In 1868 Christopher Sholes developed the first commercially successful typewriter which, quite suddenly, gave individuals access to something like a personal printing press and the power to publish. For over a century these machines administered governments, conducted diplomacy, reported wars, ran businesses, compiled news and wrote love letters. But then, in the late 1980s, the world went out and bought its first personal computer. Immediately millions of typewriters were consigned to oblivion. Today, gradually, increasing numbers of us are rescuing some of the survivors...
by Christopher Long
n 2013 I rediscovered two old typewriters in our attic. One was a burgundy-coloured Royal Portable, bought new by my grandfather in 1931 and inherited by me in 1979. The other was a sturdy little Olympia 'Splendid 66' which I used whenever I was away from a newsroom in the 1980s. In my London home it was known as the 'black beast', and it lurked in my tiny office, known variously as 'the forge' or 'the coalface'. Nowadays I suppose we'd call it 'the typeface'.
Right: The author, in about 1985, with his Olympia Splendid 66 (known as the 'black beast') in his home office in Kensington, London.
Finding two old friends like this set me wondering about other machines I'd used during my career as a writer, journalist and editor.
It was a bit poignant really, like reflecting on past lovers those intimates from a distant youth whose names you've now forgotten. It's sadder still when you can remember their names, but nothing more...
Yes, of course I can remember Olympia, but who was Lettera and how did I meet Corona? Did I know Alpina and Optima or are they figments of my imagination?
I certainly had relationships with several Royals and flings with a number of Good Companions (sounds naughty...) and even someone who called herself Blue Bird (not her real name) and I suppose I could have been adventurous and had a thing with Hermes... But, ashamed as I am to say it, I would have chucked them all if I'd known about those Continentals: Groma, Erika and Bijou.
In my generation we dallied with them all until, one day in the late 1980s, we dumped them on top of an old filing cabinet (all destined for recycling) and fell for the on-off digital charms of Tandys, Toshibas, Amstrads or in my case Apple's Macintosh.
Thirty years later I felt an overwhelming urge to rediscover the simple, physical relationships I had enjoyed with wonderful machines that kept me in touch with friends, earned me my living and never let me down.
Right (above and below): In the newsroom at The London Newspaper Group in ca. 1982, the machines are (l to r) a Hermes Ambassador, an Adler Universal, four Imperial 66s and, on the shelf at the back, an old Imperial 58 used by the author in 1979.
Soon I found I wasn't alone, which is how I come to owe a debt to a fellow journalist, the Australian sports writer Robert Messenger who had a blog inspired by his love for the typewriters he collected with a passion.
I sent Robert fading photographs of my old newsrooms in London and eventually, with the help of others, we were able to identify familiar machines from the 1970s and 1980s, typewriters I had taken for granted and casually abandoned.
Through Robert and his many conspirators I was introduced to that parallel universe they call the typosphere where kindred spirits across the world share their fascination and joy in discovering, rescuing, evaluating, repairing and generally idolising venerable machines which were, for about 120 years, among man's most potent tools.
Led astray by all of them analyst, please note I began collecting examples of typewriters I had used in Fleet Street and elsewhere during my career.
Over breakfast I would often lurk on the fringes of the typosphere, reading fascinating and inspiring blogs like Typewriter Heaven by the multi-faceted graphic designer and photographer Rob Bowker in England, or The Typewriter Revolution by Richard Polt who, in his spare time, is a professor of philosophy at Xavier University in the USA.
In fact I mined deep into the archives of these and other typosphere bloggers until, I think, I had read almost everything they had to offer. This led me to other resources and databases and also to a French neighbour (now a friend), Yves Lenchon, who has been a professional typewriter mechanic for most of his life and who insists on cleaning every new machine I receive.
So, this page is a tribute to all those kind and interesting members of the typosphere who helped a faithless reprobate rediscover his soul.
Right: Sue Mallia's machine on the left is an Imperial 66 and Bill Raymond's on the right is an Adler Universal.
If you're interested in the history, development and minutiæ concerning different makers, models and machine specifications, I am not your man. All this is available in impressive detail from knowledgeable typospherian specialists on the web and the Typewriter Database.
What I can do is tell you something about the machines I knew from my schooldays in the late 1950s to the end of the typewritten era in the late 1980s, and in particular how we used them before they became collector's pieces. Below I will (soon I hope) get round to describing the practical experience of working with typewriters.
Meanwhile, in the right-hand column of this page are pictures of machines I have accumulated (click on the low quality thumbnails). Many of these are machines I knew and used but there are quite a few that I would very much like to have used professionally, though I never had the opportunity to do so... I'll be adding more notes about each of them before long...
Above right: A couple of Imperial 66s in the newsroom at The London Newspaper Group. Below right: The author at home in Kensington, London, with the 'black beast', a 1968 Olympia 66.
But in my opinion the best of all these typewriters have a common denominator: they are a sublime marriage of excellent design and exquisite engineering.
To put it simply, good typewriters look right, feel right, sound right and type right!
DEATH OF THE TYPEWRITER?
I used electronic word-processors for the first time in 1984 (a Brother EP44, followed soon after by a Brother EP43) and three years later, in 1987, we experimented with laying out pages for World Magazine on Macintosh computers using QuarkXpress. In 1991 we produced and launched London's The Big Issue entirely electronically. From that day on I never again needed to touch a typewriter professionally.
Right: This lightweight 1984 Brother EP 44 word-processor/printer was soon followed by the EP43 which could only store a couple of pages of text in its tiny memory but had the then revolutionary advantage that you could edit and correct the text before printing those pages out, and you could transmit the document electronically to a remote computer/printer.
In 1986 The Times of London converted to 'direct input' and over the next year or two every major newspaper followed its lead. Quite suddenly journalists had to decide whether they would learn new technologies or accept early retirement. And so it was that by 1990 very few people were ever going to go out and buy a typewriter: they bought personal computers instead.
Below right: The author working with his 1992 Macintosh PowerBook Duo 210 which was the first laptop light enough to be carried around comfortably all day in a reporter's shoulder bag (photo: Spring 1994).
We shouldn't be dismissive of the older mechanical technology. Very few of our computers today survive much longer than five years. Either they die on us or increased demands on their processors render them obsolete. But many typewriters built 100 years ago are still working as well as they ever did. I have a collection of about 40 typewriters, all of which work as well as they did on the day they left the factory.
THE HISTORY OF TYPEWRITERS
The best history of typewriters is the recently published The Typewriter Revolution by Richard Polt (contact him here).
If you are a collector or intending to become one, this will be your bible. If you're just rather intrigued by these extraordinary machines, you'll find Richard's book extremely readable and very interesting.
For more information on Richard's own collection, take a trip to his blog: Welcome to the Typosphere.
BICYCLES, WATCHES, TYPEWRITERS & SEWING MACHINES
Imagine the scene: It's 1912 and a young English couple are very much in love. He types her a letter on his Imperial Model B typewriter asking her to elope with him to France. Our heroine immediately replies on her father's Salter Improved No. 6 typewriter saying that she can borrow a friend's Imperial Triumph bicycle and will meet him at the ferry terminal. She hurriedly orders something beautiful to wear, watching her dressmaker work her magic as she pedals away on a Jones Family sewing-machine. On his Royal Enfield Gent’s Roadster our hero constantly checks his Waltham pocket-watch to be sure he will not be late. And so it happens that they fall into each other's arms, cross the Channel into Normandy where, within sight of Mont Saint-Michel, they declare their undying love.
They also come to the embarrassing conclusion that someone's nicked their oh-so-British bicycles and left them with French Terrot machines instead...
This is a very silly story... but to my mind there are four products of the late-Victorian era which were among the most positive, peaceful, pleasant and productive inventions of all time: the bicycle, the typewriter the sewing machine and the pocket or wrist-watch. These were, I think, wholly beneficial consequences of an extraordinarily innovative period of industrial design and manufacturing in the late C19th.
Yes, I suppose people have used watches to detonate bombs and lots of people must have been killed or maimed riding bicycles, but it's hard to imagine them being truly forces of evil. Some energy was involved in their production, of course, but they still work well today and that work consumes only human energy.
Extremely expensive hand-crafted watches and chronometers had existed since the C18th, but it was a consequence of the development of sophisticated tool-making techniques that mass production of watches became possible thus allowing impecunious nurses to measure a pulse or station-masters to run railways to a reliable time-table.
Britain at this time was the workshop of the world and numerous manufacturers set up businesses producing sewing-machines to clothe the masses at home and throughout the Empire. At the same time dozens of manufacturers of 'safety' bicycles gave people healthy access to speed and freedom. Not surprisingly, companies that had mastered the techniques involved in making sewing machines or bicycles often decided to build and market typewriters along the lines of those pioneered by Scholes & Glidden in the USA.
By the mid-C20th, mass production (and trade protection) had allowed the USA to dominate the world's supply of sewing-machines (e.g. Singer) and typewriters (e.g. Remington and Underwood). Nevertheless, the best engineered typewriters were still being made in Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Sweden while good quality watch-making had become largely a Swiss preserve. And the best bicycles were still being made in Britain and France.
