The Typewriter Man

Typewriter of the Month - 2015

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.
1930's Torpedo Portables
January 2015
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 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'. Rather like Japanese manufacturers later on, they would produce typewriters with a customer's brand name if requested. Which brings us to the maroon typewriter shown above, a 'Harrods' made for sale at the famous London department store.

It is practically identical to the 'Blue Bird' shown alongside, but was actually the 'economy' version which took a single colour ribbon only and had a much less elaborate outer casing. It is simply marked 'Foreign', not 'Made in Germany'! You would imagine that the 'posh people's department store' would have sold the most luxurious portable typewriter under their own brand name, rather than the cheapest!

The black 'Blue Bird' was a machine that I sold a few months ago. It happened to be in stunning condition, and I know that my customer was delighted with it. The 'Harrods' alongside was a family heirloom that had been brought to me for restoration. Unlike many 1930's portables, this one had had a really hard life. It had belonged to the owner's father, who was a journalist and had used it for most of his career. The machine's rubber feet had practically dissolved. The linespace mechanism was so worn that the selector was held in position with a sticking plaster to enable it to work. After a lot of hard work, and the discovery that the rubber feet were identical to that of the Imperial Good Companion (thanks to the designer Mr Etheridge being responsible for both machines) I got the machine working almost like new.

Torpedo continued throughout the 1950's and lasted until 1964, when Remington finally closed them down. Perhaps they were just too good.

February 2015
1930's Continental Standard
Following on from last month's German theme, I thought that I would show you a full-size office typewriter from the same period. Continental were similar to Torpedo in that they also manufactured bicycles, motorcycles, cars and machine tools. The parent company were Wanderer-Werke, and it was under the 'Wanderer' trademark that the other products were made.

Typewriter production commenced in 1904. The quality of Continental's products was second to none. Throughout their existence, they made three kinds of machine. A standard, a portable, and a noiseless.  In each case, I get the feeling that they studied the market-leading typewriter of the time, and then sought to make a better-engineered version - not quite a copy, but 'clearly influenced by'!    The standard was 'clearly influenced by' the Underwood Five - the best selling American typewriter of the era. The Continental is beautifully made and finished, with some very elegant engineering solutions which seem to have eluded Underwood.  A lovely idea, which was clearly cribbed from Underwood, is the removeable typebars.  If you have the knack, you can take a typebar out of the machine without the aid of any tools.  It simply 'clips' out and can be 'plugged back in'.  If you do not have the knack, you could struggle for hours and still not do it!  The Underwood carriage comes off after four screws are removed, together with the drawband.  You park the drawband and the carriage slides straight off the Continental after you have released a secret latch!  

It must have been an expensive typewriter to manufacture and buy, but you certainly got what you paid for.  If you were wondering, I think the other two machines were 'influenced by' Olympia in the case of the portable, and the Remington Noiseless in the case of the Silenta - which was said to be far superior!  The war finished all three Continental models. The Silenta and Standard tooling was whisked away to Russia as war reparations. The story goes that the Russians were unable to produce the machines because they hadn't realised that many of the parts were made by local sub-contractors who had perfected the specialist skills that were needed. The portable tooling went to Belgium, where a similar scenario unfolded. The machines looked the same but did not perform the same, and word soon got around, making them unsaleable. There are still a lot of Continental typewriters around, seventy years after production ended. It says a lot about the quality of these machines that they have survived for so long.

The machine in the photo was the result of a request by a customer who wanted a top-class typewriter in full working order, to be both decorative and useful.  Most standards have a German keyboard, but this one was specifically made for export to England with a full English keyboard.   Almost indecipherable through wear , the name of the importer in London is marked on the paper table. By a lucky chance, a chap who had been in the office equipment trade offered me this machine since he was clearing his garage and it was in the way.  A deal was struck, followed by days and days of cleaning, lubricating and adjusting - plus the making of a new drawband from scratch since the original was missing. The result of my labours can be seen in the picture.  My customer was delighted!

1975 Olympia SG3
March 2015
Thirty years ago, you saw these typewriters everywhere - in banks, local government offices and throughout industry. They were incredibly common, and with good reason. They were amongst the best and most reliable office manual typewriters ever produced.   An office could easily keep one of these in daily use for twenty years, provided that it was serviced regularly. Where have they all gone?  You hardly see them now!

