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Friday 31 January 2020

The Royal Empress Standard Manual Typewriter and its Beautiful Franz Halm Font

Patents for the Royal Empress, which I fully restored late last year.
The Royal Empress standard manual typewriter typeface was created by an Austrian-born restaurant waiter, Franz Joseph Halm, of Farmington, Connecticut, in 1960. Halm, born in Salzburg on August 3, 1916, was issued with patent Des[ign] 191,073 five days after his 45th birthday. It was assigned to the Royal McBee Corporation of Port Chester, Westchester, New York. Halm, the son of a machinist at the Royal typewriter factory in Hartford, Connecticut, arrived in the US with his family in 1923, and by the age of 14 was already a noted artist. Apart from his work as a waiter at the Marble Pillar Restaurant in Hartford, Halm continued to paint portraits and was also an instructor in the sport of fencing at the Greater Hartford YMCA. He died on October 30, 1991, aged 76.
Franz Halm, above, painting in his studio surrounded by fencing gear in 1954,
and below, the noted young artist in 1931, aged 14.
       Halm’s patent was for a term of 14 years, and had well and truly lapsed before a range of lookalike fonts began to appear for digital use. Initially I thought the closest to come to it was F25 Executive, created by Volker Busse in Düsseldolf in 2008, 33 years after Halm’s patent had expired. It apparently is based on the IBM Executive Modern font, which is also the basis for the Testimonial font available for free download on Richard Polt’s The Classic Typewriter Page. Richard attributes Testimonial to the late journalist Jack Knarr, and it dates to 2009. A more recent font (2012) is the Cutive, created by the late Englishman Vernon Adams and also based on the IBM Executive. But Adams doffed his cap to the Smith Premier as well.
       Halms outlined what influenced his font design. He referenced a 1881 movable type patent (D12520) from another Englishman, James Andrew St James, then manager of the Central Type Foundry on Jefferson Avenue, St Louis, Missouri. This was a greater lateral proportion (to its height) extended version of Old Style. Other references came from The Encyclopedia of Type Faces, by Berry, Johnson & Jaspert, 1958, and were the Ehrhardt, Imprint, Old Style and Kumlien. The same edition included the Carolus type.
James St John's 1881 Greater Proportioned Old Style Extended
Old Style
       Halm’s font is one of the nicest I have ever seen on a manual typewriter, and I lean toward the opinion that at least some of the later online typewriter-style fonts – such those from by Busse and Adams - were influenced by it. But, then, I'm not much of an expert on fonts, and Tracey Ullman's BBC TV skit sums up my usual attitude:

Saturday 25 January 2020

Vale Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer working with a Royal KMM standard manual typewriter
while editor of his college newspaper.
American journalist Jim Lehrer died at his home in Washington DC on Thursday, aged 85.  James Charles Lehrer was born on May 19, 1934, in Wichita, Kansas. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, where he was a sports editor for the Jefferson Declaration. Later he graduated with an associate degree from Victoria College, and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in 1956. In 1959, Lehrer began his career in journalism at The Dallas Morning News and worked as a reporter for the Dallas Times-Herald, where he covered the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. He was a political columnist there for several years, and in 1968 he became the city editor. Also a novelist, screenwriter and playwright, Lehrer was the executive editor and a news anchor for the PBS NewsHour, known for his role as a debate moderator during US presidential election campaigns. He authored numerous fiction and non-fiction books that drew upon his experience as a newsman, along with his interests in history and politics.

Friday 24 January 2020

Queueing Up For Typewriters

The manual portable typewriters at the “Yours Faithfully” exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House) in Canberra have been getting a ton of use. I was over there again this week to do some more running repairs on a couple of the machines. It’s been interesting for me to see that the machine which has stood up best to constant use (and dare I say abuse) is the Hermes Baby. It hasn’t missed a beat in six weeks. Next best performer has been the Nakajima Imperial 200.
The curators tell me that over the Christmas-New Year holiday period people were “queuing up to use the typewriters”.  The evidence that this is true is certainly there. Every time I visit to check on the machines there are groups of children tapping merrily away – and not always that well supervised. With Canberra blanketed in thick bushfire smoke and temperatures consistently up around the 100 degrees mark, families have looked for somewhere to escape the oppressive conditions, and have found not just the air-conditioned comfort of MoAD, but the joy of typewriters to boot. Cool fun encapsulated in a room full of typewriters!
Plenty of adults have availed of the opportunity to type, too, and I have been told of at least two young males who have decided to acquire their own typewriters, so enamored were they by the experience at MoAD - indeed, one of them wants to start his own collection. Up to 70 typewritten letters a day are being collected from the mail box. The school holidays end next week and the pressure on these machines might be eased a little – at least temporarily. 
Kids love the challenge of using a typewriter, but the typewriter doesn’t always appreciate the way they treat it. The most common problem for me to fix relates to the ribbons, and it seems kids can’t resist the temptation to grab at the ribbons and pull them out. It’s not just about the magic of seeing the letters you type appear instantly on a page in front of you, but about how that’s achieved – a computer printer, by comparison, is just a dull plastic box. Little black fingerprints all over most of the machines bear testimony to the habit of checking out ribbons.
The worst thing that has happened so far is that someone decided to try to souvenir some of the keytops off an Olivetti Lettera 32 – not all that easy a thing to do - and in the case of “E”, succeeded.  I’ve also fixed the carriage lever on the Adler Contessa, the spacebar on the Facit TP1, a snapped drawband on the Silver-Reed 100 and some sticky keys on machines on which, seemingly, a child has decided to press all the keys at once (not an uncommon occurrence in my experience). All in all, however, “Yours Faithfully” has already been declared an unqualified success and is one of the most popular exhibitions at MoAD.
Another MoAD exhibition which includes a typewriter (a Remington Model 2 portable) is called “Truth, Power and a Free Press”. Next to it is the collection of the previous year’s outstanding newspaper political cartoons, which also embraces references to a free press. “FW”, who tried to leave a comment on my blog last June about Australian Press freedoms – interesting coming from someone living in a country presided over by Donald Thump – might be interested to see these (except he refuses to read my blog any longer).
The above chart shows how far ahead of the United States Australia is in relation to press freedoms. But New Zealand is also away ahead of Australia.
Anyway, not far away from MoAD is the National Library, where there is an exhibition about the writing of children’s literature - with yet another typewriter, in this case a Corona 4.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Death of a Great Journalist

                            Bernard Diederich typing his copy on a Remington-Rand portable
                                       at his newspaper, the Haiti Sun, in the early 1950s.
Checking my blog's page views just now, I noted that there had been, in the past few days, 438 views of my December 14, 2015, post on the great New Zealand-born journalist Bernard Diederich. I immediately sensed that Bernard had passed away, and sure enough glowing obituaries in The New York Times and elsewhere confirmed he had died, aged 93, in Haiti last Tuesday. He will be buried today, with a rock from Makara Beach, outside Wellington in New Zealand, in his hand.
Bernard, who braved dictators and disasters in covering civil wars, coups, earthquakes and hurricanes across the Caribbean islands and Central America, must rank as one of the greatest journalists of the 20th Century. He was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on July 18, 1926.
To my enormous pride, Bernard himself absolutely loved my blog post of 2015. I recommend reading it here.
See also The New York Times obit, which for detail about Bernard's remarkable life relied very heavily on my post, here.