But what's strange about these four Victorian products is that they have endured. The watch and the bicycle have not changed a lot in 100 years. Today's sewing-machines would be quite recognisable to Victorians, even if they're now electric. And the typewriter along with its keyboard layout and the vocabulary associated with it lives on in today's computers, tablets and phones.
By the mid-C20th most families in Europe owned (or had access to) all four of these civilising machines. Today they've all become collectors' pieces and only the bicycle continues to sell modified but largely unchanged as well as ever it did.
Typewriters I once used professionally...
and others I would like to have used.
Click thumbnails for enhanced images
SEIDEL & NAUMANN 'BIJOU' FOLDING MODEL No. 3 (P)
1910, folding portable built by Seidel & Naumann, Dresden, Germany No. 76853
Black with glass-topped British QWERTY key-tops (pica) and its original case. Carriage shift. In very good visual and working condition. Inscribed with both manufacturer's and retailer's names.
This is one of the earliest of the truly portable typewriters and a beautiful little object. I had been looking for one like it for a long time and was particularly keen to find this version, the Bijou, which is the UK export name for the Erika. I'm grateful to Yves Lenchon for bringing it to my attention!
There seem to be more questions than answers concerning these fold-up machines. Three brand names dominate the field: the American Standard Folding which became the Corona 3, Seidel & Naumann's Erika / Bijou and Clemens Muller AF's little Perkeo, the last two being both from Dresden.
What's odd about this is that there have been persistent claims that the Germans pinched the folding idea from Americans and that allegedly there were patent disputes. I was happy to believe this until I found my Bijou was made in 1910, a couple of years before the Corona 3 (and seven years before the Fox Typewriter Company's collapsible Baby Fox). And in any case, the German Perkeo was still being made into the 1930s.
My suspicion is that the concept may well have been German. Then, as is so often the case in the world of typewriters, the Americans spotted an interesting development abroad (often acquiring the manufacturers in the process), made them their own and patented elements of the design they considered new and unique.
One factor lends credence to this: the German folding mechanism is decidedly different and better thought through than the transatlantic version. Perhaps it was German patent law which prevented the Americans from using the undoubtedly more ingenious Dresden methods.
Whatever the answer (and the Typewriter Database is a helpful resource here) the Seidel & Naumann version is indeed a gem a bijou. I'll have to make a small fix to the Shift Lock but otherwise this works very well, despite having had every moving part coated in oil quite unnecessary! by someone in the past.
Presumably Taylor's Typewriter Co. Ltd., of 74 Chancery Lane, London W.C. was an importer of Seidel & Naumann's products until the outbreak of WWl, because this machine was supplied by them, their name appears in gilt lettering on the upper frame. By 1917, with WWl in full swing, the same firm had changed its supplier, needless to say, and was selling the American version of it: see my Corona 3 below.
SEIDEL & NAUMANN 'IDEAL MODEL A4' (?)
1911, standard built by Seidel & Naumann, Dresden, Germany No. 87319
Black enamel with black glass-topped Swiss-German QWERTZ key-tops (?). Carriage & segment shift. Bought in pieces, in poor condition, as a 'project'. May or may not be complete...
MORE NOTES TO COME!
CORONA 'STANDARD FOLDING 3' (E)
1917, folding portable built by Corona Typewriter Company Inc., Groton, New York No. 118406
Black with glass-topped British QWERTY key-tops (elite) and its original case. Carriage shift. In good visual and working condition. Inscribed with both manufacturer's and retailer's names.
The Corona 3 is a typewriter that many collectors buy early on, and I was no exception. I've never used one professionally but I remember seeing them when I was a child. Mrs Bonham-Carter, a kind lady in Westerham who taught me to read, had one on her desk while the headmaster of my prep-school had one on a shelf in his study. Today I can see how useful they would have been to journalists reporting the Balkan Wars of 1912 or in the trenches on the Western Front in 1914-18.
Folding Coronas are often compared to today's laptops: small, light, portable machines, ideal for anyone on the move. In fact you could almost say they were the only real portable typewriters since very few so-called 'portables' are very portable at all. Even the machines used by reporters 50 years later (e.g. the Olympia Splendid or the Lettera 22) weighed a lot more than the little Corona 3.
As many as 700,000 were made between 1912 and 1940 but their folding action was not unique. Other makers (e.g. Clemens Muller AF's Perkeo and Seidel & Naumann's Bijou / Erika version), allegedly led to patent disputes though who infringed whose is far from clear. The earliest Corona machines had individually hung typebars instead of conventional slotted segments and until 1914 all were labelled Standard Typewriter Company before becoming the Corona No. 3.
When the Corona No. 4 was launched in 1923 it was made rather wider in order to accomodate right-hand shift keys and a longer platen. At this point the Corona No. 3 was offered at discounted prices in a range of colours (red, blue and green).
In its final version it had two more keys added (to make 30) which allowed clients to personalise four of the keys as 'dead'. Dead keys do not move the carriage when struck and so can be used, for example, to create accents such as an umlaut (ë), cedilla (ç) or circumflex (â).
My particular machine (see pictures) interests me because the name of its London retailer is printed twice on the frame in gilt lettering, in the same format as the maker's name. Was wording like this below applied at Groton, NY, or by the retailers themselves?
Taylor's Typewriter Co. Ltd.,
74 Chancery Lane, London W.C.
Phone, 3793 Holb.
Taylors was a long-established firm supplying London's lawyers around Chancery Lane.
One small snag with these machines can occur when you fold them. The carriage has no lock so if is not 'parked' perfectly centrally, the nickel-plated controls tend to scrape against the black painted aluminium frame surrounding the key-tops. It's a very simple design fault and I haven't yet seen a Corona 3 without damage of this sort. So, providing everything else is in place and working, don't be too fussed if yours has odd patches of missing paintwork. However, note that the German folding machines (see here) have an ingenious (and earlier) design that avoids this problem.
(See Corona 3 manual and an alternative manual)
SEIDEL & NAUMANN 'BIJOU MODELL 5' 1st version (P)
1930, portable built by Seidel & Naumann, Dresden, Germany No. 123426
Glossy black enamel body and glass-topped British QWERTY key-tops (pica). Carriage shift. With original case. In fair condition for its age, needing minor repairs and cleaning.
ROYAL 'PORTABLE MODEL 2' (P)
1931, portable built by Royal Typewriter Company, Hartford, Connecticut, USA No. P278424
Burgundy/red 'craquelure', with its original case and glass-topped British QWERTY key-tops (pica) and French accents. Carriage shift. In good working condition. Bodywork intact but shows its age.
This was the second version of a very popular 'depression era' American typewriter and this particular machine was bought in London in 1931 by my grandfather, Michael E. T. D. Vlasto. It came to me after his death in 1979.
This was the very first typewriter I ever came across. When I was a child in the mid-1950s, visiting my grandfather's study at Betsoms, Westerham, I was encouraged to tap out my name, age and a few words in French and English. There's a small patch of minor paint loss on the left-hand side of this Royal Portable where he used to park his hot tobacco pipe when typing.
He was a bilingual surgeon in London and his typewriter had been personalised so that he could write in French to colleagues and family in France. Thus the keys that usually produced fractions on a normal English typewriter keyboard (1/8 3/8 5/8 7/8) are here adapted to produce ç ˆ ¨ è é.
At some stage someone also replaced the original glass key tops with clear plastic disks. These were restored to their original state when the machine was overhauled by Yves Lenchon in 2014.
I like the look of this machine. It has art deco styling and its small footprint is appealing. But nevertheless it feels light-weight and rather 'average'. In fact it's a typical C20th American product and especially typical of the 'depression' years. The USA had produced the first commercially successful typewriter and the USA first introduced the concept of mass-production. Typewriters, which can contain up to about 2,500 separate components, were ideally suited to production line assembly and Royal was not alone in producing them in vast numbers for a seemingly limitless population, designed at an average cost to appeal to average people with average spending power very much like utilitarian American cars.
At the same time, back in Europe, manufacturers in Germany, Switzerland and Italy chose to continue building quality machines more expensively and in fewer numbers for a more restricted market. In Britain, meanwhile, the business strategy at Imperial seems to have been a compromise between the two approaches.
Not surprisingly, American manufacturers such as Royal developed export markets for their lower priced machines in Europe and simultaneously formed partnerships with European manufacturers in order to gain access to patents and better design and technology. Underwood took over Mercedes in 1927; Royal bought out Orga-Werke; and Remington Rand acquired Torpedo in 1931.
(See Royal Portable manual)
TORPEDO 15A 'BLUE BIRD' (P)
1932, portable, built by Weilwerke A.G., Frankfurt-am-Maine No. 161237
Burgundy enamel body and glass-topped British QWERTY key-tops (pica). Segment shift. With original case. Mechanically sound but badly repainted in parts in non-matching bright red!
This is an interesting little typewriter and a foretaste of the wonderful machines Torpedo would go on to make after WWll. I had doubts about buying this one because it was in poor decorative condition, having been re-painted in places by someone with little eye for colour comparisons! Mechanically, however, it's in excellent condition although it has had a lot of use.
