Professionally cleaning a typewriter usually involves removing the external shell, immersing the mechanism in a vat of specialized chemicals, drying it off, and then carefully lubricating the machine at select points. But sometimes, typewriters seem to have gotten a quickie treatment: the whole thing was dunked in light lubricant and handed back to the customer. I bet this made everything look shiny and run smoothly for a while, but in the long run, you have a typewriter that's covered on every surface with a hardened film of dirty grease.
Terrible? Not necessarily! For the collector, this ancient grease can be a boon -- it can serve as a protective layer that fends off worse damage.
Sometimes what looks like rust on a machine is actually just a layer of grease. I was happy to discover the other day that this is the case on parts of my Sholes Visible. Check out what happens when you rub steel wool on what seems to be a badly rusted part. Under the "rust" (actually grease and dirt), the original nickel is still in pretty good, though not perfect condition.
The same is true of the key levers:
You may find a machine that looks bad when you get it -- such as my Crandall Visible no. 4, which looked like it had dull and damaged paint in this auction photo ...
... but you may discover that the appearance is simply due to a layer of grease. I was thrilled to find that this was the case with my Crandall Visible. I could just wipe off the grease with my fingertip and reveal shiny black paint underneath.
I'm not as lucky with the Sholes Visible, but my discoveries give me hope that eventually it's going to look good (though not new). I'll close this installment with a view of one part that I've restored. This is the slotted comb for the keyboard. I used Soft Scrub on the painted part and steel wool on the greasy metal. The shift lock at right had some real rust and needed to spend the night in Evapo-Rust. In the two special slots for the spacebar, you can see little cushions which consist of tiny pieces of leather, over a century old.