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Thursday 31 March 2016

Portable Typewriter User or Poseur? Guillaume Musso and his Corona 4

French novelist Guillaume Musso poses in Paris with his Corona 4 portable typewriter. He writes his novels on a Mac.
Corona 4 images from Musso's Facebook page.
He appears to have acquired the typewriter in the past few months.
Ewan McGregor in a trailer for Musso's Girl on Paper, which many viewers have aligned with Ruby Sparks.

Densmore Typewriter Donation

Meadville, Pennsylvania, is a town with a special place in typewriter history, so it was pleasing to read in the Meadville Tribune this week that a Densmore 5 typewriter had been donated to the Crawford County Historical Society.
Unfortunately, however, excited society members seem to be under the mistaken belief that their Densmore is far more rare than it actually is. The Tribune reported that it is one of only two known to exist, the one now in Meadville and one in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. There are at least eight in the Dietz Collection in Milwaukee alone, including the beauty seen below, and a quick check of Google reveals there are also examples in the Finnish Business College Typewriter Museum, as well as in the private collections of Richard Polt, Martin Howard, Wim Van Rompuy, Vilhelm Dromberg and Paul Robert, among others.
This one was at one time for sale on Scott McNeill's website for $1295:
The Crawford Historical Society might also like to know that the Densmore typewriter was not the invention of Amos Densmore, but of Walter Jay Barron, the estranged stepson of Amos' brother James Densmore. Barron was actually born (in 1846) and educated in Meadville, unlike Amos Densmore, who was born and grew up in Rochester, New York. Amos was born in 1825 and the Densmore family did not move to Crawford County until 1837.
Along with the typewriter, society president Josh Sherretts received the donation of four paintings by Amos Densmore's daughter Austa Densmore Sturdevant, including a portrait of Amos painted the year he died, 1893.
Amos was always photographed, illustrated or painted looking
to his left, because of skin cancer on his face and forehead.
The donations were made by Arthur Martin of Portland, Oregon, the widower of Priscilla Densmore Martin, Austa’s great-niece. Sturdevant (1855-1936) was born in Blooming Valley, Crawford. “He [Martin] is really trying to make sure the items will be taken care of for future generations to enjoy,” Sherretts told the Tribune“The basic pitch is he wanted them to come home,” added Judith Stoll, a society board member. “There’s a certain sense he felt about them coming back here, he felt putting them in our hands was putting them in good hands.”
“When we opened the crates it was like Christmas morning and receiving far more than you expected,” Stoll said.
Another 1893 portrait
Dietz Collection

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Making Your Own Rubber Straps for the Olivetti Valentine Portable Typewriter Case

