Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Rex (G&O) portable typewriter

I was evidently the only person on the Internet who wanted this homely but unusual typewriter offered by the great Greg Fudacz of The Antikey Chop.

It's a Rex—not the Rex that succeeded the Harris, but a name variant of the G&O portable, manufactured in Groitzsch, near Leipzig, in eastern Germany. The G&O was made by Groitzscher Werkzeugfabrik (Tool Factory) Graf & Oertel.

This machine has a Bulgarian keyboard, including the old letters yat (Ѣ) and big yus (Ѫ). (The Bulgarian alphabet is one of many that use variants of the Cyrillic script.)


The G&O was sold under an extraordinary variety of names, mostly in central Europe. Name variants collected by Thomas Fürtig include Adria, Bajnok, Basnom, BEC, Cawena, Continent, Elite, Excelsior Completa, Impo, Mercurius, Mirina, Rex, Saxonia, Sonja, Standard, Torpedo, and Winkel. The name Strangfeld on the paper table of some examples refers to a Berlin office machine dealer (which also sold a typewriter to Martin Heidegger). Sometimes the machine is found without any name on it at all.
It's fun to discover how this typewriter gets the job done. I've never had my hands on a G&O before, so this is all new to me. 


Although it looks so minimal, it has some good features, such as carriage release levers on both sides and  a lever that disengages the platen ratchet.
Most of its functions still work. I am pretty optimistic that it will be possible to type with this machine.


Although the mechanism is dirty and rusty, it appears to be solid and professionally made.

Note the spring attached to the right end of the carriage. This typewriter does not have the typical coiled mainspring, but a long spiral spring instead. The Monica, another obscure German portable, uses a similar system.



Check out this unusual carriage lock. The peg in the lock fits into a hole in the carriage and stops it very effectively.

Here's the ribbon mechanism. There is no automatic ribbon reverse.


Loosening a few screws lets you remove the sheet metal top plate...


... which turns out to have a thick layer of felt on the inside.
Serial number 8983. 




It's very hard to find information about this typewriter. Graf & Oertel isn't included in the very thorough Burghagen serial number catalogue (Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen). It isn't mentioned in Leonhard Dingwerth's two-volume history of larger and smaller German typewriter manufacturers. Ernst Martin's encyclopedic Die Schreibmaschine und ihre Entwicklungsgeschichte, in its most complete edition (1949, p. 459), merely states: "Four-bank keyboard portable that appeared in 1939 selling for about 100 Reichmarks, from Groitzscher Werkzeugfabrik Graf & Örtel. Details were unavailable."

The best information I have found is on this German website devoted to typewriters in Saxony, created by Reinhold Schubert. Schubert credits Erich Kersting with the design of this typewriter. 


Citing an article in the Leipziger Volkszeitung from Sept. 28, 1998, Schubert writes: "It all began when craftsmen Eugen Graf and Georg Oertel started to deal in leather and tools. A factory was constructed in 1908, where tools for the mechanical production of shoes were manufactured and exported to 26 countries. [Here's a catalogue of the company's shoe manufacturing equipment.] The company was awarded gold medals at international fairs. When the world economic crisis did not leave the company unscathed, 'the Groitzschers hit upon the typewriter.' They were already producing pieces for the Carissima typewriter made by the Knaur, Hübel & Denk company in Leipzig. From 1936 to 1956, about 18,000 G&O portables were built; about 6,000 of them were exported. Starting in 1956, the factory again limited itself to replacement parts and tools for shoe manufacturing machines." The factory continued into the 1990s.

According to Thomas Fürtig, serial numbers supposedly run from 100 to 18000—but so far, all the machines known to him have serials under 12000.

I was surprised to learn that this machine, which looks so pre-war, was made into the mid-'50s. If the information is correct, a production of 18,000 typewriters over 20 years comes out to only 900 machines per year.

[PS: According to a correspondent, "in 1945 there was a reform aiming to simplify Bulgarian alphabet and the 2 letters yat and big yus were removed thus I guess this one was made in between 1936-1945."]



"The small typewriter for travel, office and home": 
Note that there is no name on the machine! 


 Coming up: more adventures with the Rex.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting typewriter. I'm sure you will get it up and running and mostly rust free. I often wondered if anyone used a coil spring to move the carriage. I imagine it is easier to repair should it break. Also I wonder if the carriage lock is similar to the Skyriter that uses a lock to center the carriage to fit the case/cover. It releases though. Looks like the one on your typewriter stays in place.

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    1. Yes, this one snaps into place and stays there until you snap it back again.

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  2. Just before Covid froze Europe in March, I bought one of those very interesting G&O (sn. 1349) from Herr Reinhold Schubert (Sächsische Schreibmaschinen). Unfortunately, haven't got a time to study it more carefully, but it seems in great working condition. Will try to share the pictures in near futere on typewriterdatabse.com.

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    1. Great. I will look for your gallery on the database.

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  3. Fascinating machine, easily overlooked in online-listings as 'common'. For a '39 design it almost looks a bit out of its time. Frame, body-panels and the carriage-spring seem inspired by the Adler Favorit.
    It looks to be complete and disablingly rusty - in fact the ideal state for a 'project' machine :-) Look fwd to see more of this one, good luck :)

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  4. Bulgarian keyboard. Who even knew. Can't believe you were the only one who wanted it!

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