.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Monday, September 19, 2016

Oliver in Transition

Although the Oliver is one of the most famous typewriters in history, the period of time during which the original Oliver Typewriter Company in the U.S. failed and during which the Oliver was re-established as a working concern in England has not been well represented in the literature or on the internet of today.  This article will look into that period and the range of machines produced.  

The history of the Oliver, at least so far as the early years are concerned is well documented enough to warrant only the briefest of discussions here, punctuated by vintage images from Oliver's heyday.


Will Davis with assistance from Thomas Furtig, Berthold Kerschbaumer, Norbert Schwarz

•Oliver through the 1920's

Oliver envelope detail c. Norbert Schwarz

In its own ca. 1908 sales brochure, the Oliver Typewriter Company indicated the year 1896 as being the one in which the Oliver began to make itself known widely in the field of typewriters.  The company had launched several years prior to that date, and by 1896 its No. 2 model was making some inroads in a field that already had a number of large and well funded competitors.  The virtues of the Oliver typewriter made themselves apparent, and the improved No. 3 appeared in March 1898; it was this model which exponentially took off in popularity and sales and was that which moved Oliver right to the forefront of the world's machines.

Oliver No. 3; Davis Bros. collection

Going from success to success, Oliver introduced its improved and more substantial No. 5 machine in 1907.  (Even numbered machines one higher than the base machine typed more characters.) 

Oliver No. 5; sales brochure, Will Davis collection

Oliver No. 5, Will Davis collection

The 1907 world of the typewriter was quite different from that in which the Oliver had first come to prominence.  While the well known qualities of solid reliability, of indestructible type bars, of unexcelled manifolding power and solid alignment which the Oliver carried still had important sales potential, the "visible" quality of writing had already long since been not just equaled but surpassed by a number of machines on the market.  However, the Oliver continued to sell well even against this heavy competition as the world's appetite for typewriters continued to increase.

The No. 7 Oliver appeared in 1915, followed rapidly by the No. 9 in 1916.  By this time, the competition on the market was exceedingly heavy.  Visible makes on the general market were dominant, as was generally the four bank single shift keyboard. 

Oliver No. 9; Will Davis collection

In 1917, Oliver made a significant shift in its sales policy.  The company dropped its major city branches and commissioned salesmen, and instead shifted over to sales by agents and direct to buyer.  At the same time, the retail price of the No. 9 machine was dropped from $100 to $57, which placed the brand new Oliver into the same price range as the very best rebuilt standard machines.  This change actually reignited sales of the Oliver, which at the time had sold over 750,000 machines, and gave the brand a new lease on life.  

To finish our look at the Oliver Typewriter Company in the U.S. in the years of success, we'll feature a few vintage advertising card illustrations from the collection of Norbert Schwarz which depict the Oliver and some period "typewriters."  

•Oliver 1920-1928 - The End of U.S. Operations

By the time that a brief but serious world-wide recession began in 1920, the Oliver typewriter as a product was already essentially obsolescent. Worse, thousands of customers began to default on their time payments for Oliver machines, forcing the company to repossess a large number of these machines, which then had to be disposed of (ETCetera Issue No. 6, February 1989 as written by Darryl Rehr.)  In this time period Oliver would have had the choice to sell these machines as "second hand" or "rough" machines or else rebuild them itself and then market them as such.  ETCetera No. 6 is not clear on the actual method of disposition of these typewriters although it is stated that they were "sold off at a loss."  Interestingly, advertisements for the Typewriter Distributing Syndicate, which had not been seen in print since the cessation of Oliver's commissioned sales network, reappeared in 1922 offering "new and rebuilt" Oliver machines.  Since it is this author's educated guess that this outfit was the official, controlled resale subsidiary for Oliver Typewriter Company, we may finally have our answer as to the disposition of the repossessed machines.  

In the same time period Oliver's chief engineer developed a four bank, single shift standard typewriter which still incorporated the unique and familiar Oliver U-shaped type bars although moved to a position that essentially made the machine a front strike.  The prototype was delivered, Rehr reported, in 1922 but was not proceeded with.

The fading market position of Oliver's machine, coupled with the losses on machines already placed in the field triggered what would become the final decline of the company.  The Woodstock, Illinois Official Sesquicentennial History tells us that in October 1922 Oliver cut its work force; this is paralleled by Rehr's report in ETCetera No. 6 of a reduction in manufacturing at about this time.  The company did make moves to manufacture other products; it acquired full rights to manufacture the patented Washburne valve for internal combustion engines and put them in production in June 1922, while shortly thereafter the company announced it would begin making roller skates at the plant.  The cut in the work force was undoubtedly a symptom of the company's critical shortage of cash.

