The Typewriter Man


Typewriter of the Month

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. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

  • Dec
  • Nov
  • Oct
  • Sep
  • Aug
  • Jul
  • Jun
  • May
  • Apr
  • Mar
  • Feb
  • Jan

December 2014

1929 American-spec. Corona Four

The first Corona Threes were made as early as 1906. A simple, lightweight portable typewriter, the trademark of the Corona Three was that the whole carriage was hinged so that it folded down over the keyboard when not in use. This meant that it could be placed in a much smaller carrying box than would otherwise be needed. In order to reduce the number of working parts to a minimum, the machine had three rows of keys and a double shift - one for capital letters, and a second for numerals and symbols. It was a very clever design, but as a one-model manufacturer, Corona had too many eggs in one basket. By 1924 they had realised that they could not survive by making just the one model. Customers were beginning to demand a keyboard with four rows of keys, as found on office-sized typewriters.

To meet this demand, Corona brought out a second model - the Corona Four. 'Four' because it had four rows of keys. It was a successful design from the beginning, but Corona still could not survive on making two models and finally merged with L. C. Smith (makers of office-sized machines) in 1926 to form 'L. C. Smith and Corona' - much later abbreviated to 'Smith-Corona'. The Corona Four had a long production life. Although other Corona models were introduced throughout the 1930's, the Corona Four soldiered on until 1940.

These machines are still surprisingly common and quite a few were sold in the UK. Customers frequently bring them to me for repair, often because they belonged to their grandfather or great-grandfather and they would like the machine restored. Sadly, they are often rusty and in poor condition. Not so with this one ! The British market machines were only available in gloss black, so I was immediately intrigued when a customer opened the carry case to reveal - an American specification Four !

In the USA, typewriter manufacturers produced portables in a variety of of interesting colours and Corona was no exception. This particular machine had been well looked after and never damp-stored, with the result that it still looks nearly new. Time had taken its toll on the rubber parts, which needed replacing, but it was otherwise just a case of having a service and a few minor adjustments to return it to full working order.

November 2014

Circa 1975 Messa 6000

This is a very unusual typewriter, and a common one, all at the same time ! In the early 1960's, the Royal typewriter company in America designed a new medium-duty portable typewriter called the Royal Safari. Only a few years later, Royal had been bought by a firm called 'Litton Industries', who had also bought the Imperial typewriter Co. in England. In order to cut costs, production of the Safari was sub-contracted to a little-known Portuguese manufacturer called Messa. At the same time, the Safari was sold in the UK as the 'Imperial Safari', the only real difference to the Royal version being an English keyboard with a £ symbol and the 'Imperial' logo on the front. It was otherwise pure Royal engineering and included the patented Royal 'Magic Margin' - a feature that no other Imperial typewriter ever had. It seemed that you could have any colour you liked as long as it was blue, and the machine always came in a substantial hard carry case. It was actually quite a pleasant typewriter to use, even if the casings were not to engineer-friendly to remove and replace ! Imperial, and I imagine Royal on the other side of the Atlantic, dropped the model from their range around 1974.

So that was that, or so I thought until a customer brought me this machine for repair and service recently. It looks as if Messa got permission to go it alone and continue manufacture of the Safari for a couple more years under their own brand name ! The Messa version, which even appears to continue the Royal serial number sequence, still has the words 'Magic Margin' and 'Magic Column Set/Column Clear' engraved on the appropriate buttons. The word 'Magic', particularly when applied to margins, was Royal's Copyright. However, the machine had been altered in other ways. Another Royal 'trademark' used on several models was the tombstone shaped keytops. The keytops on the Messa are a different shape. The Royal/Imperial Safari was designed to take a special 'Roytype' ribbon cartridge - although a standard ribbon spool would fit too. The Messa had been altered to just take the spool. But most striking of all is that Messa had extended the carriage from the normal 9.5" to 13", making it capable of typing on A4 paper inserted sideways ! Of course, the machine would no longer fit into its' hard case, so this version came in a soft brown vinyl carrying bag instead. To get away from the 'Royal' image, the machine came in pale green. I cannot imagine that very many of these were made. I have never seen another !

October 2014

1960 Royalite

October 2014The Royal typewriter company of America was looking to spread its' wings when it bought a small Dutch typewriter company called Halberg in 1954. Halberg had only recently started production of a pleasant lightweight portable typewriter when it was taken over. Royal immediately redesigned the outer casing, and the result is the machine you see above. Being only a basic machine, the Royalite does not have a ribbon colour control and therefore takes a single-colour ribbon only. The 1954 design lasted another ten years. A variant of the mechanics continued in production (in a different outer casing) until 1967.

