The Typewriter Man

Typewriter of the Month - 2018


Each month, one typewriter will be featured on this page of the website.
It may be a machine that I have been working on, or something that I think might be of particular interest.
January 2018
1960's Twilclene Typeface Brush
An often-forgotten aspect of the typewriter industry nowadays is the erstwhile voracious market for typewriter accessories.  The usual items were things like felt typewriter mats (placed under a machine to protect the desk surface and deaden the sound - modern reproductions now available for sale on another part of this site) and various cleaning brushes.  Aids to correction such as special typewriter erasers and means of covering over mistakes were also popular.  It is important to clean the 'business end' of the machine - the typeface - regularly too.  If ingrained ribbon ink isn't removed at regular intervals, the characters begin to fill in and give the work an untidy appearance.  A special type cleaning putty used to be available.  This plasticene-style material could be rolled out and then pressed out onto the typeface.  When the putty was removed, the old ink would come away with it.   If that didn't work, the next step was to use a stiff-bristled type cleaning brush with a drop of methylated spirits (de-natured alcohol) to loosen the ink.  I imagine that it didn't take someone too long to come up with the idea of a brush with a ready-incorporated reservoir of cleaning fluid in the handle.  Like many of these inventions, it is a wonderful idea, but was rather expensive compared to a normal brush and a bottle of meths!   As a result, I cannot imagine too many of these were sold.

This particular example was given to me by a grateful customer who collects and appreciates typewriters, and who has had several of his machines repaired and serviced by me in the past.  In wonderful original condition, I doubt that this Twilclene brush has had much use, if any.   Even the original instruction leaflet is present!   I thought that this was a lovely little addition to my private collection, so maybe I would share it with you.   

Happy New Year !


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February 2018
1956 Olivetti Lettera 22 in Maroon
When the Italian firm Olivetti introduced the Lettera 22 in 1950, it was largely a case of 'right first time'.  The initial batch of typewriters were marketed as the Olivetti 'Scribe', but the name was soon changed to 'Lettera 22'.   The method of construction was largely that of a full-size office typewriter in miniature, and the majority of Lettera 22s were equipped with the same range of features that you would expect to find on an office machine.   Beautifully engineered and reliable, the Lettera 22 soon became a popular typewriter, and to keep up with demand in the UK, Olivetti began making them in their Glasgow factory too.   Production of the original model in beige continued until the early 1960's, when a facelifted model with square grey keytops and a light blue casing was brought out in preparation for the 1964 debut of the successor Lettera 32.   I remain convinced that the only reason that the 22 was discontinued is that it was too expensive to manufacture.   Although the vast majority of these machines were finished in beige, the Glasgow factory did make some in light blue and rarely, pink.

This particular typewriter was brought to me by a customer for a full service, but also to be refinished in a new colour.  She chose a very pleasant and appropriate maroon - actually a Vauxhall car colour.   Once serviced, I stripped and resprayed the machine, making it look as if it had left the factory in the alternative hue.   I don't normally like destroying the original finish on a typewriter, but it this case I believe it to be an improvement.   The maroon really does look 'period' and positively enhances the shape of the machine.   My customer left highly delighted with her 'new' typewriter and I know that she will treasure it!

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March 2018
1947 Sterling Continental Portable
Continental was a well-established German make before World War II.   With a production history stretching back to 1904, the firm made the most superbly-engineered typewriters.   They were well-known for producing a manual office typewriter that could truly be described as 'Rolls-Royce' quality.   They also made portable typewriters that were almost as good.  With the fall of Germany in 1945, the tooling for the Continental office machines was taken by the Russians as 'war reparations' with the intention to commence production back home.  The story goes that the Russians didn't realise that Continental were in turn dependent on many small local sub-contractors who made various parts of the machine.   Without this local expertise, production was doomed and so the Continental never reappeared.

