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Sunday 30 November 2014

On Being Lured Away From The Typewriter

Hotel Zed in Victoria, Canada. See Arthur Black's 2014 column below.

Black is black
I want my typewriter back
Grey is grey
Since she went away
- with apologies to Michelle Grainger, Tony Hayes, Steve Wadey

The Unreliable Memories
of Arthur Black
On June 10, 1989, this column by Canadian humorist Arthur Black appeared in The Chilliwack Progress in British Columbia:
 Comparing a gorgeous Olympia typewriter to Golda Meir
 And a 1980s Tandy "laptop" to an alluring young siren
Oh, Elizabeth blushed, all right, because in time Arthur even forgot his jilted Olympia's name. 
Last September, 25 years after writing his column upon abandoning the typewriter, Arthur wrote this in the Algoma News (Ontario):
Everything New
is Old Again
The pimply-faced kid in the backwards-facing ball cap shows up to fix my laptop, taps a couple of keys, shrugs and says “It’s dead. You probably need to replace it.”
Yes. Of course. It’s almost six years old. A total fossil. This is my fourth - or is it fifth? - personal computer. It’s the latest in a daisy chain of technological bewilderment and woe that stretches all the way back to an ancient clunky Commodore 64 which is the machine that first seduced me away from my old Olivetti typewriter.
The one that never broke down, never crashed, never lost a file and never once in thirty years required the ministrations of a ‘typewriter expert’. This despite gallons of spilled coffee on its keyboard, breadcrumbs and cigar ashes in its innards, frequent manual abuse and once, being hurled right off my desk into a wall (impending deadline; writer’s block).
I never thought much about my old Olivetti when I had it but in retrospect I mourn for it like a lost love. I miss its music; the ta-pocketa peck of the keys striking the paper, the ka-ching of the bell that warned me I was nearing the end of a line; the whirr and ka-boom of the carriage as I cuffed it across to start a new line.
Oh hell. If you’re under 40 reading this I might as well explain how to harpoon a whale. You have no idea what I’m talking about.
Used to be you couldn’t find an office without at least one typewriter. Now they’ve vanished into the landfill of history, along with Eaton’s catalogues, fax machines, garter belts and buggy whips.
And public telephones. Pay phones haven’t disappeared entirely, but as an urban feature that used to be on every street corner they are now as scarce as flamingos. That’s not a surprise given that just about everyone nowadays totes a plastic lozenge that can make calls, take calls and tell you the current humidity reading in Mogadishu.
Humans now carry more information in their breast pocket or purse than our grandparents would access in a lifetime. The fact that a majority use it to play Angry Birds or tweet a review of our latest purchase at Tim Horton’s? The fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars.
Or in our BlackBerrys.
There is a brand new hotel in the city of Victoria - or rather a brand-new ‘old’ hotel - called Hotel Zed. Sixty-two rooms all retro-fitted to whisk the client right back to, oh, say 1967. The colour scheme is sixties-psychedelic, there’s a ping pong table in the lobby along with - yes - actual typewriters that guests can use. Each room has a bulletin board instead of a guest directory, old fashioned alarm clocks, radios you can actually see the dial on…
And telephones.
Real telephones. The clunky Bakelite ones with the curly cords and the one-ringy-dingey, two-ringy-dingey rotary dial right in the middle. You’ll find the rotary phone right by the bed in your room at the Hotel Zed.
And if you’re a little mystified by the device, not to worry - there’s a How-to-Use it guide in the drawer. Or you could just hold your iPhone up to the phone and click. You’ll get an instruction video.
Not sure how to use a rotary phone? Hey, there’s an app for that.
Arthur Black was born in Toronto on August 30, 1943. He has written 12 books of humour and is remembered across Canada as the host of Basic Black, a national weekly radio show that delighted Canadians every Saturday morning for 19 years (1983-2004). He also hosted and wrote two award-winning TV series, Weird Homes and Weird Wheels. In addition, he writes a syndicated newspaper column that appears in more than 50 papers from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland. After stumbling through a succession of unsuccessful careers (dog walker, underwear salesman, cattle prodder, door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, oil tanker deckhand, sheet metal apprentice and plumber's assistant, to name only a few), Black began his broadcasting career. His radio show was a wacky potpourri of off-beat music, comic sketches and interviews with the weirdest human beings Black could dig up each week. Over the years Black chatted with eccentric scientists, serene cave dwellers, transvestite bikers, nude sunbathers and skunk control officers (but no typewriter collectors ....?).
Black now lives on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Olympia SM Portable Typewriter Advertising - US and Australia 1949-59

