1947 Olivetti Studio 42
Olivetti was a manufacturer that made a habit of taking over and swallowing other typewriter manufacturers. In the early days, it was within Italy, but later on the habit became international. Probably the first was a little-known maker called 'Invicta'. Originally founded to make standard office typewriters, Olivetti became interested in Invicta because they had a line of portable typewriters and Olivetti did not. The exact history is a little confused because at first it seemed that the two firms collaborated, but certainly by the late 1940's Invicta had become a wholly-owned Olivetti subsiduary. Therefore, the Olivetti portable typewriters of the 1930's and 1940's owe far more to Invicta's engineering than Olivetti's.
The Olivetti Studio 42, a heavy-duty portable, first appeared in 1938. Early machines were in a beautiful gloss black enamel, but after the war, the crackle-finish black that you see in the picture above had appeared. As a wartime economy measure, several typewriter makers had adopted this finish - mainly because the surface does not have to be prepared to the same fine degree that it does when the gloss enamel is applied. By the late 1940's, the public had accepted that this is what a typewriter should look like and crackle-finish became fashionable. The machine you see in the picture was made in Italy, no doubt in the old Invicta factory, specifically for export to England. It would be only a few short years before Olivetti had established a factory of their own in Glasgow to make typewriters here.
This particular machine was an e-bay purchase that a customer brought to me when he realised that his new acquistion wasn't working as it should. The Studio 42 is one of those classic typewriters that have started to get rather fashionable with prices to match. Unfortunately, this one had been 'fiddled with' in a major way. The first problem was that the drawcord was broken, but the faults got worse the further you looked. A major one was that the shift stops (which control the height of the carriage when changing to capital letters) were broken off on both sides. I repaired this fault along with most others, but the intervening years had taken their toll - with the result that the tabulator was unreliable. Just for once, I really couldn't do anything to alleviate the problem, so the machine went back to my customer with the explanation that the tab. will never be satisfactory. Otherwise, the machine works well and will give him many further years of enjoyable service. Although I try exceedingly hard to, sometimes you just cannot win them all !
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1938 Olympia Model 8
The German manufacturer Olympia is well-known for the quality typewriters that it produced between the 1950's and the 1980's. However, little is generally known about the machines that Olympia made before the war. Already an established maker in the 1930's, the factory was located in Erfurt. This was later to have quite a bearing on Olympia's post-war history. The office typewriter of the Olympia range was the exceedingly well-engineered Model 8. A real quality machine, it was streets ahead of the American competition at the time. Production began in 1934. The carriage could be removed by releasing a latch and sliding it from its way-rods, thus giving excellent access to the interior for repairs and adjustments. The escapement was set up so that at the flick of a lever, it would put an extra space after each letter - perfect for bold headings. It could do single, double and triple spacing between lines - and half space increments in between. Both features were unheard of in the American competition! However, it did have the curious and very old-fashioned feature of ribbon spools set into the sides of the machine rather than sitting on top - giving a rather convoluted ribbon path.
The Model 8 had a long production run from 1934 until 1952, but not necessarily under the Olympia name! Production continued throughout the war until Olympia suddenly found itself in the Eastern Zone when the war ended. The Olympia management and technical people fled to the West, setting up a new Olympia factory In Wilhelmshaven, whilst the production staff remained in what was to become East Germany. For a while there were two rival Olympia factories producing the same machines! A legal dispute in the late 1940's established that the Olympia trademark belonged to the Wilhelmshaven factory. The Erfurt factory changed its name to 'Optima'. Whilst the new Olympia developed new models of typewriter, the old (Optima) one continued with existing designs. Therefore from 1947 until close of production in 1952, the Model 8 was sold as an 'Optima'! The new factory developed the SG1 instead - a now legendary design - but still with the original features of a quickly-removable carriage and double spacing.