This particular machine was sent to me by a customer for a full restoration. It had belonged to his uncle. He wanted the machine returned to as near new condition as possible since it was a family heirloom. It was in a pretty awful state when it arrived. The rubber feet were perished, and some of the rubber buffers inside the case were missing. I was able to make new feet and buffers, and after a lot of work got the machine performing really well !

September 2014

Three 1960 Imperial 66's

Having shown you an Imperial 50 as recently as July, I make no apologies for now showing you three Imperial 66 typewriters in September ! The Imperial 66 is of course what the Imperial 50 finally turned into, after 27 years and going through models 55, 58, 60 and 65 ! In my opinion at least, the 66 was the ultimate development of this line. These machines were made from 1954 right through until 1967. Very British, very upright and very 'nuts and bolts' in their method of construction, almost everything on these typewriters was adjustable for wear. Because of this, the Imperial 66 tended to be very long-lived. Following on from the principles of the original 1928 Model 50, the type unit, carriage and platen were all removable by the typist without the use of tools - and interchangeable. For instance, you could order an Imperial 66 with a spare long carriage for accounts work. Your machine could be used for correspondence during most of the week, then the carriage could be changed for the long one to do speadsheets on one particular day. A spare type unit with a foreign language or scientific keyboard could be interchanged in the same way. As a wholly-British firm, Imperial were a favourite supplier to Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Thousands of these machines were in use throughout local and national goverment offices. After 1962, things started to go downhill a little. A new machine, the Imperial 70, was introduced. This one still had the interchangeable carriage and platen, but it was now a typewriter engineer's job to remove the type unit. By 1968, the Imperial 80 had replaced the Imperial 70. Another big disappointment. Still with the interchangeable platen and carriage, but the quality had decreased dramatically. The Series 2 Imperial 80 made from 1970 was worse. The carriage was now screwed down, so the only thing the typist could change was the platen. Things tended to work loose on these machines and they would rattle alarmingly after only a couple of years use. HMSO stuck doggedly to Imperial until the end of production in 1975 when the Leicester factory closed its' doors for the last time.

These three machines were the result of a TV commission ! I was tasked with finding them to populate the desks of a late 1960's British police station to appear in a forthcoming period detective series. One was restored to pristine 1969 condition - even down to the correct period metal ribbon spools - for close-up shots. A second one to full working order for longer shots. The third one just to sit about on a desk or filing cabinet and look pretty, but not necessarily to work. I also had to find an Imperial portable - actually a 1959 an Imperial Good Companion Five. Film and TV companies always want things about a week before they first thought of them, and true to form this was a panic job. Much midnight oil was burnt, and what you see here was photographed about an hour before they were collected by the courier !

rks very well, and although mainly for display, the owner intends to use it from time to time. After all, that is what it was made to do!

August 2014

Early 1980's IBM 196c Correcting Selectric

Just for a change, a relatively modern typewriter - the IBM 196c. The original IBM Selectric typewriter was introduced in 1961. A plastic 'golfball' printing head containing four rows of characters would move along the page, tilting and rotating in micro-seconds before launching forward to print each character. Despite claims to the contrary, it wasn't an entirely new idea. In fact a long-forgotton manufacturer called 'Blickensderfer' had been selling a very similar machine in 1903 ! However, what IBM did was to popularise and develop the idea. The patents that IBM held allowed them a head start in the market. Other manufacturers were only able to start making single-element typewriters in the late 1970's as IBM's patents began to expire. Although driven by an electric motor, the operation of this kind of machine is purely mechanical, the various functions being driven by a series of clutches and levers. The original IBM Selectric was superceded by an improved version in the early 1970's, giving a choice of 10 or 12 pitch spacing. Soon after came a machine which incorporated a 'correction' facility for the first time. A second 'ribbon' of sticky tape could be brought into play to 'suck' an incorrectly-typed character off the page before over-typing with the desired one. In the early 1980's, the Selectic was updated again. This version had a 96-character print head (the original machines had 88) and linescales that lit up to show the operator which 'pitch' was in use. Extensive foam rubber padding was used inside the machine to make it quieter than its' predecessors. Unfortunately, those extra characters were a step too far, and the last version (called the Selectric III in the USA, but the 196c here in England) was difficult to keep in adjustment. IBM possibly hung on to the 'golfball' concept a little too long, for by the time they introduced this last machine, their competitors were already making daisy-wheel electronic typewriters.

This particular machine was brought to me by a barrister who lives on the South coast. A real time-warp machine, it had little use from new and had spent a long time in storage. Hardly any wear, but the foam rubber padding inside the case had started to disintegrate and turn into a sticky goo that was dropping everywhere. I removed all the padding and serviced the machine, leaving it slightly noisier but working a lot better. Almost every UK-market 196c that I have seen came in a semi-gloss black, and this one was no exception. When I handed the machine back to its' owner, he asked me to show him how to remove the casing. It is not immediately obvious, but there are a pair of latches inside that can be released to allow the whole top cover to lift off. Two months later, I received the picture which you see above. He had removed all the casings and painstakingly re-painted them in a Fiat Red/Orange colour. Quite an improvement I thought - and I hope you do too !

