in Dusseldorf and a partner and manager of the Bovensiepen family iron foundry Eisengießerei Hardenberg in Neviges.
It’s a shame Mildner didn’t bother himself with the Alpina typewriter as well as the calculator, for any further production would no doubt be greatly appreciated by collectors today.
Nonetheless, Dr Rudolf Bovensiepen had definitely left his mark with his typewriter. Will Davis, on the Portable Typewriter Reference Site, gives these machines a glowing tribute. Will says that “In addition to being distinctively shaped [the Alpinas] are in fact magnificently constructed … Every possible point of design was made superlative in these machines, which were certainly expensive to manufacture.”
Alpinas were imported into the US as Avonas by Jordan Marsh Department Stores, a chain which received goods from the Associated Merchandising Corporation (AMC). Alpinas were marketed as both Avonas and AMCs.
Dr Rudolf Bovensiepen was still running his office equipment company when the Alpina began its transformation from four boots to four wheels.
The change from typewriter to car production started in 1961, when Bovensiepen’s son Burkard Bovensiepen (below, born September 1, 1936) used his father’s precision components factory to make a Weber dual carburetor for the new BMW 1500.
Buoyed by the success of his investments on the stock market, Burkard took over an outbuilding at the original Alpina typewriter factory to develop his BMW tuning business, working on the carburetors and revised cylinder heads. Three years later, in 1964, the then 28-year-old business and engineering graduate came to the attention of BMW sales boss, Paul G. Hahnemann. BMW awarded the Alpina system a full factory guarantee.
Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen KG was incorporated in Kaufbeuren in 1965 and a distinctive company logo was added two years later. In 1968 Alpina ventured into touring car racing, and among the world famous drivers on its roster were Derek Bell, James Hunt, Jacky Ickx and Niki Lauda. In 1970 Alpina’s team won the European Touring Car Championship and the prestigious Spa 24 Hours. It has now returned to racing.
Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH is now based in Buchloe, in the Ostallgäu district of Bavaria, where it moved in 1970. It is run by Burkard (above) and his sons, Andreas and Florian, and among other things also incorporates a wine business.
Alpina sells its own cars, based on BMWs. Its processes are integrated into BMW's production lines, thus Alpina has from the late 1970s been recognised as an automobile manufacturer. The Alpina B7 is produced at the assembly line in Dingolfing along with BMW's own 7-Series. The engine for this year’s model, a twin-turbo 4.4-liter BMW V8, is assembled by hand at Alpina's facility in Buchloe, shipped to BMW for installation, then sent back to Alpina for finishing touches.
Although they both graduated with doctorates in law, the typewriter-making Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen is not to be confused with the notorious Nazi war criminal Otto Bovensiepen (above), who was born in Duisburg on July 8, 1905 (died February 18, 1979, in Zusmarshausen). Towards the end of World War II, this SS colonel was head of security in Denmark and was sentenced to death by the Copenhagen district court in September 1948. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in March 1950. Bovensiepen was released in December 1953. He then worked as a manager of an insurance company in Mülheim an der Ruhr . He was tried again for war crimes in a Berlin regional court in December 1969, but after a heart attack was declared incapable of standing trial.
I have been fortunate enough to acquire two Alpinas. The first, serial number 63089 (made in 1956) came from New Zealand, where I bought it on TradeMe. After reading Will Davis’s tribute to the Alpina, I determined I had to have one, just to experience typing with it, if nothing else. I was delighted with the purchase.
But I then hankered after a later model Alpina, one with what Will described as “the milky-white solid nylon carriage return lever”. Patience paid off and one turned up on eBay Australia earlier this year.
It has the serial number 249121, but Will says “Official records end with serial number 242,000 at the end of 1960; with production about 40,000 units per year”, so I guess this must one of the last Alpinas ever made (although AMC Alpinas with serial numbers in the 300,000s are owned by Will and Richard Polt). Anyway, again, this one was in fantastic condition, but it really was the typing action which most impressed me. I don’t think I’ve ever typed on a better machine. So for that alone, thank you, Dr Otto Rudolf Bovensiepen


Richard P said...

They are great typewriters, to be sure. Recently I sold my later Alpina (AMC), but purchased an earlier one that looks like yours, with the same great paint.

maschinengeschrieben said...

Sounds like it's a real shame that here in Switzerland they're about no Alpina's, due to the popularity of Hermes...

Duffy Moon said...

Great write-up. This machine is atop my To Acquire list.

(By "this machine" I naturally mean the typing machine, not the high-end racing machine. What the heck would I do with one of those?!)

