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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Jean Alfred Hitter's Pocket Typewriter

I was delighted to receive through the real mail yesterday a catalogue from Auction Team Breker in Cologne for its speciality auction a fortnight today, November 19.
The large and colourful catalogue contains listings for 79 beautiful old typewriters, ranging from a starting price of 5000 euros ($US6894.50, $A6646 at today’s rate of exchange for the unsteady euro) for a first model of Byron Alden Brooks’s 1888 Crown index (see below) to 40 euros ($US55.15, $A53.17) for red and green 1931 Everest Mod 90s.
Near the top of my own wish list would be, at a starting price of 3000 euros ($US4136.70,$A3987.60), an extremely rare English index typewriter designed in 1887 by two Yorkshiremen, commercial traveller Arthur Ernest Wynn, of Ilkley (born Beverley, York, England, December 7, 1853) and Henry Dobson, of Hull.
This is the famous miniature pocket typewriter, the Polyglotte, which was manufactured by John Waugh in the Swan Arcade in Bradford, England, and marketed in France by Bonnet and Company, Paris.
It measures 10cm by 7cm and weights 4.4oz (125 grams). The main backer of the enterprise was a Yorkshire wool merchant, Archie Bailey Balfour.
Wynn and Dobson patented their tiny machine in England, Belgium and France in late 1887. Then Wynn alone applied for a patent for improvements to the design of his “type-writing machine” in the United States on February 23, 1889 (issued October 7, 1890).
Although the Wynn and Dobson was possibly the first pocket typewriter produced, Wynn was way behind Jean Alfred Hitter Jr in patenting such a thing in the US.
Hitter was issued with his patent on this day in 1878, 133 years ago today. Bear in mind this was just four years after the Sholes & Glidden appeared, and the year the Remington 2 was produced.(Jean Alfred Hitter was also known as John Alfred Hitter, but most commonly as just Alfred Hitter.)
It seems that at least a prototype of the Hitter pocket typewriter may have been made, since a detailed illustration, not included in the patent application, appeared in the Scientific American on February 15, 1879.
Later that year Hitter patented a printing telegraph. His first invention had been a punch for cutting letters, in January 1878, and in 1884 he patented an apparatus for treating fibrous plants. All three patent illustrations are seen below.
Hitter was born in St Martinville, Louisiana (“Petit Paris”, and the home of Cajun culture)), on November 4, 1848. His father, Sebastian Hitter (1812-1894), was French and his ancestors were said to have been “prominent in the French Revolution”. While Sebastian Hitter was travelling across the Atlantic to America in 1848, cholera broke out among the passengers, and of 28 sufferers he was the only survivor. Hitter’s mother, Marie Louise Geiger Hitter (born 1830), was also French.
At 16, Jean Alfred Hitter became a salesman for a mercantile establishment in New Orleans, then returned to St Martinville in 1868 to start his own mercantile business. He retired in 1882, at the tender age of 34, “embarking in other pursuits, which were attended with better success. He soon accumulated sufficient capital to put up a manufacturing and repairing establishment, where he manufactures and repairs buggies, harness, etc.” (Southwest Louisiana Biographical and Historical, Biographical Section, p336. Edited by William Henry Perrin. Published in 1891, by The Gulf Publishing Company.)
St Martinville is the site of the Evangeline Oak made famous in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem. I don’t know of any Evangeline typewriters, but we will look at an Engadine typewriter tomorrow.


Richard P said...

What an incredibly cute machine, and I was completely unaware of it.

Rob Bowker said...

3000 euro? Strewth, you could make a new one for that! Two-tone Everest 90 sounds tempting though. How lucky we are who have simple tastes.