1940 L. C. Smith Super Speed
The American L. C. Smith company grew out of a dispute and then went on to be a major manufacturer of largely portable typewriters. The original company, Smith Premier, had its roots, like Remington, in the arms business. In a similar fashion to Remington, when the arms trade was in the doldrums the company diversified into making typewriters, becoming one of the 'pioneer' typewriter manufacturers in the late Victorian period. However - something that would be illegal now - Remington, Smith-Premier and a number of other makes joined together to form the 'Typewriter Trust', a cartel to keep the prices of typewriters high whilst squeezing out the competition. Problem was, all the trust's manufacturers were producing what are now called 'blind' typewriters in which the work could not be viewed whilst it was being typed. That was fine for many years because there was nothing else available so the public simply accepted it. When in 1900 Underwood burst onto the scene with a 'visible' typewriter, sales of 'blind' machines started to slow. Seeing which way the competition was going, the brothers behind Smith-Premier wanted to produce a visible machine. But the other trust manufacturers voted the idea down. Having effectively lost control of the firm that they founded, the brothers left, together with some of their top technical staff, and founded a new firm in 1902.
That firm was L. C. Smith (after Lyman C Smith), and they went on to produce a very successful 'visible' machine, which continued largely unchanged until 1937. As a footnote, they merged with the Corona Typewriter Company in 1925 (manufacturers of portable typewriters only) to become L C Smith and Corona. Both brands continued as they were until after the Second World War when the name for both standards and portables became the familiar 'Smith-Corona' that many people still remember today.
Although the occasional L. C. Smith standard still surfaces in the UK, the streamlined Super-Speed (made from 1937 to 1953) is a comparative rarity. Having never seen one until recently, I was surprised and amused to see that it was still essentially the old model. An Edwardian typewriter in a sharp 1940's suit ! If you look at the picture, you might have noticed that the linespace lever is on the 'wrong' side. Again, a bit of a giveaway that the machine is an older model in disguise, many Victorian typewriters had the lever on the right. For decades afterwards, some of the older makers offered machines with either a left or right-mounted lever as an option. Typists were rather conservative creatures, and having got used to a lever in one position, would prefer the same on their next machine !
This particular Super-Speed was specially imported from America for a forthcoming TV series and arrived in poor condition. As is so often the case with typewriters of this era, the rubber parts had deteriorated and needed to be renewed. The automatic margin set mechanism (a near copy of the Royal Magic Margin) also needed attention - the fine control cord having frayed and broken. A host of other, niggly, faults were overcome. The final result was a machine as near as possible to function and appearance as when new - which was just as well because the programme will be set in 1942 !
1960's Blista Braille Writer
From time to time I get asked to repair things that are not typewriters. I am always up for the challenge since back in the day when I used to go out to offices on a regular basis, we were expected to repair all sorts of other equipment such as photocopiers, adding machines, dictation equipment and so on. In fact only a few years back, I was asked to go out to a local firm to repair a giant comb binding machine because they couldn't find anyone willing to service it.
And so we come to the subject of this month's 'Typewriter Of The Month', which isn't really a typewriter at all ! It is in fact a Braille Writer, and is designed to emboss Braille characters on a sheet of paper. Different combinations of the six keys (the middle one is a space bar) will emboss anything from one to six dots in a matrix before the carriage moves on to the following group. Any number of keys can be pressed at once, unlike a 'normal' typewriter. There is no line space lever. The carriage is returned by hand at the end of the line and the paper rolled up manually by turning one of the platen knobs.
This particular machine looked to have been stored away somewhere damp for many years since there was some surface rust and the mechanism for embossing the dots was partially seized. Having examined it to find out how it should work, I then proceeded to make it work as it should. My customer was not blind himself, but had bought the machine on a well-known internet auction site because he wanted to learn Braille. A little internet research found that a version of this machine is still being manufactured in Germany, but that this one probably dated from the 1960's or maybe a few years earlier. Needless to say, my customer was very happy when I handed it back to him, now that he can see his way clear to using it !
1927 Hybrid Mead/Imperial Good Companion
(Mead picture on the right courtesy of Nick Creaton and The Typewriter Database)
The Imperial Good Companion is a well-known vintage portable typewriter, at least here in England. As I might have explained before in previous years of 'Typewriter of the Month', the original 'Good Companion was launched in 1932 and proved to be such a success that updated versions of the same machine continued in production until as late as 1967. However, the background story is an interesting one.
Until 1927, Imperial of Leicester only made full-size office typewriters. However, with a growing reputation as a manufacturer of quality machines it was only natural that they would want to enter the portable typewriter market as well. As a means of testing the market, and to save the expense of developing a design of their own, Imperial approached Torpedowerke in Germany and bought several hundred kits of parts to build their first portable. Mindful that it might not catch on, and to avoid sullying the Imperial name, these were marketed as 'Mead'. To even further distance themselves, the 'Mead' bore a label that said 'Mead - Birmingham' ! They needn't have worried. The 'Mead' was a success. So much so that Imperial bought the rights and tooling and set up to make the whole machine themselves as the 'Good Companion'. This was launched in 1932 and was named after the then-popular play by J. B. Priestley with the author's full permission.