July 2014

1933 Imperial 50

The Imperial 50 is the classic English typewriter, with an incredibly long production run stretching from 1927 through to 1955. Made in Leicester, this machine was a revelation when first introduced. It is completely modular, in that the carriage can be unclipped and replaced with one of a different length, and the 'main unit' can be slid out of the front of the machine and replaced with one containing (for instance) a foreign keyboard. Even the platen can be unclipped from the carriage and replaced with another with a different grade of rubber for specialised work ! It was no wonder that this machine was soon adopted by government departments, police forces, local councils and major firms. Within a few years, the manufacturers had gained the Royal Warrant - which was proudly displayed on all Imperial typewriters until the Leicester factory finally closed its' doors in 1975. Part of the reason for the long production run was the machine's popularity with the government. When new models were introduced, the original model continued in production - allowing large organisations to have a fleet of matching typewriters. Only in the mid-1950's did Imperial finally have a rationalisation policy to drop many of the older models, the Imperial 50 included. Post 1940 Imperial 50s have black crackle-finish paintwork. Before then, they were manufactured in a glossy black enamel. Most had the Royal Warrant crest on the right hand side of the paper table - but the first few years of production didn't. Which brings is neatly to the machine in the photograph.

One of my customers particularly wanted a glossy black Imperial 50, and was prepared to wait until I could obtain one. The search took several months, but the right machine finally presented itself ! Although in basically sound condition, it had been standing in an outbuilding for many years. The nickel plating had gone rather dull, and of course it needed a thorough clean and service. The feedrolls must have been the 1933 originals judging from their emaciated condition, and I had to have those re-rubbered. The finished machine ended up looking and working like new, and was recently handed over to its' grateful new owners. Some development work went on during the Imperial 50's production run, so there are a host of small differences between the first and the last of the line. Slightly later machines have two tiny rubber buffers under the paper table to stop it rattling when typing. On this machine, there is no provision for them. They hadn't been thought of at that stage.

So what happened to the Imperial Typewriter Company ? Unfortunately much the same pattern of events that finished off the British motorcycle industry. Continuation of outdated designs, whilst the foreign competition caught up and then overtook. A mid-1960's buy-out by a foreign company which resulted in deterioration of the product to turn a short-term profit. Finally - closure of the British factory and re-branding of German typewriters with the Imperial name. A sad end.

June 2014

Olivetti Valentine

These machines have been long regarded as works of art and a design classic. Several design museums, not to mention collectors of art as well as typewriters, have one proudly on display. They were produced from 1969 to the very early 1970's from a prototype designed by Ettore Sottsass and made in Olivetti's Barcelona factory. It wasn't the only machine that Sottsass styled for Olivetti: he was also responsible for the little-known Praxis 48 electric portable. As you might imagine, the Valentine is now a valuable machine. If one of these appears on a well-known internet action site, a bidding frenzy usually ensues ! With the Valentine, it is almost a case of, 'Any colour you want, as long as it's red !' Other colours do exist, but those are ultra-rare.

My first contact with a Valentine came when I was working for a typewriter firm in Dunstable in 1977. One of these came into the workshop for a service. There is a real knack to removing the plastic case, and I remember all the engineers crowded round this machine trying to work out the best way of doing it. In the early 1990's, I spotted one in an indoor boot sale. In a classic moment of stupid hesitatation, I thought about it - whilst someone else grabbed it ! Like the big fish that got away ! In the last year I have had several in for repair and had to remember back to 1977 for the best way of removing the casing. I still do not know why, but I have had three now with the carriage detached from the machine. This is rather strange, because the Valentine is mechanically closely related to the Olivetti Lettera 32 and its' brethren, and loose carriages are never an issue with those. The machine in the photo has a French keyboard. I have also repaired a German-keyboard version with that same carriage fault. In each case it looks as if an amateur attempted to repair it for some minor fault, part-removed the carriage, then abandoned it.

May 2014

1950's Groma Kolibris

Maybe rare typewriters are like buses and come along in threes ! The mysterious Groma Kolibri is something of a legend amonst 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 until a couple of months ago, had only ever seen pictures of these machines. Then one of my customers was given a rare English-keyboard version (the machine on the right) by a relative who was having a clear-out - how lucky was that ! Once his appetite was whetted, he bought another German-keyboard version from a well-known internet auction site. That one came from Latvia ! Both were sent to me, the English one for repair, servicing and to have the carriage end covers re-chromed. The German keyboard machine was near perfect and just needed the 'Y' and 'Z' typeface and keytops swopped over to make it into pseudo-English machine. Almost simultaneously, another customer brought me a German-keyboard Groma (the machine on the left) to be repaired and the keyboard converted in the same way. So now I know my way around a Groma ! I can report that although beautifully made, these machines are a real 'nuisance' to work on ! For an ultra-flat portable typewriter, they are also surprisingly solid and heavy !

