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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

'Quick Brown Revived Fox': Uplift in Sales of Manual Portable Typewriters in Britain in 1989

On this day in 1989, the London broadsheet The Daily Telegraph ran an eight-page insert on "Office Automation". The spread included this Anthony Marshall photo of a then 71-year-old British typewriter collector and historian Wilfred Albert Beeching, author of Century of the Typewriter (first hardcover edition published by William Heinemann, London, 1974; second softcover edition published by British Typewriter Museum Publishing, Bournemouth, 1990). Beeching was born Sidney Frank Appleton in Smallburgh, Norfolk, on September 9, 1918. He changed his name by deed poll in Bournemouth in October 1941. Five years later, after serving in World War II, Wilf Beeching entered the typewriter trade as a manufacturers' agent with an office machine shop in Bournemouth. The business must have been good, for in less than 30 years Beeching had accumulated a collection of some 350 rare early typewriters. In late September 1974 he opened his version of the British Typewriter Museum at 137 Stewart Road, Bournemouth. Unfortunately, in 1978, the site was closed by the land owner in order to build a car park and Beeching presented his collection to the Bournemouth Borough Council. The collection was insured by the borough through the Bournemouth Museums Service and the borough bought the museum's souvenir shop stock and all rights to the museum brand name for £1500. The museum was moved within the Rothesay Museum at 8 Bath Road and reopened as "a museum within a museum" on October 23, 1978. Beeching became an "honorary keeper" as part of the arrangements. The museum remained in operation until the demolition of the Rothesay Museum in 1985. Beeching was outraged and asked to take the collection back. It included a Blick Electric and the extremely rare Conqueror. The collection was later split up, with some of it going to the Science Museum in London and other typewriters being sold to private collectors, including Uwe Breker. Beeching died in Bournemouth in July 2000, aged 81.

The Telegraph's supplement also included articles on the state of the typewriter industry in Britain at that time, and an article about QWERTY which, unfortunately, was one of those items which promoted the old furphy about QWERTY being devised to "slow down typists" when quite the opposite was in fact the case. It's amazing how many people still believe the "slow down" nonsense.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Never (Again Shall I) Scorn the Humble Silver-Seiko Portable Typewriter

I mentioned earlier in the week that it was beginning to feel like old times here, with an influx of “new” typewriters for me to play with. That refreshing pattern has been maintained (not sure what I’ve done to appease the typewriter gods, but I hope these arrivals continue unabated). Today I was given a 1974 Silver-Seiko Imperial Tab-O-Matic (serial number 3150606) in immaculate condition. It belonged to a gentleman who 7½ years ago also gave me a Nippo Atlas, which he’d picked up in the duty-free port of Aden when coming out to Australia in 1962, as well as a cream Atlas (below) bought in Hawaii while on an overseas trip. This family really looked after their typewriters!

The Imperial Tab-O-Matic was introduced to the British typewriter market in June 1974 and continued to be sold there as a “new model” for the next two years. The identical machine had been introduced to the United States market as a Royal Tab-O-Matic in May 1972 and continued to be sold until 1978. “Tab-O-Matic” was a model name first used by Royal on a version of the Futura, from June 1960 (see Springfield News Leader articles below).

British advert, 1974
British advert, 1975
British advert, 1976
Below: Opening of Royal's Springfield, Missouri, plant on June 7, 1960,
with the announcement of the Royal Tab-O-Matic.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Amazing Day at Amazing Race Typewriter Test

I’ve been using typewriters in various parts of the world for 63 years now, and have had many, many weird and wonderful experiences with typewriters in that time. But nothing, absolutely nothing, has come close to Saturday’s The Amazing Race Australia typewriter test in the Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House) in Canberra. In the end, with typewriters happily undamaged in this exercise, I was delighted to have been able to get out of hospital and to be there to keep the machines working, if not always smoothly.

This test was part of the fifth season in The Amazing Race Australia series. It’s a Channel 10 production, and all of the film crew were very professional. They only started filming this coronavirus-racked season at the end of October (in Covid-19-free Queensland), so I guess they have a way to go yet. It will start being screened early next year.

During the filming, I was "in shot" far more often than expected. Since the contestants are chasing a prize of a quarter of a million dollars, I was told to help as little as possible with typing problems - that for that sort of money the two-person teams had to fend almost entirely for themselves. But as it turned out the production people signaled me to go in and help quite a bit, with things as basic as winding paper on to the platen!