Moody's Manual's entry for the Oliver Typewriter Company in 1920 does not show a large amount of debt held by the company, but the company issued $750,000 worth of notes in May, 1921 (Moody's Manual, 1922.)   $50,000 of these notes were due May 1, 1923 and another $50,000 in May, 1924.  The annual notes due totaled $60,000 each May of 1925, 1926 and 1927; $70,000 each for 1928 and 1929.  The notes due May 1930 totaled $80,000 and those due May 1931 a whopping $250,000.  It must be remembered of course that the company issued these notes in the midst of the world-wide recession, which began to ease in most nations after 1921-1922.  However, Oliver's weak market position and buyback / resale of machines had more than likely triggered the Board of Directors to take on this debt in order to acquire working capital.  The gamble was that the company could recover, and pay off the notes.

It should be mentioned that Oliver did introduce a new model in 1922 - the Oliver 11, which was simply a further variation on its long-lived three bank design.  The company oddly appears to have continued manufacturing the No. 9 and the No. 11 side by side for some time, with the No. 9 being sold at a lower price than the No. 11.  Some of the debt may well have been taken on to pay for retooling to make the No. 11, or to attempt to tool up for the four bank machine, or both; the debt acquisition of May 1921 came before the introduction of the No. 11 in 1922 and over a year before the reduction of the work force. 

In March 1923, the periodical "Sales Management" carried a scathing appraisal of Oliver.  The magazine described the company as being "in the throes of reorganization," and noted that several of its directing officials had resigned.  Rumors were said to abound - among them that the banks were taking the company over, or that the company had been bought by Felt and Tarrant, or that the company was going to come out with "a standard basket machine."  The magazine declined to push any of the rumors but wrote that these events in total were "leading to the conclusion that its cut-price policy has failed."  The magazine went on:  "While it would hardly be fair to place all the troubles of this concern at the doorstep of its price-advertising and price-policy, its difficulties serve to emphasize a fundamental in business-building which is too often overlooked -- namely, that even the ablest management cannot make a success of a business where the appeal is to price alone." 

The last advertisements for Oliver typewriters disappear in 1923, meaning that in that time the machine was essentially off the broader market in any model, new or rebuilt from the factory. 

Exact details of this period are not clear; what is clear is that reporting by Darryl Rehr in ETCetera No. 6, which includes information provided by the last actual Oliver plant employee, tells us that the company had laid off all of its plant employees either by, or in, 1926.  According to ETCetera No. 6, the company assembled remaining parts into typewriters and disposed of them; this may explain why Butler Bros. was offering "brand new" Oliver No. 9 machines in its 1927 catalog at a price of $45. 

The Woodstock Sesquicentennial History tells us that in March 1927, the Chamber of Commerce of Woodstock (the city in which the Oliver factory was located) was approached by an unnamed adding machine manufacturer, who wished to acquire the Oliver plant and place the Oliver typewriter back into production; the acquisition would include the Oliver patents.  (This author suspects that the company in question was probably Burroughs.)  Nothing came of this proposal.  By July of that year a local paper described the Oliver plant as "old and vacant," as recounted in the History. 

The same source tells us that in February 1928 the Oliver company asked that the Oliver plant be connected to the municipal electric power supply, in order that the property be more attractive for sale.  Oliver had previously operated its own power plant.  Finally, on February 13, 1928 it was reported by a local paper (again as recounted in the History) that the Oliver plant was sold to Alemite Die Casting and Manufacturing Company of Chicago.

We now know that Oliver was liquidated in its entirety; the 1938 Robert D. Fisher Manual of Worthless and Valuable Securities reported that the company had declared a final liquidating dividend of 35 cents per share, and that stock was to be presented to the Harris Trust & Savings Bank.  This manual does not give the date of liquidation, but the sale of the plant and other information we will see soon tells us that in all likelihood the liquidation of assets occurred in very late 1927 and early 1928.  This then marks the end of the Oliver Typewriter Company in the United States. 

•The British Oliver is Born

The Oliver Typewriter Manufacturing Company Ltd. was registered in Great Britain as a corporation in 1928; it was formed by investors who sought to place the Oliver typewriter, more or less as it had existed in the United States, into production in Europe.  This may seem an odd choice, but some perspective lends clarity.

