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Thursday 31 December 2020

Spotlight on the Centenary of the MAP Typewriter

Above, the French version, which has on the front left the coat of arms of Paris.
Below, the Belgian version, with on the front left the logo of FN Herstal.
2021 will be the centenary year of the French-Belgian typewriter, the MAP (Manufacture d'Armes de Paris). This machine, starting out in June 1921 with Model 3 serial number 500, was manufactured by a subsidiary of MAP, the Société des Machines à écrire MAP in St Denis (Seine), in a World War I machine gun factory converted to make office equipment. The plant was founded in 1915 by Alexandre Galopin (1879-1944) and Jean Georges Gustave Thomas Joassart (1880-1953), exiled executives of the Belgian national arms factory Fabrique National de Herstal, of which MAP was the French associate organisation (Herstal is a town in Belgium). The typewriter was designed, and its production overseen, by American Halcolm Gordon Ellis.

Halcolm Gordon Ellis
Ellis was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on October 17, 1867. From 1893 he worked as a patent attorney for Knight Brothers in St Louis. After joining the Office of Jury Commissioner, Ellis took up inventing himself. His first patent, in 1895, was for a cotton press. In 1901 Ellis and an engineer friend, Nathan Wait Perkins Jr (1861-1932), designed a small adding machine. It was the start of a long and fruitful partnership between the two. When in 1903 Ellis moved to New York, Perkins followed. Both eventually settled in East Orange, New Jersey. Meanwhile, in 1902 Ellis, while living in Attleboro, Massachusetts, patented a small three-bank portable typewriter which, if it had been made, would surely have been a challenger to the Rose-Corona 3 folding typewriter. Indeed, given the patent was issued in 1904, it might well have beaten the Rose folding typewriter to the purely portable punch. It wasn’t made because the Massachusetts banker who was funding Ellis’s projects died.

In 1919 Ellis returned from many years of working on combined adding machine-typewriters to an out-and-out typewriter and designed what would become the MAP. His Paris sales representative and MAP’s managing director, Dutch-born Nathan 'Nico' Sanders (1884-), encouraged Ellis to move to France to provide production expertise. Apart from returning his mother’s remains to the United States, Ellis stayed in Paris until his death, from a brain hemorrhage, aged 57, in a hotel at 50 Rue Fontenelles, Sevres, at Seine-et-Oise, west of St Denis, on May 26, 1925.

The MAP continued to be made until 1954. To ensure its initial success, Sanders put together a hugely impressive board of directors, who included: Louis Renault, the industrialist and pioneer of the automobile industry; Émile Pathé of the Société Pathé Frères, the largest film equipment and production company in the world, as well as a major producer of phonograph records; Ernest Chenard, a railway engineer and bicycles manufacturer who founded automobile business Chenard, Walcker et Compagnie with mining engineer Henri Walcker; Gustave Adolphe Clément-Bayard, an entrepreneur who raced and manufactured bicycles, pneumatic tyres, motorcycles, automobiles, aeroplanes and airships; Louis Delâge, a pioneer automotive engineer and manufacturer; and Léon Ernest Gaumont, an inventor, engineer and industrialist who was a pioneer of the motion picture industry.

Wednesday 30 December 2020

1921 Typewriter Photographs

Douglas Fairbanks rehearses for his swashbuckling role as D'Artagnan in Fred Niblo's movie The Three Musketeers. With him is scriptwriter Edward Knoblock, who co-wrote the screenplay of the film with Fairbanks and Lotta Woods.

September 17, 1921: European speed typing champion Millicent Woodward and Robert G. Curtis face off before a typing duel in the Roneo Building in Holborn, London.

April 24, 1921, a woman at a typing exam in Paris, France.

Eileen Perry as Enid North in the December 1921 movie Whatever She Wants.

April 1921: The interior of the Custom House in Dublin, headquarters of the British Civil Service in Ireland, after an attack by the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Republican Army.

Camillo Olivetti sitting with his employees in Ivrea.

A woman in an office in the US.

Another woman in an office in the US.

Lord Who Stooped to Conquer the Typewriter World, and Fell Face First

Wilf Beeching with his Conqueror typewriter,
from The Daily Telegraph, London, August 27, 1974.
On this day in 1981, the late George Henry Hubert Lascelles, the 7th Earl of Harewood and the British Queen’s cousin, recorded for the British Broadcasting Corporation his contribution to its “Desert Island Disc” series of interviews, to be played on New Year’s Day 1982. Asked by presenter Roy Plomley to name the one luxury item he would take as a castaway, Lascelles answered “a typewriter”. He was duly promised a table, reams of paper and lots of Tippex, the last of which probably wouldn’t have done his typewriter much good. Sadly, George neglected to mention anything about his father, Henry Lascelles, in relation to typewriters.