At first glance you might think that this is a fairly ordinary looking competitor to the Royal Portable Model 2 featured above. Both have classic art deco lines and both appear to have been designed for lightness and thus to be genuinely 'portable'. But there all comparisons end. This is a machine with a light segment shift mechanism like larger professional office machines. This would have been a major selling point (at £12.12s.0d = 12 guineas) compared with most other British and American machines.
However, since this is a German typewriter being exported to Britain just 13 years after the devastating First World War, it's not surprising to find that in small letters on the back of the machine it simply says: FOREIGN rather than made in Germany. And even its name Blue Bird is a careful attempt to disguise its origins. In Germany the identical machine was branded Torpedo. As is explained below, the words Germany and torpedo had bitter memories for those had lived through the war and born the loss of hundreds of thousands of sailors killed or drowned as a consequence of German submarines.
So, even though the quality of German engineering was highly regarded worldwide during the C20th, for much of this time she had to be careful how she described products which were otherwise much prized. For this reason it's easy to see how it made sense to market a machine that looked a lot like the American Royal portable. interestingly its carriage return lever is almost identical to that which appears like a signature on a long succession of British Imperial Good Companions. Perhaps not so surprisingly we discover that this machine was designed by the Englishman Herbert Etheridge who soon after went back to Britain to work for Imperial!
Robert Messenger writes: "... Remington sent one of its most experienced typewriter design engineers to Rödelheim to design a series of portables for Torpedo, all variations on one theme but called Modells 15, 16 and 17 (serial numbers apparently didn’t differentiate). These are believed to be Germany’s first four-bank portables. To the naked eye, the only differences in the earlier portables are that the Modell 16 is marginally higher and has a slide on the paper plate and the 17 has a collar around the typebasket rather than a distinctly Royal-like flat top deck. Their designer was Herbert Etheridge, who had designed many improvements for the Bar-Lock typewriter company in London before World War I. In 1916 he immigrated (sic) to the United States. After working for Torpedo, Etheridge returned to England in the late 1930s and, appropriately, designed typewriters for Imperial. It was appropriate because Torpedo had sold the rights to Etheridge’s portable typewriter designs to Imperial in the early 1930s, and from it Imperial made its first Good Companion. The more basic of the three designs was also made as the Deutsche Remington..."
SMITH 'PREMIER NOISELESS' (?)
1936 portable built by Remington, Ilion, New York (badged by Smith) No. N88017
Glossy black and chrome with British QWERTY glass-topped keys (P). Carriage shift.
Richard Polt writes: "One sometimes sees RNPs [or Smith] on which the back spacer and margin release keys protrude through the plate behind the keyboard; this allows for two more character keys to be added to the keyboard. Such machines, in my experience, turn up in Europe. Probably Remington made them for export, so that they could handle accents and other characters for European languages. The original price of the RNP was $92.50, but during the first few months of production the price went down to $69.50. In 1935 it cost $67.50. Name variants: Monarch, Smith Premier Noiseless." MORE NOTES TO COME!
IMPERIAL 'GOOD COMPANION' (First Model) (P)
1936, portable, built by Imperial Typewriter Co., Ltd (1932-1957), Leicester, England sold by St Martin's Typewriter Company, London, 02-04-1937 No. AM 001
Glossy black enamel body and glass-topped British QWERTY key-tops (pica). Carriage shift. With original case and guarantee glued inside the lid. In excellent visual and working condition.
The appropriately named Imperial typewriter was the work-horse of the British Empire. The Imperial Typewriter Company was famous for its heavy 'standard' machines (see Imperial 66 below, and others such as the Imperial 50, Imperial 55 and Imperial 60) were exported to Britain's far-flung dominions and colonies where they were as ubiquitous in business as they were in news-rooms and government departments. However, senior administrators at home and abroad sometimes preferred their own more portable typewriters and for them, from 1932 to 1961, Imperial offered a succession of portables called The Good Companion a name taken from the title of the best-known book of the time, written by England's then best-known writer, J. B. Priestly.
Unsurprisingly, the Good Companion, or IGC, became the typewriter of choice in more genteel corners of the English Home Counties not very modern, not very colourful and above all not very foreign, they were extremely well made and have thus survived in great numbers into the 21st century. In this respect they remind me of Singer sewing machines.
The carriage return lever on the older models is an unusual throwback to an earlier age in typewriter design, but the two small carrying handles on either side of the body were an inspired idea. Heavy typewriters (even portables) are notoriously difficult to pick up and these helped. To my knowledge, only early Olivers had similar handles and Imperial removed them on the IGC 3.
Apart from their weight, one slight drawback to the early IGCs is that you have to lean over your machine a bit to see what you've written.
This was the second typewriter I ever used. My father's secretary and receptionist at Winterton Surgery in Westerham, Kent, was another kind lady. Her name was Molly Cosgrove and she used a Good Companion identical to this. While my father was seeing his patients she would allow me to use her Imperial after I'd helped her to boil needles and syringes over a bunsen burner in the dispensary and then sort the patients' medical records into wooden filing boxes.
The choice between black and red on typewriter ribbons was useful to medical secretaries in those days. Men's and women's patients' records were colour-coded. But, as a seven year-old, Britain's new National Health Service coding system seemed to me quite irrational: men in red and women in blue...
This was the first of many Imperial Good Companions I used over the next 30 years. Strange to think that in 1980 I was to interview Mr J. B. Priestley about a performance of his play Dangerous Corner at London's Ambassadors Theatre and then write it up on an Imperial.
N.B. Imperial began producing so-called 'portables' in 1908: a series of machines named Model A (1908), Models B & C (1915) and Model D (1919). My IGC typewriter is interesting because it is the very first (No. 001) of the AM series of the first Imperial Good Companion model. Subsequent models were: the IGC T [tabulator], IGC 3, IGC 4, IGC 5, IGC 6, IGC 6T [tabulator] and IGC 7.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
SEIDEL & NAUMANN 'ERIKA 5 TAB' 2nd version (P)
1936, portable built by Seidel & Naumann, Dresden, Germany No. 580728/5
Glossy black enamel body and glass-topped German QWERZY key-tops (pica) and tabulator. Carriage shift. With original case and cleaning brush. In fair condition for its age, needing minor repairs and cleaning.
This was a happy buy! I marked International Typewriter Day 2015 by making what turned out to be the winning bid on this Erika 5 Tab, a machine that I had been hoping to find for well over a year.
For those brave enough to admit they don't know about International Typewriter Day, the 23rd of June is the anniversary of the day, in 1868, when Christopher Latham Sholes lodged his U.S. patent entitled 'Improvement in type-writing machines' which effectively gave birth to the machines we have known ever since.
On this day typewriter collectors and typospherians raise a toast to the man who gave us (among much else) the QWERTY keyboard and its differing language variants.
I never used an Erika in my professional life. I only discovered them after I had started collecting typewriters. But for me either the Erika 5 or the Erika M was to become almost the Holy Grail of typewriters, fulfilling again, 'almost' the 'looks right, feels right, sounds right, types right' test.
Ironically the Seidler & Naumann typewriter company in Dresden achieved its apogee in a period almost exactly coinciding with the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi era. It may just be my imagination but it is interesting to note that the famous badge on their typewriters was redesigned during this swastika era so that both the 'S' and 'N' in the 'S&N' logo look remarkably similar to the 'SS' (Schutzstaffel) insignia.
But, unfortunate though these associations are, they do not detract from the superb aesthetic and engineering design that was invested in Seidel & Naumann's small and excellent machines. And the design of the Erika 5 and Erika 5 Tab evolved over almost 10 years. For example, earlier machines had the ribbon spools perched high and visible on either side of the type-basket. Later these were lowered to sit flush with the type-basket cover, though with their tops still visible (see images right) very similar to a ca.1940 Triumph Perfekt and the Sterling Continental (see below). Finally, as WWll began, the spools were hidden beneath a sleek one-piece ribbon-cover which allowed the S&N badge to move position (see Erika M).
Needless to say, if you build rugged typewriters from the highest grade steel and your goal is pure quality, there's a price to be paid. Although these machines are small (and their boxes are very portable), they weigh a good deal more than an equivalent American portable such as the Royal de Luxe or the Royal Portable. In this respect the German Erika has much more in common with the British Imperial Good Companion and the post-war Olivetti Lettera 22.
When war broke out in 1939 Seidel & Naumann reduced their production of typewriters, sewing-machines and bicycles to concentrate on supplying the defence industry with high precision testing equipment. But even in 1943 the company was still producing typewriters (Erika 5, 6, M and S) for German civilians and their armed forces.
In February 1945, however, the Seidel & Naumann factory was destroyed when 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped rather controversially more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the mediaeval city of Dresden. Remarkably the workers were able to rebuild part of their factory by 1946 and limited production recommenced in the ruins of the eastern half of a defeated Germany.
By 1949, however, the Erika 5, 6, M and S had ceased production to be replaced by a long series of models under new East German management: VEB Dresden. In the opinion of many collectors, myself included, the best days were over and now it was that companies such as Olympia (Wilhelmshaven) and Alpina (Kaufbeuren) came to the fore as the premier builders of top quality typewriters in Europe.