In the 1920's, the currency exchange rates had more or less made American made typewriters impossibly expensive for most of Europe's buyers.  This situation led to the rapid growth of typewriter industry in Europe, particularly in Germany during this time (where American typewriters were eventually banned for import).  The Oliver had always been popular everywhere, and it certainly could have been argued that the Oliver, manufactured in Europe and sold in Europe, would be a viable commercial product at that time. There is also no doubt that the Oliver name carried weight and had value on the market in and of itself, and rights to it could be valuable.

Records show that the trademark for the name "Oliver" for typewriters and parts was transferred to the new firm, which often referred to itself as "British Oliver," and of course we know that the tooling to make the machines was transferred there as well.  A spare parts catalog in this writer's collection also shows us that the British company either was making or could supply spare parts for the Oliver models back through the No. 9 model -- it had most likely acquired the spare parts stock from the defunct US firm.  All this together means that, in all probability, the entire rights, patents, tools, trademarks and good will for same were sold by the original Oliver Typewriter Company in the US to the new Oliver Typewriter Manufacturing Co. Ltd. as part of the liquidation of the former in 1928.  

The catalog also tells us, interestingly, that the new firm had made the decision to refer to the parts for all 84 character machines as "L series" and 96 character machines as "R" series.  The buyer is warned to carefully select between L prefix and R prefix parts to ensure having the correct part.  Even whole frames for the No. 9 / No. 10 / No. 11 / No. 12 were available from the company.

The Oliver Typewriter Manufacturing Company introduced to the trade its No. 15 and No. 16 machines in 1928, with the higher model typing 96 instead of 84 characters but being otherwise identical.

Above, the front of an advertising folder for The British Oliver, in the Will Davis collection and not previously shown on the net.  The folder covers the No. 15 and No. 16 models.

Three carriage widths are shown in the brochure interior, namely the Foolscap, the Brief, and the Policy.  A number of actual carriage widths was available on either the No. 15 or No. 16.

Further information on the Oliver is found in another part of the folder; click all photos to enlarge.

Above is Oliver No. 15, serial number CL-6613 from the Thomas Furtig collection.  Notable is the paper table, which carries the decal "The British Oliver."  In most respects the machine is not different in any major portion to the No. 11 made previously in the United States.

Oliver No. 16 serial 16 OA 458 is seen above, from the Berthold Kerschbaumer collection.  The model 16 differs from the 15 in typing more characters; this particular example also has its entire keyboard comprised of ringed keytops, whereas the previously seen No. 15 has character keys with solid keytops (as on Olivers of old) but shift and control keys of ringed type. 

Serial number records tell us that the new machines sold fairly poorly; the record for the No. 15 shows only a bracket of 1000 machines per year.  The machines of this original Oliver style were taken off the market in 1933, at the height of the Depression.  What we now know is that by that time, a number of other arrangements had been made for Oliver to distribute different and more modern machines. 

•Oliver Portable Introduced

In late 1931, portable typewriters carrying the name "Oliver" appeared both in Europe and in the United States.  Georg Sommeregger has undertaken some intensive research on these machines; what we present here is written in view of his findings but tailored to the evidence we have at hand. 

Oliver Portable from I-T-E flyer, Will Davis collection

The Oliver portables appear to this writer to have been made in two places at once, at least for some period of time.  The exact origin of the mechanical design is not clear, but no typewriter appears on the market less than several years after it is conceived.  It is thus entirely possible that the Oliver Portable was in the design process by someone, either in the United States or elsewhere, at the time of the liquidation of the Oliver concern in the United States.  This is not to explicitly state that the machine was being designed by, or at, Oliver in the USA prior to the company's failure, but this cannot be ruled out.  

One of the makers of the Oliver machines was Fortuna Buromaschinen GmbH, Berlin, Germany.  This company had emerged from the old Stolzenberg-Fortuna typewriter business wherein the machines had been made by an arms manufacturer in previous years.  Stolzenberg had oddly enough been the distributor for Oliver machines "in the old days." 

Fortuna portable illustration c. Norbert Schwarz

1931 Fortuna ad c. Berthold Kerschbaumer

The other maker of the Oliver portables was located in Italy.  The exact nature of this operation is not yet clear; what is clear is that an Oliver Typewriter (Italy) Ltd. was registered as a corporation in 1930 in that nation, according to the Register of Defunct Companies.  This only lasted until April 1932 when it was voluntarily liquidated.  However, the supply of Oliver portables known to have been made in Italy continued (although in other newer body styles,) so that the logical assumption is that the known maker of those machines, S.I.M. (Societa Industriale Meccanica) grew out of the failure of the Italian Oliver concern.