This particular machine was made in 1938, specifically for export to the UK. It features a full English keyboard. It must have been incredibly difficult to sell an Olympia in 1938 England, given the anti-German feeling at the time! A beautiful typewriter, it was just rather unfortunate that it was a product of Nazi Germany! It was brought to me as a non-working purchase from a well-known internet auction site. It must have been standing idle for many years in damp conditions because it was semi-siezed when it arrived. Worse still, it had done a somersault in the back of the customer's car on the way over! This had resulted in extensive damage to the margin and line-lock mechanisms. Nevertheless, it has now been repaired and is in full working order. I managed to get rid of most of the rust and the result can be seen in the photograph. I have a soft spot for Olympias of all ages, and I must say that it was most interesting to work on an Olympia from this period. They are pretty rare in the UK and you do not see them often. Strangely enough, I do have some new-old stock ribbon spools to fit these machines. I keep the most obscure things!
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Circa 1908 Remington 10 - Before & After
The first commercially successful typewriter in quantity production, in America, was a Remington. As the first into the market, Remington had an unassailable position and became a large concern. That first machine was a 'blind writer', which means that the type bars strike from underneath the carriage. Of course, this also means that the typist cannot see what has been typed until another three lines have been written and the sentence rolls into view. Today, no-one would want to use a machine like that. However, since this design of typewriter was all that was available at the beginning, the buying public seemed to accept it. Remington continued to revise and update their typewriter from the 1870's onwards but basically continued to follow the original 'blind' format. Then they got a little big for their boots.
As a large company, Remington also sold 'own brand' typewriter supplies - things like typewriter ribbons and carbon paper. They were having these made by a factory owned by a Mr. John Underwood. The Remington Company decided to manufacture their own supplies and cut the middle-man out of the loop, and therefore gave Mr. Underwood his marching orders. Not to be outdone, he decided that if Remington was going into the ribbon manufacturing business, he would go into the typewriter manufacturing business! He found the right man to design his typewriter, a Franz Xavier Wagner - a German-American engineer who had had a hand in designing typewriters for other makers. Mr. Wagner pulled a master-stroke. He designed a typewriter with 'visible writing'. In other words, you could see what you were typing, as you were typing it! Introduced around 1899, so successful was the design that in 1967 Underwood were still making typewriters that were a recognisable development of the original! Remington chose to sit on their laurels and ignore the new upstart until it was nearly too late. By 1908, they had lost so much market share to Underwood and their imitators that they had to go 'visible' too! The Remington 10 was the result.
The machine shown in the pictures could have been made at any time between 1908 and 1914. The non-stencil ribbon switch identifies it as an early version, but it is so old that serial number records do not exist - so a precise date of manufacture is impossible to find. My customer had been storing the machine in her loft for a long time. Not always a good move with typewriters because many lofts are damp. This one was no exception and the machine was very rusty when it arrived. By looking at the 'before' and 'after' pictures, you can see just how bad it was. I did offer to carefully repaint the front of the machine, but my customer wanted the it to look as original as possible and so the rust was cleaned and left. As for the nickel-plated items, most had also gone rusty. Fortunately, the line space lever (on the right - a hangover from the original Remington model) is a nickel-plated brass casting. That came up remarkably well with the addition of much elbow-grease! The machine is now working and perfectly capable of typing a letter! I wonder if anything that is being manufactured today would still be able to do its job after one hundred years? Somehow, I don't think so!
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Like a few other typewriter manufacturers in Germany, Adler began life as a maker of bicycles. When they decided to diversify by 1898, they did the sensible thing and bought a licence to make the American 'Empire' typewriter rather than try to make their own from scratch. The 'Empire' was designed by Wellington P. Kidder, who went on to develop the 'Noiseless' typewriter - later made by Remington. That 'Empire' licence served Adler very well. They continued to make derivatives of the design until the Second World War.
Unlike most other typewriters, the Kidder design utilised a series of horizontal plungers to print. Arranged in a semi-circle, each plunger would converge on a central printing point. You can see this in the picture of the machine with the top cover removed. The original Empire was a full-size office machine, but by 1913, Adler had begun manufacturing a smaller portable version too. Originally called the 'Klein-Adler' ('klein' being the German word for 'small') it was also known as the Model 2 and in export markets as the Model 30.
This particular machine was made for export to Spain, hence the 'Adler 30' designation and the Spanish keyboard. It had been in the owner's wife's family for countless years and was in rather poor condition when it arrived. It had a semi-siezed carriage, missing feet, missing springs and many of the plungers sticking badly. The bell trigger was snapped clean off, so although the bell was present, it didn't ring. I was told that children might have been playing with it in the past, and that didn't surprise me.