Somehow, the tooling for the portable model was spirited away to Belgium, where a new factory was set up. Production started in 1947 but didn't last long.  The same problem reared its ugly head.  Without the specialist German sub-contactors, the revitalised 'Klein Continental' resembled the pre-war models but didn't work as well.   Therefore this month's featured machine is something of a rarity.   One of the differences between these and pre-war models is the addition of a die-cast aluminum rear frame member to replace a steel pressing.   I would guess this happened because aluminium was plentiful after the war but steel was rationed.   Unfortunately the casting isn't strong enough, and I have seen broken ones on these machines.   This one was no exception and I had to put in a repair plate to keep everything together.

Once serviced and repaired, the machine worked perfectly well. Despite the poor reputation at the time, it is still better than many modern portable typewriters made in the 1970's and '80's.   My customer was pleased with the results of my labours and so was her daughter, for whom it was a present.   But if it had only been made a decade earlier, it would have been so much better!

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April 2018
circa 1903 Oliver No. 3
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You could say that the original Oliver typewriter was the 'Apple Mac' of its day.   It performed all the functions that you would expect a typewriter to perform, but did so in an entirely different way to any other typewriter. The inventor of this machine was the Reverend Thomas Oliver.   It is said that he lived in a remote part of America, and therefore did not see any other typewriters whilst he was designing his.  Once he had interested some investors, he was able to start the fledgling Oliver Typewriter Co. in 1895.   The machine was an almost immediate success because it was possible to see what you were typing, as you were typing. With most other machines on the market at that time, you couldn't.   It was only when the first Underwoods were introduced a few years later, that the 'shape' of the modern typewriter started to emerge.  The Underwood was an improvement in that you could see the whole line of typing, not just the phrase that you were working on (the remainder was obscured by the typebars on the Oliver).   Nevertheless, having gained a strong foothold in the typewriter market early on, the Oliver company continued to prosper until the early 1920's.

By 1928, the by now hopelessly old-fashioned Oliver was finished in America.  However, a new company was set up in England to continue manufacture - which they did until 1933.   After that, they concentrated on making licence-built copies of the Swedish Halda standard.   Fortunately, they mothballed all the tooling and equipment because in 1939 the British government placed a large order for the original model!   An old-time typewriter engineer once told me that it was because they wanted a typewriter that could be used in the desert.   Think about it.   A 'normal' typewriter of any other make has segment slots through which the typebars hinge.   Very easily clogged with fine desert sand.   The Oliver has no such slots !

This particular Oliver belongs to a customer from North London who had kept the machine as a decorative object for a number of years before deciding to have it put back into full working order.   Like many really old typewriters, it was in a really pitiful state when I first saw it.   As with many old things, that period of obsolescence when it is valueless is the most dangerous.   This is the time in their lives when old typewriters are consigned to damp sheds and cellars, and when serious rust sets in.   This Oliver had certainly been through that phase, since many of the mechanisms were seized solid.   With a lot of persistence and coaxing, I finally got the machine cleaned up and working.   I was even able to locate some of the special 7/16" ribbon fabric unique to this model.   At some time in the past, it had been skilfully converted to take a modern 1/2" width ribbon, but in order to preserve the originality it went back to the original specification.  The rubber feet had all but worn away.   Amazingly, reproduction feet are still available, so a set of these was ordered and fitted.

My customer was delighted with the results, and went away very pleased!   She has a rare machine.   Post World War One Olivers still surface from time to time, but earlier ones are pretty hard to find.
May 2018
1929 Smith-Premier 30
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The history of the American Smith-Premier brand is an interesting one.  Begun in 1889 by the four Smith Brothers, and like Remington, the product of spare capacity in an arms factory, Smith-Premier then joined with Remington, Monarch, Densmore, Caligraph and Yost to form the Union Typewriter Trust.   Essentially this started as a trade cartel amongst the major American manufacturers to control prices and prevent anyone 'breaking ranks' to produce a typewriter with 'visible writing' - essentially being able to see what you were typing as you typed it.   With the introduction of the 'visible' Underwood, it was obvious that this was the way to go, and eventually the Smith Brothers did break ranks.   By then the Trust had become a company and the only way that the Smith Brothers could go their own way was to sell the firm and start up all over again as 'L.C. Smith'.   They did this, produced a 'visible' typewriter - and the L.C. Smith company eventually went on to become Smith-Corona. The companies within the Union Typewriter Co. soon came to be controlled by Remington who eventually had to give in and make visible typewriters like everyone else.   One by one, the other makes in the original typewriter trust simply became sub-brands of Remington.   Remington kept the Monarch factory open until the 1930's, but soon closed Smith-Premier down, simply keeping the brand name for their own purposes.   From then on, all Smith-Premiers were either re-branded Monarchs or - in the case of the portable typewriters - rebranded Remingtons.  The 1929 machine in the picture is really a Monarch with a Smith-Premier name attached.