Henry Lascelles, founder, chairman and major investor in
the Conqueror Typewriter Manufacturing Company.
Viscount Lascelles had, between 1919-22, squandered £300,000 ($US18.3 million in today’s money) of his vast inheritance building a typewriter factory on Wakefield Road at Stourton, an industrial area near Hunslet, two miles outside the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England. Sadly for the then struggling British typewriter industry – what there was of it – on February 28, 1922, Viscount Lascelles put love before typewriters and married Princess Mary, the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, at Westminster Abbey.

Meet the Mockers: Lascelles and bride, the Princess Royal,
with his new in-laws, Britain's queen and king.
No sooner had he done so than King George told his new son-in-law that being directly involved in the grimy business of making machines for commercial benefit was not the done thing for a member of the British Royal Family. So Lascelles withdrew his financial backing and directorship from the Stourton enterprise and the Conqueror Typewriter Manufacturing Company promptly collapsed. It had produced at least one machine, but sold none. It had been established in early October 1919, had built a plant (which was stuffed to the gills with the very latest and most expensive typewriter-making machinery and tools), employed workers from the end of July 1920, and started operations in August 1921. But in the end the only other thing it had to show for this enormous outlay and  years of existence was a works amateur soccer team, which continued playing in Leeds and Yorkshire minor competitions until February 1922.

The New York American ran this story on July 27, 1922.

Maybe the typewriter fiasco had become a dark family secret, and George, who was born three weeks before his parent’s first wedding anniversary (becoming the then 6th in the line of succession to the British throne), and more than seven months after the typewriter factory equipment was sold off, might not have known anything about it. Perhaps he didn’t read London’s Daily Telegraph (no doubt being a Times may himself), in which on August 24, 1974, a “Conned by QWERTY” item appeared in the London By Day column. In it was a photograph of one Wilfred Beeching, noted British typewriter collector, historian and author, holding what was claimed to be the only Conqueror ever made. Beeching called it his “million pound typewriter” – and one million pounds sterling in 1974 would fetch $US14.2 million today. But Beeching was basing this figure on what he estimated it had cost to build. And he was actually under-estimating! Lascelles’s £300,000 investment in 1920 would have been worth £1.287 million in 1974.

Image from the front cover of ETCetera magazine No 78, June 2007.
As for the real value of Beeching’s Conqueror, a very high price tag might well have been justified if it was indeed, as he said, the only one in existence.  ETCetera magazine has in 2007 (No 78) and 2011 (No 96) mentioned a Conqueror in the Sirvent collection in Vigo, Spain, without indicating whether this is the same Conqueror Beeching once owned. The one in the Sirvent collection was described as “essentially a reproduction of the Stoewer Record, but of much lower quality”. Then ETCetera editor Richard Polt remarked in June 2007 (when the Conqueror was on the magazine’s cover), “Not exactly a tribute to ‘all-British engineering!” And he was right. At the time the Conqueror Typewriter Manufacturing Company collapsed in June 1922, the local Leeds Mercury touched on that very point. “Can England do fine work?” it asked in an editorial lamenting the plant’s closure.

The Conqueror Typewriter Manufacturing Company factory.
The Conqueror enterprise was dreamed up in, of all places, the trenches on the Western Front during the latter stages of World War I. Henry George Charles Lascelles, the 6th Earl of Harewood, KG, GCVO, DSO and Bar, TD, JP, DL (1882-1947) was commanding the 3rd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards when he met a Major John Percival Bate, MC, DSO and Bar (1894-1932), an accomplished engineer who was in command of the 1/8th Worcestershire Regiment. Somehow, building typewriters came into the conversation, possibly because Lascelles had developed a determination regarding post-war employment for surviving soldiers. Bate was to become designer of the Stourton works and general manager of the Conqueror Typewriter Manufacturing Company. He remained one of four directors to the very end. Henry Lascelles, who was born at 43 Belgrave Square, London, with a silver spoon firmly implanted in his mouth, died of a heart attack on May 24, 1947, at the age of 64 at his home, Harewood House in West Yorkshire.