After a fair bit of work, you can see the result above. Still very worn, but now capable of typing again. It is due to go back to Spain later in the month. I wonder what the family will make of it!
1929 Adler 30 Portable
1939 Underwood Six
The story of how the American Underwood typewriter factory was started up in order to spite Remington has been told before. It was a spectacularly successful move, for although Remington was the market leader at the time, their typewriter was a 'blind-writer' on which the operator was unable to see what was being typed until the page was rolled forward in the carriage. On the Underwood, the writing was 'visible' from the outset. Although not the very first typewriter to have 'visible' writing, the company's chief designer, Franz Xavier Wagner, perfected the concept and popularised it. The original model was so popular that it remained in production as the Underwood Five from 1900 right through to 1931. The Underwood Five was so numerous (and well built) that they are still a remarkably common 'vintage find' today.
Less common is the Underwood Six, introduced in 1932 and only finally giving way to an updated model in 1954. Immediately obvious differences include a 'proper' tabulator which is set and cleared from the keyboard, rather than the older system which involved reaching behind the carriage to physically slide and lock the tabulator stops along a round bar. The very first move towards a modern plastic keyboard was to replace the keycards of the old model with contoured Bakelite inserts which must have been much easier on the typist's fingertips. Less obvious are internal changes to the typebar mechanism which means that the typebars can no longer be 'unplugged' from the segment by grasping them berween finger and thumb as on the Five. The Five was an entirely open-framed machine in which all parts of the mechanism were open to view. The Six has the sides panelled in - although the back is still open. This makes adjustments easier but still allows the dust to enter of course! Both the Underwood Five and Six take the same ribbon spool, and because Underwoods were so popular and numerous, other typewriter manufacturers were forced to start using the same style of spool in the interests of standardisation. When the Swiss manufacturer Hermes wanted to break into the USA market after the war, they adopted the Underwood-style spool for all their models. When the Japanese wanted to enter the typewriter market in the 1960's, they based their portable typewriters on the Hermes design and used the same spool. The result is that you can still buy an 'off the shelf' ribbon that will fit straight on to a 1900-built Underwood!
The Underwood Six in the photo was brought to me by the parents of a girl who is studying to be a journalist. They wanted the machine to be both decorative and still capable of doing a day's work. In basically good condition but so dirty you would not believe, I gave the machine a thorough service. All the rubber stops and components had deteriorated, so those had to be re-made. A modern plastic ribbon spool had been fitted to one side, but I was able to find a matching metal one from my stock to make the machine look more 'in period'. The sides of the machine were so dirty that they had a thick layer of grease on them from decades of handling. If you have a dog or cat that slides past a door post regularly, you will know that they leave a greasy mark on the paintwork from their coat. Well imagine the same on the sides of the typewriter! Once thoroughly cleaned and adjusted, the machine turned out very well. I hope that our budding journalist likes it !
Something a little bit different this time, and one for the woodworkers!
A 1920's Remington Mark One Portable arrived from a customer in Scotland - in need of a service and some repairs. Nothing too unusual about that - the Mark One (aka Fanfold) is a fairly numerous vintage typewriter. However, the carry case was certainly something different! The original case would have been made from a cheap softwood and then covered with black bookcloth. Most other pre-war typewriter manufacturers supplied similar carry cases, often with a leather strap handle.
Clearly, the original case for this typewriter had suffered some damage. Therefore, an extremely competent woodworker had set to and made an entirely new one from oak. Dimensionally, it is a faithful replica of the original, and in fact all the original hardware like hinges, lock etc. have been skillfully transferred to the new case. It really is a work of art and must have taken many hours to make. Look inside, and you can see how the rubber stops inside the lid - there to prevent the machine from moving when being transported - have been measured from the old case and carefully placed in the correct positions.
Mr. Anonymous woodworker - we salute you !
Carry Case of the Month!
Typewriter MAN of the month - Tom Furrier!