This segment involved three teams, two young woman (one of whom started to pull her shorts down at her typewriter, much to my astonishment! But it was a hot morning), two typically Aussie blokes in green shirts, and two young men of Middle Eastern appearance in bandanas. The six seemed to be within the 25-35 age bracket, but none appeared to have had much prior typewriter using experience. So it was, at least for me, a very interesting day’s work!

One member of each team had to stand in the House of Representatives gallery and memorise as much (in short takes) of the famous “Kerr’s Cur” speech made by former Australian Labor Party Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.* The test marked the 45th anniversary of one of the most despised events in Australian political history, the November 11, 1975, sacking of Whitlam by the then pickled Queen’s representative, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who proclaimed conservative party leader Malcolm Fraser the replacement Prime Minister (November 11 is Remembrance Day in Australia, the anniversary of the signing of the armistice which ended World War I). The speech was: “Well may we say ‘God Save the Queen’, because nothing will save the Governor-General. The proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General’s official secretary was countersigned ‘Malcom Fraser’, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as ‘Kerr’s cur’. They won’t silence the outskirts of Parliament House, even if the inside has been silenced for the next few weeks.” *A cur is an aggressive or unkempt dog, especially a mongrel. In the derogatory human sense, it is a contemptible man.

The contestant hearing the speech then had to run into the typewriter room and dictate, from memory, snatches of the text. No notes could be written down, so this took several return journeys. The memorised grabs were typed by his or her teammate, and the whole speech had to be word perfect before the teams were allowed to leave the typewriting room and proceed to the front steps of Old Parliament House, where one member delivered the lines (this is where Whitlam made his speech in 1975, see image above). Only then did the typewriting test end and the teams could start thinking about their next challenge. The whole thing took almost two hours.

It was just as well I took along with me two “back-up” portable typewriters, an very early Olivetti Lettera 22 (1950) and a much later (1962) Lettera 22, both of which finished up being used. I’d recommended to staff at Old Parliament that they use their Olivetti Lettera 32, Facit TP1 and Hermes Baby for the test. But when I got there on Saturday morning, I found that all three, plus an Adler Gabriele 25, were unusable, the Facit, Hermes and Adler all with smashed carriage levers (see later post on that subject). That left a Silver-Seiko Imperial 200, which was also used, a Silver-Seiko 100, two Olympias (including a hybrid, also a later post), a Remington Envoy II and an Olivetti Studio 45, none of which I wanted to risk, given the rigorous use I was envisaging.

My anticipation of rough handling by The Amazing Race Australia contestants proved well-founded. The young lady typist insisted on forcing the carriage on the Imperial 200 without using the carriage release lever, and the loud grating sound as the carriage was shoved over the escapement rack elicited from me a very audible groan. So much so the whole room of cameramen, sound technicians and producers turned to look at me, then the producers signaled me to go in and advise use of said carriage release lever. Two teams didn’t know how to feed fresh paper on to platen, one didn’t seem to know about using the carriage lever to go to a new line, and two teams accidentally applied the carriage lock, crying out, “It’s not working!” “It” was working, of course, perfectly, they’d just been very clumsy. But of course I hadn’t been allowed to advise any of the typists about these little things that all experienced typists take for granted. None of the typists seemed to know about shift lock (I think they thought it was a “start” button), ribbon colour selection or about applying the right amount of finger pressure to the keytops. But at the end of the day it was all done and a very loud sigh of relief echoed through the typewriting room. No permanent damage was done to any of the machines, thank the typewriter gods! (Who, I must confess, remained reasonably calm and patient.)

Friday, 13 November 2020

The Amazingly Painful Race to an Amazing Typewriter Race

This was to be a typewriter week to remember. From working on a seriously neglected Empire Aristocrat and an Imperial Good Companion Model 3 and being interviewed for a Jonathan Posey podcast last weekend to typewriter wrangling for “The Amazing Race Australia” and giving a Zoom presentation at the “Virtual Herman’s” meeting this weekend. Then something far less aristocratic or regal than an Empire or an Imperial got in the way - a very bad companion indeed, in the shape of a large kidney stone.

This only shows how "up" I was last Sunday for the week ahead.
For a while there it looked very much like I wasn’t going to make the “Amazing Race” typewriter segment being filmed at the Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House) in Canberra tomorrow, nor my “Virtual Herman’s” talk on the first day of the amazing program so meticulously put together by David Brechbiel  in Monticello, Indiana. But it now seems I’ll be there for both.

