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 2023

November 2023

October 2023

1938 Royal KHM

First manufactured in 1913, the original Royal 10 was so 'right first time' that it continued in production almost unchanged until 1932. Even then, Royal continued to make typewriters with largely the same 'works' until the late 1960's. Even the Royal electric typewriters of the early 1970's had a very similar carriage. They do say that this is the nearest one can get to an indestructible typewriter !

In 1932, Royal produced a lightly-warmed-over version, the Royal Model H. Then in 1938, an updated model KHM came on line, which featured a crackle-black finish and for the first time - a rounded cover to hide the ribbon spools ! With a break in production during World War Two, the KHM soldiered on until 1949.

This machine came from a customer whose wife's father had bought it as a present, together with an earlier Royal H and a Remington portable. She was a budding author but unfortunately dad had let his enthusiasm to help get the better of him and all three machines needed serious attention. Sadly, dad had since passed away so the intention was to get at least one of the machines into working order as a lasting memorial. Both the Royal H and the KHM were rusty, but the H was by far the worst. BUT, the lead-lining on the KHT's platen had suffered from damp storage, expanded, and broken through the rubber. To put this right is an expensive process since the platen has to be stripped and re-sleeved twice, once to replace the corroded lead, and again to replace the broken rubber. Luckily, both machines had the same length platen, and the one on the rusty model H was made from cork - a period alterative to rubber which is more durable but offers less grip on the paper. Thanks to Royal's conservative policy of not altering much over many models and years of production, I was able to fit the earlier platen to the later machine without any problems. Result !

My customer couldn't believe the difference in appearance and said that it looked like a new typewriter !

September 2023

Custom Olivetti Lettera 22

The Olivetti Lettera 22 (initially sold as the Olivetti Scribe) was in production from 1950 until 1964. It was effectively a miniature version of the Olivetti office typewriter of the period and was very well-engineered. So well-engineered in fact that I believe that the only reason that it was discontinued is that it became too expensive to manufacture. Nowadays, it is a very popular and sought-after vintage typewriter. It came in two different versions. One with a tabulator, and a more basic model without.

Usually sold in a beige colour throughout the 1950's, a few were made in pink or light blue. These are quite rare and therefore difficult to find. Around 1961, Olivetti re-styled the Lettera 22 slightly, giving it square slate grey keytops instead of the previous round black ones and light blue case parts. They also took the opportunity to replace the cast aluminium line space lever bracket with a much stronger steel one, thus correcting what was probably the only weak spot on this model. However, fashions being what they are, the earlier model is the most popular due to its appearance.

A customer contacted me asking if I could obtain an earlier tabulator model in light blue for him. I did explain that he might have to wait years for the right machine to come along, but offered to build him one ! I did this by obtaining a post-1960 light blue model and then replacing the keytops and some of the typeface from a pre-1960 machine. At the same time, the platen was re-rubbered to give an as-new impression to the finished work. The carry case was also re-lined with new material. This then gave the best of both worlds in that the appearance was the earlier model but the engineering was that of the later model.

I would love to say that my customer was very pleased with the result but sadly it wasn't the case. He told me that he wanted a darker blue ! He had been looking at on-line pictures of blue Lettera 22s which had been taken in poor lighting which appeared to be darker - so much so that one he sent me as an example had a dark blue-looking platen because of this effect. So although he was happy with the typewriter itself, he felt in the end that he would just have to see if he got used to the colour. I did offer him a full refund if not, but haven't heard anything since so I guess he decided to keep it. Well there you are - you can't please all the people all the time no matter how hard you try.

August 2023

1927 Remington Noiseless Six

The photos above show a 1927 Remington Noiseless Six which a customer recently brought me for restoration. The picture on the left is how it arrived, and the two pictures on the right - how it was returned !