Going back twenty five to thirty years ago, you might have found several typewriter dealers in every large town or city. Now there are practically none. There must have been several thousand typewriter repair men in the UK alone. Now you can count the remaining ones on the fingers of both hands. Worldwide, particularly in the Western world, we are an endangered species! I have a direct equivalent in America - a chap called Tom Furrier who runs a small typewriter repair shop in Boston. We differ slightly in that his shop is 'bricks and mortar' whilst mine exists only in cyberspace (I actually work from home). Both of us genuinely like old typewriters, which is probably what has kept us in the trade for so long - if you really enjoy what you are doing, it doesn't seem like work! Busy as we both are, we occasionally exchange e-mails to have a general chat about the typewriter business. A couple of weeks ago, Tom came to London with his family for a short holiday - so we arranged to meet up!
We had a very interesting lunch together. Tom's poor wife and daughter probably thought that they would get away from typewriters for a week - no chance! It is quite amazing how our respective careers on opposite sides of the Atlantic seemed to have paralleled over the years. We both remember the lean times when typewriters were replaced by computers in offices practically overnight - resulting in the typewriter trade almost vanishing. Both of us have spent almost our entire working lives fixing typewriters, and it was sobering to reflect that when we were sitting together we probably represented around seventy-five years of experience between us. That's not to say that we know everything of course. One of the joys of this occupation is that you are constantly meeting new problems and situations that you haven't tackled before. Currently, one of our biggest challenges is that there are no new typewriter spare parts available - although we both have various strategies to get around this. I don't think either of us will ever retire completely - probably just cut down on the working hours when we get older. After all, you have to have something to get up in the morning for!
Tom's blog, 'Life in a Typewriter Shop' can be found here: http://cambridgetypewriter.blogspot.co.uk/
In the picture, that's him on the right and me on the left!
1963 Smith-Corona 5TE Portable
Electric typewriters for offices were probably being made a lot earlier than most people think. Remington made an electric typewriter in the 1920's, and from this design the Electromatic (which in turn became the IBM) was developed. From the late 1940's onwards, most of the major manufacturers were marketing an electric typewriter alongside their range of office manuals. Sales of electics finally overtook those of the office manual typewriter in the early 1970's.
In 1957, American manufacturer Smith-Corona decided to test the water with something new - an electric portable typewriter. Sales of the 5TE were initially slow, but within a few years had picked up to the extent that other makers were putting their own electric portables on the market. Smith-Corona then upped their game with a new model in 1964. Strictly speaking, the 5TE is an electically-assisted typewriter, effectively an electrified 5-series manual machine. The carriage return is still by hand-operated lever, as is the backspace and tabulator etc. However for the first time, the typebars were driven up to the paper at the touch of the key button and would strike the page with the same amount of force irrespective of how hard the user struck the keyboard. This gives incredibly even typing compared with an equivalent manual typewriter, and allows a skilled typist to go really quickly.
This machine must be a very rare sight in the UK. A real luxury item in its time, I cannot imagine that many were sold here. In fact, the machine in the picture was originally sold in the USA, and partially converted to English keyboard plus 240 volt operation over here. The reason that it had survived so long was simple. It was a 'cursive' version with a typeface that looks like joined-up handwriting!
In recent weeks, I have been working on a number of period typewriters for a well-known TV detective series set in the 1960's. Having prepared several machines for the 'police station', I was asked to find a Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter for 'a rich man's house'. Fortunately, after exhausting most of my usual channels, the machine in the photo came up on an internet auction site. I tipped off the props buyer, and she bagged it! When it got to me, I found that it was in quite poor condition. The voltage conversion hadn't been done too competently and I had to re-do it to ensure that the machine was safe to use. Several repairs, a service, and a thorough cleaning later, it was working well and looking much better! Interestingly, there are a few modifications over the standard model as a result of the special typeface. Because the cursive script is much taller and deeper than a standard typeface, the linespace has been modified to give more space than usual between the lines. The machine will only take a single-colour ribbon for the same reason - there isn't enough height in each strand of a two-colour ribbon to cover the taller characters completely.