Just after lunch on Wednesday I hit the canvas in extreme agony. My wife Harriet got me straight into Canberra Hospital and for the next 44 hours I was shifted from one ward to another, and from one radiography room to another, all the while fretting about missing these two big events. But this morning (Friday) I got the good news that I could come back home and resume planning for my weekend duties.

Has typing ever been involved in The Amazing Race before? It will very be interesting to see how this test for contestants will go. The typewriters being used as those portables and semi-portables I sold to MoAD earlier this year (and continue to service). I will be on stand-by in case there are problems with the machines during the typing and filming.

Once that commitment is over, I’ll be getting ready for my “Virtual Herman’s” talk, which start at 2.30am Sunday my time, 11.30am EST in the US. I’m discussing the adverse impact on sports writing as a result of the switch from typewriters to early ‘laptops’ at major international sporting events in the late 1980s. It’s going to be a massive weekend after all. And, thank goodness – kidney stone duly shifted – I once again feel up to facing the typewriter-related challenges that lie ahead in these next two days.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Typewriters in a Very Cold Climate

Until I came across this photo last week, I had assumed that the first typewriters taken to Antarctica were Remingtons used during British Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton’s 1908-09 expedition. But here is evidence that French scientist and explorer Jean-Baptiste-Étienne-Auguste Charcot (1867-1936) used a Remington on his ship, the three-masted Le Français, during his 1903-07 expedition. The photo was taken by Charcot’s friend, the industrialist Paul Pléneau.

Charcot was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the son of the founder of modern neurology Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893), an important influence on Sigmund Freud. Jean-Baptiste Charcot was the winner of two sailing silver medals at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games, crewing for François Texier in the two finals for boats up to half a ton, raced on the Seine in Meulan-en-Yvelines in the third week of May. His polar ship was built in Saint-Malo in 1903.

Geologist Ernest Gourdon (left) and photographer Paul Pléneau
enjoy a glass of Mumm Champagne in Antarctica on Bastille Day 1904.
Le Français left Le Havre on August 27, 1903, headed for the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It left Ushuaia on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago on January 23, 1904, and was in the ice and islands of the South Shetlands by the beginning of February. On January 15, 1905, the ship hit a rock off Alexander Island and began to sink. It managed to limp back to Argentina, where Charcot sold it to the Argentinian Government for use as a supply ship to its South Orkney Islands station. The expeditioners returned to France to be greeted as polar heroes, and the subsequent publication of 18 volumes of scientific reports – all typewritten on the Remington - amply justified that standing.  Charcot returned for a second Antarctic expedition in 1908-10, with his new ship Pourquoi-Pas? (“Why Not?).

In later life Charcot explored Rockall (a desolate island of which I’ve written on this blog) in 1921 and Eastern Greenland and Svalbard from 1925 until 1936. He died when Pourquoi-Pas? was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Iceland in 1936.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard using an Underwood on Robert Scott's 1910-12 Expedition.

Shackleton’s 1908-09 expedition began on New Year’s Day, 1908, when the Nimrod set off on the British Antarctic Expedition from Lyttelton Harbour, New Zealand, and arrived at the eastern sector of the Great Ice Barrier on January 21. Shackleton sailed on to McMurdo Sound, arriving there on January 29, with a base eventually being established at Cape Royds. It took almost a full year, until January 9, 1909, for Shackleton and three companions to reach a new Farthest South latitude of 88° 23' S, a point only 112 miles from the South Pole. They became the first people to see and travel on the South Polar Plateau. Their return journey to McMurdo Sound was a race against starvation, on half-rations for much of the way. The expedition's other main accomplishments included the first ascent of Mount Erebus, and the discovery of the approximate location of the South Magnetic Pole, reached on January 16, 1909.

A Yost typewriter on Shackleton's 1914-17 expedition.
While Shackleton was in Antarctica, Commander Robert Perry had taken Remingtons with him on his final assault on the North Pole. Peary and 23 men set off from New York City on July 6, 1908, aboard the Roosevelt. They wintered near Cape Sheridan on Ellesmere Island, and from Ellesmere departed for the pole on February 28, 1909. On the final stage of the journey toward the North Pole, Peary on April 6 established Camp Jesup within three miles of the pole, according to his own readings.  News that both explorers had taken Remington typewriters with them was published across the US in November 1909, with the words, “The fact that the typewriter has now extended the field of its activities from pole to pole is typical of the conquest of the entire globe by the writing machine.”

