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Saturday 1 June 2013

Typewriter Update, May 2013

Annalise Wrzeczycki, a police forensic document examiner who attended my typewriter workshop in Sydney last Sunday,  said it was "really great to see and type on such a variety of typewriters ... we all truly appreciated your efforts in sharing them with us".
Annalise wrote asking about the availability of hard-copy original samples of type from every typewriter in my collection. Well, if I keep on blogging and typecasting and don't get booted out of the Typosphere in the next 10 years, I might just make it. Probably about 350 typewriters to go!
Annalise says it would be a marvellous "library" of samples "to have for now and into the future ... I'd be keen to spend a few days typing away".
In the meantime, the Typewriter Database set up by Ted Munk would most likely be the best place to go, I should think. 
My Salem Hall's index card
One young lady at the workshop asked me what an ampersat was doing on a typewriter keyboard.
Marc Smith, a professor of palaeography at École nationale des chartes in the Sorbonne in Paris, is writing a short history of the at-sign, and is searching for the earliest typewriters with an @-key. "I have no previous knowledge of typewriter history, and have only come to realise how fascinating it is," he wrote. Marc has found close-ups of Hall index keyboards with the @, but has come to realise that they don't actually belong to the earliest, New York model. "If no Hall machine, or rather no font booklet or index plate for the machine, can be proved to have had an @ before 1883, then the earliest @ I have found seems to be on the 1883 Caligraph 3."
Anyone able to help here?
The same day I received my beautiful burgundy Triumph Norm-6 this week, a Continental portable in a similar colour arrived from Germany. At first I was mystified  because although there was clearly nothing wrong with the mainspring and drawband, the carriage wouldn't grip on the escapement rack. I held the typewriter up on its side to look down under the carriage and suddenly I heard a "clunk" on the bench. I turned the typewriter around and lo and behold, there on the bench lay the starwheel, with its screw still in it. No wonder the carriage couldn't move properly! It had nothing to move it.
OK, I do realise I can often be dumb and dumber when it comes to fixing typewriters (I'm not in Mike Clemens' class for patience and persistence, I'm afraid). But I thought to myself, "No problems, I'll just reattach the starwheel". I could see where it screwed in, through the back rail, but needed to take the carriage off to reattach it. Only then, and when I went to screw it back in (and nothing happened) did the penny finally drop. Oh dear!
The reason the screw wouldn't go back in is that part of it was still in the starwheel, held very firmly in place on the far side of the rail by a nut with a tiny wire through it. The screw had snapped in two inside the starwheel!
My questions are these: Can I simply find another same-size screw, or is the wire through the nut vital in fixing this? And is this lovely typewriter beyond repair? I hope not.
One more positive upshot of the help I got from Peter Muckermann in Germany to secure my Monpti portable typewriter was that I became a member of the Internationales Forum Historische Bürowelt e.V., which means I will now be receiving the IFHB's fascinating magazine Historische Bürowelt and its near-monthly HBw-Aktuell (edited by Peter), which has English translations.
Tim Miller, son of a 1960s California printer, has his father's Vari-Typer Model 160 and Model 720, which his dad packed and stored in the basement for 30 odd years. "I'm trying to figure out what to do with them," says Tim. "Are there collectors or museums you might suggest contacting regarding a possible sale or donation?"
Lígia Ferros in Portugal would like to know what model Remington he has. He thinks it is an 11. I do too. I saw one of these, sold in Switzerland, in my hometown of Greymouth in New Zealand at Easter.
Anyone like me look at a completed eBay typewriter auction, spot the line "More chances to get what you want", and see something you think you really, really want? Oh, dear, temptation, temptation.
I got this badge from a dealer in France. Maybe I should forward it on to Rob Bowker in England in recognition of his marvellous efforts in so slavishly drinking (delicious beer) and typing up such excellent reviews.
Englishman Neil Fletcher snapped up a typewriter on eBay for his wedding reception next November. For £25 he got himself a bit of a surprise bargain. A Yverdon-made Hermes 2000 labelled an Empire Junior and sold through Fred Mawle's British Typewriters Company in West Bromwich as "Office Equipment Distributors".  Is it possible that, during the World War II years, the BTC had its typewriters made in neutral Switzerland?
A few more interesting eBay sales:
This Odell sold for 940 euros ($A1256). I was sorely tempted.
There were no bids at 590 euros ($A788) on this gorgeous Pittsburgh Visible with the detachable typebasket and keyboard. 
There were 15 bids, however, for the Chicago, which sold for $A870.
The McCool No 2 was listed for $US9000.
This 1888 Byron Brooks-designed Crown with accented lower-case letters was originally listed for $US8000 and didn't sell. However, when re-listed at $US7000 today, it either sold at that price or went in a private sale pretty quickly.
The seller of this machine tried to advertise its sale through a comment on this blog, without first consulting me. I deleted the comment immediately. This is a privately-run blog, not an open forum or a typewriter sales site, and I do not allow people to use it for their own purposes, to advertise typewriter sales, without my approval.
This fantastic chrome Corona understandably attracted 20 bids and sold for $A660. But what's with the shiny, super-smooth platen?
The same Berlin seller who sold me my African mahogany Rheinmetall managed to get 17 bids and a healthy $A212.50 for this well-presented Schmitt Express Bakelite portable. This seller, Javier Presedo ("laexclusiva2007"), presents his typewriters very well, with plenty of good, clear images (I don't mind the pink surface, although I could do without the kitschy clock in the background ) and a video of him typing with the machine in question.
Another of the African mahogany Rheinmetalls came up for sale on German eBay at about the same time I bought mine (there are now two listed). I was blocked from bidding on it but the auction ran its course and, to all intends and purposes, it was sold, at a very reasonable price (about 70 or 80 euros from memory), to someone else. Surprise, surprise - I was personally notified today it had been relisted! Suspicious?  You betcha I am. Sadly, however, I don't find this unusual behaviour on German eBay. Most items are listed for internal sales only, but sellers are generally cooperative and communicative. But when overseas buyers express an interest, anything can happen and sometimes does.