The design of these machines goes back to 1953, when the SG1 was launched in Germany. The Germans are a very logical nation, and the model's initials stood for Schreibmaschine Grosse (Large Typewriter) One! The SG1 was a fantastic machine, and I suspect production ended around 1966 only because it was so expensive to manufacture.   Its successor, the SG3, is a simplified version in a more modern outer casing. The carriage unclips from the base unit after releasing two levers under the ribbon cover, making the machine easy to clean and allowing alternative carriage lengths to be fitted without the aid of any tools.    With the carriage and ribbon cover removed, the latticework castings at the sides of the machine allow a long-handled dusting brush to reach almost anywhere inside. The keyboard has a pleasant (and adjustable) 'touch'.  

Of course, as time went by, changes were made to keep the manufacturing costs down, not always for the better. The first machines, made in 1967, were very like the previous SG1 in quality.   All the casing parts were properly enamelled and the fit and finish was second to none. By the mid 1970's, the white ribbon cover was no longer enamelled, but sprayed with a rather soft paint.  This tended to rub off with wear.  The late 1970's saw the introduction of stamped steel side plates, replacing the aluminium latticework castings. This did not affect the machine's strength, but made it very difficult to clean.   As the 1980's progressed, there was another change.   As demand for manual typewriters began to dry up, production was transferred from Germany to Mexico.   Although the machines now had more and more plastic parts inside, at least the Mexican Olympias reverted to the latticework side castings!   By the early 1990's, production had fizzled out completely.  Nevertheless, even the later (much compromised) machines were still good typewriters.

The machine in the picture was the result of a commission by a film company. They were looking to furnish a set representing an office in an early 1980's American bank.  The manual typewriter was still in common use in financial institutions then, so the Olympia SG3 was the obvious choice.  Several non-working SG3 typewriters were sourced from prop suppliers, but they also wanted one in new condition for close-up shots.   I managed to source the machine you see in the photo above.   It was in generally sound condition, but I doubt that it had been serviced since the 1980's.  Once cleaned to within an inch of its life, properly set up, and with the ribbon cover re-sprayed to new condition, it became the fine typewriter you see here.   I had almost forgotten how pleasant these are to type on - and how much effort it takes to return the heavy 15 inch carriage!
April 2015
Remington's first true portable typewriter was initially introduced in 1921. The design proved to be so successful that mechanical variants of this original machine continued in production until the early 1950's. The very first ones became known as the 'Remington Fanfold' in the trade because the typebars had to be raised from the 'flat' position before typing by means of a knob in an arcuate slot on the right side. By the late 1920's, Remington had realised that this feature could be dispensed with and reworked the machine so that the typebars would come straight up from the 'flat' position when typing. The machine in the picture is of this later kind. Although Remington made and sold machines with brightly coloured casings in the United States, almost every British-market model was in gloss black.

Imagine my surprise on seeing this machine, brought in by a customer for a service and replacement draw cord. Not an American-market typewriter, but a rare coloured one intended for sale here.  It is actually a two tone red, darker on the upper parts and a lighter shade on the lower. Unlike some typewriters that you see on a well-known auction site, this one left the factory in this colour scheme, making it pretty rare. One of the things that tend to deteriorate on these typewriters are the grommets-cum-feet that attach the machine to its base board. Fortunately I had a batch of these re-made by a specialist firm a while ago, so replacements were not a problem. The machine really needed a re-rubbered platen too - it was perforating the paper when you type. Sadly, my customer could not afford the additional cost, so it had to be returned without. He did say that the machine would be back for a platen in the future !
1932 Remington Portable in Red
The Adler Special falls into a unique class of its' own amongst typewriters - the Industrial Portable. It is neither a full-size office machine, nor a heavy-duty portable, but rather something in-between. It was designed to be carried from room to room in an office and therefore had a carriage lock to keep the carriage still whilst being moved. However, it was never supplied with a carry case since there was no intention that it should be carried any distance. You wouldn't want to; it is a heavy machine and weighs almost as much as a full-size standard. Its footprint on the desk is about the same as Adler's full-size office typewriter, but it is only two-thirds of the height so a little squat in appearance. It has a rather strange margin setting arrangement which takes a little getting used to. Almost every other typewriter has a toothed margin rack at the back of the carriage on which operate sliders for the left and right margins. The Special has a unique combination tab. rack and margin rack inside the machine and under the carriage. A control on the right of the carriage will push a spring-loaded stop out of the rack to represent a margin or a tabulator stop position, depending on which direction the control is operated. All the tabs. or both the margins can be 'wiped' from the keyboard, enabling you to start again with fresh settings.