Circa mid 1980's Olivetti Linea 98 Office Manual
Olivetti was probably the most successful typewriter manufacturer in the end. By following a process of gradually swallowing up rival makers as they fell by the wayside, they nearly cornered the market! In the final years, Olivetti owned Triumph, Adler, Royal, Imperial, Hermes and Underwood, as well as little-known makes such as Invicta and Everest. Originally, Olivettis were beautifully engineered in the same way as classic Italian cars and motorcycles are. Almost a combination of engineering and art, with an elegance that only the Italians seem to be able to achieve. But from the early 1960's onwards, Olivetti changed the character of their typewriters in a way that made them more profitable to manufacture and ultimately allowed the firm to become a very large player.
The switch from beautiful castings and engineering - almost for its own - sake started in 1963, when the classic Olivetti Lettera 22 was replaced by a new model - the Lettera 32. It looked very similar from the outside, but within, the construction was all steel stampings rather than castings, and clever - although minimalist - mechanisms. The new machine was a success and obviously cheaper to make - so from this beginning Olivetti were able to re-engineer the remainder of their range using the same principles. The turn of the office manual came in 1967 when the Diasphron 82 (always called the D82 because no-one could pronounce 'Diasphron') was replaced by the Linea 88. Otherwise a perfectly good machine, the Achillies heel of the L88 was the carriage, which had a nasty habit of falling off its way rods! After 1972, Olivetti revised the model, producing the Linea 98 - a much better machine but using a completely different carriage based heavily on that of the Olivetti electric typewriter. This probably made it the last NEW office manual typewriter ever designed, since all the other makers were still relying on mechanisms going back to the 1950's by then. With the exception of the cast carriage bed, and - strangely - the outer casings, much of the inside of the machine was made up of the trademark multiple steel stampings. Surprisingly, it was a pleasant machine to use, albeit not made to last in the same way as their rivals' typewriters. They were cheaper too (which added to Olivetti's success) but woe betide you if your machine needed spare parts - those were always incredibly expensive !
By the 1980's, production of the Linea 98 had moved to Mexico. Virtually all the other typewriter manufacturers had done the same thing - moved production of manual typewriters to 'third world' countries, whilst re-equipping in Europe to produce golfball and electronic machines. With serial number lists having become a thing of the past by the time this particular machine was made, it is impossible to pinpoint the exact year of manufacture. Therefore I'll guesstimate mid-1980's - near the end of production.
This machine was brought to me by a customer who only gave it the same sort of use that a portable typewriter might get - light and occasional. When the firm that he had been working for had closed down, the machine was due to be put in the skip, and he saved it. It would have been a tragedy if it had been thrown away because it was still practically new! Through lack of use, it had become a little sticky, but was soon restored to health with a good service!
If you take a look at the January 2016 'Typewriter of the Month', you will see another typewriter that looks very much like this one. This is no accident. In the way that the Japanese began their career in manufacturing by copying other countries' successful products, the Germans did the same. The machine that was copied by Siedel and Naumann in this instance was the USA-made Corona Three. There are plenty of detail differences of course. For the technically-minded, the escapement is a wheel one, rather than the Corona's direct-to-rack version. When the carriage folds over, it does so onto little hingeing brackets, set either side of the keyboard. The ribbon is an unusual 5/8" width, rather than the normal 1/2", and the spools are different. But so many things are the same. The method of ribbon transport and reverse are very similar, and the Erika also has only a single feedroll under the platen. The typebars are likewise on separate bearings - just like the Corona Three of the same period.
The story goes that Corona soon got wind of this German copy and successfully sued the manufacturers for infringing their patents. Production of the Bijou finished shortly afterwards for obvious reasons. However, Siedel and Naumann had the last laugh. They survived long enough to become part of the East German State Industries after the Second World War and as 'Erika' lasted longer than Smith-Corona - only finishing production of manual portable typewriters in 1989 !
This machine was in rather poor condition when it came to me. Some well-meaning person had obviously sprayed it with corrosion inhibitor - the sort of fluid that you apply to garden tools to prevent them from rusting. This had crept into every nook and cranny, coating the whole mechanism with a sticky wax. I had to wash the machine out several times and meticulously clean afterwards to remove it. Parts of the ribbon transport mechanism were broken and new components had to be made from scratch. Tiny 2mm screws had been sheared off in their threaded holes and had to be drilled out. Even the left margin was broken. But I eventually got there and the machine is now in fully working order. I even had the correct width ribbon fabric in stock !