April 2014

1957 Royal Quiet Deluxe

April 2014I couldn't resist showing you this machine, since it is identical to the image on my home page and was manufactured in the same year that I was born ! With a design heritage stretching back to the 1930's, this was made in the closing years of traditional Royal portable production. A completely new design was waiting in the wings, and much the same applied to their full-size office standard typewriters too. In England, the buying public were judged by Royal to be far too conservative to be offered typewriters in colours like this. Instead, we got filing-cabinet grey or beige machines. This one, which was brought to me by an American serviceman, is a US model in full 'Technicolor' !

I can report that it is a very pleasant machine to type on, with a lovely light keyboard touch. A traditional Royal feature for many years was the patented 'Magic Margin', which this machine has. Position the carriage where you would like the margin to be, and press a button. The spring-loaded margin leaps into position - magic ! This patent feature was strongly defended by Royal. Word is that when arch-rivals Remington introduced something similar in the late 1940's, Royal sued them and forced them to remove the feature from subsequent models !

March 2014

Typeface Photos

And now for something completely different ! I sometimes get unusual requests from customers. A while back, I had a request for some IBM golfball heads - not to use on a typewriter - but to photograph for the cover of a book. More recently, I had an e-mail from a gentleman in Essex who wanted to buy some typebars carrying the letters L-O-V-E. I was able to find what he wanted from my stock of secondhand parts. A few weeks later, I received the above pictures ! Typewriter parts as art ! Truly impressive, and just the thing for someone who loves typewriters !

February 2014

1936 Hermes Four

Following on from last month's theme of standard typewriters, here is a Hermes Four that I recently restored for a London customer. Amazingly, I had the correct (unique) ribbon spools in stock for this machine ! Typewriter enthusiasts will know the name 'Hermes', a product of the Swiss precision manufacturer that also made the famous 'Bolex' movie cameras. Post-war Hermes machines have always been regarded as the 'Rolls-Royce' of typewriters, an impression fostered in part by the expensive selling price when new. However, you did get what you paid for. I remember some 1940's Hermes Ambassadors still in daily use in an office in the late 1970's. Pre-war, Hermes were still finding their way and produced a series of typewriters totally unlike their Post-war counterparts. So different in fact, that they could have been the products of another manufacturer entirely. This particular machine certainly falls into that category.

Unconventionality rules throughout. On every modern office typewriter, the segment falls when the shift key is pressed - allowing the capital letters on the top of the typeface to strike the page. On the Hermes Four, the normal segment position is DOWN - pressing the shift key lifts the segment UP ! Above the left 'Shift' key, where you would expect to find a 'Shift Lock' key, is a 'Superscript' key. Holding it down allows you to type any character half a space above the normal writing line. The typebars are raised by a linkage pulling from BEHIND the segment ! Push-along tabulator stops are set on the same rack as the margins, and the Tabulator key doubles as a margin release when you get to the end of a line and need to type a few extra characters.

Eagle-eyed observers will have noticed the French keyboard. Some barely discernible remains of the transfers on the back of the machine imply that it was actually made under licence by Japy Freres of France. Japy had a close relationship with Hermes and finally became part of the Hermes empire in the 1960's. It is an interesting thought that this machine was very likely to have been used in occupied France during the war.

January 2014

1951 Halda Six

1951 Halda SixJanuary 2014In appropriately seasonal colours, here is a Halda Six that I recently restored for a customer in Derbyshire. It was so dirty when it arrived that you might be forgiven for thinking that it was actually grey ! After repairing a host of faults, including a disconnected tabulator brake (who on earth did that, and why ?), I gave the machine the first service it had probably enjoyed in 50 years ! Sharp eyed readers might have spotted the square keytops on the Shift Lock and 'N'. My customer had lost the originals, and these were the closest match that I could find in my spares stock. You learn something new every day, and the thing that interested me about this machine was that the ribbon spools are exactly the same as those on the Royal (an old-established American manufacturer). I had previously thought that these spools fitted Royal typewriters and nothing else ! It is a pretty rare machine in the UK. I have only seen one other like it, and that was in the early 1980's.

Halda was a Swedish make with roots going back to 1887. The Halda Six was in continuous production from 1941 to 1957, when the brand name changed to 'Facit' and a completely new model was introduced. When the 'new' model was itself superceded later on, the tooling was sold to Poland where production continued as the 'Lucznik'. A brief attempt was made in the mid-1970s to sell these in the UK as the 'Predom' typewriter.