The Oliver portables seem to have been sold more widely in Europe than in the United States, although they were certainly available here.  We will examine some European examples first from the collections of Thomas Furtig and Berthold Kerschbaumer. 

Oliver Portable serial 3793 Z, c Thomas Furtig

The style of Oliver portable seen above is that first introduced; the labeling on the front "The Oliver" is the earliest, introduced at the beginning but simplified later.  This machine carries on its front frame the decal "Oliver Typewriter Co. (Sales) Ltd.," which is different from the Oliver Typewriter Manufacturing Company.  There is no record of this specific corporation, but in the United States an Oliver Typewriter Sales Co. Inc. was registered in 1922 and was completely out of business by 1933, according to the Robert Fisher Manual of Worthless and Valuable Securities (1938 edition.)  The relation of either of these 'sales' firms to the manufacturing firms is not clear but what is clear is that this particular typewriter carries the 'sales' company name and not a manufacturer name. It seems likely that the 'sales' firms were directly linked but separated in order to reduce investment risk. 

Oliver portable serial 69505 c Thomas Furtig
Fortuna portable serial 69774 c Thomas Furtig

Oliver portable serial 69890 c Berthold Kerschbaumer

The two Oliver portables above are quite close in serial number; however, the black machine pictured second does not have a ribbon selector switch.  The Fortuna machine is between the two depicted Olivers in serial number.  We'll continue in serial number order with our look - the varied paint colors and finishes found on this range of machines is especially noteworthy, as the Oliver portables are not generally discussed when collectors speak of colorful 1920's and 1930's portables. 

Oliver portable serial 82157 c Thomas Furtig
Junior portable serial 82926 c Berthold Kerschbaumer
Oliver portable serial 82974 c Thomas Furtig
Oliver portable serial 83631 c Thomas Furtig
Reviewing the above machines, it's significant to note that the flat black Oliver serial 69890 and the Junior, serial 82926 are perfectly identical other than the name.  These two are unlike the other machines in not having a ribbon selector switch.  The "Junior" name is clearly in the Oliver style - note the broken letter "o" in "Junior."  

Somewhere between the 80,000 and 90,000 serial numbers, new body styles began to appear.  These seem to have been mixed, so that the name Oliver appears after this time on several styles.  The single sheet flyer seen below was found in a cache of 1930's Oliver advertising material; it is undated but it clearly shows one of the new body styles -- probably, the first of the new styles.  The new body style machines are Italian-made. 

Oliver portable flyer, Will Davis collection

Oliver portable serial 90024 c Berthold Kerschbaumer
Oliver portable serial 104567 c Thomas Furtig
Oliver portable serial 112257 c Thomas Furtig
Oliver portable serial 112554 c Thomas Furtig
Oliver portable serial 119630 c Thomas Furtig
The beautiful finish and unusual color of the example above, serial 119630, should be called out as a particular exception.  Note that all of the typewriters from 90,000 and up shown above differ both either in body styles or in other mechanical details.

Considerable confusion over this line of portables still exists - for example, machines of the earliest form also appear in Europe carrying the name "Europa."  This is almost certainly not a product of Europa Schreibmaschinen, who were selling under the name "Olympia," but rather a renaming of either the Fortuna or the Oliver (Italy) / S.I.M. portable.  Europa Buromaschinen had already brought out its own design of portable in 1931, unlike the machines seen here.  

These portables, by the listings featured at the Typewriter Serial Number Database site, were apparently manufactured straight through the Second World War and to 1947.  In 1948, a new model Oliver Portable, made in England and a different design, appeared to replace these machines. 

•The Oliver Portable in the United States

The Oliver portable machines are not often found in the United States, but we now know thanks to a flyer acquired by this writer that they were sold here only through International Typewriter Exchange, a major typewriter rebuilder that also for a number of years did sell brand new portable typewriters of all makes through its mail order typewriter catalogues.  

I-T-E Oliver flyer, Will Davis collection.
The publication date on this piece is November 1931, and it's clearly stated that International Typewriter Exchange is the sole U.S.A. distributor.  Six colors were offered:  Blue, Olive Green, Mahogany, Black, Maroon and Roman Gold.  The cash price for the machine was $49.90 or the machine could be bought on time for $2.00 down and $4.00 per month until the total term price of $54,90 was paid.  At some point the brochure itself was hand marked to show price reductions down to $44.90 cash and $49.90 on time payments. 

This piece definitely plays on the original Oliver history - noting that there were over a million Oliver machines sold, and that the Oliver name had a thirty year plus reputation in the field.  What is never written once is that the machines were imported; their place of manufacture is never stated.   