I still hadn't had my early morning "wake-up" cup of coffee in my Xavier University mug (with broken handle) when I read Richard Polt's comment on my post from yesterday about Doug's SM2 Olympia portable typewriter. So, not being as alert as I might have been, I immediately went into a bit of a flap, thinking I might have got it wrong, and it was an SM3. However, it turns out the main distinguishing feature between the SM2 and the SM3 is tabulation, the key for which normally sits up on the top right of the keyboard. I was right to assume the SM3 is the DeLuxe version of the SM2, although, the tab key apart, it isn't always all that easy to distinguish between them. For one thing, there are two distinct variations of the SM2, the early one having raised areas on the spools cover, on top of where the spools sit, mimicking the spools flaps on the earlier Olympia portable. This similarity with the SM1 (aka Orbis) might alone be used to mark these out as SM2s. However, later SM2s also have the flat top, the same as the SM3. As well, there are earlier SM2s with the name badge on the paper plate and later ones with it on the front of the spools cover. So it can get quite confusing.
I had already planned to follow my post on Doug's SM2 with one about advertising for Olympia portables in the United States and Australia in the immediate post-war era and through the 1950s. In part I had used these ads to identify Doug's SM2, as well as online images of the SM2 and Leonhard Dingwerth's two-volume 2008 book on German typewriter manufacturers. Not that I could I say these sources gave me absolutely definitive answers. But looking through the ads and images does help identify some of the distinguishing features.
1952 advert
US adverts did not distinguish between models. In Australia, advertising code letters and numbers offered some hints, but only the "new model SM2" was identified from other models. These Australian "new model SM2" ads partially sorted out something that was a bit confusing in Dingwerth's book - which states in one part that the SM2 first appeared in 1950 and an updated version came out with the SM3 in 1952, and in another that the SM2 first came out in 1952. However, an advert for the flat-topped SM2 (with name badge on paper plate) appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald as early as October 1951:
Below is a 1950 German advert for the (Olympia Werke West) Wilmelmshaven-made Olympia SM1, interestingly also with a flat top and name badge on the paper plate. Australian advertising, however, establishes another variation of the West German-made SM1-Orbis had the raised areas on the spools cover, as did the first SM2:
The two things that most interested me in this research into Olympia portable advertising in the US and Australia were:
1. That the first Olympia portable advertised for sale in Australia after World War II was the Plana made in Erfurt. This appeared in the Daily News in Perth, Western Australia, in November 1949, before the separation between Erfurt and Wilhelmshaven had been fully sorted out and two years before Wilhelmshaven had won the right to use the trade name Olympia (Erfurt adopted Optima).  So Australia was shipping in East German-made Olympias before it was able to market West German-made Olympias. I was surprised to find the Plana was even sold in this country.
Machines from the West German company began to be advertised in earnest in 1950 with the establishment in this country of Olympia Typewriters, a division of Hedesan & Company in Sydney, set up to import goods from the reconstructed north-western section of Germany, including B├╝ssing AG trucks and buses from Braunschweig. And this advertising was for the Olympia Orbis (the SM1 with the raised areas on the spools covers and name badge on the paper plate). Advertising codes identify this as an SM1:
These were sold in Melbourne up to March 1952, by John McCallum Trading.
In 1954, advertising for all Olympia typewriters in Australia ground to a sudden halt, and didn't resume until 1963. In the interim, there simply wasn't an importing agency. What sold in the period from 1951 to 1954 was the SM2 and its "DeLuxe" version, the SM3 (each with the flat top and from 1954 with the name badge on the spools cover):
2. In the United States, for me the most fascinating aspect of Olympia typewriter advertising was the emphasis placed by some selling agents on the West German (Wilmelmshaven) manufacture - bearing in mind this was at the height of the Cold War.
In June 1945, Joachim Wussow had rolled up Olympia portable typewriter blueprints (with the notable exception of the Plana), packed them in his car with his family, and escaped the advancing Soviet army, which was about to take over control of the area around Erfurt. Wussow headed West, into American occupied Germany, and eventually in 1946 found a base in Wilhelmshaven. In May 1954 The Rotarian told some of his story:
In 1958-59, at least one Olympia agent in the US felt this was something worth stressing ("Wussow Escapes Reds"):
Olympia SM2 and SM3 portables (with name badges on the paper plate) weren't widely advertised in the US in the period 1951-52, when they were quite heavily advertised in Australia:
In 1957-58, however, US advertising picked up considerably - at the very time these models weren't being sold in Australia. One of the more interesting aspects of this late 50s campaign was the spotlight put on Olympia's cursive typeface:
These images show some of the more noticeable differences between the later SM2 and the SM3 (according to Dingwerth, the SM4 emerged in 1958):
This, conversely, is the SM2 I bought at WordPlay in Cincinnati last year:
And here are later SM2s that I once owned:
I readily admit that correctly identifying these models caused me much angst and confusion in the past.

Friday 28 November 2014

Olympia SM2: Bought in London in 1954, Serviced in Canberra in 2014

As implied in my post yesterday on the Torpedo 15a, I don't get the chance to "play" with "new" typewriters very often these days. By "new", of course, I mean particular typewriters that are "new" to me. As I am no longer buying any typewriters for myself, the ones I do get to "play" with more often than not belong to someone else, and have been brought over here to be serviced.
Just such a portable is this lovely grey Olympia SM2. A Canberra gentleman called Doug, who turns 94 next March 19, bought the Olympia just before he left England to return to Australia on the Orient Line in March 1954, after three years' service with the Royal Air Force. If I could read the little shield decal on the front of the Olympia, I might know which store Doug bought it in, but he says it was definitely in London. And it was distributed by Olympia Business Machines Co Ltd of 71 New Oxford Street WC1.  This became "Brunsviga Olympia" in 1956.
*PS: Thanks to Nick Bodemer's sleuthing, we can now positively identify this shield as the trademark of typewriter dealers Thrale & Beaumont, Central House, Kingsway, London WC. Here is a clearer image of the decal, taken from photos of an old Underwood standard for sale on eBay in Italy.
*"My wife owns an electric," said Doug, "but I refuse to touch the thing!"
I'm glad Doug, when he picked up his Olympia this morning, cleared up for me when he bought it, as I thought he'd told me 1953, and a check of the serial number, 669919 (which is also on the carriage), indicated this typewriter was made after 1953. In fact, the serial number database would suggest 1955, but Doug is adamant it was bought in 1954, close to his 33rd birthday, and I can say with total confidence that his mind is as sharp as a tack. 
This ad for the same model appeared in the Sydney Sun-Herald on July 18, 1954
I advised Doug than when his typewriter is put in storage, he should pull the platen release knob forward. "No need," retorted Doug. "I intent to keep typing with it, not put it in storage!"