The Erika brand (derived, it's said, from the name of Naumann's daughter) continued until the end of the typewriter era, but many pre-war Erikas were marketed for export under the Bijou brand-name, just as another line of standard 'desktop' typewriters were sold bearing the Ideal label.
When this particular machine arrived I was a little disappointed to find that one key was not working, a type-slug was badly bent and that the bodywork looked far less appealing than the seller's photographs had suggested.
In fact, the working of the linkage between the key-top and the type-bar was easy to analyse and all that was needed was a bit of delicate surgery to attach an 'upper arm' to a 'lower arm' where an 'elbow joint' had become dislocated. And the type-slug yielded to delicate-but-brute force.
After that I found that fine grade silver polish soon gave the bodywork a 'like new' appearance although, of course, one has to be a bit careful around the decals. French-made silver polish, by the way, seems to be much less abrasive than the English equivalent.
This machine came to me from Germany and is now on the move again. I am giving it to my old friend, the artist Timur D'Vatz who lives half a mile up the road from here. I doubt if just one typewriter will do him much harm.
I didn't contract typewrititis until I had at least four of them on my desk.
ROYAL 'DE LUXE' (P)
1937 portable built by Royal Typewriter Company, Hartford, Connecticut, USA No. A-88-662112
Matt black and chrome with glass-topped French AZERTY key-tops (pica). Carriage shift. In fair visual condition and good working order.
ROYAL 'DE LUXE' (P)
1937 portable built by Royal Typewriter Company, Hartford, Connecticut, USA No. A-88-787577
Matt black and chrome with glass-topped French AZERTY key-tops (pica). Carriage shift. In good visual and working condition.
This machine was given to me by our friend Yves Lenchon who began life as a professional typewriter mechanic and then became a firemen when typewriters gave way to computers and he found himself out of a job.
Yves' story is instructive. At secondary school he was often late for classes because he used to hang around outside the local typewriter shop, fascinated in particular by the latest Olivetti machines.
Instead of punishing him, his teacher saw that this interest in typewriters might offer a career path. And so it was that Yves became a typewriter mechanic until the industry died and he became a pompier a member of the fire brigade in Saint-Lô.
But his love of typewriters never died. Yves now lives near Carentan in Normandy, in a house that he shares with a delightful wife and several hundred typewriters. Now that he's retired he spends much of his time tracking down rare and beautiful machines which he restores meticulously.
On my first visit to him he was showing me one amazing typewriter after another when I told him that the Royal de Luxe was the most 'typewriter-like' typewriter I had ever seen. What I meant was that if you were to take, say, fifty classic typewriters and boil them all up in a large saucepan for a very long time, the chances are that they would get concentrated down to something like the iconic Royal de Luxe.
A few weeks later Yves made me a gift of this machine which is, in fact, internally very similar to the Royal P above. The main difference between them is that, in the depths of the depression years in the USA, someone decided to make this look flashy and exotic and added gleaming chrome 'go-faster' stripes and decals.
Keen students may notice a 'problem' with this particular typewriter: it could be that it has an imported part because the paper table reads Quiet instead of De Luxe.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
SEIDEL & NAUMANN 'ERIKA 5 M' Early version (P)
1937, portable built by Seidel & Naumann, Dresden, Germany No. 670329/M
Glossy black enamel body and glass-topped German QWERZY key-tops (pica). Carriage shift. With original case and cleaning brushes. In almost mint condition.
WANDERER-WERKE 'STERLING CONTINENTAL' New model (P)
1938, portable built by Wanderer-Werke (Continental Typewriters), Siegmar-Schönau, Chemnitz, Germany No. R278423
Glossy black enamel body and glass-topped black/green British QWERTY key-tops (pica). Carriage shift. Fitted with acute and grave accents on a dead key. In original case with instruction leaflet and cleaning brush. Typing action excellent; body showing normal wear for its age.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
(See German manual)
GROMA 'MODELL N' (P)
1939c, portable built by G. F. Grosser Fabrik für Büromaschinen Markersdorf/Chemnitzal No. 213632
Glossy burgundy bakelite body and green/red glass-topped German QWERZY key-tops (pica). Carriage shift. Very little used. With original wooden case, both in near perfect condition. Made between 1938 and 1940 (probably before the war, given that this is clearly a luxury model).
This was an exciting find, but not for me! It was my old mate Alex, wandering through a Berlin flea-market, hand-in-hand with his new wife Oezlem, who spotted this gleaming and very desirable German Groma Modell N. Text and images winged their way between the Teutonic east and the Norman west and the deal was done. "Sold to man with the Dorset Horn sheep!"
Not everyone feels comfortable with Groma typewriters. Since WWll they have unfortunate associations with Nazi Germany. How many men and women were condemned to death by orders created on typewriters like these, we can only guess at. But although many typewriter manufacturers in Germany converted production to meet war needs, Olympia, Wander-Werke and G. F. Grosser Fabrik were among companies that continued making machines for Nazi Germany's civilian and military administrators, some of their machines being adapted to include the notorious SS symbol.
Traudl Junge (1920-2002), Hitler's private secretary, is said to have stated that among three models she used in Hitler's Wolf's Lair and in his Berlin Bunker was a Wander-Werke 'Continental' (identical to this one) but with a specially enlarged typeface so that he could read his speeches without the need for glasses.
Nevertheless, no Groma actually murdered anybody and their qualities are impressive. The flowing curves of the Modell N (like its sister, the tabulator version Modell T) are among the most beautiful of any typewriter ever made. The wide flourish of its generous, sweeping carriage return lever is magnificent! And the use of subtle stabs of scarlet among the keys perfectly complements a gleaming black or burgundy body.
As is so often the case with typewriters like this, the original ribbon spools have not survived. They would have matched the burgundy enamel of the body. Ant the only defect I can find is that the Modell N decal is a little worn. But, almost as wonderful as the typewriter, is its beautiful case whose handle needs to be replaced.
Groma, by the way, derives from Grosser and Markersdorf
MORE NOTES TO COME!
SEIDEL & NAUMANN 'ERIKA 5 Tab' 3rd version (P)
1940, portable built by Seidel & Naumann, Dresden, Germany No. 945949/5
Glossy black enamel body and glass-topped German QWERZY key-tops (pica) and tabulator. Carriage shift. With a distributor's enamel badge and original, though restored, case. In almost perfect condition.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
SEIDEL & NAUMANN 'ERIKA M' (P)
1943, portable built by Seidel & Naumann, Dresden, Germany No. 1028209/M
Glossy black enamel body and glass-topped German QWERZY key-tops (pica) and tabulator. Carriage shift. Double spacing option. With original but restored case. In fair condition for its age, needing minor repairs and cleaning.
This was a typewriter that I had long hoped to find although this particular one disappointed me a lot when it finally arrived. Many people would say that these were the the ultimate pre-war German machines and perhaps the world's best from that era.
The Erika M is essentially an advanced, all-singing, all-dancing version of the standard Erika Modell 5 and the letter M apparently signifies that Seidel & Naumann considered it their masterpiece. I don't think they were exaggerating and certainly they did not produce anything much better engineered than this.
It's a heavy typewriter that properly falls into the semi-portable class and is immediately recognisable from the two pairs of 'paddles', marked in red and green, on either side of the space-bar. One pair sets and releases the margins while the other two set and clear any tabs. Seidel & Naumann invested too in a lot of gleaming nickel plating while many components appear to have been made to appeal to the eye of a buyer in search of visible 'quality'.
The particular machine I have was sold as in good working order and it's true that the carriage and keys all appeared to move well for a few weeks. But, gradually, everything started to stick, as though it's moving parts were wading through treacle. It was then that I realised the seller must have coated the poor beast in WD40.
Only if you deeply dislike typewriters (or typists) should you ever let a can of WD40 get anywhere near any finely engineered machine. WD40 rightly belongs in a penal colony in somewhere like Australia. WD40 does indeed de-grease and loosen gunged-up mechanisms but after a while it becomes glutinous and makes things worse than they ever had been. If you have to use WD40 on a typewriter, be sure to swill and rinse the mechanism in a suitable spirit or solvent afterwards (taking care that you use the right solvent and that any non-metallic parts such as decals, keys, bakelite, plastic or rubber are not damaged in the process).
My beautiful Erika M is currently in need of a serious overhaul and cleaning. When this is complete it should not need any lubrication at all. Few typewriters ever do, especially if they are used regularly. You might, at most, perhaps, allow yourself a tiny spray of dry lubricant around the segment, but no more.
Good typewriters were designed to run 'dry' and oil simply absorbs dust and creates treacle. When the treacle absorbs tiny gritty particles it becomes an efficient and destructive abrasive compound. By contrast, large office machines used for eight hours a day, year in and year out, did indeed need occasional lubrication simply because, in those innocent days, the manufacturers hoped your machine would not wear out! A little oil, in just the right places, extended the life of the machine which is why mechanics were sent into offices once or twice a year to keep typewriters clean, properly adjusted and running smoothly.
