Tuesday, January 31, 2017

News story about the Columbus type-in

Here's a nice set of photos from December's type-in in Columbus, Ohio, from the Short North Gazette.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Underwood Crest: a last gasp

Here's an uncommon late Underwood portable that I picked up from a local seller. The Crest is one of many 1950s basket-shifted models that Underwood put on the market, often with interesting styling and colors. But I don't know that I've ever seen one in this particular shade, which reminds me of the '70s more than the '50s.

This light-blue Crest that sold on Etsy has an attractive golden strip around the keyboard. There's no sign of such a strip on my machine.

Does the Crest differ mechanically from other Underwood portables of the ’50s? I don't see how. Like many but not all other models from that decade, it includes a keyset tabulator with the wishful-thinking designation Quiet Tab.

You open the ribbon cover by pushing on the Underwood logo:

The machine came in a case with paper to protect its base, a brush, paper "gold medals," a typing instruction book, and a warranty.

The machine was sold on Cincinnati's Main Street, our "typewriter row" at the time. Peter Paul is still in business today at a different location. Despite the sales date of Dec. 15, 1959 (was it a Christmas present?), the serial number, BE2863273, probably dates the machine at 1957. So it's possible that this typewriter sat around in the shop for a couple of years before selling.

By the time this typewriter sold, Underwood had been acquired by Olivetti in "the largest-ever foreign takeover of an American company" at the time (follow the link for a substantial academic article about the acquisition). On October 2, 1959, Olivetti had become the largest shareholder of Underwood stock.

Although the company continued making standard typewriters on the Underwood pattern through the 1960s and even, it seems, into the 1970s, the Underwood portables were immediately discontinued when Olivetti took over. (Sixties "Underwood-Olivetti" and "Olivetti-Underwood" portables are Olivetti or Antares designs.)

Why were the Underwood portables scrapped? This Crest supports the answer that most typewriter lovers today would give: their quality was subpar. This machine came to me having seen very little use; it's almost mint. What I can say in its favor is that the carriage return makes a very nice purring sound, with no rattling at all. But ...

• I'm no metallurgist, but the metals used on this machine seem cheap and weak. Some typebars were a little bent and could easily be bent back into place. Under the back panel there was a patch of rust, for no apparent reason.

• The two springs holding up the ribbon cover were weak and could easily slip off. Just a little detail, but it shows that the "fit and finish" of this typewriter, as they say in the auto business, is not impressive.

• The Underwood logo on the ribbon cover release button was just barely hanging on. If two tiny pieces of plastic break, your logo is gone. I've seen another couple of Crests online missing this logo.

• The tabulator wasn't working. The solution was to "form" a piece, as the pros say. In other words, the thing was out of shape and had to be bent into the correct position. Just imagine doing that on a high-quality typewriter of the time, such as an Olympia: first of all, it wouldn't be necessary or expected; secondly, they used such high-quality metal that it would be very hard to do.

• Finally, check out this typing sample. The poor alignment isn't just a matter of bent typebars; the type has not been soldered on to the typebars consistently. Grade: C-.

Cute though it is, the Crest and its ilk are the last gasp of real Underwood portables. It's too bad, because the older, carriage-shifted portables are excellent, and the new basket-shift design was an improvement, in theory. Most of the mechanical principles remained the same, so that an Underwood portable from 1929 shows many parallels to one made 30 years later. But the decline in quality and precision meant that by the time the Crest was manufactured, the golden age was long gone.

PS: Here's a video found on YouTube of a Spanish-keyboard Crest that looks much like mine. Note that the Underwood logo seems to have been attached with new rivets or screws.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Postcard to Pennsylvania Ave.

Who's with me?

The First Amendment should unite all Americans, regardless of party or creed, but Mr. Bannon recently said the press should "keep its mouth shut."

To your typewriters, patriots!

If you type a card, I hope you'll post it online—but more importantly, post it to Washington.