Photos of typewriter use in Antarctica were taken of assistant biologist Apsley Cherry-Garrard by Herbert Ponting on Captain Robert Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova expedition of 1910-12. Scott’s march south toward the South Pole began on November 1, 1911, a few months after these photos were taken. Scott reached the Pole on January 11, 1912, only to find he’d been beaten there by Norwegian Roald Amundsen.

Australian Frank Hurley's remarkable photographs of Shackleton's disastrous 1914-17 expedition include one showing a Yost typewriter in Shackleton’s cabin on the Endurance.

Mention of Cape Royds finally brings me to this photo of Geoffrey Lee-Martin, my chief-of-staff on The New Zealand Herald when I worked in Auckland in the late 1960s. Lee-Martin is typing a story on his Empire Aristocrat portable typewriter at Cape Royds, which forms the west extremity of Ross Island, facing on to McMurdo Sound, in January 1956, when he was covering Sir Edmund Hillary's Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Art Deco and Typewriters

The spring 2020 edition of Spirit of Progress, the journal of the Art Deco and Modernism Society of Australia, has been brought to my attention by a close friend who is an avid Art Deco collector. As such, he has in his home for safekeeping - for the time being - my streamlined Remington 5 typewriter, which Richard Polt in his Remington portables section of The Classic Typewriter Page describes as, "an example of the streamlined industrial design of the later Art Deco, or Art Moderne, period." My friend was excited to see that this model is featured in the spring Spirit of Progress, in an article called "Machine Age Writing Machines" by Carmel Taylor. Ms Taylor, I'm pleased to say, quotes both myself and Richard Polt, from oztypewriter and The Classic Typewriter Page respectively, as well from a 2016 article of mine which appears on The Charlie Foxtrot blog. Where she makes mistakes she is citing from less reliable sources, such as (which claims the Corona 3 first came out in 1915). It's interesting to see that the article is illustrated with Paul Braginetz-designed Underwoods, the first of which came out in September 1950, at least 10 years after the Art Deco period had ended. Anyway, here is her article:

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Que? ‘The Mystery of Henri Pick’ The Best Typewriter Movie Yet!

Bill MacLane's Hermes 3000 is the same model as the one used in Le Mystère Henri Pick.
We saw the 2019 French comedy-drama Le Mystère Henri Pick on Sunday and afterwards couldn’t stop talking about what a good movie it is. Perhaps because of the key part played by a Hermes 3000 semi-portable typewriter, I thought it more dramatic than comedic. After all, it’s a ‘whodunit’ of a very different kind, without the blood and the gore. The only deaths I recall are those of pizza chef Pick himself (and that has occurred two years before the action in the movie begins) and the similarly posthumous Jean-Pierre Gourvec, founder of the Library of Rejected Books in the village of Crozon in Finistère in western Brittany (what a fabulous concept, based on a Richard Brautigan idea).

Richard Brautigan and Royal.
Given my leaning toward the typewriter-related histrionics, Fabrice Luchini played the lead role of literary critic Jean-Michel Rouche with a little too much levity for my liking, more impish than intentful. I notice some critics consider Luchini was perfectly cast, but I would have preferred someone with the flair of David Suchet playing Hercule Poirot. And The Hollywood News did describe The Mystery of Henri Pick as a “delectable Agatha Christie caper”. ScreenDaily added the character Rouche was a “pompous windbag”. Still, I didn’t let my impression spoil an otherwise excellent afternoon’s entertainment.

The scene in which the late Henry Pick's daughter Joséphine and her son
Melville find the Hermes 3000 in Henri's basement.

I’d rate The Mystery of Henri Pick as probably the best typewriter movie I’ve ever seen, for reasons I’d not normally expect to be applying to a movie with a typewriter (or many typewriters) in it. For one thing, I’ve no doubt whatsoever that the Hermes 3000 in Henry Pick is absolutely pivotal to the story - even more so than, say, the Groma Kolibri in the 2006 German film The Lives of Others. It’s not a movie full of typewriters, and one doesn’t see the Hermes 3000 all that often. Indeed, it’s only seen in use twice, and then fleetingly, before becoming the centrepiece in a shrine. Unlike The Lives of Others, the typewriter doesn’t get its rightful place in the movie posters, the trailers or the reviews. Yet from the moment young Parisienne publisher Daphné Despero (played by the gorgeous Alice Isaaz) wanders into the Library of Rejected Books and opens the unpublished typescript of The Last Hours of a Love Story by Henri Pick, one just knows a typewriter is going to be central to the plot. And it is, with spades. Not long afterwards, Pick’s bookworm daughter Joséphine (played charmingly by Camille Cottin) and her son Melville (named, no doubt after Herman) find the Hermes 3000 in a cardboard box in the late Henri’s cellar. The moment the pair make their discovery, a typewriter carriage bell makes a highly symbolic ding. Then comes the real clanger, when on his live book review TV show, Rouche casts doubt on whether Pick is the real author of the best-selling The Last Hours of a Love Story. Odd as it may initially seem, Joséphine Pick and Rouche become allies in the quest for the truth, despite the firm conviction of Joséphine’s mother Maedeline (Josiane Stoléru) that her late husband did write the novel, for her.