This particular machine is a relatively rare survivor.  The customer who brought it to me had had it sitting unused for a number of years being a decorative object.   As sometimes happens, curiousity to see it working and actually use it finally took over!   Clearly, the machine had endured a long and hard life.   The original glossy black enamel finish had been over-painted with a black crackle finish to 'modernise' it a little. This was a very common practice in the late 1940's and early 1950's when there was a shortage of new typewriters following the war, and any old nail would command a good price when refurbished.   I would guess that the ribbon spools had become unobtainable even then, because they had been painted crackle finish to match the remainder of the machine and perhaps remind the user in a subtle way that they were a permanent fixture.   Once thoroughly serviced and adjusted, the SP-30 was working and once more capable of typing a letter!   My customer took the machine away looking very pleased.   My parting shot was to remind her to use her Smith-Premier now and again.   After all, most mechanical objects fare better if they are still being used occasionally!

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 !

June 2017
Carry Case of the Month!
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July 2017
1956 Halda Portable
This Swedish make was a long-established and well-diversified company making the famous Halda time recorder used on rally cars in addition to typewriters.   Having made standard office typewriters for many years, in 1951 they branched out into making portable typewriters too.   The result was the model that you see in the picture - a pleasant machine that looks a bit like an Olympia SM2 but owes some of its mechanical design to the American Smith-Corona.   It does, however, take ribbon spools that are unique to this model and fit nothing else, so should you come across one do check that they are present - it won't work without them!

In 1958, the Halda name disappeared, together with this model. The factory changed its name to 'Facit' and continued typewriter production into the 1980's.   In fact, the last model of Facit office manual typewriter went on to be produced in India as the Godrej and Boyce and was the very last office typewriter available anywhere in the world when it was finally discontinued a few years ago.

This particular machine was found in a barn in France - hence the French AZERTY keyboard.   It was brought to me for a service and repair by a lady who intended to use it in a very unconventional manner.   She is a keen amateur musician and uses it to play 'The Typewriter' as her party piece.   If you have never heard it before, you can find a link on the 'Fun' page of this website.   A noisy 'silent return' was attended to, together with a missing hinge pin on the ribbon cover which someone had replaced with a length of multicore solder wire!   Those precious and unique ribbon spools were rewound with new ribbon fabric too.   She went away highly delighted and ready to play at her next gig!

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August 2017
1931 Erika
Model 5
Erika was the trade mark of the Seidel and Naumann firm in Germany, and was in fact named after Herr Naumann's daughter, Erika!   Having quietly manufactured typewriters (as well as sewing machines) from circa 1900 onwards, it proved to be one of the longest-lived makes - only finishing with manual typewriters in the early 1990's.   After the war, the company found itself on the wrong side of the border, in East Germany, and was therefore subsumed into the East German state industries.   Still a good quality machine, the later Erika proved to be one of East Germany's most popular exports.

This particular machine is an Erika Five, dating from 1931.  It was sent to me by a customer for a full service and repair, having a broken cat-gut drawcord.   It had belonged to his father, who took it on his travels whilst in the services.   Labels on the carry-case testified to it having been in Indonesia, The Gambia, and Zagreb in Croatia.

Since it has a German-language keyboard, I was left wondering if the machine was originally 'liberated' from Germany at the end of World War Two - or even sold on the 'Black Market', having been stolen from a bombed-out house.   People who rescue animals often say they wish that they could talk, so that they could tell their new owners something of their history.   This is one of those occasions when a typewriter would have a lot to tell too - if only it could!