The 1932 International Typewriter Exchange catalog did not feature the Oliver portable in its center section along with other new portables, but did include a separate advertisement for them as well as the venerable Corona folding machine on the back of the order blank.  Detail from that separate sheet is seen below. 

1932 I-T-E order blank detail, Will Davis collection
It must be pointed out here that this writer has not seen the "No. 4" model assigned to the Oliver portable anywhere but in this advertisement.  This is certainly a labeling applied for the convenience of the seller (I-T-E) and not something coming from the factory; however, it is certainly possible that persons buying or discussing the machine after having seen this material could have called this machine the Oliver No. 4.  Thus, although the chance of encountering this labeling or any reference to it elsewhere is slight, collectors and researchers should take note of this distinction.

The Oliver portable disappeared from the International Typewriter Exchange catalog and ads prior to 1938.  In all likelihood it disappeared fairly shortly after it appeared, and may have only been sold here for a couple of years.  This writer is aware of no other advertising for the Oliver portables in the United States other than the materials shown above for the first time. 

•The Oliver - Fortuna Mystery

It has been written by Beeching in his "Century of the Typewriter" that when production of the Oliver three bank standard machine ended, the German made Fortuna was brought in and sold, and that this was a four bank machine. While the immediate urge may be to suppose that the machine referenced was the Fortuna portable already seen, it is known from serial records that over 5,000 machines, in the serial range starting at 50,000, were sold as Olivers but were really Fortunas - and it's obvious that the portables seen earlier aren't in the 50,000 serial number range.  It seems curious that none of these have been found, but it may well be that these were in fact standard machines as one might guess from simply reading Beeching's account.  If this were true, the machines would match physically the Fortuna IV as seen below.  

•Oliver No. 20

The evidence seems to show us that the Oliver No. 15 and No. 16 were being sold in small numbers by Oliver alongside both imported Fortuna standard and portable machines made outside Great Britain.  This arrangement only lasted until 1935 when Oliver began manufacturing a licensed version of the Halda-Norden machine which, according to Beeching, had only as recently as 1929 appeared on the market in its then-present form.  Again, when the No. 20 was introduced, the No. 15 and No. 16 of the old style were dropped.

Oliver No. 20 folder, Will Davis collection

Above, front of a sales folder for the Oliver No. 20 in my collection.  At once the appeal to modernity is seen, as the machine is touted as "An ultra modern four bank" typewriter.  The machine is also advertised as "British throughout," as an attempt to erase any notion that the product wasn't domestic.

Will Davis collection
Mechanical details of the Oliver No. 20 (actually, Halda-Norden) are seen in the interior of the advertising piece.  Notable was the segment shift, with rigid arrangement that made alignment of the shift, or the stroke of the shift, impossible to get out of order.  On the right, the accelerating type bar action of the machine is illustrated.  Each of the numbered positions labeled next to the stroke of the keys corresponds to a position of the actual type bar as it moves to the platen.  Degrees of travel marked on the arc of the type bar travel are actually degrees moved since the last position.  Note that in the final 25 percent of key travel the type bar actually moves about half of its total travel. 

The Oliver No. 20 was of course available with wide carriages.  The machine was also available with two different numbers of characters typed, but without changing model as with the previous Oliver machines of the three bank type. 

Oliver No. 20 directions, Will Davis collection
Oliver No. 20 parts diagram, Will Davis collection
Oliver No. 20 serial 321093 c Thomas Furtig
Oliver No. 20 serial 477457 c Thomas Furtig
Collectors should note that the first of the two Oliver No. 20 machines seen here is in a green shade typical of Oliver machines of old; also, the instruction manual cover attempts to duplicate this shade. 

The Spink & Beeching copy of the OMEF serial number guide in this writer's collection shows production of the No. 20 Oliver right straight through until 1949, even with production being carried on during the Second World War.  

We close this look at the transition of Oliver from the United States to Europe, and the transition from three bank "original" design to conventional four bank front strike machines with a photo of a beautiful Oliver portable in Franz Pehmer's collection, sent our way by Bert Kerschbaumer.  It's my hope that collectors will begin to seek out these Oliver portables, and recognize that there may be far more things out there carrying the name Oliver than just the original three bank standard machine.  Thanks to my friends, again (Thomas, Bert, Norbert) for the assistance on illustrating this article!  (9/19/2016)  -- Will Davis.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016


We now bring about a "first" at any of our typewriter web pages, or blogs, in the roughly 16 years that I've been writing about typewriters on the internet.  That "first" is the presentation of an index typewriter on one of my pages.