My thanks, by the way, to Vilhelm Dromberg in Finland for his tip about bidding on German eBay.
One of the good things to come out of buying typewriters on German eBay was that one of the sellers I exchanged messages with, Conny, wants a pen pal so she can improve her English (which is none too bad). In my case it would have to be a typewriter pal, I'm afraid.
Yet another Brother variation, this time a French Japy:
While on this subject, the Olivetti Dora, as I have said before, has to run Brother close for the record number of model name variations. Two weeks ago I received a Ventura and I have just bought a yellow Olivetti Dora labelled a Mercedes. Here are yet two more, the Reader's Digest 2000 and the Lettera 31T:
But how is this for a variation? An upright, "begging dog" Hammond No 12! (I think you'll pretty easily detect what it really is - Richard Polt alerted us to these "models"):
There was a very high price on this Olivetti Lettera 22 ($A245) with the embossed name on the paper plate, but I was almost tempted by the case alone. I'd never seen one like this before. I think it's a shame Olivetti cut costs with its vinyl cases. Mind you, the body-shaped cases did look stylish and from ample experience of lugging these around the world (25 years) I can vouch for the fact that they were sturdy enough and very handy to use. The later square-edged case was a cheap and nasty disgrace.
I can't recall where I saw these images, but this badgeless Blickensderfer looks like it has a multi-lingual keyboard - and an array of different language typewheels:
This Blick 7 has a nameplate I hadn't seen before - it seems to simply say "Blick London", not 9-10 Cheapside. The keytops look different, too:
Somehow, walking into a flea market in London in 1968 and finding a Blick 5 for sale appeals to me. But, then, in 1968 I would have had absolutely no idea what I was looking at. Typewriter collecting has come a long way in 45 years. I wonder what price was on it?
A Remington typewriter delivery boy has ridden down from "Remington House" on Elizabeth Street and seems to be on the inside lane signalling to veer right in Martin Place, Sydney, in the 1930s. Didn't Remington (Australia) take a wrong turn somewhere about here?
For goodness sake, if you are going to sell a typewriter on eBay, and want to make a few quid out of it, wouldn't it be worth your while spending a few minutes cleaning up the machine? Even just superficially? Like, running a hose over it?
It got four bids and sold for $5.
Starting price $200, "buy it now" for $300!
Starting price $550! No takers. Relisted today at $300.
This is going straight to the pool room.
Two bids, sold for $1.25
Australians are far from being alone in this. Below is a Mignon listed on German eBay, for which the starting price was 199 euros. On German eBay, Mignons in good condition almost qualify for the expression "a dime a dozen" (though not quite!).
I must admit I was tempted, at that price, by the Remington portable shown above. I thought it might be interesting to find out whether it could be restored to a presentable, working state. In the end I didn't bid, but through another typewriter, I found out what the experience would have been like.
At what point does one "give up" on an old typewriter? I bought this "Great Antique" Empire Aristocrat from a Mount Druitt, Sydney, seller, thinking it looked (at least in the many close-up listing images) to be in reasonably good shape for the price ($20). When it arrived, it still looked outwardly OK. The seller had said, "Selling as found in uncle's estate.
"Some keys are a bit stiff but a bit of TLC should fix easily. Everything seems to be working except for the stiffness in the keys."
Generally this proved to be the case. But as for the keys being "a bit stiff"? "A bit stiff", that is, like George Mallory failing to reach the summit of Mount Everest after climbing 28,000 feet? "A bit stiff" like Captain Smith chancing upon a lone iceberg on the Titanic's maiden voyage? "A bit stiff" like VERY, VERY bloody stiff!
The typebars didn't reach more than about a half way to the printing point. It wasn't stiffness - they were jamming hard. As I worked on the typebars, I seemed to take one step forward and two back. No sooner had I got them reaching the printing point than the machine would return to its former stubborn self.  The extent of the corrosion in it started to become more and more apparent.
I decided to take it apart, especially to get in behind the typebasket to clean it up. As I did so, the muck inside the machine, especially along the carriage rails, was increasingly glaring. This wasn't just surface rust, this was very serious gunking. The mainspring ceased up, and taking it off showed that the corrosion on its sides simply wouldn't allow it to turn.
In the end I had taken so much off the machine, to try to clean it up bit by bit, that I unconsciously passed a turning point. This, I finally conceded to myself, was a machine no longer worth bothering with. I hate to "give up" on old typewriters, and be forced to turn them into spare parts machines. But in this case I believe I had no option. This typewriter was truly buggered. 
This bit was floating around loose inside the machine.
A new typewriter seller on the block in Australia, based in Adelaide, knows how to present a typewriter and write an honest, straight forward description, one which thankfully avoids all the stupid nonsense of fellow South Australians ("funky, atomic" etc). His first item, a repainted Olivetti Lettera 32, sold for $83. It went to an eight-year-old who was writing stories on a computer but then discovered his favourite author wrote on a typewriter. He decided he wanted to write his stories on a typewriter as well and saved up for one. He has been telling all his school friends that he bought a typewriter - apparently his friends have no idea what that is.
Mention of young men of this age with writing ambitions leads me to this question: Who, in your opinion, is the best speller in the Typosphere? Ryan Adney? Ken Coghlan (see The God of Grammar)? I know who I'd pick. This guy has saved me many blushes over the years (and caused me quite a few along the way!). I was hardly surprised, then, to find that in May 1975, aged just 10 1/2, my friend won a spelling competition among sixth-grade students at 22 schools in his area (in the US). Can you pick who he is?


