Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wirtschaftswunder: The Taylorix Contofix Junior

My original entry on the Taylorix Contofix

After typing this, I read up a bit on the Marshall Plan, and it seems that many today argue that it should not be given too much credit for the Wirtschaftswunder

Here is some information on Frederick Winslow Taylor, whose theories seem to have inspired the Taylorix company to develop its bookkeeping systems and invent typewriter attachments to help with keeping business records.

But let me take you on a tour of this extraordinary, eggshell-blue business machine ...

The attachment on top of the machine tilts back when you push a release lever on its left end ...

... and it can then be removed altogether just by sliding it to the right, leaving an almost-normal typewriter:

Unfortunately the oval plastic Taylorix logo is missing from this machine. Otherwise it's in good condition and just needed a thorough cleaning. Notice the Deutsche Mark symbol on the keyboard and a mysterious key next to the right shift key. I'll return to that ...

Let's take off the ribbon cover ...

... and the whole exterior shell!

This striptease is fairly easy on a late Voss, which allows you to remove its exoskeleton without any tools, just unhooking some hooks and doing a little typewriter wrestling.

Here's the attachment. Its purpose seems to be to feed forms, possibly fanfold forms, through the typewriter, and to allow you to read them easily as you are filling them out.

Here's a rear view of the Contofix with its clothes back on and its formfeed attachment on. 

The paper slides into two adjustable paper holders. When you push down on the large lever on the left side of the attachment, it quickly pulls the paper through the rollers that are directly beneath the paper holders.

It is then possible to feed the paper into the front of the platen. Is this what you're supposed to do? I'm not 100% sure.

The machine is ready for typing. Typing, in this position, is noisy because the paper isn't flat against the platen and it makes popping sounds as you type. Every time you return the carriage, the paper is pulled up a bit farther into the formfeed attachment.

You can push the long horizontal plastic shield down, presumably for better visibility. But why do you need the shield in the first place?

Now here's a complication. With the formfeed attachment off, you can see that if you lift up the erasing table (not possible on a normal Voss), you reveal little metal feed rollers, suggesting that the paper is meant to pass through there. But why? I can't figure out a paper path that uses all the features of the carriage and the formfeed attachment. Probably the typewriter was intended for two different uses. If I had the forms they were using, I might understand better.

The left end of the carriage and the attachment is sheer industrial beauty ...

Now, back to that extra little key next to the right shift key:

... when you press it down it locks in position , extending a spring (the big spring on the right in the photo below) that helps to pull the carriage upwards. Without the spring, the weight of the formfeed attachment makes shifting far too difficult. But when you don't have the attachment on, you want to release the spring (pulling forward on the metal tab to the right of the /& key) -- otherwise the carriage will stick in the upper position.

This is the decimal tabulator mechanism:

For readers unclear on the purpose of a decimal tabulator, it's used when typing columns of figures, like this:

         456.87         22.03
        2349.11     293847.22
          20.01        332.03
           5.55      92740.11

You can see that you want the figures to line up on the decimal point. You set your tab stops at the decimal points, and then hit the tabulator key appropriate to the figure you want to enter. For instance, if you want to enter 456.87 you will hit the "100" tab key, and the tabulator will take the carriage to a spot three spaces before the decimal point.

A mystery on this typewriter is that the "." tab key does not stop the carriage at all -- the carriage just ignores all tab stops and moves all the way from right to left. I assumed something was broken, but when I inspected the mechanism it appeared to be designed to work this way.

Finally, one more mystery: the purpose of this attachment on the back of the typewriter shell.

 Clearly I have more things to learn about the Taylorix Contofix Junior!


  1. What a wonderfully interesting typewriter! It is fantastic. The typeface is also nice. Thank you for the informative post.

  2. One of the great things about typewriters and the Typosphere is that there always seems to be something I haven't seen, just around the corner.

    This machine definitely qualifies. Fascinating design with all the "extras" -- thanks for sharing!

  3. Well, I guess all I can say is, a machine more fit for the complex mysteries of continental philosophy than the desert landscaped of the analytic!


  4. A very interesting machine, indeed!

    May I venture a possible use for the strange attachments? Maybe those were meant to feed multicopy forms, like checks or other negotiable documents. Or, stretching the guessing a bit, maybe that was a card feeder of sorts, for kardex cards?

  5. What an awesome machine! The basic Voss is beautiful and this mod still has many attractive design elements. The feed system could have just been a bunch of square plates slapped together.

    Did you have access to a manual, or did you have to figure out how this works as you went along?

    1. I just had to figure it out myself -- a fun bit of detective work that, as you can see, is not done yet.

  6. Both this post and the machine are very interesting. Thanks for sharing this comprehensive review!

  7. Wowsers! That's quite the machine. It's fascinating to think of all the industry-specific modifications that were made to machines back in the day. Be sure to keep us apprised as you figure out ore about it!

  8. This machine is brutal! The paper feeding system is worthy of a science fiction movie ...

  9. I always love typewriters with funny bits and bobs that jut out in odd directions. Great typewriter find!

  10. FOLLOWUP: Here's a history of the company (1922-1999) and a 1935 Torpedo Taylorix equipped with the Contofix attachment (both sites are in German). If I understand correctly, the Taylorix bookkeeping system used a ledger with removable pages and a set of cards. (Each customer, creditor, etc. could have a dedicated card.) You would keep accounts by typing simultaneously onto a card and a ledger page, using carbon paper to duplicate the information. I'll have to try doing something like this -- once I get over being grateful for Excel!

  11. Pretty fancy machine! I wonder if the bracket at the rear is to hold a stack of folded forms, or even a roll?

  12. An amazing piece of engineering - its also an example of typewriter/fountain pen tie-in, in that Taylorix also sold Pelikan fountain pens from the 1930s through I suspect, based on the styles of pens I've seen, the 1960s, with specially made hard 'manifold' nibs. Taylorix branded Pelikans are not common and bring a premium, but the D (for Dur, hard) nibs are sometimes found on regular Pelikans. So I guess Taylorix chose to offer their own versions of everything you needed for their system, including the pens.

  13. Great post. I've referenced you in a FB post about finding one of these in a Midsomer Murders episode:

    All the best,


    1. Thanks, Cat!

      Another possibility is that the machine in the show is a Voss Business-Riter, which also has a decimal tabulator but doesn't have the detachable form feed mechanism.