The idea of a silent, or at least quieter, typewriter seemed to occupy inventors and designers quite a lot in the early days of typewriter development, and yet in the final reckoning it turned out to be something of a dead end. The 'Noiseless' typewriter was originally designed by Wellington P Kidder in America, with the original Noiseless Typewriter Company being incorporated in 1909. However, much of the early years were devoted to research and development. It was only some years later, when an employee, George Gould Goring, designed a mechanism that would type two characters from one plunger that production really got off the ground. From about 1918 to the early 1920's, the new machine began to sell in increasing numbers, and other manufacturers started to sit up and take notice. In 1924, Remington decided that if you couldn't beat them you should join them - and merged with the Noiseless Typewriter Co. At least, it was sold as a merger at the time, but it reality it was more like a take-over. Remington did persist with the design, and continued making it in slightly updated form until as late as 1963. However, it never sold in the same numbers as their conventional typewriters. Interestingly, when Remington designed a modern office typewriter in the late 1940's - to replace a model which had been in production since Edwardian times - they adopted large portions of the Noiseless carriage and ribbon mechanism for their new product ! In themselves, these 'new' parts were already nearly thirty years old !

But why was the Noiseless typewriter a 'dead end' in typewriter development ? It was entirely down to the natural conservativeness of human nature. Although not truly silent, the Noiseless produced a dull 'thud' for each keystroke instead of the normal 'thwak'. Typists were used to the audible feedback of 'normal' machines and often found the Noiseless somewhat disorientating. Therefore, it wasn't well-liked. The typewriter trade didn't like it much either, because it was so different to conventional typewriters and therefore not easy to repair. So the Noiseless became something of an orphan. Nevertheless some people liked them, amongst them Winston Churchill who had some specially imported from the States for his office during the war. He hated the sound of normal typewriters !

Other manufacturers without access to the Noiseless patents, had to make do with adding extra padding and lead-lined platens to their machines to make them quieter. Underwood negotiated an exchange of patents so that they could licence-build the Remington Noiseless. And Continental in Germany simply produced a loose copy of their own, the Continental Silenta. But in the end, the buying public voted with their wallets, and the 'normal' typewriter reigned supreme !

This particular machine was bought from a junk shop at least thirty years ago, and then stored in a loft. It was always the intention to 'have it restored' but it only happened this year when it was brought to me. It was very rusty, and some sort of greasy gunge had been sprayed inside, clogging up most of the mechanisms. Worst of all, it had been dropped on the left side of the carriage, bending the delicate linespace lever and it's mechanism. My customer had to buy a similar machine on a well-known website to use as a 'parts' donor. In total, he did spend more than the machine's market value, but what price can you put on something with such sentimental value ?

July 2023

MJ Rooy Ultra-slim Portable

When the Swiss manufacturer Hermes launched the Hermes Baby in 1935, it put a bomb underneath all the other typewriter manufacturers. Up until then, portable typewriters had been large heavy things in big wooden carry cases. Hermes produced a machine that stood no higher than a box of matches on its' end and weighed very little. Within a few years, the main manufacturers had to either buy a licence from Hermes, design something similar of their own, or content themselves with losing their portable business. The concept also inspired a handful of upstart manufacturers who decided to specialise in just lightweight portables along similar lines. One of these in the 1950's was Rooy in France.

Rooy's take on the concept was to produce a machine that was incredibly flat whilst in it's carry case and when in use the carry case slid over the front of the machine and tucked underneath, whilst a flap dropped down underneath the keyboard to allow enough room for the keys to be pressed down fully. The pictures really illustrate this better than I can describe. 'Rooy' is pronounced 'Roy' in French and this eventually attracted the attention of the Royal Typewriter Company in America, who objected to a name so close to their own and threatened legal action. I believe that the attempt to get Rooy to change the name failed.

The Rooy was never sold in the UK, and this one was sent to me by a British collector for some TLC. They are not even that common in France, and one of the first barriers to owning one is that they take a special narrow-width ribbon fabric. In fact I send quite a few of these to France. The second barrier is a little more serious. It takes a unique spool which does not fit any other typewriter. A Rooy without spools can become an expensive liability !

June 2023

1958 Rheinmetall KsT

Similar to last month's Typewriter of the Month, another beautifully-engineered German portable, this time from 1958 although clearly showing its' pre-war heritage. Having been in storage for some time, it clearly needed re-commissioning as well as a host of minor repairs. Like May's 'pin-up', a very pleasant machine to use, and just look at that wonderful glossy black enamel finish !

