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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Sydney, Where the Typewriter Wizards of Oz Are

Many moons ago, I was covering a rugby match at the Sydney Sports Ground when a young New Zealander was knocked out cold. I left my Olivetti Lettera 32 in the Press Box and went down to the changing rooms to check on his condition. As he came to, a doctor asked, "Do you know where you are?" "Yes," said the young fellow, with the utmost confidence, "at the Addington Showgrounds." "No," replied the doctor, "you're in Sydney." "Sydney!" exclaimed the excited footballer, sitting bolt upright on the medico's bench. "Sydney where the bridge is?" 
The Twilight Zone
Sydney with its glorious Harbour Bridge no longer has the allure it once did for young New Zealanders. But for this old fogey, it has developed a whole new attraction, one far more enticing than the bright city lights and the iconic bridge: the regular chance to meet and pick the brains of typewriter masterminds.
Sydney has become, for me at least, the city where the Typewriter Wizards of Oz are.
Yesterday I was able to attend yet another of the weekly meetings of STAX, the Sydney Typewriter Appreciation Exchange, a collective of typewriter technicians, collectors, dealers and sellers. These gatherings are usually held at the home of collector Richard Amery at Rooty Hill in the Western Suburbs, just off the M7 Motorway. I always take with me a carload of typewriters, and between packing and unpacking, travel and recovery, it adds up to three days out of the week -  for one day's enjoyment. But is that one day worth it? You betcha. It's absolutely brilliant!
Short of meeting a gorgeous billionairess who likes nothing better than pillow talk about the pro and cons of omitting James Densmore's name from the original typewriter, this is as good as it gets. Heaven on a stick, except the stick is the gear shift on my little Typewritermobile, and that's been getting a terrible thrashing.
Or should it have been Yost?
The main reason for me making the effort to return to Sydney yesterday was the chance to have the typewriter "brains trust" cast their eyes over two escapement wheels from SCM Galaxie IIs, in search of the elusive "jewel" (read the next issue of ETCetera, in which all will be revealed).
Sadly, it's far too long and exhausting a trip for me to make on a weekly basis (360 miles, or six hours there and back). But I have now been able to get to three of the meetings, so, as Richard Polt had hoped, I'm averaging one a month. Having said that, I'm finding the meetings increasingly appealing, and the drive home in the dead of night seems to pass relatively lightly, given I've got four hours of typewriter talk to mull over.
The gatherings start with a sort of "show and tell" of various typewriters of various vintages, followed by fascinating demonstrations of typewriter repair jobs; then there is much chat about typewriter-related experiences, most of it hugely amusing. All the while genial and generous mine host Richard Amery is making and passing out cups of coffee and tea and handing around trays of choccy biscuits. The events are a massive amount of fun and indulgence, all concerned with just one cherished machine (though VW Beetles do get the odd mention). What more could one ask for in one's dotage (aside from the billionairess)?
Richard Amery has that typically Australian laconic sense of humour, a dry wit, and his little animated address yesterday about feeling the pressure of Richard Polt buying up beautiful Imperial Good Companions in England had us all in stitches. But Phil Chapman announced that Charlie Foxtrot had just taken delivery of a container full of typewriters from Blighty's fair shores, so there'll no doubt be something in that lot for Mr Amery to cast his eager eyes over.
Over the past 15 years or so, I have felt envious of those people who were fully trained as typewriter technicians. The skills they have are to die for. There have been a couple of exceptions among those I have met in Australia, two in particular who proved to be unpleasant and untrustworthy. But there are bound to be rotten apples in every basket, and I don't waste time bothering with them. In the main, the technicians of my acquaintance are just champion blokes. 

Undoubtedly a highlight of yesterday's meeting was a close look at the work of Phil Card, who had restored to full working order a Blickensderfer 5 and an Imperial Model D for Richard Amery - both quite remarkable achievements. I was astonished by how well they now type, and I "dips me lid" to Phil for his incredible skill.
We started out by comparing a couple of Erikas - Richard Amery's very nice, shiny black Model 8 and a model 5 Bijou I am working on. Richard's 8 reminded me greatly of the wonderful early 1950s Model 9 I have. Both Richard's 8 and the Bijou 5 also have that fascinating triple-action typebar mechanism, with provides such a smooth typing action.
Richard produced for the "show and tell" session an interesting "Typer's Companion". On each side of the top there are felt sections to sit the typewriter on, and in front there is a small drawer for typewriter odds and ends. The Lion British Typewriter Supplies Company of London also made and marketed its own duplicators (see below).
Just in case Terry Cooksley was feeling a little left out by the praise being heaped on Phil Card, Richard produced a Royal 10 which had been fully restored by Terry, to show us how well it looked and worked. Richard also brought out a Smith-Corona Silent I had restored for him about 10 years ago.
None of us have been able to work out why this wide carriage Olympia SM9 has upper and lower case capitals.
And none of us could work out while Phil Chapman had spent $20 on a Hermes Ambassador. Ah well, poking round with it was all in the spirit of the day - a lot of teasing, a lot of laughs, all of it from truly genuine typewriter people. Not to mention the mesmerising work of the Wizards of Oz.


Bill M said...

Looks like a really wonderful meeting. The Imperial Portable is fantastic.
Food looks yummy also. How tasty are the ribbons?

shordzi said...

Thanks so much for reporting. Any chance we get the serial number of this Imperial Portable?

Richard P said...

What fun!

I'm tickled to think that an American's reports on his typewriter purchases in England are being discussed in Australia. There really are some benefits of the Internet.

Today I toured the Houses of Parliament, and not long ago I visited the very modern Scottish Parliament as well. I am proud to know that there is a former MP in our ranks.

Anonymous said...

Looks like great fun. I've sampled a few of those Amery ribbons, but never served on a plate. :)

Richard A said...

The serial number of the Imperial 'D' is X54989.

nmatavka said...

I'd spend ten times that much on an Ambassador. THE best typewriter ever wrought by the hands of Man. Especially with that electric carriage return. They DID produce a full-electric Ambassador but it's as rare as hen's teeth.

Peter Lingley said...

Many thanks for such an interesting web page , many years ago I served a five year apprenticeship with the Olivetti dealer in Norwich UK . The first machine I was taught to dismantle was a Lettera 22 , a few months ago I purchased one on ebay in immaculate condition to add to my collection , We started our typewriter company in Perth in 1973 the company was Select Business Machines ,we rented a small room in Beaufort St to start the business , the business grew over the years and we now trade as PLE computers with 3 stores in Perth and one in Melbourne , in our board room I have a restored Olivetti Valentine on display to remind all the computer geeks what a real Icon looks like . In Perth in the seventies I would meet so many interesting people I remember once when I was servicing a typewriter in Parliament house for the Premiers secretary the door to the Premiers office opened and pushed my tool case onto the floor , the Premier John Tonkin said Oh I am so sorry . There are so many stories I can recall . Keep up the good work.