1916 Erika/Bijou 3-Bank Folding Portable
Most of the world's languages are written from left to right, which is why the carriage on a manual typewriter travels from right to left. However for Arabic-style languages the reverse is true - and this requires a specially-modified typewriter! In England, Arabic typewriters (commonly called 'Persian' typewriters by the trade) are pretty hard to find. I have only seen a handful in forty-two years of repairing typewriters. This particular machine is doubly rare. It is the oldest Arabic typewriter that I have seen so far, and a very obscure German make - Urania.
The Urania Piccola was first introduced in 1924, and I imagine that - being a new company and desperate to get some orders - they agreed to make a batch of special machines for Egypt. Not only did the carriage have to be modified to run in the opposite direction to 'normal', the linespace lever had to be hinged to work the 'other way' too! To cope with the increased width of some of the upper case characters, the machine had a crude 'proportional spacing' arrangement which increased the width of the character space for certain type.
This particular typewriter came from a customer who was working in Egypt and bought it locally in a bazaar. I did say, when it arrived, that if it was an animal, I would recommend it be put down humanely! I have never seen a typewriter in such poor condition. Dirty, dusty, with the wooden carry-case falling to pieces, having been repeatedly patched with sheets of tin. And that was only the beginning! Bodge after bodge had been perpetrated in an effort to keep it working at any cost! The worst was a cracked segment that had been arc-welded together (you can see the mark in the picture). Because this had obliterated the top of two of the typebar slots, the bodger had filed chunks of the typebar away for clearance!
Both spools - containing special 5/8 inch ribbon to accommodate the taller Arabic characters - were missing. I had to make a new pair from scratch! The platen was rock hard and looked as if it had been attacked with an axe. Feedroll rubber was completely missing on two of the bosses. Screws were either missing entirely or had been replaced with whatever was to hand. After a very time-consuming restoration, the result is as you see here. I really ought to have taken a 'before picture'!
The customer was delighted when the machine was returned! I wonder if she can read Arabic?
1924 Urania Piccola Arabic Portable
By 1971, the English Imperial Typewriter Co. and the American Royal Typewriter Co. had both been taken over by a firm called 'Litton Industries'. Both long-lived and respected makes, Royal and Imperial had sat on their laurels to the point that they had allowed their models to become outdated - thus losing market share and making them ripe for a takeover. Almost the first thing that Litton did to cut costs was to out-source the production of portable typewriters abroad, together with a programme of rationalisation between the two makes. The Royal-designed Safari (a heavy-duty portable) continued to be assembled in Portugal, but the remainder of both ranges of lightweight portables were scrapped in favour of Japanese machines that were branded as Royal for the US, and Imperial for the UK. The favoured sub-contracting manufacturer was Silver-Seiko (which means 'Silver Precision' in Japanese). Later in the 1970's when the Litton agreement was discontinued, Silver-Reed became a make in their own right.
Litton did what they could to present an attractive and marketable range of portable typewriters, and one thing that was tried for about eighteen months was a typewriter with a Long Wave/Medium Wave radio in the carry case lid - hence the name 'Gemini' - two appliances in one! Novelties like this were primarily designed to appeal to the American market, but because the range was common with the UK, a few 'Geminis' were sold here as 'Imperial' models. I do not have the production figures, but I would imagine the numbers sold circa 1971 could only have been in the low hundreds. Thus, the machine that you see in the photo is incredibly rare. In fact, in over forty years of being in the typewriter trade, this is the only one that has ever passed through my hands!
The Gemini is a perfectly nice and well-specified typewriter, featuring a pre-set tabulator and a touch control. However, its appeal lies in the novelty value of the 'in-lid' radio and the incredible 'space age' styling - making it very much a product of its time. The amazing white, blue and red colour scheme simply completes the wacky image!
This particular machine was bought in specifically to be refurbished and resold. In reasonable mechanical order when it arrived, time had taken its toll on the radio, and I had to have that repaired before I could pass the machine on to its new owner. Otherwise, it was 'as new' once completed and left me with both a new ribbon and a photocopy of an original instruction book. I did wonder if I should keep it for my personal collection, but it is all to easy to get sidetracked when you love typewriters as I do. I have to make a living after all!
1971 Imperial Gemini