How I came by the intriguing Merritt is a longish story, but a happy one.  Suffice to say a collector to collector trade was made, and I found myself proudly in possession of a very interesting little device.  And, apparently, from what was written about the machine during the period in which it was being sold and later (while off the market but still in recent memory) the machine was a highly workable and useful device.  It was also sold at a considerably low price compared to the big makes; my regular fascination with "low price" or "cut rate" typewriters then only adds to the interest.  So, let's take a look at this machine and try to imagine a time when such a typewriter really was a viable product and was competitive on the market.  Hopefully after we're through here, you'll see it that way, as I do!


The machine you see above is the Merritt Typewriter; my example is serial number 4653.  This interesting little typewriter was put on the market in 1889, which simply for comparison's sake is the same time give or take that the Smith Premier appeared to challenge that juggernaut of the early typewriter industry, the Remington.  However, while the Smith Premier was a large, heavy and sturdy machine priced near the same $100 for which the Remington sold, the Merritt was priced at only $15 in its most basic version (the upgrades generally being the case style) and was of course of vastly different construction.

The Merritt shipped in its box was advertised as comprising a package no larger than 12-1/4 inches long, 6 inches wide and 5-1/4 inches high.  Shipping weight was 6-3/4 pounds.  I can tell you right now that the Merritt (which in my example has a nice dovetailed wooden case lid which clips onto the base) is a small and light thing to carry around.  In a word - it's portable

This machine was invented by C. E. and Mortimer G. Merritt (Johnson's Universal Cyclopedia: A New Edition, Vol. 8, 1895) and was manufactured by the Merritt Mfg. Co., Springfield, Mass.  The Merritt Mfg. Company was incorporated March 4, 1888 in New York.

A confusing fact about this typewriter is that another manufacturing company, namely Lyon Manufacturing Co., Fifth Avenue, New York became the sole distributing agent for this typewriter for the world - this appears to have led to belief that Lyon was making the typewriter.  However, the evidence clearly points to Merritt having made the machines throughout the production run and in fact a business directory from England printed in 1902 tells us that the last known entity making the Merritt was the Densmore Typewriter Company, Springfield, Mass.  The reality of what happened to the Merritt Mfg. Company is actually more interesting.

On March 29, 1893, the now well-known Union Typewriter Company, often referred to in literature of the day and later as "the Typewriter Trust," was formed.  The purpose of this company was to buy up the stock of typewriter manufacturers (with whom agreements had already been made) so as to be able to effectively control the market.  In a Fitch's Listing Statements of the New York Stock Exchange dated 1919, we discover that Union Typewriter acquired all of the properties of the Merritt Mfg. Co., which had (according to this listing) a capitalization of $30,000 and which "had manufactured the Densmore typewriter."  The listing for Densmore Typewriter Company describes that firm as simply the seller of the Densmore typewriters, not their maker.  We can now with certainty say that the Merritt Mfg. Co. became a part of Union Typewriter, and it's very possible that this had an adverse effect on continued sales of the inexpensive Merritt.

As early as 1893 M. G. Merritt himself was actively promoting the Densmore typewriter at trade fairs (The Stenographer, Vol. 5, 1893.) 

The Merritt may have actually been manufactured through 1896, as advertisements through this date (in England, at least) exist.  Advertisements in the United States for the Merritt seem to cut off around 1892; the only explanation for this is that after that latter date the Merritt was only for export.  Pitman's Journal wrote in 1891 that "The Merritt typewriter is being largely exported to Denmark, Germany, France, Spain and Austria.  Machines fitted with the necessary accent marks and special types for these languages can be obtained in London."  What's clear is that by the time of 1902 or so, persons were placing classified ads looking for Merritt typewriters -- a good hint they were off the market, and as we know likely had been for some time.  It is this author's suspicion given the revelation that Merritt became part of the Union typewriter trust that the machine was pulled after the creation of Union, the arrangements for which began in 1892 in advance of the actual Union incorporation date. 

According to Peter Weil, no official serial number record exists for these machines, making exact dating impossible by serial; nothing ephemerous in terms of a dated sales receipt even exists which could tie a serial number to a date.  This is not to say that there is not significant literature on these machines -- there is, but it was written long ago.   Luckily for us, today, we have access to much of it.

The Merritt in Contemporary Literature.

It's unfortunate but we must immediately discount that normally useful volume written on the history of the typewriter in 1923 by Typewriter Topics, as the historical entry for the Merritt is itself incorrect in absolutely every respect except for the statement of the price.  Wide quotation of this material has apparently tainted many accounts written since. 