Introduced in 1951, the German-made Adler Special had a long production life. It went through restyle of the casing in the mid 1960's to make it resemble the full size Adler Universal, but remained mechanically the same until its demise around 1973. The concept of the Industrial Portable never caught on with other typewriter manufacturers, leaving Adler to go it alone. Possibly the strange margin arrangement put customers off, for it never sold in huge numbers compared to the standard machines. Large firms with typing pools would have been unlikely to want this model. Rather, it was aimed at small businesses.

This particular Adler Special was from my stock and was refurbished for a customer who particularly wanted a heavy-duty machine, but not something as large as a standard. Of course, it fitted the bill perfectly. As often happens with older typewriters, a lot of the minor rubber parts had deteriorated. I had to set to and make a number of rubber stops as well as find a suitable substitute for a missing plastic knob. Someone had re-sprayed the ribbon cover an awful non-matching grey, so I had to be return it to something like the original white. It turned out to be a very nice typer, and quiet too, thanks to those large foam feet underneath which help to deaden the sound.
December 1960 Adler Special
May 2015
Imperial Typewriter Feet - in Wood !
June 2015
'Necessity is the mother of invention', or so they say !
Sometimes I think it may be 'Desperation is the mother of invention'.
About fifteen percent of my work comes from film and television companies who need fully working period typewriters as props. Almost always, the machines are required in double-quick time - meaning that I have to drop everything else to meet the deadline. I usually have to pull out all the stops to obtain what is wanted, and often cannot be too choosy about the condition of the typewriters that I have to buy-in to fulfil the order.

For a recent job, I had to get at least three Imperial typewriters for a series that was set in a 1940's UK government office. Time was tight, and one of the machines I bought was a war-time Imperial 50 that turned out to have crumbling rubber feet. With no spare parts available and a looming deadline, there really wasn't time to find a way of carving replacements from a solid rubber block, as I would normally do for a machine that was being properly restored.

Fortunately, I also have qualifications in professional woodworking (no experience is ever wasted) so was able to fabricate some very convincing replicas in hardwood. Once painted and fitted to the machine, it would be difficult to tell that they were not rubber !

The pictures show the replica feet before they were painted, with an original rubber foot in the foreground. I trial-fitted them to the machine to check that they were OK, then painted them and fitted them permanently. The machine worked fine, and was collected along with the other two - as usual - just in time !

July 2015
1916 Oliver No. 9
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 whose surname is also 'Oliver'. This, I think, was the beginning of his fascination with the machine.  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 siezed 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 9/16" ribbon fabric unique to this model.

This is a 'Printype' version of the Oliver 9  -  'Printype' referring to a special Oliver typeface made to resemble book print rather than the output of a typewriter.  In fact, it closely resembles many of the typefaces used on electric typewriters in the 1970's.  There is nothing new under the sun !  

The machine is still with me. The owner was so pleased with the machine, that he asked me to strip it down again to get some of the rusty nickel-plated parts re-plated !

August 2015
1928 Underwood Five
The story of the Underwood began when pioneer American maker Remington decided to manufacture their own line of ribbons and carbon paper. Mr. Underwood owned the factory that had been supplying Remington with these items, and was peeved (to say the least) when he found that he had been cut out of the loop ! He thought that since Remington was going into the stationery business, he might as well go into the typewriter business ! He hired a German-American called Franz Xavier Wagner to design a new typewriter to carry the Underwood name. It was an almost instant success, a case of 'right first time'. So much so that machines with a clear lineage to the original were made from 1900 right through until 1967. The Underwood Five was like the Ford Model 'T' of typewriters. A rugged, go-anywhere design, nearly four million were produced with few alterations to the original design in a production run spanning thirty one years. Essentially very similar models followed from 1931 onwards.

This particular machine dates from 1928. The Underwood was widely exported (and often copied by other manufacturers), including to Germany and Austria. This, and a bill of sale in German dated 1971, explains why it has a standard German keyboard - complete with umlauts ! A customer asked me to source a working 1920's typewriter for him, and I eventually tracked this one down. Of course, he wanted an quasi-English keyboard, which I achieved by transposing the 'Y' and 'Z' and adding a '' sign where there was once a dollar sign. Adding the sign involved a split typeface, an operation that strikes fear into the heart of many typewriter engineers ! Essentially, two typeface are cut into halves and the two halves are simultaneously hand-soldered onto the end of the typebar to produce the desired combination of characters on upper and lower case. I would love to say that the operation went swimmingly, but it didn't. No problem doing the soldering, but after I cut one of the typeface in half, it fell onto the floor. It took me half an hour to find it !
September 2015
1939 Empire Service Model (AKA Hermes Baby)
The story of this machine begins with the introduction of the Hermes 'Baby' in 1935.   Up until the point that this machine was produced by the famous Swiss manufacturer, most portable typewriters were still large and heavy - and came in a square Rexine-covered wooden box.  Obviously better than trying to carry an office-sized typewriter around, you wouldn't want to carry one a long distance on a train or bus.  So tiny that it was only the height of a box of matches on its' end, and weighing next to nothing thanks to the extensive use of aluminium, the Baby was an instant success. So much so that every other typewriter manufacturer had to either copy it, or produce something the same size if they wanted to stay in the portable typewriter business. The Hermes Baby eventually spawned a whole new class of typewriters - the go-anywhere 'flat portable', which is what most people think of when a portable is mentioned.