JAPY 'Script' early version (P)
1949, portable built by Japy No. 107347
Silver grey body and round black French AZERTY key-tops (pica). Carriage shift. With original case. In excellent condition with light signs of normal wear.
This lovely machine was a surprise gift from my friends Sandra & Bill Hollis, in June 2016, who found it in a dépot-vente in Normandy for a few euros. They were as happy as I was to discover that this is a early example of a machine (Patria) which became widespread throughout Europe throughout the 1950s and early 1960s part of a family of post-war typewriters bearing badges such Voss, AMC, Swissa Picola the British Oliver Courier and Byron.
This was designed Max Bill, a famous Swiss architect, artist, painter, typeface designer, industrial designer and graphic designer. This was called the P68 or Japy Personnel which, slightly altered, became the French Japy Script.
EVEREST 'Mod. 90' (E)
1951, portable built by the Everest, Italy No. 180136
Silver green body and glass-topped Dutch QWERTY key-tops (elite). Carriage shift. With original case, damaged during delivery. In fair condition for its age, needing minor repairs and cleaning.
More notes to come...
VOSS 'MODELL 50' (P)
1951c, portable built by Schreibmaschinenfabrik, Wuppertal, Germany No. 28736
Black gloss and stippled matt bakelite body with black German QWERTZ key-tops (?) in its original case.
According to Robert Messenger: "The Wuppertal typewriter factory was founded in 1947 by Ernst Friedrich Voss (born 1890, Cologne; died 1964), who pre-war had worked for Remington Rand and then started a typewriter repair shop. In 1948 he began production of Voss typewriters. The manufacturing of the larger [Voss] machines, the S24, ended in 1960. Voss then marketed a machine in the smaller Japy-Oliver-AMC-Patria-Swissa range, but in 1965 the company was liquidated."
Later it became known as Voss Schreibmaschinenwerk and some machines were marked Voss & Co
ROYAL 'HH ELITE' (E)
1953, standard built by the Royal Typewriter Company, Hartford, Connecticut, USA No. HHE 5232279
Dark grey body and green American QWERTY key-tops (elite) + fast-action tab button. Segment shift. In good visual condition (missing a decal to slightly deformed rear panel) and in excellent working condition.
This is a typewriter I used a lot on London's Evening Standard in the mid-1980s.
In those days the paper was still in Fleet Street and our whole newsroom used to vibrate as the giant presses rumbled into action a few floors below. I used to contribute small items to the famous Evening Standard Diary and to its far less glamorous 'overnight' news pages. And occasionally I even contributed whole spreads to its features pages.
But I was a mere 'stringer' and when there wasn't room for me on the Diary desk, I jealously guarded my slim hold on another desk in an unfashionable area of the newsroom among the crime and court reporters.
In this nether-world I used a 1950s American-made Royal HH which was passed on to me by a lady in accounts who, like most of her kind, wouldn't lower her nail-file for anything less than an electric typewriter with a self-correcting IBM 'golf-ball'.
The HH was not an exciting beast. It's sole peculiarity was the huge tab button to the right of the keys which you could thump with the palm of your hand to make filling tabbed columns a bit faster for a trained touch-typist. But I was an untrained typist (a three-fingers-of-each-hand journalist) and I filled columns with words not numbers. So even its beauty-spot was lost on me. But it has to be said that if an Imperial 66 had the raw panache of a Triumph Bonneville, a Royal HH throbbed like a Harley-Davidson.
Although electric typewriters had taken over in business and the City, true journalists stuck to their wind-up, mechanical beasts until the late 1980s when, from one day to the next, 'direct input' arrived. Quite suddenly our desks were covered in giant monitors and plastic keyboards and we became slaves to ludicrous newsroom 'systems' like Newstar, Atex, Basys, D–Cart and Avid. For a few weeks our familiar typewriters languished on top of old filing cabinets until one sad day (which I didn't even notice...) hundreds of tons of them were scrapped. The filing cabinets followed them within a year or two.
There's not a lot you can say about a Royal HH. You wouldn't want to be standing underneath one if it jumped from the 13th floor. They aren't sexy: certainly not good-looking. Mine lives in our dining-room, sitting at child height for children to play with. It shows no fear. No child has succeeded in breaking it and these are Norman children who bend crowbars between their toes and shred tractor tyres with bare teeth.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
OLIVETTI 'LETTERA 22' (E)
1954, portable built in Olivetti, Glasgow, Scotland No. XS 637025
Grey/green body and round black British QWERTY key-tops (elite). Segment shift. With original case (a little worn but undamaged) including rubberised cloth dust cover, instruction book and two cleaning brushes (plus two erasers) in an aluminium tube. In immaculate condition.
The ideal portable for journalists on the move. According to the Typewriter Database this machine ought to have been made in 1956, but several typospherians have noted that Olivetti's serial numbers and manufacturing dates are confusing. It is more likely that this was made in 1954 since the original owner has helpfully written "Dec. 1954" on the cover of the instruction booklet.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
IMPERIAL 'GOOD COMPANION 3' (E)
1955, portable built by Imperial Typewriter Co., Ltd (1932-1957) in Leicester, England No. 3K032
Light grey body and grey British QWERTY key-tops (elite). Segment shift. With original case. Both machine and case in pristine condition.
Missing a tiny screw on right-hand side of paper tray. Machine came out of case smelling new!
MORE NOTES TO COME!
HERMES 'BABY-ROCKET' (E)
1957, portable built by Paillard S.A., Yverdon et Ste-Croix, Switzerland, by No. 5556485
Foam green body and mint-green USA QWERTY key-tops (small elite, probably 14cpi) with original lid. In good condition and working perfectly.
A present to CAL from Yves Lenchon in March 2016.
OPTIMA 'ELITE T3' (E)
1957, semi-portable built by VEB Optima Büromaschinenwerk Erfurt [formerly Olympia Büromaschinenwerk Sowjetische AG für Feinwerktechnik Erfurt] No. 103683
Grey-green body and brown British QWERTY key-tops (elite) and tabulator with original case, instruction book, two cleaning brushes and an eraser. Segment shift. Bears a retailer's label Pullman. In excellent condition.
A fine example of the East German variant on its West German Olympia cousin.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
OLYMPIA 'SM3 DE LUXE' (E)
1958, semi-portable built by Olympia Werke, Roffhausen, Wilhelmshaven, West Germany No. 1126784
Black body and black British QWERTY key-tops (elite), with original case. Carriage shift. In excellent visual and working condition.
An example of perhaps the finest typewriter ever built.
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(See instruction book USA version)
ALPINA 'SK24 KBS' (P)
1958, semi-portable built by Alpina Buromaschinenwerke-Vertrieb Bovensiepen AG, Kaufbeuren, W. Germany No. 123984
Metallic grey-green body with chrome carriage return lever and grey Swiss-French QWERTZ key-tops (pica), with original case and a cleaning brush. Partial carriage shift. In excellent visual and working condition.
Many people regard this as the finest typewriter ever built and if I were sent to a desert island and could take only one of my typewriters with me, it would be hard to choose between my all-black Olympia SM3 or one of my two remarkable Alpinas.
The extraordinary quality of the materials and engineering is more than matched by the distinctively beautiful body styling. And best of all, it's wonderful to type on, not least because of an amazing and perhaps unique innovation.
Most portable typewriters are designed with a 'carriage shift' in which the whole carriage is raised by the shift-key in order to produce capital letters and secondary symbols. Generally speaking, only larger, better-quality machines are fitted with a 'segment shift' whereby the whole 'basket' of key-bars is lowered by a much lighter touch on the shift-key in order to create capitals and secondary symbols. This helps to explain why professional typists preferred large, 'standard' desk-top typewriters with a 'segment shift' for sustained work.
But the semi-portable Alpina bridges the gap. It has an ingenious 'carriage shift' assembly in which only the 'platen' (roller) part of the carriage rises, makes typing light, easy and responsive.
The Alpina Buromachinewerke company was not long-lived. Founded in 1949, in 1951 it started to build portable typewriters, later making semi-portables and finally calculating machines. In 1961 it was sold to Standard Electrik Lorenz and by 1963 typewriter production had ceased altogether.
I never came across an Alpina in my professional life and apparently few ever reached Britain from West Germany. They are rather more common in the USA where they were often sold under Avona or AMC labels, but they remain relatively scarce everywhere. This means that great care must be taken when buying one since spare-parts are now hard to come by.
I was really looking forward to this machine's arrival from Germany and was hugely disappointed to discover that the seller had forgotten to tell me that various bits were broken, missing or badly repaired. I had been 'unlucky' with German sellers before, but this time it was serious: among other things, the carriage-return and line-space lever linkage was broken and the typebars were locked solid.
Thanks to Yves Lenchon, we were able to cannibalise one old machine to improve the other and the result is a superb example of one of the last great classic typewriters of all time!
MORE NOTES TO COME!
IMPERIAL 'GOOD COMPANION 4'
ca 1959, portable built by Imperial Typewriter Co., Ltd (1957-1961), Leicester, England No. 4AE987
Pale metallic blue with black/green British QWERTY key-tops (?). Carriage shift. Intact, in almost perfect visual and working condition. Original case.