We can however look back at the wonderful 1909 book written by G. C. Mares, "The History of the Typewriter - Successor to the Pen," which has a good if brief entry on the Merritt.  Mares opened his entry on this machine by writing "This is a very stately, very ingenious, and thoroughly workable little instrument."  Mares described the operation of the machine (which we shall describe shortly) and noted that the carriage "appears to have been suggested by a much more elaborate machine."  He finished his entry by writing the following:  

"In many ways the Merritt is the very best of the index machines."

Indeed, it has been written more than once that, of the various index style typewriters placed on the market, the Merritt was the best.  It should be remembered that these days of the 1890's saw an enormous range of typewriter designs, operative elements, sizes and prices as what we might call "the typewriter marketplace" sought to examine the furthest commercially viable extents, in either direction, of complexity and price.  It was to the lower groups of price that the index typewriters generally belonged, and these were of course generally nowhere near as quick in producing text as were the large, elaborate keyboard machines.  There seemed to be little point in producing a relatively high priced index machine; however as the lowest workable price range was approached the index typewriter was at first attractive as a manufacturing prospect and then at the very lowest price all that could be manufactured.  

On consideration of the above, and knowing that Mares himself had operated most of the many dozens of typewriters described in his book, we find that Mares' statement on the Merritt being "the very best" index typewriter carries special weight.

Index typewriters seem historically to have been, for some, that range of machine which introduced mechanical writing. While writing by machine was becoming first known and then accepted in contemporary literature it was still yet well out of reach of most people and even most companies - at least, if the use of the well advertised Remington and competitive machines was considered.  The index machines were not only far less complicated but tremendously less expensive; they provided a lower entry point to typewriting. 

This process is brought to light most clearly in a passage printed by Pitman's Journal in 1903.  In that passage, material from another contemporary magazine named "Advertising" is reproduced which mentions the Merritt in a favorable light:

"When the Remington typewriter was the only machine on the English market-- it had a practical monopoly for some years, and has reaped, and reaps today, considerable advantages from the fact -- the first form taken by competition was the invention of several cheap and light machines, designed to imitate, at a low price, some of the characteristics of the big twenty-guinea Remington machine.  The Merritt typewriter, at three guineas, was one of the most successful.  It wrote just as well as a Remington, and duplicated, if anything, better, as it had no ribbons,  The only fault about it was that it was very much slower than the Remington machine.  For many people it constituted an effective alternative.  But neither this nor any other of the cheap typewriters ever did the business of the Remington company any harm.  On the contrary, they did good, because the British public at that time knew very little about typewriters, and the cheap machines served as educators.  People tried them, became accustomed to typewriter work, wanted something better, and eventually purchased Remingtons."

Perhaps we can do no better than this passage in characterizing the Merritt.  By these accounts (and others) the Merritt was a fully operable, and useful machine which definitely produced quality work at a cost only 15% of that of a standard typewriter.  Still, as we know, all index machines were made obsolete eventually by a variety of competitive pressures (eventually including rebuilt standard machines which were available at far less than those machines' original prices.)  

The Merritt in Operation.

The Merritt is operated with both hands, although some contemporaneous accounts ("Modern Mechanism, 1892 and subsequent editions) are in error as they describe the Merritt as a 'one-hand machine.'  The indexing handle (on the example above, long ago lost or broken and replaced with a curved metal extension) is moved left to right until it is above the desired character for printing.  If a capital letter or figure is desired, the left hand is used to depress the appropriate key seen at the left front of the machine, and this key is depressed first followed by operation of the indexing handle.  Once the indexing handle is above the proper character or figure, it is moved downward and printing takes place.  For spaces between words, a space key is provided at the left outside of the machine.  The carriage is forced along as the machine prints, and is returned by hand.  A single platen knob at the right of the machine is used to effect all line spacing.

Above, we see the Merritt with the carriage in printing or normal position and then with the carriage raised.  The Merritt is technically an index typewriter, but it is also technically an upstrike or blind writer machine.  Running through the center of the machine is a trough; in that is another trough carrying 78 individual types.  When one of these is at the print point, action of the indexing handle shoves the type up through an alignment hole and to the paper.  The type are inked by two rollers; the Merritt is a direct inking machine.

In the photo above, the print point is clearly labeled at center; the type can be made out running left to right inside the machine.  The spacing bail is at the left side only, and is actuated when the machine prints; the SPACE key is attached directly to this bail.  The printing bail runs across the front, and it is this bail which is depressed by the indexing handle.  When the bail is depressed it pushes on the tang that can be seen at the middle of the machine (sort of straight in from the letter R in this view) which then pushes the type up to the print point.  The effect of the two shifting keys, FIG and CAP is to slide the entire index plate (on which the letters and figures are printed) left or right, aligning one of the three appropriate types (letter, capital letter or figure) at the print point.  