In the meantime, over in England, a typewriter factory in West Bromwich was producing a very outdated office size machine that was selling poorly.  Something had to be done to find a new product, otherwise they were likely to go under. The chap in charge saw the Hermes Baby at a Continental office equipment exhibition, and almost immediately signed an agreement with Hermes to produce the machine in the UK. That decision carried the company forward for another twenty-five years. The very first machines were assembled from parts sent over from Switzerland but within a short time, the whole machine was made at West Bromwich. Each time Hermes updated the machine with new features, the British factory followed. This continued right through until 1960 when the factory was bought by the American firm Smith-Corona and production switched to making Smith-Corona portables instead. The very first Hermes Baby was a very basic typewriter, not even having a carriage return lever and line space mechanism. The typist was expected to return the carriage by grasping the right hand platen knob and pulling the carriage across. Likewise, the paper had to be rolled up manually each time. Within a short time the machine 'grew' a folding linespace lever, and other features started to follow.

Which brings us to the typewriter in the pictures ! An Empire 'Service Model', made for the British military to use in the field. A very rare typewriter, it was a throwback to the Baby Empire/Hermes Baby of four years earlier, almost devoid of features. No linespace lever, no automatic ribbon reverse, caps. lock selected by pushing the whole right hand shift keytop sideways under a latch. The list of what it hasn't got goes on and on ! Even some of the normally nickel-plated parts were blacked to save money ! This particular machine had belonged to the owner's grandfather, and had had a hard life.  It arrived rusty, dirty and dented, with several parts missing or broken.   I had to panel-beat the machine's steel 'snap-over' carry case back into shape!  However, the result is what you see here.   It now works 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!
'Rat Look' 1914 Remington 10
October 2015
The first commercially successful typewriter was placed on the market by Remington in 1874, making Remington the market leader for a long time. Unlike any 'modern' typewriter, the typebars were arranged in a circle underneath the platen - which meant that the operator could not see what was being typed. To use a Remington of this era, you had to be an accurate touch-typist. Checking your progress meant hingeing the whole carriage upwards to see what you had just typed. Of course, there were work-arounds. More than one enterprising company would sell you a tiny mirrored prism to attach to the top of the machine. This would at least enable you to see the last three characters! Suprisingly, it took at least two more decades of development before other makers began to market typewriters with 'visible' writing so that you could see what you were doing. One of the first were Oliver (see July 2015), soon followed by Underwood (August 2015 shows a later machine, but the first Underwoods were quite similar). Having stolen such a march on their rivals, Remington didn't see the need to change and were still making a version of their original 'blind' typewriter as late as 1914! However, the competition was becoming too hot for them, and in 1908, Remington finally gave in and started manufacture of a visible typewriter - the Remington 10. This machine has lots of features carried over from the previous model, including a right-hand carriage return lever, and incredibly inaccessible ribbon spools, one of which is permanently attached to the machine! Nevertheless the Remington 10 was enough to carry the company forward until the early 1920's when a revised model - the Remington 12 - was brought out. As Remington's first 'modern' typewriter, the 10 has a special place in history.