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September 2017
1962 Groma Kolibri Luxus
The mysterious Groma Kolibri is something of a legend amongst typewriter collectors, and very sought after.  A product of East Germany in the 1950's and early 1960's, not much is known about the manufacturer.   I have been in the typewriter trade since 1975, and have seen fewer than five in all that time. Until this one passed though my hands this month though, I had never seen the even rarer 'Luxus' version. The usual Kolibri 'N' is a well-engineered but very basic machine.   For instance, it is designed to take just a single-colour ribbon - usually black.  These machines are so slim that it is rumoured that East German dissidents would hide these under the floorboards so that they couldn't be found by the secret police!

Towards the end of production, the manufacturers relented and produced a 'deluxe' version - the Groma Kolibri Luxus.   As a 'luxury' machine - at least luxury by East German standards - it was modified to take a two colour ribbon, had a linespace mechanism with no less than four different settings, and had a pop-up paper rest that also activated the carriage lock!

This particular machine was obtained specially for a past customer of mine. It had a German keyboard which I modified to a quasi-English one by swopping the 'Y' and 'Z' typeface and keytops.  For such a small machine, the Groma is surprisingly solid and heavy.  The keyboard touch - adjustable on the Luxus - is not as light as one might expect.  I can also report that this is not an easy typewriter to work on, many adjustments being particularly awkward to access!

October 2017
Around the world, the end of manual typewriter production was a chaotic time.   Typewriter manufacturers had begun going over to making electronic typewriters in the early 1980's, and within a few short years production of most mechanical typewriters had ceased.  However, there was still a small but persistent demand for new manual portables and no maker wanted to throw good business away.   So what to do when your factory has changed over to making electronic typewriters?  Outsource to another manufacturer and rebrand their products as your own!  Problem was, as more and more makers were abandoning mechanical typewriter production, makers had to repeatedly change who they were outsourcing to!

The British maker Imperial was a perfect case.  Having stopped making their own manual portables in the mid-1960's following a takeover by an American firm, they began outsourcing to Silver-Seiko in Japan, then the Messa factory in Portugal.   Following a further sale of Imperial to the German firm Triumph-Adler in the 1970's, for a while the German Adler Tippa was rebadged as the Imperial Sahara.    Once Adler in turn finished making these, it became a free-for-all to find another manufacturer, ANY manufacturer, who would make a portable typewriter that could be sold with an Imperial badge on it. They lit on Maritsa - who had been making portable typewriters in Bulgaria since 1971.

Maritsa, located at a town called Plovdiv, had bought the tooling from a German firm called Princess that had made portable typewriters from 1948 through to the mid-1960's.  The Princess was an excellent typewriter and many were made under contract for the Swiss Scheidegger typing school to supply to their students for practice.  The Bulgarian version, once in production, was stripped of many of the extras to make a more basic typewriter.   By the time Imperial bought a batch of Maritsa 22s to re-brand, the Plovdiv factory had re-instated many of the original 'Princess' features and redesigned the outer casing to give the machine a more modern appearance.  It is impossible to say exactly when this machine was made because by the time it was, serial number records were no longer being kept.   I would guess the 1980's.

In use, the Imperial 22/Maritsa 22 is a pleasant machine to type on.  Some of the original German quality in the design still shines through and it is altogether a better effort than some of the very last outsourced portables that were made in China.   This particular machine was brought to me for a service by a customer whose son had bought it for him as a present.   Once serviced and repaired, it was returned to a delighted dad!

Circa 1980's Imperial 22
November 2017
Torpedowerke were a German firm with a history stretching back to the early years of the 20th century.   In common with at least one other German maker, they made both typewriters and bicycles.  They did not weather the Great Depression very well, and by the early 1930's, the typewriter division had been sold to Remington.   Although the company name was changed to Deutsche Remington, they continued to trade as Torpedo.  Unlike other Remington factories throughout the world, Torpedo were allowed to continue developing their own designs of typewriter - quite independent of the parent company.  No sooner had Remington taken over, they seconded one of their best typewriter designers to Germany to design a new range of Torpedo typewriters. The chap in question was Herbert Etheridge, an Englishman who had worked for Bar-Lock before emigrating to the USA to work for Remington.  This began an interesting train of events which explains several design similarities between the pre-war Remington, Torpedo and Imperial portable typewriters.  Yes, with war clouds looming, Mr. Etheridge went back to England in 1938 to work for Imperial!