This is one of my favourite typewriters, partly because it's a good-looking little machine and partly because, for me, it has happy associations.
It was in about 1964 while I was still at school in Canterbury, Kent, that I discovered that writing could be fun and that I had a flair for putting one word in front of another. I had came under the influence of an inspired (and inspiring) school-master, Barry Blake, who encouraged me to develop ideas for theatre review sketches. These little exercises in absurdity I duly tapped out on his Imperial 'Good Companion 4'.
I can't remember what I thought of it... I hadn't had enough experience of anything else to make comparisons. But I enjoyed what I was writing on it and anyone more intelligent than me would have read the signal and thought that perhaps there was a future in this writing lark...
Anyway, six years earlier, in 1957, The Imperial Typewriter Company must have been having a busy time. They were not only producing the very successful Imperial 66 a standard typewriter built in Leicester which was taking over in newsrooms and businesses across Britain and its new Commonwealth but was simultaneously launching two apparently similar new portable models: the Good Companion 4 and the Good Companion 5 both manufactured in a new factory in Hull.
Imperial dropped its usual black or grey livery and gave both models new, sleek, curvy body shells (the IGC 5 was positively sexy) offering them in a choice of modern, metallic green or blue paintwork or even white, cream or red!
But the two machines were in fact very different from each other one carriage-shifted, the other segment-shifted. And beneath the modern exterior, the IGC 4 was mechanically very little different from previous carriage-shift models, while beneath the sublime styling of the IGC 5 was an almost unchanged version of Herbert Etheridge's sement-shifted design used in the IGC 3.
Almost certainly the IGC 4 was intended for the British market (including the dominions and colonies) while the IGC 5 was pitched at the USA where it was sold under the Imperial De Luxe 5 name. [Sadly, as is so often the case, the USA imposed highly restrictive import tariffs on British typewriters, so the Americans saw very few of these British typewriters. This explains why collectors in the USA today pay very high prices for them.]
Dating this machine presents a problem. The admirable Typewriter Database does not indicate a date for an IGC 4 marked '4AE987'. The nearest bet is that it dates from 1959 (or some time between 1957 and 1959).
MORE NOTES TO COME!
VOSS 'ST32' (P)
1959, semi-portable built by Schreibmaschinenfabrik, Wuppertal, Germany No. 159435
Blue body and cream top with black/white German QWERTZ key-tops (pica). In almost mint condition with 32-inch carriage, its original cleaning cloth, brush and dust cover, and its original case.
IMPERIAL 'GOOD COMPANION 5' (P)
1959, portable built by Imperial Typewriter Co., Ltd (1957-1961), Hull, England No. 5O902
Blood red with black/green British QWERTY key-tops (pica). Segment shift. Intact, in almost perfect visual and working condition. Original case in very good condition.
This is a typewriter I had never used until it came into my collection. I have a conspiracy theory about this: there was an international plot aimed at preventing C. Long from even knowing of the existence of such a lovely typewriter. When I first saw one it became my 'grail' machine... and after I added a metallic green example (see below) to my collection, it was high on my short-list for my one-and-only desert island typewriter.
But then I came across something even better... this one: a blood-red Imperial 'Good Companion 5' which very definitely is my desert island machine... (provided that I can take my Alpina SK24 and my S&N 'Bijou' as concubines...).
Everything about the IGC 5 is just a little different. It was the first Imperial typewriter made in colours other than black, grey or metallic green (although IGC 4 machines of the same date also appeared in cream, red, etc.). It was the first typewriter to be made at Imperial's new factory in Hull. It was the first (and last) Imperial typewriter that looked positively sleek. Better still, the sexiest typewriter Imperial ever made has a segment-shift, making it a joy to use. But intriguingly it is also constructed differently from any other Imperial I know. Instead of having a sold chassis to which all the components are attached and then a covering of thin metal panels to give the machine a shapely look, in this model the body panels and chassis are one and the same, with all the inner components attached to this very solid outer shell.
This is a revolutionary approach to design and one which the motor industry soon adopted. The Volkswagen 'Beetle' was built like this and by the 1970s most high volume car manufacturers had abandoned the chassis altogether.
For all this we have to thank the English typewriter designer Herbert Etheridge. Robert Messenger has produced an excellent summary of the story of Imperial which I'm extracting and paraphrasing as follows:
... The IGC 5, which came out in 1957, was the first new model Imperial Good Companion made at Imperial’s new factory in Hull, 118 miles almost due north of its headquarters in Leicester, in England’s East Midlands.
Imperial had decided to bring out a new standard model, the Imperial 66, and to ease pressure on the Leicester plant by shifting the production of portable typewriters to Hull. One certain departure from the Imperial norm marked by the IGC 5 was the use of colours other than the previously standard black (i.e. the first IGC and the Model T), battleship grey (i.e. models 1, T and 3) or metallic green (i.e. IGC 4, though a few did come in cream). While mostly metallic green, some IGC 5s were produced in as catching a hue as a stark, dark red probably the finest British portable typewriter ever made.
If its remarkable shape is reminiscent of the 1950 German Torpedo Modell 20, this is not surprising. Both machines were designed by the brilliant English typewriter designer Herbert Etheridge who worked for Torpedo before joining Imperial.
The De Luxe 5 was a re-branding of the Imperial Good Companion 5 for export to the USA. It stands out like a sore thumb among the Good Companions that Imperial made from 1932 to 1966. Abandoned, albeit briefly, was the boxy shape of the IGC T of 1938, and more or less continued through the IGCs 3, 4, 6 and 7.
Instead, the IGC 5 has the sleek, curvy lines of the German-made Torpedo 20 of 1950. It also uses the segment-shift designed by Herbert Etheridge for Torpedo in 1930 and first used on the IGC 3 in 1951. The IGC 5’s influence did not end with Imperial’s return to the boxy style for the IGC 6 and IGC 7. Smith-Corona designers David Chase and Phillip Stevens referenced the De Luxe 5 in patenting what became an all-embracing SCM look for the Galaxie series; Carl Sundberg referenced it for the Remington Monarch series; and Charles Jaworski and Ed Johnson referenced it for the new-look Royal portable which, oddly enough, later morphed into the Royal-Imperial Safari.
We shall never know why Imperial adopted this new look for just one model. Interestingly, however, for the IGC 5, Imperial's IGC 7.
Robert Messenger sees a mystery in the fact that Imperial was often producing two lines of portable typewriters at the same time one with a carriage shift and one with a segment shift. For example, the IGC 3 (1951) had a segment shift while the IGC 4 (1957) had a carriage shift and the IGC 5 (also 1957) had a segment shift. The same pattern emerged in 1961 when the IGC 6 (and IGC 6T) were produced with carriage shifts at the same time as the IGC 7 was being manufactured with a segment shift.
I don't think there's much of a mystery here. The IGC 3, 5, and 7 were clearly designed for export to the USA where segment shifts were common. The IGC 4 and 6 were clearly destined for Britain's home market, dominions and colonies.
Careful examination shows that only the IGC 3, 5 and 7 (segment shift) have a pair of small holes drilled into the chassis on either side of the Imperial label beneath the space bar. These would have enabled US distributors to attach their own name-plates.
Clearly Imperial needed to exploit the US market at a time when 1960s post-Empire Britain was fast losing its hold on its former rock-solid colonial markets. Unfortunately, however, the USA was quick to respond with exorbitant import tariffs on imported typewriters, just as it did on foreign-made cars. So that is why the glorious IGC 5 known to the American market as the Imperial De Luxe is today as rare as hens' teeth in country for which it was made. And it also explains why American collectors today have to pay so much for those beautifully engineered machines made, after WWll, in Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Sweden.
ALPINA 'SK24' (P)
1960, semi-portable, built by Alpina Buromaschinenwerke AG, Kaufbeuren, W. Germany No. 223346
Cream on grey body with cream-coloured nylon carriage return lever and German QWERTZ key-tops (pica), with original case. Partial carriage shift. In excellent visual and working condition.
Arrived broken during transit and repaired by Yves Lenchon.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
IMPERIAL 'GOOD COMPANION 5' (E)
1960, portable built by Imperial Typewriter Co., Ltd (1957-1961), Hull, England No. 5AD485
Mirror, mirror on the wall... is this one of the most gorgeous typewriters ever made? Is it quite as beautiful as a late 1930s Olivetti MP1 Ico, for example?
Who knows... What seems sure is that this is surely the finest British typewriter ever made and it's certainly a contender for the European (and thus world) championships... up there with Olympia, Erika, Torpedo, Alpina, Olivetti and Hermes. It can be criticised in just one respect: the quality of its chrome-work does not always stand the test of time.
I had lusted after an Imperial Good Companion 5 ever since I was introduced the one by Rob Bowker. When this one arrived I moved it from room to room because its sublimely satisfying lines were a constant pleasure.
And I learnt a great deal about post-war British history by studying what turned out to have been one of Britain's many beautiful-but-doomed, post-WWll engineering projects: e.g. the De Havilland Comet (1949), Blue Streak (1960), the Hovercraft and beautiful cars too numerous to mention.
