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Monday 21 October 2013

The Amazing Masspro Portable Typewriter: 'Grandson' of the Standard Folding

As we headed along Route 50 toward Clarksburg, West Virginia, Richard Polt suddenly tossed me what is known in cricketing terms as a "googly" - colloquially a "wrong 'un", a "Bosie" (as in Bernie Bosanquet). I wasn't expecting it and it more than momentarily stumped me.
"So what's at the top of your 'wish list' now?" Richard asked, in all innocence.
I fumbled the answer. In Richard's case, most of us are familiar with his "Ten Most Wanted List" on his The Classic Typewriter Page. For yonks now, his No 1 has been the Sphinx, for which we are all desperately searching for him. I guess my own list went way beyond just 10 (and this was, after all, before I'd seen the Herman Price Collection). It was thus a lot more muddled and muddied in my mind.
A few hours later, in the Chestnut Ridge Typewriter Museum in Fairmont, I felt myself being magnetically drawn toward a cabinet and inside it a tiny typewriter I had never heard of, let alone seen before.
This photo was taken when I finally got game enough to take Herman's Masspro out of its cabinet. In the image above, of the green Masspro still in its cabinet, there is a black version behind it.
Sensing my utter fascination with this totally unexpected find, Herman Price was as ever generous to a fault. "Open up the cabinet," he said. "Take it out".
I was afraid to. It might be a mere 5.5lb in its case, but it looked like the crown jewel of portable typewriters to me.
I sidled over to Richard. "Remember you asked me about my wish list?" I murmured.
"Yes," he said.
"Well, I've just found No 1. I'm in love. That's the most beautiful typewriter I have ever seen."
The Rochester is, of course, closely related to Kidder's Noiseless.
To each his own, Richard was no doubt thinking. And yes, as I had explained to Richard on the trip to Morgantown, my own desire was the almost certainly unattainable, a tiny typewriter like Kidder's Rochester (was it ever made?) or something similar from the drawing board of Max Garbell. As small, as simple, as compact and yet as fully functional as it was humanly possible to make.
Richard laughed when I pointed to the three strikingly different coloured examples of the Masspro in Herman's cabinets. "Well," he said, "they're not a great typewriter, and they're not that easy to find, at least not in this country."
Then Richard really did bowl me over. "It's a George Rose design," he said. It was, in other words, the "grandson" of the Standard Folding!
 A young George Rose
Now I thought I knew something about the typewriters designed by the Rose family. I had extensively researched and written about George's father, Franklin Sebastian Rose, inventor of the Standard Folding portable, which was to morph into the Corona 3, one of the greatest typewriters ever made. On the strength of the Standard Folding alone, but also with the efforts that George Rose and his widowed mother Catherine Rose had made to ensure the Standard Folding went into production, the Roses deserve to rank high among the typewriter first families. Then there was the work George had put into the Standard Folding before it became the Corona 3.
I felt like a proper dill when I realised, in Richard's presence, that I had long allowed myself to labour under the misconception that George Rose had been unsuccessful in his attempts to produce a typewriter in his own right. Indeed, that I had written a blog post last December titled, "Son of Rose Fails to Rise." Oh dear, what a fool! How had I missed this? I wondered aloud. I knew George had patented 11 typewriter designs, but believed that "None of his machines appear to have been made."
Richard Polt's Masspro.
Not alone had George Rose designed his own typewriter, a distinctive departure from the Standard Folding (though the Masspro has often been compared to the Corona 3), but it was my complete dream machine. Why? Later, as I stood in the narrow corridors of Herman's museum  being interviewed by Doug Nichol for his upcoming typewriter movie, I nervously held one of Herman's Masspros in one hand and tried to explain why it held a fatal attraction for me. I spoke of the Underwood 3, a portable for which I have felt an unwavering admiration for many years now. From my right, a hand appeared (Herman's), offering an Underwood 3. Briefly I had a Masspro in my left mit and an Underwood 3 in my right. Talk about heaven on a stick!
Richard Polt's Masspro in his office.
Later, in Richard Polt's office at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Richard allowed me to take a very close look at his Masspro. I vowed then and there to investigate the history of the Masspro as thoroughly as I could, once I returned to Australia.
My brief typecast with Richard's Masspro
And when I did, yet another surprise was in store for me. George Rose designed the Masspro in 1921, but it wasn't manufactured until 1932, 11 years later!  That beats by far the four-year delay between Lee Spear Burridge designing (unassigned) the Underwood 3 just before his death in 1915 and it not being made until 1919.
The first patent, applied for in late 1921, was granted in early 1925.
The second patent was issued in 1926.
There were two patents for this design, granted in 1928 and 1929 (above). 
This much later improvement was applied for in 1933 and not issued until 1937.
It would seem that the Masspro design sat on a shelf gathering dust until The Depression had set in and along came a company which wanted to "mass produce" a small, very basic typewriter and market it very cheaply. The Masspro was offered for sale for a mere $25.50. But apparently, because it was the by-then outmoded three-bank with double shift style of portable, it didn't sell, even at that low price.
Bear in mind here that when George Rose designed this machine, the three-bank Corona and Underwood portables were still very much in vogue and the first Remington portable, with four-banks, had only just come on to the market. It wasn't until the mid-1920s that Corona and Underwood followed Remington in making four-bank portables. Therefore, Rose's design wasn't so much outmoded at the time he patented it, but was by the time the Masspro was made. Events beyond Rose's control had overtaken it.
As for the Mass Production Corporation of 150 Broadway, New York City, and later 150 Baldwin Avenue, Jersey City, nothing except for the name and these addresses is known. It seems to have been as short-lived as the Masspro.  And yet in 1933 George Rose was still working on improvements to the Masspro, his patents not being issued until 1937, by which time the Masspro was, very sadly, already long dead and buried.
The Masspro in Rehr's book.
Far be it for me to make excuses for not knowing about the Masspro, but the timing of its eventual production meant that it was not mentioned in typewriter histories until Ernst Martin after the war, then by Paul Lippman (1991), Darryl Rehr (1997) and Michael Adler (1973 and 1997), which may go some way toward explaining how it slipped under my guard.
Martin wrote, "The appearance of this machine in America shows that even at that time in the US, the purchasing power of the public was very weak, otherwise a company would not have taken over the production of a three-bank machine, which was then regarded as a style long outdated. The shiny parts are chrome-plated. The machine proved virtually identical to the three-row Corona ..."
Martin ended his Masspro entry with the words, "Später wurde sie mit Umschalter und Wagenlöser an beiden Seiten geliefert, der Wagen mit Kugellager", which I can't quite grasp.
Lippman said George Rose "chose a bad time to introduce the Masspro". But of course he didn't, that was out of his control. "The Masspro is of modest interest to collectors except for its association with Rose."
Rehr wrote that the "obscure" Masspro is an example of an "uncommon machine which has little value due to the indifference of most collectors".  If I found these words unpalatable, Adler's dismissal was downright offensive - and highly inaccurate!
Adler said the Masspro was of "no intrinsic interest other than the inventor ... or rather his father [Frank S.Rose]. If it is price higher than $20-$30 [to a late 1990s collector] forget the father." Poor old Frank, by that time 92 years dead, would have been rolling in his grave! How rude! The Roses should NEVER be forgotten, but always revered in typewriter circles.
Well, if any of the Roses are up there in Typewriter Heaven, let them know I love this little typewriter! It is breathtakingly gorgeous.
George Francis Rose was still around until just five years before Adler's first book came out. George died in New York City in June 1968, aged 89. He was born in Cobleskill, New York, on August 1, 1878. In 1923 Typewriter Topics wrote of him, “ … the [Standard Folding] manufacturing plant being [in 1907-08] in charge of George F.Rose, still a figure of prominence in inventive capacity living for the most part on his farm at Hyndsville, New York.” “The father [Frank] would probably have contributed still further to the art [of typewriter making] had he lived to see his first practical typebar portable typewriter such a successful article of economic value as it exists today in Corona, but the mantle in failing upon the shoulders of the son suffered no discontinuance in activity in carrying out of plans and the Rose Typewriter Company was formed."
Typewriter Topics, October 1918
Typewriter Topics, December 1920
Apart from making occasional visits to New York City from his farm in Hyndsville, north of NYC and west of Albany, toward the end of World War I Rose was with the Aircraft Production Board, doing research and experimental work in Washington DC. In later life he moved back into Manhattan and then West 181th Street, working as a mechanical engineer for a tool manufacturing company. 