Typewriter purists - and those who use typewriters to write manuscripts - will be wondering from this point onwards why a forensic document examiner isn’t called in. I was certainly thinking along those lines. But finally, in the denouement, all becomes quite clear. Even after Rouche tracks down the Hermes 3000, his amateurish typeslug forensics can only take him so far; there’s much more to the mystery than the diagonal lower leg of the letter “K” being chipped off. I love a movie with lots of typewriters being used as much as the next Typospherian, but I also love a genuine, gripping mystery story. And the unravelling of the reality about the writing of The Last Hours of a Love Story kept us spellbound right to the end.

The movie is based on a 2016 novel by David Foenkinos (above, 1974-). I have no idea whether Foenkinos uses, or has used a typewriter in his 19-year writing career, but my guess - based on the evidence of The Mystery of Henri Pick – is that he has a deep appreciation of these wonderful machines. He has singled out the Hermes 3000, though in the movie it’s not the more common version which Larry McMurtry thanked when receiving his Golden Globe for his adaptation, with Diana Ossana, of the screenplay for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. McMurtry said at the time that the Hermes 3000 was “surely one of the noblest instruments of European genius”. Foenkinos’s Henri Pick story will only further enhance that well-earned reputation, and not just in Europe. The Mystery of Henri Pick is a book that should be read, and the movie watched, by all those who love typewriters, wherever they may be. Typewriters and who used them, and for what purpose, was the theme of The Lives of Others, but this is a very different kettle of fish, a movie about a typewritten manuscript and the ability of a Breton village pizza chef to typewrite a brilliant novel. As Rouche asks on his TV show, before being sacked for asking, if Pick didn’t write The Last Hours of a Love Story, who did? And if Pick did write it, how?

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

A Royal Portable Typewriter For These Blue Times

Under the headline, “Why This Professor Is Writing Letters for People Feeling Blue” in The New York Times today, an article by Deborah L. Jacobs described Brandon Woolf using a Henry Dreyfus-designed Royal Quiet DeLuxe portable typewriter on a street corner in Brooklyn. “With a typewriter and a mailbox, a sidewalk project explores the art of consoling those who need good news” said the go-first.

Woolf, 37, a member of the full-time faculty of New York University, writes letters on his 1940s machine as a public service called “Free Letters for Friends Feeling Blue”, on the corner of Fourth Street and Prospect Park West. It’s timed to coincide with “the heightened anxiety” surrounding the election, Woolf told Jacobs. He provides not only the typewriter and paper but also an envelope and a stamp.

"Ilion is Remington and Remington is Ilion": An End to Typewriter Ties with New York Village?

An Associated Press story about the possible closure of the sprawling Remington factory in Ilion, New York, got a run around the world today. It referred, of course, to a “gunmaking tradition stretching back to the days of flintlock rifles” (1816), but there was no mention of Ilion also being the birthplace of the typewriter industry.

This 1881 illustration of Ilion shows the Remington factory with, on the left wing, the sewing machine and typewriter works. Ownership of the typewriter plant was sold for $190,000 on March 29, 1886.

The Remington Outdoor Company fired 600 workers this week, after seeking bankruptcy protection for the second time in two years. The AP article said, “It’s common for people here to say that Ilion is Remington and Remington is Ilion”. The gunmaking plant, which dates back to 1828, was established after the Eerie Canal was opened in 1825. E. Remington & Sons was formed in 1856. Over the next 20 years the plant was expanded to make sewing machines, typewriters, farm implements and bicycles. On April 22, 1886, the company went into receivership with assets of $1.712 million and liabilities of $1.256 million. On March 29 the typewriter interest had been sold for $190,000 to Clarence Seamans, William Wyckoff and Henry Benedict, who continued to manufacture in the existing works in Ilion.

The Sholes & Glidden still in use in 1950, 76 years after first reaching the market.
Assembling typewriters by hand at Ilion.