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Friday 1 November 2013

Typewriter Update, October 2013

Clément Gault Collection
This month's Typewriter Update will be somewhat truncated, since I spent some of the month on my Odyssey to Ohio, my "Alice in Typewriter Wonderland" trip to Cincinnati and West Virginia, and missed a lot of what was going on back home in Oz.
I saw SO many typewriters while in the United States, I can't now recall whether among them was a Gritzner lettering machine - either in Herman Price's Chestnut Ridge Typewriter Museum or in Richard Polt's collections at his home and at his office at Xavier University, or both. I do know Richard has two, and as Gritzners have been on my mind since my return from Stateside, I suspect I did see one in Cincinnati.
Different models of these Gritzners (most 1960s machines) appear to be coming up for sale on a fairly regular basis these days, so I imagine there must have been a goodly number of them made. As of today, there are Gritzners available in online auctions or from typewriters sellers in New Zealand, Belgium, Holland, Germany and the United States. To buy one in good condition, however, will make a sizeable dent in the wallet - usually around $400 or more. Indeed, most Gritzner items have a healthy price on them, whether they be old sewing machines or motor cycles or simply posters.
With regard to original sales of Gritzner lettering typewriters in the US, it is interesting to note that the (typewritten) Securities and Exchange Commission News Digest reported in early February 1969 that, "Mechanical Enterprises Inc [of] Alexandria, Virginia [president Robert H.Twyford] ... was formed in 1960 for the primary purpose of developing and selling a two-component system designed to type symbols not found on the typewriter keyboard. Efforts by the company since that time to establish compatible product lines have not been successful, due in large measure, according to the prospectus, to the lack of necessary funding. Of the net proceeds of its stock sale, $340,000 will be used for further development, tooling, manufacture and promotion of two new products and $115,000 for promotion advertising and sales on behalf of the Gritzner lettering typewriter (a German import) ..."
Gritzners are interesting machines. They are variously called "blueprint typewriters", "platenless typewriters", "architect's typewriters" or "labelling typewriters". The idea is that they were to be used by architects and draughtsmen for writing on technical drawings on drawingboards.
Arnold Betzwiser Collection
Arnold Betzwiser explains that the Gritzner runs "on a track that could be moved at the drawing board as a ruler. Unlike normal typewriters, the Gritzner has no carriage, but writes directly on to the flat writing surface of the construction drawing. At each keystroke, the machine moves by rail over the paper to a character width to the right. A long drawing mechanism is affixed to one longitudinal side of the rail and runs over a deflecting roller to the other side of the rail, attached to the machine base by a coil spring. The switch to uppercase letters is similar to the Elliott-Fisher book typewriter. Each type lever has two characters and is provided with a small lever extension which can be tilted. When pressing the shift key, a small semi-circular metal plate pushes into the path of the type lever. Just before impact, the type touches a small ink pad."
Underneath a Gritzner one will see reference from the manufacturers to the "System Butter". This refers to the device on the back of the keyboard and typebasket, which was designed by Otto Butter, of Neckargernund, Walter llrmscher, of Mauer, near Heidelberg, and Rolf Kaiser, of Heidelberg. Butter was a prolific German mechanical designer who developed a series of drawingboard writing and drawing machines, assigned to Gesellschaft für Industrielle Technik mbH, Heidelberg-Pfaffengrund. The Gritzners were made by GM Pfaff AG Karlsruhe.
While the origins for these machines may appear to be with the Elliott bookwriting typewriter (that is, Elliott-Hatch, Elliott-Fisher, Underwood-Elliott-Fisher et al; the unusual shift design on these is similar, if not exactly the same), a more direct precedent was a fascinating design by a young American, Charles William Dohn (1918-), a New York City engineer who applied for a patent for his idea in 1946 (it was issued in 1949).
This was for a "platenless typewriter". Dohn's machine was never made, but Butter and his co-designers picked up on the Dohn idea and applied some practicalities to it, such as the key movement and inking, and patented the Gritzner in 1963. See the patent here.
Going even further back, Butter adopted the key-operated type lever design of Californian John Bennett Underwood's 1928 "pocket typewriter" - another machine which was, sadly, never made. See my post on what I dubbed the "Venus" typewriter here. Butter also cited Prussian-born Ohioan Charles Friedrich LaGanke's 1907 design of the Elliott-Fisher. (LaGanke, a superintendent of a Cleveland typewriter factory, also helped redesign the Hall index in 1887. See my post on this here.) Typospherians might enjoy reading the Elliott-Fisher text book here. As well, Butter acknowledged a 1908 drafting machine design which incorporated a book typewriter, from Fred William Groby (1857-1921) of New York.