Bill M said...

Those are some nice looking old machines.

I have run across some of the extremely dirty and rusty ones on Ebay and Craiglist here. I do not think I would ever attempt to get one.

I do have a Corona that is more gunked up than your Empire Aristocrat. I bought it for parts and Scott K has been the recipient of some of them.

You hit on something with your star wheel problem. I have an old Royal Companion sitting on the waiting to be restored pile for a few years. It looks fine, but the carriage will not advance. I looked at the mainspring, drawband and escapement. All look fine. I wonder...should I take the escapement apart and check the screw.

Great post.

Scott K said...

Straight to the pool room indeed!

As for the wire thought the nut, that is a locking wire that was insterted to stop the nut rotating due to vibration or tension.

Is the wire important? Sort of. But these days you can get nylon inserted 'lock nuts', or use a compound called loctite which would allow you bond nuts into place, without such wires. Naturally, the wire would hold it more securely, but drilled bolts - as you can see, are compromised in strength.

shordzi said...


Scott K said...

And... That Empire looks like it has been in a house fire!

TonysVision said...

My goodness, there is enough interesting reading material in this post to last me for a week!

Regarding your Continental Nutcracker, there was a recent thread on the Yahoo Portable Typewriter Forum regarding how best to prepare and pack typewriters for shipment. In doing a bit of research on that subject I learned that some recommend completely mechanically freeing the carriage (and then of course securing it with plastic wrap). The idea I assumed was to prevent jarring from damaging the carriage lock or the escapement. I'm wondering, then, if that's what did in the Continental's starwheel?

Richard P said...

What a surprise! How the $#*(& did you find that picture? That's eerie.

The platen on that chromed Smith Corona is PVC tubing of just the right size and hardness, the seller tells me.

A very generous and entertaining news roundup.

L Casey said...

I have to wonder when that seller will lower the price of that McCool down to a reasonable amount. Someone is SURE to buy it...but not for 9K!

I can only IMAGINE how long it would take you to type sample sentences with all of your typewriters. Quite a feat, indeed!

I always love the 'How to NOT sell a typewriter' segments of these posts. Hilarious.

Also, you asked about the super-smooth platen on the chrome plated SCM. It is what the seller calls a 'turbo platen'. He removes the original rubber of the platen, and then replaces it with PVC tubing. It's supposed to hold up rather well and be soft and supple to boot! I have seen so many of his machines for sale on the 'Bay, and he really does a fantastic job. If he only did Olympias, I might just have to buy one...

Miguel Chávez said...

What an amazing post!

I agree with Scott. The idea of the wire around the bolt is to prevent the nut from loosening due to vibration and the rotating movement of the star wheel. You should be capable of removing the wire and nut, though I'm intrigued at how firmly held it is inside the wheel. If you manage to remove the broken end of the bolt, make sure to take both parts to a local hardware store so that the teller can measure the piece: not only its lenght, but also the thread, in case the bolt threads inside the wheel itself too.

Good luck with the repair!

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert

Commiserations on your loss :(

Thanks for all the info on my typewriter, it was much appreciated :)
Once the wedding is over, would any collectors be interested in my "empire junior"? Happy to donate it to a collection as it is quite rare, all I ask is for whoever wants it to pay the postage.

Neil F.