The Merritt when found with its original lid will have instructions printed on a sheet glued to the inside of that lid.  This includes instructions for operation, for placing the type in the trough, and for oiling and upkeep.  The basic case, seen here, was used on the machine at the $15 level.  Two optional cases were available:  A leatherette case lined in satin for $17.50 and a gilt-trimmed Oak case with plush lining, for $18.50.  The typewriter in each of these was the same machine.

Above, the dovetailed corner of the case and the metal clip which holds it to the wooden base of the typewriter.  

Merritt on the Market.

The advertising for the Merritt at times made some interesting and valid claims; let's take a look at some of these and offer some commentary.

•"It prints with perfect alignment."  Indeed, we know that from the very beginning of the era of competition in typewriters that alignment of the writing was critical; Alexander Brown, who invented the Smith Premier, did so because having seen one of the original Sholes & Glidden / Remington machines he was sure the same effect could be had by a different machine that could not so easily, to his trained eye, work itself out of alignment.  The Merritt has "forced alignment" - although not by use of a type fork as so many front strikes did, but rather by use of a type guide not unlike that found in another direct inking and blind writing machine, the $100 Yost typewriter.

•"It has no ribbon to wear out, smut fingers or paper."  The Merritt was a direct inking machine, meaning that ink was applied directly to the type and then thus to paper.  This printing press sort of impression was thought in many quarters to be of a higher quality than ribbon printing, and (once again) the Yost machine was sold very well on the visual quality of the work performed on it.  

Some front strike machines employed direct inking, such as the Sun Standard.
•"It does work equal to the Hundred Dollar Machines."  In this claim we may take considerable credit, as the testimonial seen earlier gives it weight -- as do a number of customer testimonials sent in to Merritt and reproduced in advertisements.  We must be careful here though to note that it is the quality of work being described and not the volume of work over time.  The company did defend itself in advertising against the speed disparity, thus:  "Speed is not the only requisite of the perfect typewriter.  Legibility, neatness, superior alignment, clear sharp cut letters in every word - thus securing better copying facilities in the Letter Book, etc. should be considered."

•"It can both duplicate and manifold - no other low priced typewriter can do this."  It would be difficult to picture an index machine such as the Hall being called upon for such work, and this claim seems solid.

The Merritt was advertised as being exceptionally useful for the following:  Ministers, teachers, insurance clerks, doctors, editors, commercial travelers, lawyers, reporters, hospitals, students at college, school girls and boys, writers of prose and poetry.

The Merritt in Retrospect.

Today we may look back on the Merritt and see in it those very characteristics assumed by that much later class of machines known well as the "flat typewriters"  -- the machines such as the Royal Dart of the 1960's whose simplicity and entry level price made them attractive for home use, for light work (as for example clubs or Church groups) and for students.  Of course, by that time, there was no need to introduce to people the useful nature of typewriting as it was well established.  Knowing that the Merritt in the 1890's served such groups draws a great parallel; knowing that it in some aspect was introductory in mechanical writing, still new in many quarters, gives it an even higher position or status historically for us as an opener of doors and giver of opportunity.  While some of this perception may be attributed to marketing, it's a fact that unsolicited testimonials as seen above put the machine squarely in such a position.  

The unconventional layout of the Merritt as compared with our normal perceptions of a typewriter is not important; the proper context in which to view the Merritt is that in which mechanically writing at all is new and novel, so that the exact nature of the machines employed to perform it is far less important than the fact that they accomplish the task in the first place.  Only with the broad acceptance of and then need for mechanical writing would there become a need for standardization and broadly for speed to meet the competitive situation; it was at that point when machines such as the Merritt or its competitors stepped aside to make way for the extensive range of keyboard machines of myriad shapes, sizes and costs.  

Though on the market only a short time, the Merritt was clearly viewed well by those familiar during its life; we may wishfully attempt to attribute its fairly rapid obsolescence and disappearance from the market not to any failing of the Merritt typewriter itself but rather simply to the extremely rapid advances being made in the market at the time. We must realistically observe the unavoidable fact that the Densmore was being made at the same plant, that Merritt went into Union, and that the owners of the Densmore eventually took over the operation under their own name.  Whatever the case may be, in a historical perspective many efforts and machines did far worse than the Merritt, and few such short lived machines are remembered to history so well in contemporary accounting.