IMPERIAL '66' (E)
1961 standard built by Imperial Typewriter Co., Ltd (1954-1967), Leicester, England No. 6F74430
Pale metallic green body and British QWERTY key-tops (elite), including original nylon wallet containing two cleaning brushes, cloth and an eraser. No case or cover. Segment shift. In good visual condition (a few small age-related blemishes) and excellent working condition.
This huge, sturdy beast was the machine I used most often during my years at the London Newspaper Group (1978-83). It was already nearly twenty years old when a colleague retired and he agreed to bequeath me his Imperial 66. Until then I had used several ancient Imperial typewriters which each deserved a place in a museum. It seems the Imperial Typewriter Co. Ltd of Leicester, England, made eight standard typewriters (the 50, 55, 58, 60, 65, 66, 70 and 80) of which I used an Imperial 50, an Imperial 55, an Imperial 58 and then this sublime Imperial 66.
The unique feature of all these machines (apart from their massive weight and almost indestructible strength) was that by simply pressing a button on each side, the whole carriage assembly could be lifted off and replaced in a few seconds. What's more, by depressing two levers on the comb panel above the keys, the entire type unit including the keys and type 'basket' could be lifted out and exchanged. This made the Imperial potentially a multi-language machine: in a few seconds you could, in theory, swap a QUERTY layout for an AZERTY layout or again theoretically slot in alternative type units offering differing typefaces (pica, elite, cursive, etc) and alphabets. The ability to lift off the carriage assembly meant that you could exchange a standard short carriage with the longer carriage commonly used by accountants for spreadsheets and by draughtsmen in drawing offices.
In our newsrooms at the West London Press (later the London Newspaper Group) in the late 1970s and early 1980s I never saw anyone swap units on our ubiquitous Imperials. We simply churned out copy for our insatiable weekly newspapers.
The first newsroom typewriter I used was an Imperial 50 during a temporary stint on the Fulham Chronicle in Munster Road. It must have been built before World War ll. A few weeks later, in the Notting Hill offices of the Kensington News & Post, I used an Imperial 55) built in the 1950s.
In 1979 I joined the Chelsea News where for a year I used a sprightly, but geriatric, early 1950s Imperial 58 before making a dash to inherit an Imperial 66 (see right) from a colleague's desk when he retired.
We regarded our desks and typewriters as territorial preserves and it would have caused a lot of offence if you had used anyone else’s machine without permission. No two machines felt the same and it took time to adjust to a new one. And each of us knew exactly how to keep our particular beast functioning often with the help of a straightened-out paper-clip.
Our newsroom machines used to get serviced about once a year. A man would come in with a small leather case full of tools, brushes, oil cans, etc., and examine each machine in turn. I noticed the men who serviced our typewriters often had serious speech impediments and may well have been handicapped in other ways too. But this was a job which may have suited them well since conversation was not really necessary. However, I was once solemnly and laboriously advised not to pour any more cups of coffee into my Imperial 66.
We would replace the ribbons ourselves every month or so and I can't remember ever having a serious problem with any of our typewriters (Imperials / Adlers / Remingtons / Royals / Hermes, etc.). But the service man would pull the whole thing to bits, lift out the platen (roller), clean it, lubricate bits and pieces and brush dust out of each little crevice.
In Fleet Street, on a paper like the Evening Standard until the late 1980s, our ‘pieces' were typed on small carbon-less, three-part 'sets' (or pads). The white top sheet and pink second sheet went to the ‘sub’ who, I think, forwarded the pink one to the picture desk if necessary. The green copy was kept by the writer of the piece.
These 'sets’ were about half the size of an A4 sheet and I found them infuriating as you could only get one or two paragraphs on each one though this undoubtedly suited the subs. At the top of each page you’d type the tagline ‘Zebras / 1’, ‘Zebras / 2’, etc., and at the bottom of each you would type 'm/f’ to indicate that 'more follows’. At the end of the last page you’d write ‘ends’.
Right top: An Imperial 50 (1927-55); middle: an Imperial 65 (1952-55) and bottom: an Imperial 55 (1937-61). Amazingly, some of us were still using typewriters like these in London news rooms just five years before the first word processors made their appearance in about 1984! (Pictures courtesy of Robert Messenger)
If you were in a good mood you suggested a headline (which the sub might use if it fitted the column width and he was in a good mood). And if you were feeling particularly keen you’d suggest something helpful for the picture desk.
At the London Newspaper Group we had the luxury of whole sheets of poor quality paper, rather smaller than A4, and you’d stick two of them in the machine with a sheet of carbon paper between to give yourself a file copy.
We usually didn’t set the right-hand margin all at because the pinging of everyone's bell every few seconds would have driven us all mad, and we used to set plenty of space on the left-hand margin for the ‘subs’ to work in. For the same reason our typewriters were almost permanently set to double or triple spacing in order to give the subs space to 'mark it up’ between the lines.
Since we never had bi-coloured ribbons (presumably on economy grounds), you’d simply turn the spools over and use the other half of the ribbon when necessary. I remember we used to keep large lumps of Blue-Tak in our desks which we rolled over the heads of the keys and type bars from time to time to keep them clean.
I don’t think we had any sort of emotional attachment to our typewriters and we probably treated them pretty roughly. They had to withstand endless pounding, lots of knocks, spilt drinks and even newsroom fights.
But our Imperial 66s in particular were built like tanks and survived any abuse quite happily. They were usually 25 years old when we got hold of them and went on happily for another 10 years until the digital age took over.
There's an Imperial 66 lurking beside me as I write, jostling for space with an equally solid Royal HH Elite. Both remind me of inky days in Fleet Street, although I'm not suggesting for one moment that they were the 'good old days'.
In a serious working environment I would never swap today's technology for yesterday's. But, typewriters really felt like the tools of our trade and I was attached to them. I have never had any attachment to a computer.
The Imperial 'standard' 50 was launched in 1927. (See instruction book)
IMPERIAL 'GOOD COMPANION 6 Tab' (E)
1961, portable built by Imperial Typewriter Co., Ltd (1961-1966), Hull, England No. 6P087T
Metallic blue body and black/white British QWERTY key-tops (elite). Tabulator version. Original zipped case in fair condition with manual, cleaning brush two erasers and erasing mask. Carriage shift. Intact, undamaged and in fair condition (normal wear for its age).
There were two versions of the Imperial Good Companion 6, one with a tabulator and one without. I bought this tabulator model to clean and restore. At the same time I bought an example of the non-tabulator model(see below) which was not working at all and thought I would use one to help me learn how to repair the other.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
IMPERIAL 'GOOD COMPANION 6' (E)
1961, portable built by Imperial Typewriter Co., Ltd (1961-1966), Hull, England No. 6B183
Pale metallic green body and black/white British QWERTY key-tops (elite). Non-tabulator version. With original box case in very good condition with manual and instruction sheet. Carriage shift. Intact but not functioning generally seized up. Bodywork in good/fair condition.
This is rather a sad story because I suspect this machine was in a pretty good state until a few months ago. The machine appears to have been well looked after for most of its 50 year life as there are no signs of rust or mildew. It must have been stored in good, dry conditions until the day (quite recently?) that someone thought it would benefit from being doused in WD40 which, for a typewriter, is about as helpful as spraying a small child with liquid tar on sports day.
I bought this machine at the same time as an IGC 6 (with Tabulator) which simply needed cleaning (see above). As a project I thought I could learn from one in order to repair the other.
But in fact the problem with this one is more serious that I expected. The keys are completely blocked rather than simply gunged-up. It looks as though someone has tried twisting and bending stuff in the linkages below the segment. So, this will be a more serious 'project' than I expected. But it promises to be educational...
I did some emergency first aid when this arrived. I had no pure alcohol or methylated spirits to dilute the gunge, so I poured liberal quantities of calvados apple brandy into all its joints. Here in Normandy, local home-distilled calvados comes out at about 70 per cent proof. The next day I was given five litres of surgical spirit which successfully washed away the dreaded WD40 (but presumably did not improve the taste of the calvados). Tomorrow I shall start taking its panels off. Then I shall pour myself a large whisky and soda (not calva, not surgical spirit, not WD40) as I contemplate what to do next...
I never owned any of these post-war IGCs but I used them often and many people in Britain had them in the 1960s and 1970s. They weren't wildly expensive, they were of good, solid quality and they remain good 'typers'. But, with the sole exception of the IGC 5, none of them grab me like a Blue Bird / Torpedo 18, an Olympia SM3 or a Hermes 3000.
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HERMES '3000' (E)
1962, semi-portable built by Paillard S.A., Yverdon, Switzerland No. 3143736
Foam green body and mint-green British QWERTY key-tops (elite) with original case and two cleaning brushes. In almost perfect working and decorative condition. Very little used.
An example of one of the finest typewriters ever built and also considered by many to be one of the most beautiful. Locking clasp on clam-shell case needs repair.
