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Monday 27 February 2012

Royal Standard No 5 Typewriter: A Glorious Flop?

I think the late Paul Lippman summed it up best in his 1992 book American Typewriters: A Collector's Encyclopedia. "Royal's flatbeds," Paul wrote, "ran into consumer resistance, mainly because they did not look like typewriter were 'supposed' to look."
Perhaps not, but to me it looks absolutely magnificent. Too radical, perhaps, for its day ...
Paul was also right on the money when he said, "The first Royal ... is an extraordinary departure in typewriter design of its time."
Don't worry, Edward Bernard Hess was all the while beavering away at more conventional "boxlike" typewriters as he began to accumulate his 140 typewriter patents from the late 1890s - including while he was working alongside Lee Spear Burridge and Lewis Cary Myers for the Century Machine Company of New York.
But the flatbed - something completely out of the ordinary - became his dream for the debut typewriter for his new Royal Typewriter Company, when he established it in 1904.
As you will see from the patent dates on the back of the Royal Standard (Model 1) of 1906, in this image scanned from the typewriter's handbook on Alan Seaver's Machines of Loving Grace website, Hess started taking out patents on it in June 1901.
By August that year he had the machine, and its typing action, pretty much worked out:
Hess seldom if ever took out a single patent covering an overall typewriter design. He preferred to take out patents as he made each step of the way toward fully developing his machines. Here, in May 1902, is further progress on the Royal Standard (which Hess preferred to call a "writing machine" rather than the then standard "type-writer").
Paul Lippman was right and the Royal Standard did not enjoy the commercial success it deserved. Undaunted, Hess re-designed the machine between its launch in 1905 and 1907. The much improved Standard No 5 was launched in 1911.
My Royal Standard No 5, with the serial number 139539-5 was made in 1912.
Paul Robert at the Virtual Typewriter Museum says Hess "had from the beginning aimed at building the ultimate visible writer. His first patents dealt with a nine-bar typewriter with revolving sleeves, each carrying nine characters. Hess himself decided that his invention was a 'freak', and it was never built*. He went on to improve existing machines and by 1923 he was reported to have collected more than 140 different patents dealing with typewriter technology.
"By 1910, even the backside of his Royal 1 was barely big enough to list the patents covering this first machine."
My Royal Standard No 5 came with a large, shiny black metal cover. The model also had leather case - this one is from the Guy PĂ©rard collection at -
*I will be looking at the "ultimate visible" typewriter to which Paul refers in one of my next few posts. Hess worked on it for the Century Machine Company with Burridge, Royal company secretary Joseph Martin Stoughton, Myers and others over a number of years, before abandoning it.


Richard P said...

I love the flatbed design too. It couldn't have encountered THAT much resistance, because the machines are still fairly common today. Of course, then the bigger model 10 became a huge seller.

Bill M said...

That is one beautiful typewriter! I love the stair step design of the housing.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Richard and Bill. The sales are hard to guage from the serial numbers, but I agree it must have sold reasonably well. But then the 10 did overshadow it. I couldn't agree more, Bill, the steps are what have always attracted me to this typewriter.

rn said...

I, too, am intrigued by the great ziggurat profile. But it seems impractical for human hands to type on. I've got a 1911 No. 5 with a Polish keyboard (no jokes, please) half taken apart on my office floor. I'll be able to report back once I fabricate a new metal spring and put it all back together.

Dwayne F. said...

As usual, a great story about a great machine. I like the design. The only ones I've seen in person were pretty beat up.

A friend of mine just sent an original print of the Royal Final Adjustment Department in Hartford, CT circa 1908. The shelves and benches are full of what appear to be No. 5s - some with serial numbers on their covers. I'll send you a copy of the scan when I get around to pulling the print out of the frame.

I'm trying to confirm where she got the print.

AuthorMegNorth said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm writing a novel set in 1906 with a girl who receives a typewriter like this. It helped tremendously to see the actual machine and such large detailed photos, plus the technical drawings. Thank you!

bret said...

Thank You Robert, for creating this .
post on the Royal 'flatbeds'.
I just purchased a Royal Standard NO. 5 with a serial number about a little more than 15000 lower than yours. From what I can tell it puts it around September 1912 production.
It's in sweet condition, but I have chosen to have it service and lubed by someone who has worked on this style typewriter before (yes I know a couple). I chose this model for doing a living history impression as a WW1 U.S. Army company clerk in France 1918.
And this model was only about 22lbs or 2/3 of the weight of other typewriters of the era. I'm building a light wooden case for it to fit in a period canvas duffel case to strap on the back of my 1911 military bicycle (which has oil lamps for head light and taillight). Going all out for the impression...
I also have my dad's old Royal he used during WW2 (as a real U.S. Army company clerk).
Guess I'm old school, I still have a phonograph, LPs and German tube radios too. Somethings are just too cool to give up!

Anonymous said...

Curious to know about the sales numbers; I've never seen those or anything else to back up the often-repeated claim that Royal's #1 or #5 didn't sell well. They clearly sold enough to carry the company through to the #10.