Yet another typewriter-related design Gritzner-Kayser really liked was the 1916 typewriter case patented by Southwell Willman (1867-1951) of Spokane. See my post on it here.
The Gritzner brand name dates back to the Maschinenfabrik Gritzner company in Karlsruhe, Durlach, Baden-Württemberg, founded in 1872 by Maximilian Carl Gritzner (1825–1892. below).
It became a public limited company in 1886 with Max’s sons Rudolph and Julius as board members. It first made sewing machines, modelled on the Singer 12, and overcame a factory fire in 1881 to make bicycles (1887) and motorcycles (1903). By 1902 a million sewing machines had been produced, with the two million mark being reached just eight years later.
In 1925 Gritzner took over one of the few other major German sewing machine manufacturers, Frister & Rossmann, which marketed the Caligraph typewriter under its own name. In 1931, Gritzner merged in Kaiserslautern with the Palatine sewing machine and bicycle factory Pfalzische Nahamaschinen & Fahrradfabrik, to become Gritzner-Kayser AG. A fire in 1955 destroyed most of the factory, and in 1957 a majority holding in Gritzner-Kayser was taken by sewing machine giant Pfaff. The Gritzner trademark was registered in the US in 1965 by Gritzner-Kayser Aktiengesellschaft (joint stock company) in Karlsruhe-Durlach and in 1973 the Gritzner brand name became owned by Pfaff Haushaltmaschine (appliance) GmbH.   
WHAT THE ....?
David Lawrence has just drawn this to my attention. It's on British eBay:
The seller says it has a "space bar that is in two pieces - the left half is to shift the carriage up and the right half drops the carriage and spaces the carriage. It prints only capitals or numbers or symbols. I wonder if it was designed for someone who only had a right arm?"
David also drew my attention to this, also on British eBay:
Visits to the Australian Typewriter Museum by young couples planning their weddings - and wanting to borrow a typewriter for the event - have been steadily increasing during the past 12 months. Among the proposed uses: Wedding invitations, addressing same, place-setting cards and best-wishes messages at the reception. Interestingly, the couples invariably believe these have been original ideas on their part, claiming not to realise that such typewriter uses have become common in the US and Australia during the past few years.
Taking it a step further, on Australian eBay last night one of Melbourne’s favourite stylists, Simone Haag from interior design firm Hecker Guthrie, listed at $1200 a "Wedding decoration package including vintage typewriter ... love chairs ... and more!!!"  She said she was "selling an entire kit of things that I collected for my wedding. The kit will give you the styling tools you need for a vintage inspired wedding! Everything in this kit came close to $4.5K (and took one year to find!) - so this is a bargain for any bride to be. The typewriter acted as a guestbook and a talking point!"
Haag recalled, “What was quite funny is that I did intend on bringing out the old typewriter trick and the typewriter I purchased from eBay was a bit of a dud. When testing it out I typed, 'I was going to do one of those cool typewriter things, but this one is crap and will therefore remain display only'. And I forgot to pull the sheet of paper out – so that got a few giggles.”
As I have often written in these updates, the best part of blogging for me is being contacted by the descendants of people I mention in my posts.
The latest is Dom Fitzgerald, whose grandfather, journalist Cashen Fitzgerald [foreground], featured in my Anzac Day 2012 post on the Guinea Gold newspaper produced by Australian servicemen in Papua New Guinea from 1942-46.
Dom wrote, "I'm wondering what sort of typewriter he's using in this photo and where I might be able to buy one. I have a feeling it's a Royal based on one of your captions and some branding on a crate I noticed in another photo from the same collection.
"I passed on the photos to my family (my nan, Cashen's wife, is 94 tomorrow! [yesterday]) and everyone really enjoyed them."
If any Typospherian can identify the Royal typewriter in the photo above, please let me know.
Brian Cassidy, a Maryland bookseller, is researching 19th and 20th century duplicating technologies and came across my post on Russian typewriter inventor Mikhail Ivanovich Alisov. Brian said, "I was particularly interested in the information at the end of that post, regarding Alissoff's hectographic invention and the censorship issues surrounding it. Information on Alissoff and his invention (especially its reception and use in Russia) are scarce and though I found some online resources, none of them are authoritative or cite their own sources. Any leads you might be able to provide would be most appreciated." If any Typospherian can help Brian on this subject, please let me know.
John Jenkins in Colorado wrote to me about my attempts to restore my Caligraph. I was in Cincinnati at the time and couldn't help him. So John went ahead and fixed the spring on his Caligraph (above) - the spring was broken right in the middle. John was especially interested in contacting Scott Kernaghan, who had suggested to me repair or replacement methods. John's restoration is explained here. Below is a photo from Herman Price's Collection of the Frister & Rossmann Caligraph mentioned above in the item about the Gritzner:
