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 2017

1936 Royal KHM

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!

November 2017

1957 Blue-Bird Model 18B

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.

October 2017

Circa 1980's Imperial 22

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!

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!

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!

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!

June 2017

Carry Case of the Month!

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 !

May 2017

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 !

April 2017

1929 Adler 30 Portable

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!

March 2017

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!

February 2017

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!

January 2017

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 !