October 27, 1919
July 10, 1922
July 11, 1922

July 12, 1922
July 12, 1922
July 13, 1922
Below, what came up for auction:
December 5, 1923

Tuesday 29 December 2020

The Woes of the Earliest Typewriter Salesman: George Bliss Throop III

Tifft House at 465 Main Street, Buffalo, New York.
One of the first agents foolhardy enough to take on the onerous task of trying to sell writing machines to an incognizant, nescience public in 1874 was George Bliss Throop III.  In October of that year, just three months after the Sholes & Glidden had first gone on sale, Throop set up ‘shop’ in R.G. Dun & Company’s offices on the corner of Washington and Exchange streets and at his temporary residence in Tifft House at 465 Main Street, Buffalo, New York. Throop’s efforts lasted less than three months, but the typewriter’s promoters, Densmore, Yost and Company, could not have expected a more earnest (and expensive) attempt to convince what interested parties there were out there that this new and unusual machine was a must-buy for them. At $125 a pop ($2946 in today's money) it was a hard ask.

Throop advertised heavily in the Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, the Buffalo Sunday Morning News and the Buffalo Commercial, all to little avail. As Richard Current wrote in his 1954 classic The Typewriter and the Men Who Made It, “During the latter half of 1874 typewriters moved so slowly that Densmore and Yost had to delay payments to all their creditors.” One stopgap solution was to incorporate their  company, which was done on December 28, 1874, when it became “The Type-Writer Company”. This organisation granted Yost and English-born Edward Denning Luxton (1830-1901) the contract to make and sell typewriters, under the company name Densmore, Yost & Company, General Agents. Poor George Throop was out on his ear.

So who was this man, one of the typewriter’s earliest salesmen? George Bliss Throop III was born in 1833 in New Berlin, Chenango, New York. From 1862-64 he was a private with F Company in the 114th Infantry of the Union army. After the Civil War he worked primarily as a carpenter, not the most obvious employment background for someone wanting to sell typewriters. But he did grow up in something of a literary surrounding. His father, storekeeper and manufacturer George Bliss Throop II (1793-1854), a close friend of Martin Van Buren, was Clerk of Cayuga County from 1821-25, Postmaster of Auburn and Cashier of the Cayuga County Bank. He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1828-31 and a member of the Michigan House of Representatives in 1847. His grandfather was George Bliss Throop I (1761-94) and his grandmother Abiah (née Thompson, 1762–1846), a sister of assemblymen Jesse Thompson and Israel Thompson. His mother, Frances (née Hunt, 1806-72) was a sister of United States Supreme Court justice Ward Hunt. His step uncle was Congressman Israel T. Hatch (1808-75) and his step-aunt Eliza Hatch (1800-85) who married first Congressman Gershom Powers (1789-1831) and then Judge William B. Rochester (1789-1838). Even more significantly George B. Throop III was a nephew of Enos Thompson Throop (1784-1874), a lawyer, politician and diplomat who was the 10th Governor of New York, from 1829-32. In 1814 Enos was elected to the 14th United States Congress and in April 1823 he was appointed Judge of the Seventh Circuit and remained on the bench until 1828. In 1833 he was appointed by President Andrew Jackson naval officer at the Port of New York, an office he held until February 1838, when President Van Buren appointed him Chargé d'affaires of the United States to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, where he remained until January 1842. The town of Throop, Cayuga County, is named after him.

One of George Bliss Throop III’s half-brothers was the novelist Higby Throop (1818-1896). He first wrote under the pseudonym Gregory Seaworthy but later took his father's first name, George, as his own. He spent much of the 1840s as a schoolmaster and mariner. S
ix months after Higby had passed, George Bliss Throop III died, on September 29, at his home at 21 West 18th Street, Manhattan. By then people were having no trouble selling typewriters.

Typewriter Highlight of 2020: An Underwood 5 in Excellent Condition

Typewriter Topics
closed out its last edition of 100 years ago with a full-page colour advert for the Underwood 5, listing its achievements in world speed typing championships since 1906. In the same December 1920 issue, the Corona portable was described as “a small Hercules”, and there was a counter-claim to Underwood’s for the Remington 10, saying it was the “speediest of all typewriters” (holding the world’s record for “actual for gross speed”). Yet in my humble opinion, the Underwood 5 remains the greatest typewriter ever made, the pinnacle of 100 years of American typewriter design, engineering and manufacture. To paraphrase Elvis, “two million buyers could not have been wrong”. And it was in 1920 that the Underwood 5 reached that remarkable sales figure, “equal in quantity to all of the other firms in the typewriter industry combined” according to George Nichols Engler in his 1969 PhD dissertation “The Typewriter Industry: The Impact of a Significant Technological Revolution” (University of California at Los Angeles).

After many years of various frustrations in my hunt for an Underwood 5 in excellent condition, I finally secured one in 2020. Fittingly, the serial number of 1291438 means it was made in early February 1920. My typewriter needs are no longer what they once were, dictated as they now are by financial and storage considerations which once did not apply to the extent they do today. So these days I’m far more selective than I might have been 10 years or so ago. But when this Underwood came up for auction, I had no hesitation in “pulling out all the stops” to get it. And I’m so pleased I did. It now takes pride of place in my smallish collection, alongside a New Zealand Typewriter Company Blickensderfer 5, Miles Franklin’s Corona portable, a Remington Model 2, Raymond Koessler’s Simplex 1 (and maybe one or three dozen others!).