Believe it or not, the machine in the photograph actually works! Rather than show you an immaculately-restored machine this time, I thought you might like to see just how bad a typewriter can get, yet still be able to type. It was about to be thrown in a skip when my customer first got it. It had been used as a prop. for an amateur dramatic production and having out-lived its usefulness was being cleared out with other rubbish. He took it home because he was part of a World War Two re-enactment group and thought that it might make a good prop. for their command post. It was only when members of the public started taking photos of the machine that he realised that it might be a bit unusual. My instructions were just to make it work at minimal cost, and it was left with me over a weekend whilst the chap was in my area. Despite all the rust, most of the mechanisms were still moving freely. I had to make and fit a new drawband, complete with metal ends, since the original had long-ago rotted away. New ribbon fabric was wound to the original metal spools, a couple of adjustments - and Hey Presto - it worked! A testament to the original manufacturers in the USA. The machine was collected by a delighted customer !
November 2015
1930's Model 2 Bar-Let Portables
These machines were made by Bar-Lock of Nottingham to complement their full-size office typewriters. The design actually started life in Germany as the Mitex in 1922, and with a change of name in 1926, as the Tell. Bar-Lock bought the rights to the machine in 1931, and brought out the Model 2 - that you can see in the pictures - in 1936. A very basic machine, it has a 'three bank' keyboard with a normal shift for capital letters and an extra 'figure shift' to access numbers and punctuation marks. This was already a rather old-fashioned arrangement by the 1930's, but did make the machine much cheaper to produce due to the resultant reduction in the amount of moving parts. Production was suspended in 1939 due to the war, and never re-started afterwards. The vast majority of these typewriters were made in black, but red was offered as an option, and also a dark green colour.

Both machines in the photographs have an interesting background. I had heard that a batch of these typewriters had been supplied to the police pre-war. I always thought this a bit unlikely since they were portables, but it was confirmed when my customer told me that the black typewriter had originated in a police station. I am guessing that these were issued to small (maybe rural) police stations for typing the odd report or filling in forms. You wouldn't use a typewriter like this full-time of course. It does make sense since Bar-Lock did also supply their office-size machines to the police, who were always known for buying equipment and vehicles as keenly as possible.

The red typewriter belongs to me personally and is a very rare case of getting a second chance in life. Back in the late 1970's, I used to attend a public auction every Saturday to buy typewriters for re-sale. All sorts of weird and wonderful machines would come under the hammer, and being an experienced auction-goer, I used to set myself a bidding limit as each typewriter came up for auction. I saw the red Bar-Let and decided on 4, remembering that this amount bought more then than now and that I wouldn't be selling it on. Someone outbid me by a couple of pounds and I let it go. I almost immediately regretted my decision, but such is life. Then, about ten years ago, I came across this machine in a local junk shop. Red Bar-lets are pretty rare, and I can only think that it was that same typewriter that I missed in the auction all those years ago. I didn't hesitate the second time - I bought it !

As is often the case with 1930's typewriters, both needed re-rubbered platens in order to work properly. Again, in both cases, the feedrolls beneath needed re-rubbering since they had developed 'flats' from being left unused for decades. The black machine went back to my customer, whilst the red one will remain with me for a very long time to come !
December 2015
1930 Triumph Model 10
Like many other German typewriter makers, Triumph's roots were in bicycle and motor cycle manufacture. However, the story has an interesting twist because it began with the Triumph Cycle factory in Coventry, England - founded by Siegfried Bettmann who was an Anglicised German national. The bicycle business was booming, so in 1896 Mr. Bettmann started a subsidiary plant in his old home of Nuremburg. In 1909, the firm bought the effects of the bankrupt Norica company - thus adding typewriter manufacture to their activities, which by now also included motor cycles. Just before the First World War, the English and German Triumph companies split, although both continued to make motorcycles. In fact, the German Triumph motor cycle division only ceased manufacture in 1957. German Triumph motorcycles sold in England were called 'TWN' to avoid confusion with the domestic product.

In 1927, Triumph introduced the Model 10 standard typewriter, which was an immediate success. Although it looks nothing like an Underwood Five (at that time the leading make of American typewriter), close examination of the machine shows that the factory obviously examined Underwood's product very closely when designing their own ! The machine contains many Underwood-like features, not least a straight copy of the Underwood typebar which can be 'unplugged' from the segment without the aid of any tools - if you have the knack ! As far as I am aware, Triumph typewriters were not imported to the UK pre-war, making this a very rare machine in England. The first Triumphs that the UK saw in quantity were the Matura models of the 1950's. Triumph, of course, went on to merge with Adler to become the T-A organisation which is still in business today.

This particular machine was bought from a flea-market by a top-ranking British civil servant whilst working in Brussels. It was in generally good condition, but was suffering from not having been used for a great many years. Strangely, it was missing a rubber foot. Rather than try to match the other three, which were getting very hard with age in any case, I opted to make four new ones by re-machining some industrial rubber feet. One of the elaborate spool hold-down nuts had obviously gone missing at some time in the past too. Look closely at the picture, and you will see that someone has replaced it with a small chrome drawer knob - which happens to have the correct metric thread and looks the part. Rather clever, don't you think ? The drawer knob is the one on the right !