I often get asked for advice in finding replacements for broken rubber straps on the Olivetti Valentine portable typewriter case. To be honest, I have no idea whether these are available or where they might be obtained. But I do know what it's like to have a strap break. The last time I was asked about replacements was earlier this month, and I suggested to the frustrated father who'd just bought his young daughter a strapless Val, "Surely it must be possible to make your own, using Clark Rubber." That off-hand remark played on my mind a bit - "Is it possible?" I kept wondering. So today I decided to test out the idea myself, to see if I could do it. I succeeded. Admirably.
Let's start with the all-too-common problem. Adam Richardson summed it up on the Mass Made Soul blog: "[The Valentine] came with a slide-on case that ingeniously fastens to the back plate of the typewriter with rubber straps. Unfortunately, over time these ... often dry out, crack and break off. This example still has them intact, but given its age, it's not a good idea to rely on them to carry it around!" I can't stress how much I agree with Adam on that last point.
Fortunately, when you take a close look at the manufacturers' strap, you will see it is made up of three distinct sections - the grip (with the thumb circle), what I call the crossbars (three separate layers of rubber), and the bottom part, or "tail", which slots inside the case and is held in place there by a small metal bar. The fact that the strap comprises three parts glued together means it is relatively easy to make one yourself. 
OK, so here is what one needs for a broken strap solution:
1. Two strips of rubber, 2in wide and about 1/8in thick. One strip should be quite rigid, with very little if any play in it, the other fairly flexible, with a reasonable amount of stretch (the flexible strip will be slightly thinner than 1/8th of an inch). Test the elasticity of the flexible strip - it should extend by a quarter to half an inch when held an inch or so from the end (see second photo below). These strips cost me $5.50 a metre. Take an intact strap off a Valentine case to use for guidance. 
2. Araldite glue or something of similar strength. Bear in mind that while the packaging says it bonds in five minutes, the small print adds that it takes 16 hours for it to set properly. You will need the full 16 hours for a truly secure strap. Don't attempt to test the strength of the hold of the three sections before then. 
3. Strong, sharp scissors to cut the rubber, a Stanley blade for trimming it, a Biro to mark the rubber, a small ruler, 2-3 Bulldog paper clips to hold the sections together while the glue sets, and nail polish remover to clean up excess glue. Also, something from which to fashion a stud to hold the tail inside the case (I used the clipped off end of a paper clip). I also found it useful to use the flame from a cigarette lighter to lightly run around the edges and get them more rounded and smooth.
The dimensions of the strap are: 3in long overall, length of grip section 1 3/4in, length of flexible tail section 2in, width of grip and tail sections 5/8ths of an inch, total end-to-end width of completed crossbars 1 7/16ths inches, total thickness of completed crossbars 3/8th of an inch, edge-to-edge width of  crossbars 3/8th of an inch.
Once the sections have been cut, there is more than one way of assembling the strap. I tried two. First, I cut the flexible tail section and glued it to the 5/8in wide rigid strip that comprises the middle part of the crossbars. Then I glued these two parts to a 2in x 2in piece of rigid rubber from which I fashioned the grip. Before cutting this last section, I tested the strength of the construction and it proved entirely satisfactory.
The other way was this:
For all the success of this project, I have to admit that being able to make one's own strap is more for show than anything else - nothing worse than the forlorn look of a Val case with a broken strap! Or worse, strapless. So I'll still be carrying the Val around with a hand under the case, as I do with any portable typewriter, rather than by the handle. Oh, he of little faith you say? Well, maybe, but since the manufacturers' straps break so frequently, I wouldn't risk it either way.

Monday 28 March 2016

I Say, Old Chum

Wandering around the Old Bus Depot Markets in Canberra yesterday, I came across my friends the Chapmans from Charlie Foxtrot selling a range of typewriters and typewriter ephemera. Front and centre of their stand was a portable typewriter I'd never seen before - didn't even know it existed - a Smith Premier Chum. It turns out these British-assembled Remington 3 variations are not exactly rare, though when they are listed for sale the price is invariably very high indeed. The lettering of "Chum" is really quite distinctive - and charming.
I gathered from Philip Chapman that this is not the first Chum they have offered. This one, however, arrived without the "H" typeslug and Terry Cooksley was able to replace it, though the alignment is not quite precise. Still, I felt this was one portable I could get really friendly with. We could easily have become very chummy. The lure was strong and the compulsion to chum it home, as the Scots say, took a lot of  resisting.
There is, apparently, a Remington 2 variation, one which doesn't have the lovely "Chum" letting:

Saturday 26 March 2016

Imperial Good Companion 75: British Brand, Bulgarian Built, American Distributor

Sydney typewriter collector Richard Amery, a retired politician, already owns what is almost certainly the most complete set of Imperial portables to be found anyway. Yet, even while fairly secure in that knowledge, Richard refuses to sit back and rest on his laurels. He is constantly searching for additions.
Richard Amery recently dragged out a small range
of his Japanese-made Imperial portables.
This latest one in Richard's collection is very clearly a Bulgarian-made Maritsa 11 (which started life in Germany as a Princess). Variations (in label only) sold in the United States included the Bundy and the Montgomery Ward 101, and in Australia the Pacific 11.
One of the IGC 75s offered for sale in England came with a Maritsa 11 manual.
A Google search suggests the IGC 75 was only sold in Britain (where one or two have popped up on Worthpoint). I can't find reference to this label anywhere else. Wilf Beeching's Century of the Typewriter, first published in 1974 and updated in 1990, doesn't mention it (but then it doesn't have any mention of Maritsa, either).
The cheap and very nasty relabelling (even worse than Pacific's, and that's really saying something) shows it was sold after the Litton Industries takeover of Imperial in 1967. However, where the Maritsa-relabelled IGC 75 fits in among the Imperials made for Litton by Messa in Portugal and those made for Litton by Silver-Seiko and Nakajima in Japan is difficult to say. (Nakajima did make a Good Companion, but with no model number.)
One clue comes from Britain's so-called "Mr Typewriter", Tom Lucas, who in a comment to my blog post about German Imperials (posted almost exactly a year ago), said, "There was an Imperial 95 too! Made in Bulgaria and actually a Hermes 3000 in an office-machine sized plastic casing. I have only ever seen one of those - new in about 1985." A mid-80s date for the IGC 75 seems feasible, too, though rather late in the piece for manual portables. Yet we also know that Robotron made a late-model Imperial 34 semi-portable under the same Soviet Union Ã¼berarch grouping that embraced Maritsa.
According to Milton Moskowitz's June 1975 piece in the Los Angeles Times (see above) about Litton's battles with the US Federal Trade Commission over its attempted 1969 takeover of Triumph-Adler, "In 10 years [1985] there may be no other typewriter manufacturers left [for Litton] to acquire." Blocked by the FTC from taking over more typewriter companies until 1985, and rather than trying to buy out any which did remain in 1985, Litton may well have had to resort to existing companies for no more than supplies of portables to relabel. (It wouldn't have been able to take over the Soviet Bloc Maritsa, for obvious Cold War reasons.) After all, that's not a lot different to what it did in Japan. But whether Maritsa was still making the model 11 as late as 1985 is questionable. On the other hand, don't forget Litton was also getting ABC portables made in Pakistan in this period.
(I have a full report of Litton's problems with the FTC in ETCetera No 108, Spring 2015.)