It belongs to my German-based customer, and a feature of the carry case is that the machine is semi-permanently screwed down to the baseboard (not shown in the picture). Like last month's machine, it was also sent on to America after my attention. But unlike last month's machine, arrived intact - I suspect because it was so firmly attached to its' carry case ! It must have been pretty rough over the Atlantic that day !

May 2023

1937 Erika Model 6M

The Erika was made in Germany by a firm called Siedel and Naumann who were one of the first manufacturers of typewriters and also one of the last. 'Erika' was originally named after Herr Naumann's granddaughter and the name proved very durable, lasting until the end of production around 1990. After the Second World War, the factory found itself in East Germany and subsequently became part of the DDR state industries. During the East German period, the factory made basic but well-engineered portables which became one of the country's most successful exports to the west - essential to obtain foreign exchange.

The pre-war Model 6M shown here, is probably the ultimate development of the Erika portable before the war intervened. A rather awkward machine to repair, so I found out, because as the machine evolved from previous models, more and more mechanisms were simply 'tacked on' to the existing 'works'. It was never originally designed to have a tabulator, or margins which were set from the keyboard (the red and green buttons either side of the space bar) with the result that you have to dig through layers of mechanism to get to the section that needs attention ! Having said that, from a user point of view, it is a pleasant machine to type on. And like many other German makes of the period, so well-built that the character alignment is second to none even 85 years later.

If you click on the photo for a larger image, you will see that it has a German keyboard (Y and Z transposed are the most obvious signs). I have a customer in Germany who ships many of his collectable typewriters to me for attention, and in this case arranged for the machine to be sent on to the USA where he was relocating. Sadly, after all the work I had to put in, the courier managed to damage it in transit. I am hoping to get it back again at some stage, and perhaps I can revive it. You cannot win them all !

April 2023

1953 Alpina SK24

A German make never sold in the UK, the Alpina is considered very desirable amongst the typewriter collecting fraternity. Although the family who set up the Alpina factory were in the precision engineering trade going back well before the turn of the last century, the typewriter venture only took off in 1951 and the last machines were made in 1961. This was certainly a typewriter that didn't deserve to die so young. An excellent and clever design from first beginnings, essentially the Alpina was a large heavy duty portable, although variants were marketed as office typewriters. The machine had a number of interesting features including a carriage that detached by operating two catches in the carriage bed. Shift was by a system first pioneered by Underwood in 1899. Instead of either the type segment shifting up and down, or the whole carriage doing the same, just the platen in a sub-frame within the carriage moved. This gave a much lighter action than carriage shift without the complication of moving the whole segment. In every respect, the little Alpina could emulate a full-size office typewriter, having a fully settable tabulator with total tab. clear as well as a pop-up extendable paper rest and freehead. Decimal tabulator models were even produced in which the top row of keytops doubled as the decimal row, a feature unique to this manufacturer. Another unique feature on Alpinas later than the one in the picture is a Nylon linespace lever. The only time this has ever been tried !

As the typewriter business started to stall, the son of the family took to tuning cars, first as a hobby and then as a business. Specialising in BMW, and with the co-operation of the BMW factory, a new Alpina business was formed. Until very recently a separate company, Alpina has recently become part of the BMW group. So from precision typewriters to precision car tuning, and a name that is still widely recognised.

Like February's Typewriter of the Month, this machine belongs to my regular customer in Germany, who sent it to me for attention. The first thing that I noticed is that it had been damp-stored, causing corrosion in the sub-lever slots - fortunately not too bad - and that the platen had gone rock-hard with age. A fair bit of work to un-seize the machine, and a re-rubbered platen made quite a difference. I can see why enthusiasts like this machine. They really are nice to type on !

March 2023

Refurbished 1932 Corona Flat-Top

The grey machine in the left hand picture came in for a service and repair recently. On the right is a picture of how it would have looked when new. The interesting thing is that it turned out to be a post-war refurb. ! It never left L.C. Smith and Corona's factory in New York looking like that !