Typewriter prices on Australian eBay have continued their upward trend, but there are still bargains to be had. This Alpina (which had been used at a wedding reception, and was apparently a hit) sold for a mere $11.05 after five bids, and a Facit TP1 sold for $42 after six bids:
In the case of the Alpina, the lead photo in the listing was the case - probably not a good idea. But in this case, of a Smith-Corona case for sale on eBay in the US, what you see is what you get - just a case!:
But how about this case? (In this case, it does have an Underwood Universal in it):
This Gualtype was offered for sale from Israel. It's apparently part of the SIM family (which Georg Sommeregger would be able to confirm). It had a buy it now price of $799, yet a starting price of only 99c. It attracted 11 bids, reached $31, but not its reserve price (somewhere short of $799, one presumes?):
Miguel Chávez commented on my post about the Olivetti Lettera 41 by saying, "Towards the end of the line (in the early 2000s) Olivetti was still selling some Lettera-based manual typewriters in Mexico, notably a couple of models, like the Lettera 25 (indeed, very common, even today; available in red and tan) but also variations of the same model, like the Lettera Premier (apparently a 25 with two-colour mask in ivory white and baby-blue typebar cover), the New Age (dark green mask with red typebar cover), another New Age (purple mask with PINK typebar cover!)" Which means the 25 must have been getting up there with the Dora for variations (at least in colour combinations). Here is another variation I came across:
On the topic of Italian Underwoods, rumours of the existence of an Underwood Diplomat (18, made by Antares) have proved to be accurate:
Just when we thought we'd seen enough variations of the Nakajima portable, up pops (for $58.88) yet another, a Neckermann Versand Brillant Comfort 230 (does that make it 764 or 817, I've lost count!):
NOW, here's a thing - a Nakajima portable that is called ... wait for it ... wait for it ... A NAKAJIMA ALL!!!!! It must be worth buying for that reason alone - an absolute rarity! (Seriously, I've never seen one of these before):
One doesn't see many of these for sale in Australia, either - a Triumph Matura with a German keyboard - at a mere 99c:
It may just me, but this Olivetti Lettera 32 listed on French eBay as having a "chrome chassis" looks suspiciously like it has been spray-painted with a "chrome" paint. From experience, I know it is extremely expensive to chrome the composite metal used on the Lettera 32. As well, I have experience with "chrome" spray paint and know what it looks like. Mind you, the asking price is $385. (Perhaps the giveaway is the "chrome" along the edges of the felt lining):
Having searched in vain, at the request of a lady in Russia, for an orange Olivetti portable, and having convinced myself that the Lettera 82 only came in a sickly green and the Hermes Baby in orange, lo and behold up pops an orange Lettera 82 on Australian eBay. I spoke too soon, didn't I? Isn't it always the way!:
Typewriter prices on Australian eBay might still be healthy, but I do think $250 for this Oliver might be tad hopeful:
After I posted something unkind about one of these models not so long ago, a fellow Typospherian asked me if it was just the Oliver I had a problem with, or all members of this particular Euro Portable Family line. As it transpires, I like the Swissas I have and other models in the line I have used. When in Cincinnati, Richard Polt loaned me his Meteor, which I really loved. He also showed me his black Patria, which I found just stunning. So it must be just the Olivers.
Bill Turk is an eBay seller in Bushkill, Pennsylvania ("williamturk"). Without beating around the bush, Bill has a way of killing the fun of eBay. He has a feedback record of 99.6 per cent. Not bad, one might think. But that's for 31,408 transactions. In the past month alone, he has had three negatives and three neutrals. He has had 16 negatives in the past year, 12 in the past six months. I should have checked this record out before buying anything from him.
But I did buy something, a colour Corona ad. It didn't cost me much. Still, when I received a message SIX WEEKS after buying and paying on the same day, a message which said, "Sorry I just found this I had thought I had mailed it Thanks", I must say I was rather taken aback, and I said so. Bill's reply: "I am 68 yrs old Diabetic who can not see w/o magnifiging glass who does not drive w a wife breast cancer survivor I have to pay for a cab." Seriously, I think it's time Bill gave up selling things on eBay. But I really wonder what eBay makes of this sort of feedback? (The negatives are entirely consistent with the problem I experienced).
Further to Richard Polt's "settling post" and little competition, I also have a spare copy of the latest catalogue from Auction Team Breker. If you missed out on a copy from Richard and still want one, let me know and I can post it to you. My challenge is: Name the only typewriter brand ever assembled in Australia.
The runner-up:


