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Sunday, 15 December 2019

The Adventure of Sears Christmas Wishbook Toy Typewriters 1964-80

I don’t usually publish comments from anonymous readers, but I received one on Saturday which was sufficiently intriguing for me to bend the rule. The person wrote, “Thank you for writing the story. I was given a Sears Adventure typewriter in 1973 from my uncle. It took me forever to figure out what model it was. I ended up going through an online version of the Sears Wishbook from 1973 to figure it out. Your story added to my memory of the typewriter.”
The “story” this reader was referring to appeared on this blog on May 18, 2012, and concerned a toy typewriter which had influenced Mario Bellini’s design of the Olivetti Lettera 35. Oddly enough, the toy typewriter in question, the Sears Adventure, was actually an effort to duplicate Ettore Sottsass’s design for the Olivetti Valentine – case and all.
The anonymous comment led me to look through online Sears Christmas catalogues, particularly to see how the Adventure was advertised. It wasn’t in the 1973 Wishbook, but in the 1972 catalogue (the patent for the design, by Frank C. Fusco and Bill Gold and assigned to Louis Marx & Co, had been applied for in August 1971 but not issued until January 1974). Most interestingly, the Adventure only ever appeared in ONE Sears Wishbook – unlike almost all other models of that period.  That makes me think that either Sottsass or Olivetti itself objected to the Valentine lookalike, perhaps claiming it was an infringement on Sottsass’s design, and Sears responded by promptly taking the Adventure off the market.
1972 Sears Christmas Wishbook ad
Looking closely at the trends in toy typewriter advertising in the Sears Christmas Wishbooks in the 17 issues from 1964 to 1980 was revealing. There was a clear dwindling in the emphasis Sears put on toy typewriters during that time, as the ads dropped from more than two pages to barely a half page, and eventually from full colour ads to sepia tone (probably for the first time in more than 20 years). At the same time, there was also obviously a period from the mid-60s right through to the late 70s when Sears put a great deal of faith in toy typewriter sales at Christmas. Many passing fads in Christmas toys are detectable, but toy typewriters remain stable until the advent of toy computers.
     Getting back to the Adventure, it was a toy typewriter that Richard Polt alerted me to when it came up for sale on eBay in the US in 2011. Both of us instantly recognised it as a blatant take-off of the Valentine. I just had to buy it to compare it with the Valentine. The absolute giveaway was the distinctive case which came with the Adventure, which is almost identical to the Valentine's. But Fusco and Gold referenced another toy typewriter, one that the two of them, along with Norman C.Gold, had designed and assigned to Marx in 1966. It was marketed as the Montgomery Ward toy typewriter as well as a Marx toy typewriter. In turn, that earlier Fusco-Gold toy typewriter design was referenced by Danforth Cardozo Jnr and Geoffrey E.Grieb when in 1969 they assigned to Litton Business Systems the design for the Royal Apollo electric typewriter.

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