Torpedo were big exporters, and had several other brand names which they applied to typewriters sold outside of Germany.  Two that were used frequently in England were 'Blue Bird' and 'Dynacord'.   Therefore, the machine featured this month is a 'Torpedo' that was made for the British market and branded 'Blue Bird'.   You can almost guess why they chose an alternative name.   With the Second World War still being a recent memory, a German 'Torpedo' might not have been looked upon very kindly!  The Torpedo factory continued throughout the 1950's and lasted until 1964, when Remington finally closed the doors for the last time.  Production then moved to Holland where the labour was cheaper, the machines were re-branded as Remingtons - then production in Holland fizzled out within a few short years.

This particular machine was bought on a well-known internet auction site by a typewriter collector in Canada.   He had been after a Torpedo/Blue Bird for some time and narrowly missed another before getting this one.   The 18B is a lovely and very under-rated typewriter, and features a full tabulator - which the standard Model 18 does not.   The new owner arranged to have the machine delivered to me for a full service and check-over before it was sent on to his British cousin in Worcestershire to await his next holiday in England.   It even came with the original instruction book and a period book on learning to type.   The original purchaser must have treasured it very much.   And so they should!   The Blue-Bird was a well-kept secret.

1957 Blue-Bird Model 18B
December 2017
The Royal company in America was one of the pioneering typewriter manufacturers, having introduced their first model as early as 1906. Their first machines, known to collectors as Royal Flatbeds because of their squat appearance, carried the company forward until 1913, when they began production of a much more 'upright' typewriter - christened the Royal 10.  It was this machine that went on to provide the mainstay of Royal's production until the mid-1930's.  So well-built that they were close to indestructible, thousands of Royal 10s still survive to this day and are amongst the most common of vintage typewriter 'finds'.   By the mid-1930's the Royal 10 was beginning to look decidedly old-fashioned, so in 1936 the makers began production of a 'facelifted' model - the Royal KHM.   Gone were the glass panels in the sides of the machine that showed the 'works', and in were new solid metal panels in a contasting black crackle-finish.   The ribbon spools, which were previously exposed on the top of the machine, were now enclosed in individual spool cups with opening lids.   The old tabulator - set by literally plucking the stops from the rack and placing them in new positions - was replaced by a modern tabulator that was set by pushing a button on the front of the machine.   Alas, by 1938, the model was updated yet again - so the KHM was only made for two years.

This particular machine was brought to me in a terrible state.   It had belonged to the customers father who owned a firm based in Lincoln, called the Simons Group.  Originally used at the company's offices, the Royal ended up at home.   Unfortunately, as is often the case with many old things, it went through a period of being valueless and unloved.   This is always the most dangerous period in an object's lifespan and is generally when it is neglected and thrown away.   In this case, the machine was both damp-stored and badly jolted - causing the carriage to part from its rails.   It was the damp storage that did the most damage though.  This was originally built as a 'quiet' model - which meant extra felt padding inside to cut down the noise - and a metal plate fitted to the underside, again to contain the sound.   Another feature of these machines was a platen with a lead sleeve under the outer covering - usually rubber but in this case cork.   Unfortunately the damp had corroded the lead, which had expanded under the cork, swelling the platen beyond salvation.   My specialist supplier had a real problem removing all the lead from the wooden core and replacing it with rubber - then sleeving another layer of rubber over the top to replace the disintegrated cork.   The work to both typewriter and platen was neither easy nor cheap, but the results can be seen above!  A fully-functioning good-as-new 1936 typewriter with a piano finish.   Just look at the way that black enamel shines!

My customer was absolutely delighted when he came to collect his 'new' typewriter, and so was his youngest daughter who started using it as soon as he had got it home.   I think that it is going to be looked after and cherished from now on!

1936 Royal KHM