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Friday 4 April 2014

Three IBM Selectrics When One Baby Would Have Done

It all started when Peter Brill - the man who built the Blickensderfer keyboard IBM Selectric and the Slo-Mo Selectric - came across the continent to Canberra from Western Australia for the opening of the typewriter exhibition in July 2012. Over lunch in Manuka with Peter and his wife Deborah one day, Peter mentioned the "Baby Selectric" - the IBM with the 10-inch platen.
I visualised it straight away. It was a tantalising thought. I wanted one.
My heart is actually set on one of these.
A few weeks later Michael Klein came up from Victoria for the exhibition. We had a couple of beers in Barton that evening and I told Michael I had my heart set on a Baby Selectric. He said he'd keep his eye out for one. He did, too, but they were all for sale in the US, not in Australia. And even a Baby Selectric is a heavy shipping proposition.
A couple of weeks ago Michael emailed me to say there was a Baby Selectric for sale on Australia eBay. It was in Strathfield, Sydney. I looked at the listing image and was far from convinced it had a 10-inch platen. Looked more like 15 inches to me. Still, I went ahead and bid and my bid duly won.
Meanwhile, a fellow sports historian, Greg Blood, called to his say he was cleaning out his parents' home and he had two IBM Selectrics for me. They had belonged to his late father. When Greg turned up with the typewriters, I was surprised to see one of them was the same earlier model as the one I'd won on eBay (with a 15-inch platen). Just my luck, I thought - I've just bought one and now I'm being given one for free! Sadly, however, neither of Greg's IBMs are working, though both have manuals. The Selectric I (launched 1961) is from 1971 and the Selectric III (launched 1971) is from 1981. 
After going to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney last Friday (where I saw an earlier IBM, below), I called into Strathfield on my way home and picked up my eBay win. It has a 15-inch platen, all right. But the good news is, it is working perfectly.
So my search for a Baby Selectric goes on. I am taking Greg's two IBMs with me to Wellington, New South Wales, tomorrow, where I will catch up with Typospherian John Lavery and his wife Margaret. John is a wizard with these things and there's a chance of a quick fix, especially for the Selectric I.
I have now owned 24 IBM Selectrics - red, blue, black, green -  and 75-80 per cent have not worked. I've given all but one away. Is it just me? Surely I can't have that much bad luck. But if it isn't just me, it's little wonder we Typospherians tend to stick with manuals.
I like to keep one IBM Selectric in my collection (even if the one I had before these latest three turned up doesn't work either). Mention typewriters to people of a certain age and they think IBM Selectrics. So I have one green one on display. I also used to have an Executive, but I needed a crane to come in and move it from room to room.
I'm so used to having the Selectric III model that it had completely slipped my mind that the model I really needed was the original 1961 Selectric (I much, much prefer Eliot Noyes' first design, anyway). Incredibly, I simply hadn't given any thought to the very obvious differences.
Now, happily, I have two of the first model, at least one of which works. When the dust settles on this sudden influx of Selectrics into my house (not the first time this has happened) I'll keep the latest eBay win and find good homes for the other three.
I'm pleased to own a working version of the earlier model, thought it too will go when I find a Baby Selectric. But I don't consider this Selectric I a suitable birthday present to myself.
What I am more excited about is winning this Oliver portable with the silver-rimmed keytops. It's the only one I have ever seen with these keytops, and I now have seven of this same model.
I was amazed that I was the only bidder for the Oliver, at a mere $35, and it turned up here safely from Brisbane this morning. 
My 66th birthday is on Saturday, and the next day I am going to realise a long-held dream and "Meet a Cheetah" at the National Zoo and Aquarium. If I survive that adventure in one piece, I'll write some more about the Oliver next week.
I'll be meeting the guy in front on Sunday. 


Miguel Chávez said...

I personally am a big fan of IBM Selectrics, but they do need some TLC before you can use them, particularly if they spent several years in storage.

Normally they would need to be cleaned and properly oiled. White spirit to clean al the mechanism, then some very light oil on the print mechanism guides and the little "combs" connecting each key; then you should turn it on and "exercise" it, tapping each key repeatedly until all the keyboard frees up and works properly.

Another common failure is that they might need to have the springs that tension the print element cables replaced (if, for example, you hit the return key and the carriage does not return to the left margin position, or if you hit the backspace key and the carriage moves but doesn't actually go back). This is a bit tricky because it means opening the case and working with a tensioned spring, but once replaced it should be OK for years.

Finally, another point of weakness I've found in my own Selectrics is the rubber belt that connects the motor to the main shaft. It is located in the underside of the mechanism and is not very accessible. When that belt snaps, the Selectric dies. Think of it as the timing belt of any modern car. You can have it replaced and it won't give problems for many years.

I saw a baby Selectric for sale a few weeks back here in Mexico. Alas, I was not able to buy it; but I too want to see what's what with it. I imagine that would be the IBM Selectric for personal household use, though it would hardly qualify as a portable...

... Anyway, in my experience, once properly serviced and oiled, the IBM Selectric is a very, very good machine. No wonder they remained in service for so long.

Spiderwebz said...

Never heard of the Baby Selectric before. It's seems cute!

Congratz on your birthday and fulfilling one of your dreams. I'm interested to read about your experience, cheeta's are amazing cats!

Ted said...

Ahh, yes - I'm also a fan of the Baby Selectrics: Model 721's especially (cloth ribbon). However, note that if you have need of the correction feature, keep an eye out for the 1982/83 "Personal Selectric" model 851, which is basically a baby Selectric II:

Richard P said...

Beautiful Oliver portable!

I would like a baby Selectric too. Even better, a light baby Selectric powered either manually or with solar power. Any inventors around here ....?

Don Lampert said...

I too have had Selectric's, and none of them work.
I just checked, my current one has a 10 7/8" platen, is that it?! It's black and in nice condition but the motor won't even start up - so it's a doorstop -just to have . I too like the Noyes styling the best.
Happy Happy Birthday Saturday, and welcome back - I heard from dozens of people who all missed you!!
PS According to the Colorstrology Birthday book, your birthday color is Pantones -, and you are Dynamic, Charismatic, and Determined!

Don Lampert said...

Oh, I should have shared the rest of your birthday color personality, it says: You have a lot of drive and determination. Many of you have a strong calling to
communicate to large audiences. Speaking to the masses suits you. Sharing ideas with others, having fun, and staying young at heart are some of the ways to harness the magical abilities that you have within.
Okay, that is you, my friend!

Joe Cartwright said...

Happy Birthday Mr. Messenger. I myself am turning 65 on Saturday as well. Glad your back, I truly enjoy your posts. I am hoping to get the return of my latest Ebay win from the typewriter shop for a little adjustment...a 1938 Hermes 2000...a nice gift to self for my 65th year.

Anonymous said...

Would love to find a working Baby Selectric (Peter Brill told me they're as rare as hens teeth in Oz)- or I'd settle for a Personal Selectric (iBeemer) like the Reverend's.

Linda said...

I loved IBM Selectrics! It was the only typewriter that I managed to type more than 60 wpm on! I have fond memories of them, so thank you so much for sharing. Your photos are lovely.
Greetings from Montreal, Canada.

Clark said...

In the US, the "baby" Selectric is sometimes called a "school" model by repairmen because they were mainly used in typing classes. Because of this, they are harder to find as schools tossed them when they were too worn out to fix. Only a few of the smaller machines were bought for personal use. There are actually three different sizes of Selectrics - 11", 13" and 15" platens. I refurbished a red "baby" and sold it a few months ago.