Friday 25 March 2016

Typewriter Trash

Still looking for those elusive chrome knobs for the ribbon spools on a Remington or Underwood Noiseless portable typewriter? Maybe you should try the trash cans of New York City.
The typewriters seen above are part of the displays at former New York sanitation worker Nelson Molina's Treasure in the Trash gallery. His exhibits, on the second floor of an East Harlem sanitation garage, were put together during his 33 years on the job collecting trash.
The New York Times wrote about it in 2012. And now, with Molina two years retired, it's back in the news. Under the heading "In a Sanitation Garage, a Gallery of Scavenged Art", Elizabeth A. Harris said back then, " The Trash Museum, curated by Nelson Molina ... is a collection made from ... what New Yorkers have thrown out. On 99th Street between First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, just a few blocks from some of the city’s most palatial homes, the air is tinged with a certain sourness."
Molina, 61, began collecting pictures and trinkets along his route about in 1981, to brighten up his corner of the garage locker room. Gradually, his colleagues on East 99th Street began to contribute, gathering up discarded gems they thought he might enjoy. As the collection grew, word spread, and workers from other boroughs started to drop off contributions from time to time. Next, building superintendents along Molina’s route started putting things aside they thought he could use. 
Molina’s route stretched from 96th Street to 110th Street, and depending on the day of the week, he worked either the eastern or western portion of that stretch. In his many years of collecting, he said, he has learned two things: that household trash yields the greatest treasures, and that neighbourhoods matter. “East of Third Avenue is more like East Harlem,” he explained. “Third Avenue west, that’s where I find everything.”  
And if you're still looking for chrome ribbon spool covers, try estate sales. This one popped up in Toronto earlier this year. 

The Cat, the Mouse and the Ambassador Typewriter

You may think Charlie the Typewriter Guard Cat is only doing his job by trying to fish a field mouse out of the innards of a Hermes Ambassador typewriter. Trouble is, it was Charlie who dragged the mouse in from way out yonder in the first place. During the dance of death (performed for the alleged 'benefit' of cat owners), the mouse escaped and hid in the Ambassador. I had to take the darned thing apart (in an estimated record time) to get the mouse out. But in the process Charlie yet again caught it, tossed it, and it ran for shelter into a Remington 10. Fetching it out of the mechanics of the Remington proved an even greater challenge, and, by now plum out of patience, this time when I hauled the mouse out I freed it out the back of beyond. By which time it would have scurried off into the scrub knowing more about the inner workings of standard typewriters than Ed Hess.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Olivetti Exhibition on The Mall in London

British typewriter collectors are being asked to assist the Institute of Contemporary Arts, an artistic and cultural centre on The Mall in London, just off Trafalgar Square, with its Olivetti Exhibition starting on May 25. The exhibition will run to July 17.
Associate curator Juliette Desorgues has contacted me saying the institute is looking for:
 Praxis 48
 Lettera 22
Lexicon 80
Divisumma 24 calculator
It has:
The institute is also hoping to find any original advertising, brochures or other ephemera relating to these machines.