I always say Imperial by name and Imperial by nature, because all of Imperial's typewriters had 'Imperial' (i.e. not Metric) threads - mainly British Association sizes as generally used in electrical equipment before the 1970's. The Good Companion was no exception. All the fasteners were converted from the German metric to Imperial sizes before production began.
The machine in the left hand picture was presented to me by a customer who asked for it to be serviced and put back into working order. At first glance, it looked like a 1940's Imperial Good Companion, but there was something slightly strange about it. As I began to strip it down, it became apparent what it actually was. It was a 'Frankenwriter' - a hybrid put together from bits of different typewriter ! I would guess that the whole thing was created in a typewriter dealer's workshop sometime in the late 1940's or early 1950's. What we have here is a late 1920's Mead, which has been modernised with a 1940's hinging ribbon cover (which has been cut about to make it fit) and later-style rubber feet. An early 1930's Good Companion casing has been grafted on, together with its serial number, which is of course about five years younger than the majority of the machine ! There are many detail differences between the Mead and the first Good Companions, the most obvious being the linespace lever and a rocking linespace selector instead of the 'up/down' Good Companion item. And all the threads are metric - which I found out when replacing some missing screws. Many parts are the same though. The space bar keylever assembly was broken and I fitted a replacement from a 1957 Companion with no difficulty. The picture on the right shows what our hybrid would have looked like when new.
My customer was delighted to have her 'Frankenwriter' heirloom back, and quite surprised to hear its' history ! As they say with animals, if only they could speak what stories they could tell !
1970 Olivetti Linea 88
When Olivetti entered the 1960's, it was already a multinational company with factories all over the world. Although, as an organisation, its' tentacles were spread worldwide, their products were still Italian in the best possible sense. Always a style-conscious firm regarding the outside design of their machines, this philosophy extended to the inside 'works' too. The Italians used to specialise in engineering almost as an art form. Why make something utilitarian when you can make it beautiful too ? Why make a mechanism that does something the same way as everyone else, when you can make one that produces the same result but in an entirely different way - just because you can ? I think you get the idea..... You can sometimes see the same thinking in older Italian cars and motorcycles too.
Things were beginning to change at Olivetti in the mid-1960's however. As wonderfully engineered as their earlier machines were, they were also labour-intensive and expensive to make. A toe in the water was the Lettera 32 portable introduced in 1964 as a replacement for the expensive-to-produce Lettera 22 - which was really an office typewriter in miniature. The method of construction was entirely different. Lots of steel stampings and welded assemblies replaced the beautiful nuts and bolts construction of the previous model, although on the outside the two machines looked very similar. The Lettera 32 was nevertheless a pleasant typewriter to use and caught on quickly. No doubt heartened by their decision to go for a new form of construction entirely, the concept was scaled up in 1968 to produce the Studio 45 heavy-duty portable to replace the classic Studio 44, which by then had been in production for some sixteen years. For 1969, it was the turn of the full-size office typewriter to receive the treatment and the Olivetti Linea 88 completed the process of engineering transformation.
Like the smaller machines, the Linea 88 was all steel stampings and welded construction, and featured a moulded plastic outer casing in either mauve or off-white. As a nod to the previous and well-loved Diasphron 82 (always called the D82 in the UK because no-one could pronounce 'Diasphron') the carriage ran on way rods and bearings at the back. The rest was all-new. In fact it is thought that this was the last entirely new office typewriter to have been designed from the ground up - all the other makers relying on older 'sets of works' in updated outer casings right through to the end of manual typewriter production. Even so, the way-rod system in its' new guise proved troublesome and the Linea 88 was redesigned as the Linea 98 (using the proven carriage from Olivetti's Editor electric typewriter) from 1972. With a relatively short production run, and many of these machines going to an early grave with carriage rail trouble, the Linea 88 is a comparatively rare sight today.
This particular machine survived as a family heirloom, although it had been put away in a damp stone building for many years - resulting in much internal and external rust. Normally I would have said that it would be too expensive and unsatisfactory to return a machine in this poor condition to working order. But the customer insisted. It was an heirloom after all. The shift and ribbon transport mechanisms were seized solid with rust. The metal top of the carriage was rust-pitted. So was the eraser table and steel closing plate on the underside. The right hand carriage cheek was broken, with 25% missing. Need I go on ? The picture tells the story really. I managed to bring it back from the dead ! Missing decals were replaced with substitutes that I made - and that includes the nameplate on the front which should read 'Olivetti Linea 88', but doesn't. The customer was, however, very pleased when he received it and thought that I had done an excellent job - even though there is still some unavoidable rust still showing !