Sunday 27 December 2020

My Christmas Plana: An Olympia Made in the Soviet Zone

This is my 2020 Christmas gift to self. I found the bakelite Olympia Plana, in excellent working condition, at a very good price in a bric-a-brac shop called “Lost and Found Market” on Brunswick Street in Melbourne three weeks ago. Making it all the more alluring is some mystique about its year of manufacture. Of course, all Planas, whether labelled Olympia or Optima, were made in Erfurt, since Johannes Krüger’s blueprints never made it out of Erfurt. On July 3, 1945, Erfurt became part of what was then known as the Soviet Zone of Occupation. But the “Made in Germany” line on the Plana’s paper plate could mean Nazi Germany or East Germany, depending on when the machine was made. The serial number on this one is 204214, and therein lies a puzzle. The Typewriter Database gives the last year of manufacturing of the Olympia Plana as 1948, with serial numbers between 191377 and 198118. The TDb adds “After 1948, [the] Olympia factory becomes East German Optima.” As for Optima Planas, the TDb has the start of manufacture in 1950, with the serial number 203759. But the TDb also has an Olympia Plana Model A owned by Torsten Ludwar with the serial number 205177. The year of manufacture is given as 1950, and it is identical to my machine. I believe my Plana was made that year or perhaps in 1949. And that means an Olympia made in what had already become East Germany - that is, beyond the Iron Curtain.

All this may well be explained in Eberhard Lippmann’s 2008 Die historische Entw icklung des Betriebes Optima Erfurt, in which he points out that the West German company Olympia Hamburg-Wilhelmshaven won a 1951 court decision over what had become known in 1946 as Olympia Büromaschinenwerk Sowjetische [Soviet] AG für Feinmechanik Erfurt, a part of a Soviet joint-stock company incorporated into the Totschmasch group. This case gave Olympia Hamburg-Wilhelmshaven exclusive use of the Olympia trade name. Lippmann says that in 1950 the Erfurt plant became known as VEB Olympia Büromaschinenwerk Erfurt and in 1951 as Optima Büromaschinenwerk VEB Erfurt.

What emerges from the serial numbers is clear evidence that the Erfurt plant kept making Planas under the name Olympia right up until the time Olympia Büromaschinenwerk Erfurt lost the court case to Olympia Hamburg-Wilhelmshaven in 1951. What also becomes apparent, from articles published in United States newspapers in 1951-52, is that there may have been a Soviet economic imperative for doing this. That is, to continue to trade under Olympia’s good name. Given this, it’s possible serial numbers on the Olympia Planas played a part in the subterfuge, to give dealers in North America the false impression the machines were from 1949 being made in West Germany (Macy’s was among the stores fooled). Lippmann concedes that in 1951 at least a small number of Planas, perhaps as few as 150, were exported to the West, but were they labelled Olympias or Optimas? Olympia Planas were advertised in Western Australia at the end of 1949 and in August 1951 in Canada. The Canadian ads said the machines were imported direct from the “British Zone of Germany”. (Olympia portables advertised in Australia from 1950-52 were made in  Wilhelmshaven.)

In January 1951 American political journalist Theodore Harold White (1915- 1986), filing from Paris for the Overseas News Agency (ONA), wrote a widely-syndicated column describing the Western distribution of the Soviet-made Olympia Plana. The one White had was stamped “Made in Germany” and had the serial number 206405. White said the Russian Government was offering the portable for sale at $25, “half the cost of a typewriter anywhere in Europe”, and claimed they were shipped out of Leningrad. White and US typewriter dealers wondered whether the Soviets were selling the machines at a loss.

“Or another thesis,” added White. “Are the Russians so desperately short of dollars to purchase essential materials that they will offer a valuable typewriter like this at bargain prices just to earn dollars to buy the raw materials we control?” He went on, “Were these typewriters wrung out of the Germans as reparations … Do the Russians get these typewriters from the Germans by one of their tough trade treaties … How can Eastern Germany have reserve capacity to make such typewriters when it is so short of steel?” White would have been astonished to learn that in April 1952 Erfurt signed a deal with the Chinese Government to build typewriters with three keyboards of 2500 characters.

White concluded, “The typewriter is one of the objects that illuminate our dark times. Never has the world been sealed into such air-tight halves, one half so completely ignorant of the life of the other half. We have no idea what else the Russian industrial empire can make, at what cost, under what circumstances, under what pressure and motives.”