Rob Bowker said...

I spotted the twin-space-bar little Underwood and walked away confused. The leather case with the Imperial Good Companion, too. It looked in pretty good condition and, if I remember correctly, was very good value. I'm starting to think that I am defining my collection by the things that aren't in it, rather than the typewriters that are. Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Looks like a Royal Quiet De Luxe in that photo, Robert. And one in its element.

TonysVision said...

I can see why even the Gritzner posters claim high prices - they are lovely, especially the cycling one. And I was fascinated by the Gritzner Mechanical Lettering Machine. Like probably all engineers or earth scientists who worked in the 1960's - 1970's I am familiar with the K&E Leroy lettering system, that used pen and ink. The engineering pen was mounted in a scribe base that traced letters in templates. I had no idea the Gritzner existed - it would have been a delight compared to those pens that tended to clog. Thanks for the memories!

Bill M said...

There was some discussion on one of the forums about the split space bar Underwood just a few days ago.

I have never seen one of those Gritzner machines before. I did see a big Elloit-Fisher that I knew nothing about. It was huge and on a jig on what I thought was a drawing table or similar. Perhaps it was one of the machines you've mentioned.

Thanks for another one of your great posts.

Richard P said...

Another fabulous monthly roundup -- you did an excellent job!

Thanks for satisfying my longstanding curiousity about the "System Butter."

The customized leather Underwood case is really impressive.

The Dohn design looks really cool.

Unknown said...

This beautiful article has taught me so much about my Gritzner Lettering Machine, I truly had no idea what I found literally in the garbage the wooden case caught my eye I brought it home and forgot about it until a couple weeks ago when I fell on hard times and thought I would sell it I was only going to ask 50-75.00 (mind you my machine is in beautiful working condition with oil, ink, and brush, instructions, receipts along with a price list) needless to say after reading this I think I will hold onto mine. Thank you so much for educating me on this.