Tuesday, January 5, 2021

How to drive a Mercedes (typewriter)

A customer of Urban Legend Typewriters brought me this Mercedes that she had bought in a German antique shop. (The shop later flooded, so this typewriter was saved from a sad fate.) I had never gotten my hands on a Mercedes standard before—they are rare in the US. (And no, they were not made by Mercedes-Benz.) It was an exciting, though sometimes challenging job to clean, restore, and repair this machine.

I knew that these typewriters were supposed to have an exchangeable keyboard/typebar unit. With the advice of fellow typospherians and some muscle, I managed to remove the unit, which had been locked into the machine by petrified grease. Two game pieces were hidden away inside.

The platen was rock hard and went off to J.J. Short for replacement. Many things needed adjustment or repair; notably, the shift mechanism was missing a piece and I had to raid my junk pile to find a substitute. But after many hours, this typewriter is good to go.

Although the design is very reminiscent of an Underwood, a close look shows that the Mercedes engineers tried to improve on every feature of the Underwood, and I'd say that for the most part they succeeded. 

For example, the left and right margin stops are on the carriage, not the body of the machine, avoiding the counterintuitive set-up of the Underwood (where the right margin stop is on the left, and vice versa).

In back, you can see the tab stops on top, the enclosed mainspring on the right, and the tabulator brake in the smaller circular enclosure on the left.

The only feature I really disagree with is that the left platen knob is only for fractional spacing (i.e. permanently adjusting the line setting). To roll paper up or down normally, you have to use the right knob.

This keyboard includes Czech letters and a symbol in the upper right corner that I believe means square meters.

I believe it's a model 6 Express, but it might also be a 5.

Finally, here is my guide to the functions of this excellent machine.