Bill M said...

Thanks for the interesting post on a very interesting typewriter. I have never heard nor seen a Maspro before now. Sure is a nice looking typewriter.

Steve Snow said...

Anything resembling a Corona 3 and/or 4 is a fine looking typewriter and the Masspro (which I've also never heard of), is, in the words of Richie Benaud; 'absolutely marvellous'

Anonymous said...

UNESCO World Heritage status for Robert Messenger's enthusiasm?

Richard P said...

Great research, as ever! I'm glad that you got introduced to these little cuties as part of your American tour.

The quote from Martin says, "Later it was furnished with shift keys and carriage release on both sides, and the carriage was mounted on ball bearings."

This made me take another look at the photos, and I noticed something new! As you can see, Herman's colored machines have CAP and FIG shift keys only on the left. Mine has CAP keys on both left and right. Evidently it's one of the later machines, and again, Ernst Martin is vindicated. My serial number is only 002707, suggesting that maybe a couple of thousand examples of the earlier design were made before they made the changes.

Too bad that the machine couldn't be produced in the '20s when it still would have seemed modern enough.

Rob Bowker said...

I can see your enthusiasm for this. The 'wide-mouth frog' appearance should have tipped you off to a Rose connection maybe? But is it really such an awful typer? For cuteness, it surpasses even the little Underwood 3 banks.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Bill, Steve, Travelling Typist, Richard and Rob for your kind words about this post.
I have since found a brief "typecast" using Richard's Masspro and have added that the the post. I thought I had typed with it but couldn't find the evidence at first - then it turned up this morning among my other "souvenirs" from Cincinnati and Fairmont.
Richard, I am delighted to have been able to add something to the knowledge of the history of your machine, and all Masspros. It's a long and painful exercise for me to translate Martin, so thanks for sorting that out for me, I thought you might. As you say, the number for the first model is incredibly small - no wonder they are hard to find!
I find it interesting that earlier historians assumed the machine was designed around 1932, and queried a three-bank at that time, while in my case, knowing of the design of 1921,I just assumed it was never made.
Rob is right, the frontespiece is a giveaway, and other historians have all commented on the likeness to the Corona 3. But I didn't really take that in at first, I was just so excited seeing this typewriter for the first time. I suppose you say it's what a Corona 3 would look like if it didn't have a folding carriage. Comparisons with the "sat back" Fox will be interesting - what for that post soon!
I agree with Richard and Rob, it's the cuteness as much as anything that appeals.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this amazing article. I have a masspro for sale and didn't know how rare and fascinating it really is. (I will certainly raise the price after this!). Very interesting and complete!! Thank you!