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(See instruction book)
TORPEDO 'BLUE BIRD DE LUXE' (18B) (P)
1962 portable built by Weil-Werke GmbH (Remington Buromaschinen GmbH), Rödelheim, Frankfurt am Main, West Germany No. 1249219
Blue top/grey body and light/dark grey British QWERTY key-tops (pica). Segment shift. In almost immaculate condition despite evidence that it has been used a great deal. Pop-up paper rest missing. With original case in good condition.
While this may well be the best German typewriter ever made and most collectors would place among their favourites, not all of them would call this a Blue Bird de Luxe. In Frankfurt-am-Mein where they were built, for example, it was called the Torpedo Modell 18.
It's not surprising that the West German Büromaschinen Werke AG exported its mid-1950s Modell 18s to the British under the Blue Bird label. Ten years earlier, during the Battle of the Atlantic, German torpedos had sunk 3,500 Allied merchant ships and 175 Allied warships. Of the 72,000 seaman who fell victim to German torpedos the overwhelming majority were British and half of them were non-combattant civilians.
In fact, history was repeating itself. It was after similarly catastrophic losses in World War l that the German manufacturer first began selling typewriters to the British empire under the Blue Bird label no doubt hoping that the famous 'Blue Bird of happiness' had more positive spin.
I'm not sure the strategy was sound. I remember using a Blue Bird (all grey, I think) when I was copy-writing for an advertising agency in Kensington in 1978. To me this 'toy' name sounded childish and I thought I was being fobbed off with a machine no one else wanted! Instead I used an Olympia (probably an SM2 or SM3).
If only I had known that, despite the Blue Bird name, beneath its ribbon cover lay some of the finest engineering of any post-war typewriter. But then again, would I have noticed the difference? Olympia was then producing almost the only semi-portable machines capable of rivalling Torpedo's quality.
The overall look and styling of the Torpedo 18 / Blue Bird is not remarkable. Outwardly it's a slightly bland version of the Olympia SM series. But otherwise it's brilliant: it feels right and sounds right. And it types as well as any Alpina or Olympia maybe better, thanks to its light action segment shift.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
(See Blue Bird manual and Torpedo 18 manual)
IMPERIAL 'GOOD COMPANION 7' (E)
1963, portable built by Imperial Typewriter Co., Ltd (1961-1966), Hull, England No. 7Z355
Metallic blue body and black/white British QWERTY key-tops (elite). With tabulator and segment shift. Cosmetic condition goodish. Original case in very good condition.
When this machine arrived from across the Channel it was pretty much what I expected. The ribbon cover has a couple of pin-prick areas of damage but otherwise it seemed only to be suffering from a non-functioning motor and/or drawstring.
Robert Messenger has said that he saw two IGC 7s with an identical fault the drawstring hanging loose out of the back of the machine a problem he suspected was due to an inherent design flaw.
Well it seems this one suffered the same problem so I was more than willing to believe what Robert says. If we could delve into the archives of the complaints department at Imperial's portable typewriter factory in Hull, I suspect we'd learn interesting things...
This 'inherent flaw' business is strange because the IGC 7 (1961-1966) ought to have been the culmination of design excellence. Before it came two other excellent segment shift machines: the delightful IGC 3 and the sublime IGC 5, both of which feature on this page (see above).
Three weeks after receiving my defective machine we made an interesting discovery: the motors of both my IGC 6T and this IGC 7 were gunged up with thick, dried grease. This meant that the motor no longer motored and the draw-string was therefore slack and liable to be damaged by the free-flowing carriage.
Yves Lenchon, who fixed this for me, thinks the gloopy grease in both machines was the original stuff, applied during production and quite simply sub-standard. This is interesting as it fits with other signs that, about 20 years after the end of WWll, design and manufacturing quality in Britain once the workshop of the world were slipping badly.
This machine has all the hints of industrial complaisance: the design of the guts of the IGC 7 is basically identical to the IGC 5. There are cosmetic changes to the ribbon cover and details of the carriage assembly and paper bail. But the quality of the build and materials seems poorer a malaise that affected much of British industry in the 1960s and 1970s and which was to cause great damage to the reputation of British manufacturing
On my IGC 7 the ribbon cover simply doesn't fit correctly over the body shell. It's skewed because of inadquate hinges and bad design. The auxiliary paper shelf is so flimsy that nothing prevents it buckling.
The guts of the thing are solid enough because they're the same as you'll find in the IGC 5 and the chassis remains a single block of cast aluminium. But the upper casing and parts of the carriage assembly are of noticeably poorer quality and there is a distinct variation in texture and hue between the chassis and the various panels. Indeed the paintwork is much poorer than in previous models and it even flakes off in nooks and crannies where, I suspect, the surface was not properly prepared before the finishing coat was (badly) applied.
Just like many British car manufacturers of that era (think British Leyland), you can almost hear new management at Imperial saying: "Well, come on, if it only lasts five years they'll be back to buy another one!" Presumably they were unaware that better quality Japanese typewriters would soon appear in British shops. The workforce at Imperial's Leicester and Hull factories was probably as uncommitted to production excellence as most of Britain's motor industry.
It remains, however, a classic typewriter. True, it's a bit boxy, but so were its stablemates, the IGC 6 and the IGC 6T. Boxy was apparently what we were supposed to like in the early 1960s... look at cars like the Ford Anglia: soon dubbed 'Ford Angular'. A remaining puzzle is why Imperial's Hull factory was producing three such similar portables at the same time. Two were carriage-shifted (IGC 6, IGC 6T) and two were fitted with tabulators (IGC 6T, IGC 7).
In my view, the IGC 7 was originally intended for export, like the IGC 5 before it (sold in the USA as the Imperial de Luxe 5) and like the IGC 3 before that. The giveaway is that all three have a pair of pre-drilled holes in the chassis (beneath the space bar) into which foreign distributors could, if they wished, rivet their own labels or re-badging.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
OLYMPIA 'SM9' (?)
1966 semi-portable, built by Olympia Werke, Roffhausen, Wilhelmshaven, West Germany No. 2980077
OLYMPIA 'SPLENDID 66' (E)
1968 portable, built by Olympia Werke, Roffhausen, Wilhelmshaven, West Germany No. 1705215
Black body and white British QWERTY key-tops (elite). With original case and instructions. Carriage shift. In excellent visual and working condition.
In newsrooms in the late 1970s and early 1980s I was using a variety of standard typewriters (Imperials, Royals and Remingtons).
But at home I was a stringer for the Evening Standard and was a regular columnist or feature-writer for a number of magazines such as London Portrait, Time & Tide, Ritz, London Hotel and Select.
For all this work I used my own Olympia Splendid 99 (cream-coloured body with maroon key-tops) which my grandmother, Chrissy Vlasto (née Croil), had given me when I was still at school in about 1965. She and my grandfather were quite convinced I would one day earn my living from writing. Being aged 15 at the time, I disagreed... and I was to be proved wrong!
This was, and remains, the perfect, truly portable, typewriter for most people's needs. It was beautifully made, strong, with a crystal clear typeface and capable of almost unlimited use. I used this one at school, then at The Inner Temple in London where I was supposed to be studying for the Bar and I then wrote advertising copy on it.
But then, in 1982, my mother Helen Long (née Vlasto) offered me her 1968 Olympia Splendid 66 (black body with white key-tops) on which she had already written her first two books. I couldn't refuse... and it became my indispensable companion. I have it still.
And so it was that I gave my grandmother's Olympia Splendid 99 to Emma, the delightful daughter of a good friend Judy Wedgewood, in Wimbledon.
MORE NOTES TO COME!
LOVED & LOST
Typewriters I once owned and have now given away.
OLYMPIA 'SPLENDID 99'
1965c portable, made by Olympia Werke, Roffhausen, Wilhelmshaven, West Germany No. ------
Cream body and burgundy British QWERTY key-tops with original case. Carriage shift.
OLYMPIA 'SPLENDID 33'
1965c portable, made by Olympia Werke, Roffhausen, Wilhelmshaven, West Germany No. ------
Strangely enough, thirty years later, Yves Lenchon gave me another cream-coloured Olympia portable (a Splendid 33 with French AZERTY key-tops in its original case) which I gave to Adèle, another delightful daughter of another good friend David Nicolas-Méry, in Avranches.
SEIDEL & NAUMANN 'ERIKA 5 TAB' 2nd version (P)
1936, portable built by Seidel & Naumann, Dresden, Germany No. 580728/5
See above: Given to Timur D'Vatz in 2015.
BROTHER 'EP44' / 'EP43'
1984 portable word processor, made by Brother No. ------
This Brother EP44 is not a typewriter and not even a personal computer. But electronic machines like this put paid to typewriters and prepared us for the age of information technology.
I bought this particular word processor in 1984 knowing that I had to move with the times or be left behind. I never came to like the thing at all. Its all-plastic body felt cheap and flimsy and its components were obviously fragile. But its gnat-sized memory (15 characters ?) was a glimpse of things to come and within days of its arrival my trusty Olympia was gathering dust on a shelf in my office.
A couple of years later I bought its successor, a Brother EP-43, which could memorise one or two whole pages of text so that one could correct or re-work an article before committing oneself to print. It was a soulless machine and unlike the loves of my life I'd even forgotten its name until I did some research on line...
MORE NOTES TO COME!
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