Adwoa said...

Great exposé, and rekindles my longing to try one of these fine machines! I occasionally kick myself for having passed on the one I found in a thrift store in January, but the color was rather drab (Viking Grey, was it? haha) and the size was intimidating. I'll tell myself I'm holding out for one of those later two-toned beauties... those are just magnificent.

teeritz said...

Robert, nice to see you posting again and a great write-up on a beaut looking typer.
Welcome back.

♥Sanne said...

Hai hai,

i'm Sanne from holland. I have since taday a alpina 265983! Where can i find from witch year it is? I have found the site data base but can't find the serial number. Can you help me?

Greets Sanne

♥Sanne said...

Hello Richard,

i like to post a new comment. I was really happy because i'm the proud new owner of the Alpine Typewriter. It's not that i'm crazy of typewriters... I just love old things. I've seen more typewriters but never good enough that I wanted to buy it. The look of the Alpina with the soft collers en the nylon lever and also the soft green suitcase... made me wanted to buy it. So I paid 2.50 for it in euros and i was just curious what it's worth and how old it is. So i looked on the internet but i don't understand the serial number
265983. What that tells me about his birth year? Is it made by Dr. Rudolf Bovensiepen or Burkard Bovensiepen? How much is it worth? How rare are they? Richard Well this is my story. I hope you would be so kind and take the time to awnser my questions. My email is If you like a can mail you a picture?

Thank you

friendly greetings


Anonymous said...

Comment to maschinengeschrieben:
HERMES typewriters are a real engineering achievement, especially the 3000 series.
Here in Israel they are very popular and are considered robust
and comfortable and not less important: very easy to maintain and fix if they ever break. In a proper use, they never break. they (HERMES 3000 typewriter series) flourish here despite the dust, humidity and sun of the middle-east. The Switzerland industry should be proud of themselves for developing such a great typewriter as the legendary HERMES 3000. Here in Israel they are considered a true delight!!!e

Anonymous said...

A small interesting note about the logo of Alpina...
Seems exactly the same as an Italian car manufacturer founded in 1955, the Autobianchi!
Maybe Alpina was first but they seems really identical.
Check it here:

badger said...

Serial number 293022 is with me here in Australia; an SK24 with QWERTZ keyboard, two-tone grey with cream accents and the nylon carriage return. So numbers certainly go that far at least. 1962 (or possibly '63) I guess.

Nick said...

Serial number 270895 (SK24 - QWERTY) is now mine here in Adelaide, but was originally in Glen Innes, NSW.
The previous owner must also have had SK24 Serial number 227485, as ther factory warrant card for that one was also with this one.

Unknown said...

Good day Robert!

I wanted to thank you for posting your enthusiasm over the Alpina.

I haven't written with a typewriter since Word came upon the world, and am embarking on a series of children's works.

Last week, as I was working though an idea, my four vintage pockets watches ticked away on my desk, and reminded me that they keep nearly perfect time with their simple yet precise mechanics, and even though their ages span from 1795 to 1911, they are just as soulful as when they were first conceived.

My fascination over things with stories, things with gears, things that require human touch to make them do something, came to the surface, and I thought about typewriters.

After days of researching the brands, histories, and resurgence amongst other humans who find magic within these mechanical marvels, I came upon your blog post.

I was on the case for an Alpina, and was lucky to find one fully refurbished by a seller in Poland.

I bought it on the spot, and will touch it in a few weeks, here in Southern Maine where I live.

Thank you, Robert, for expressing your love and enthusiasm for this machine with such clarity.

This particular Alpina will ride again, and I will do my very best to hold on!


Unknown said...

Hi. I am new to this site. I just found one of these machines at a thrift store. Where is the serial number located?

Unknown said...

Hello. I'm new to the world of vintage typewriters - I just found an AMC at the thrift store yesterday- I was going to throw it on eBay-& then started doing some research. Where do I find the serial number on this machine?
Thank you,

Mack Brown said...

Very informative! I've managed to acquire 3 Alpinas. Two of them are SK24s, but the other is a Safety-Typer variant with a pin point typeface. I purchased the machine from Norbert Schwarz, so it now resides in the states. Will Davis wrote previously that it is a modified DT33, but in fact it is an SK33. Regardless, it's a very special and rare machine.

mcbry said...

Thanks for the background information on these special machines. I have a Spanish Alpina SK33 with serial number 313672.

Nick said...

My Alpina SK 24 Typewriter c1961 S/N 270895