Saturday, June 4, 2016

Erika 20: the perfect typewriter?

"The Ideal Solution"

According to the information on The Typewriter Database, the Erika 20 was made from September 1960 to February 1962.

Model 20
40002011960Production begins 9/196025
400047819611961-1962 numbers run 4000478 to 401488725
1962See 1961. Model 20 ended 2/196225

The three specimens pictured on the database so far are all in Russia and have Cyrillic keyboards. As Nick observes, it seems that many of the approximately 15,000 typewriters made were sent to the USSR, where I imagine they ended up in the hands of privileged Party members. However, some are also found with German keyboards. My Humber 99, which came to me from Toronto collector Martin Howard, is the only one I've seen so far with a QWERTY keyboard. Its serial number is 4011057.

But is this the oh-so-elusive "perfect typewriter"?

I can tell you that it's snappy, comfortable, quick, quiet, and refined. It has many, many features that I enjoy. And it looks great. It may not be perfect, but it has shot into the top 2% of the typewriters I own.

But let's not make this all about my preferences; let's test the proposition as objectively as we can by comparing this typewriter to the preferences that readers of this blog expressed in the "perfect typewriter" poll of April 2014. I've added a red check mark to indicate the features of the Erika 20 / Humber 99.

The Humber 99 is quite large and heavy (in the same class as an Olivetti Studio 44), but it is "luggable" at nearly 12 kg / 26 lbs. with its case (weight according to Sergei Viktorovich). To give you an idea of the size, here it is next to the rather hefty Erika 10:

The Humber 99 uses typebars, with the typical Erika device of a return spring attached to the bottom of each typebar.

This was a major innovation in this model, as previous Erikas were all carriage-shifted. (The M has a skeleton shift, that is, only the central part of the carriage is shifted.) The basket shift on the Humber 99 is easy and quick, and its tension can also be adjusted by turning a couple of screws.

The typeface on this machine is very straightforward and traditional. I personally would prefer something a bit more distinctive. (See my typecast at the start of this post for an example.)

The size is actually a hair bigger than pica.

The Humber 99 uses a "Visomatic" system. That term is actually an R.C. Allen trademark, which I'm using to mean automatic margins that also have visible indicators. Not many typewriters have this feature. (The Hermes 3000 has something comparable, a red ribbon inside the paper bail that shows the position of the margins.) On the Humber 99, the automatic margins are set by buttons on the side of the carriage, and small chromed indicators show above the carriage. I like this system.

Not many respondents felt they needed quadruple line spacing, but it doesn't hurt. On the Humber 99, the spacing is adjusted by a wheel that can be turned in either direction, and is indicated by dice-like dots.

The buttons to the left of the keyboard set and clear tab stops very efficiently. To the right of the buttons you can see the ribbon position selection lever, and to its right is a combination margin release and typebar detangler key. The ribbon position indicator window shows a mix of blue and red, i.e., an intermediate position in the center of the ribbon. To the right of the window is a button for releasing the ribbon cover.

Here are some more features people wanted to see on a typewriter:

The space bar quickly and quietly moves half a space forward when you push it down, and another half when you release it. The platen can easily be removed, thanks to a system that allows you to unscrew the platen knobs.

Although there is no end-of-paper indicator per se, you can extend the nice, wide paper support to a position that will tell you when the end of the paper is coming up.

The two buttons shown below let you switch from normal to  e x t e n d e d  typing (i.e. double character spacing). The right-pointing arrow is the backspacer, and the left-pointing arrow is the tabulator. (Obviously, they indicate the direction of motion of the carriage. This is not intuitive for me, but you can get used to it.)

To remove the carriage, you push the small levers on left and right at the base of the typewriter.

This machine also has features that it didn't occur to me to include in my poll. First, there's a device for adjusting the tabulator brake. If you turn the metal knob toward the + sign, the carriage will move faster.

On the end of the carriage, to the right of the platen knob, is the carriage release lever (the plastic cover for it is missing on the left end of my machine), and to the right of that is the button for the automatic margin.

Another nice feature is the ability to remove the ribbon cover by pinching two little levers and lifting it off. This is also found on the Erika 10.

Now for some control diagrams and some parting pics.

The perfect typewriter? Perfect for whom? For you? 

There's only one way to tell ... I know some readers are going to start looking for one of these right now. Happy hunting!


  1. Certainly a strong contender. Many, many nice features (:

  2. Thanks for the great photos and detailed post! I've been looking for one of these for the past 2 years! I found the sales brochure, but not the actual machine yet! Based on my love for all the other Erika models, and how this one combines the best of everything, I really think it could be the perfect machine for me.

  3. the price on these is going to go up and make everyone go crazy trying to find one...forgetting all about their perfectly working typewriters at home...all those poor orphans will be shelved while their owners travel the world in search of this "holy grail"...yeah, thanks a lot....great information...but next time you get a hunch do us a favor and keep it to yourself....I can't keep adding typewriters to my list and draining my bank account...I have future children to put through college.

  4. It would take a heck of a machine to make me part with my SG1. But you're right about one thing, that Optima looks good!

  5. I've been exploring Optimas, Ericas and Olympias for the last few months in the attempt to find that "perfect" typewriter for my daily correspondence and writing. This post is apropos. Now... let the hunting begin.

    1. And there are lots more good German machines, East (Rheinmetall) and West (Torpedo). The Torpedo 18 is one model you must try.

  6. Find one at 50€ Near Paris , but i need to clean it. The carriage is Much more bigger. I am disappoint it 's Not the best typewriter mayby the worst for me.

    1. Yes, they did offer long carriages, which could easily be switched with the shorter ones.

      Maybe you'll like it better when it's clean. I'm curious and would love to see a photo (

  7. I have this machine, branded ERIKA, with a German keyboard (I am German). This machine does not feature a typebar disentangler like the ERIKA 10 does (none of the 20s does), and mine certainly also doesn't have a silent carriage return, the mechanism works correctly, I checked. Nothing is broken, this machine is pretty much unused. There is also no half spacing. This machine does not have these features like mentioned here. It is the same machine, no other version or model. Erika 20

    1. Interesting! Thanks for sharing the details of your machine.

    2. On mine, the margin release also works as a typebar disentangler.

    3. OH yes! Indeed it also servers as a typebar disentangler! My machines didn't come with a manual (and there is not much information about Erika 20s) so I looked for a lever like on the 10 or a separate button, but I've never tested the margin release. That's similar to how the Gossen Tippa's did it. Didn't think about that, so you are indeed right. Still no half-spacing tho, just double and single spaced so far as I can see. Is there is something else (like another combo-button) I am missing feel free to correct me.

    4. The half-spacing feature simply means that when you push the spacebar down, the carriage advances half a space; when the bar comes back up, it advances another half space. On some other typewriters, the carriage advances a full space as soon as you depress the spacebar. Half-spacing is useful for inserting a missing letter.

    5. Ah OK, I only know this feature from the IBM selectrics, where you had a half-backspace lever that was used by secretaries to squeeze a letter in between another two, so I thought you meant a button or lever that specifically only advances the carriage by half a stop.

    6. When I got mine, the carriage return was also noisy like you're describing, but as I've been using it, it's slowly getting smoother and quieter. I think the escapement in your could be a bit gunked up with grease and it just needs to break free.