(The current postage for a 6 x 4.25-inch postcard is 34¢. Mine is oversized and I added a couple of vintage stamps.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It's a poor reptile who blames his tools

DonN asked to hear from Albert the Alligator in a recent comment. Here you go, Don.

My source is these communications with poet and typewriter devotee Albert Goldbarth, which are well worth reading.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Conover makeover

You saw the Conover that has been entrusted to me before cleaning. Here it is after cleaning.

The machine has an arm that must be extended on the left before typing. When the carriage is over on the right, this typewriter has a pretty impressive wingspan.
Ready to type:

The original rubber hammer head, which is star-shaped, broke as soon as I tried it. The rubber was, naturally, hard and brittle after all these years. After a few failed efforts, I sculped a piece of rubber that does the job, hitting the paper from behind against the ribbon and the type. 

And these are the results. Not perfect, but readable.

Ad courtesy of Peter Weil.
Bell clapper and a screw courtesy of Greg Fudacz.
Ribbon made for Acroprint 125 and 150 time clocks, cut down the middle. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

James Baldwin speaks from a public typewriter

The public typewriter that I set up in my office building some time ago doesn't get a lot of use, but once in a while it proves its value, as when I found a wonderful quote from James Baldwin on it the other day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Service call for a Conover

There are some models I see again and again coming in for service at The Urban Legend Institute: Royal Quiet De Luxe, Royal KMM, Smith-Corona Galaxie, Underwood no. 5, and so on. Many typewriters are from the late ’40s, reflecting the upsurge in typewriter manufacturing after the war. But I got a surprise the other day when a customer recently brought in a Woodstock, an Oliver 9, and a Conover. With his permission, I'm sharing some pictures of thc Conover here.

This is a rarely-found name variant of the Chicago sold by Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co., a big Chicago hardware store which originated the still-famous name True Value Hardware.

Some cleaning is in order:

When you remove the name plate you see the wonderfully ingenious mechanism (which was left exposed on the predecessor to the Chicago, the Munson).

An exchangeable type cylinder rotates and slides into the correct position.

This ribbon is long, purple, and one inch wide.

A view with the ribbon and type cylinder removed:

The centers of the ribbon spools are covered in inky wax.

This machine is nearly complete, but is missing the bell clapper. (Thanks to Greg Fudacz of Antikey Chop for sending me one!)

Note the serial number stamped into the shaft on which the type cylinder turns; it matches the machine's serial number (5383). The type cylinder is also stamped with little numbers, which may be a serial or may designate the type style.

This machine should look very pretty once I'm done with it. I'll post followup pics when it's ready.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2017's first typewriter safari and guessing game

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know this game. Here are some things I saw at the antique mall this morning. Can you guess which one came home with me?

I've seen these R. C. Allen miniatures before, but never one with a letter in it!

Royal KMM and LC Smith no. 8 ($160):

Underwood Five, $79.99:

Royal Quiet De Luxe, $80:

Elliott-Fisher book typewriter with original desk and chair:

I'll tell you that this is not what I brought home. The price would be a bargain for a collector with space and an understanding partner, but I don't want to get divorced. This beautiful set has been languishing at the Ohio Valley Antique Mall for months.

Royal portable, $69.99 (what model is this and when was it made?):

Remington Deluxe Noiseless, $45:

Wide-carriage Woodstock, $100:

LC Smith no. 8, $160 (yes, another one at the same price):

Remington 12, $85:

Underwood portable, $39.99:

Remington no. 5 portable (boxy), broken space bar, escapement not working, $29:

Underwood, $45:

Let's take an adding machine break.

Marx Dial De-Luxe, $59:

Smith-Corona Silent, $85:

Underwood and Smith-Corona, each $75:

Royal Companion (serial number doesn't seem to fit), $64.95:

Finally, a pair of toy "Master Phones." I bet these were a thrill for their young owners!