During the Second World War, with the one exception of the Imperial Typewriter Company in Leicester, all UK typewriter production ceased. Instead, former typewriter factories used their skills to produce precision items for the war effort. When the enemy bombed factories, they inevitably destroyed the office block at the same time, including of course, the typewriters. With the limited production of Imperial typewriters reserved only for the government and the most essential of users, this soon created a shortage. For several years after 1945, whilst the major manufacturers were slowly resuming production, this shortage became critical. The result was that any old nail that could be refurbished and sold on could fetch really good money.

Many typewriter dealers got in on the act, and the usual formula was a coat of crackle-finish black or grey paint (hides a multitude of scratches and chips in the original finish) and a flash-over of cheap chromium plating on the bright parts to 'update' the appearance. Usually this treatment was reserved for office typewriters, some as much as 25 years old at the time, but the above machine shows that it was sometimes applied to portable typewriters too !

So we have a 1932 Corona 'Flat Top' which should have an attractive 'piano finish' glossy black enamel and chromium plating which instead has had the 'grey crackle' treatment and in this case a flash-over of bright nickel. It looked a sorry sight when it came in, and the bright nickel had long ago turned dull and milky-looking. However, it must have had a re-rubbered platen when refurbished because that at least was still serviceable. It also had the original 1932 rubber feet which as you might imagine, were well past their best. A firm in America make exact reproduction feet for this machine, but after paying postage and import duty they are ridiculously expensive. Nevertheless, the customer went ahead with these small but essential items so that at last the machine could sit up straight on the desk.

Her son had bought the little Corona at an auction, and the service and feet were a present from mum. After an initial enquiry as to if I could restore the original piano finish, I explained what had happened to the machine and that it had spent all but the first few years of its' life with a new grey overcoat. Therefore the appearance was very much a part of its' history.

February 2023

1949 Triumph Perfect

Never officially sold in the UK, the German-made carriage-shifted Triumph Perfekt was an excellent traditional heavy-duty portable. Production began in 1929 and lasted in this basic form until 1954 with only changes to colour and trim from year to year. Even then, the design wasn't finished. Triumph had been co-operating on typewriter design with Adler, another German manufacturer, for some years before the two firms merged. The basic 'Perfect' design was warmed over with a modern plastic case and keytops and re-emerged as the 'Adler Junior' which lasted until 1965. Like car manufacturers, typewriter makers tend to use the same tooling for decades, such is the initial cost of setting up, and of course the way to extend the life of the product is to change the outside appearance from time to time to keep it contemporary.

If you are wondering about the 'Triumph' name being also found on bicycles, motorcycles and cars then yes there is a connection. Going back over one hundred years, the English Triumph and the German Triumph were sister vehicle manufacturers under the same ownership. The English and German divisions parted company and then motorcycle manufacture was spun off into a separate company in England. Triumph in Germany continued to make motorcycles until the 1950's and when these were imported to England they had to be badged as 'TWN' (Triumph-Werke Nuremberg) so as not to infringe the English Triumph trademark. Not a lot of people know that !

This particular machine, made in the last days of December 1949 was sent to me by a regular customer and collector in Germany, hence the German keyboard if you look hard at the photo. It was in reasonable condition, requiring just recommissioning and setting up. It turned out to be a pleasant machine to type on, and in typical German 1950's fashion, the fit and finish was excellent. Certainly built to last, it is hard to believe that it is over seventy years old !

January 2023

Olivetti Lettera 35 in Red

I do not usually 'customise' typewriters because they are a finite resource and best left as the manufacturers intended. I wonder how many typewriters you have seen online that have been 're-imagined' in a colour that does not blend with the keyboard and plastics and looks so 'odd' that no manufacturer would ever have sold it looking like that? However, occasionally there is an exception!

A long-standing customer of mine always wanted an Olivetti Valentine. Usually in red (although other colours were available), this iconic portable typewriter has become a design classic with a price to match. However, the Lettera 35 with similarly attractive lines, doesn't have the same following - possibly because it was only made in a rather pedestrian beige enamelled finish. What if a Lettera 35 could be refinished in red? Well, here is the very handsome result!

It makes you wonder why Olivetti hasn't thought of it themselves since the red casing doesn't look out of place with the white keyboard. Rather handsome don't you think ? My customer was delighted!