.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The ABC in Detail - 4

ABC in Detail - by Will Davis and Thomas Furtig

We left off our discussion still in the "Classic Era," during which only the original W. Wagenfeld designed body was in use; the point at which we departed was the final known Cole-Steel machine for distribution in the United States by Cole Steel Office Machines. The large batch of serial numbers assigned to what we might think of the main batch of Cole-Steel machines (there seem to be two smaller batches earlier, but that is not certain from what must be considered incomplete serial number data) is large enough that it appears as if Koch's, maker of the ABC, decided to start over with a new prefix and new serial number range for its own distribution. This is suggested by the advertising image we're about to see.

This illustration is from a 1964 brochure but the artwork appears to be recycled; look closely at the paper in this machine and you'll see a date of 25.11.1960 or November 25, 1960. What's important along with this is to notice the new, more modern and minimal 'abc' logo. There seems good evidence that this logo was introduced about the date shown in this advertising illustration.

For a time after this change in logo, the ABC continued in production as before; that is to say, only one model offered with a variety of colors, and different carrying cases as options. Let's now look at some of the machines built in the remaining part of the early, "classic" Wagenfeld-only era before new designs, new models and new distribution channels made the ABC's story vastly more complex.

ABC / serial 4-224595 / Thomas Furtig collection. The series of Wagenfeld machines with ABC logo, albeit in the new style, continues as before but with a new serial number prefix as well. Adwoa Bagalini owns the lowest serial number with this new logo in terms of our database, with serial number 4-203813 so that we might assume that the new machine series began at serial 200000 as well. This is, however, only a guess. That machine however has the older lever type ribbon selector; Thomas' machine seen here in fact has the newer dial type ribbon selector.

Two things are instructive to examine at this point. Our database is sequential in terms of serial; here are entries 39 and 40

Cole-Steel (pink) serial 3-163529
ABC (green hammertone) serial 4-203813

Note that there is a gap in known machines of roughly 40,000 in serial numbers at this point - further evidence that the serials might arbitrarily have started over again for the ABC labeled machines in 1960.

Moving further into the Wagenfeld machines with the new logo, two actual dates of original sale from Thomas Furtig's shop are known. Here they are:

ABC / serial 4-226764 / sold March 1963
ABC / serial 4-229884 / sold March 1963

Whereabouts and colors of these machines is not known. We now move to the next machine in sequence we're able to show.

ABC serial 4-235980 / Thomas Furtig collection. This machine is only several thousand above the higher of the two known sold in March 1963 so that we might assume it too was made in late 1962 or early 1963. Note the dial type ribbon selector to the right of the keyboard. This machine is a brownish beige which I myself actually like very well.

We're approaching the end of the Wagenfeld body carrying simple names without model number delineation, which will appear shortly in a wider pantheon of machines. However, for the sake of clarity, we'll follow the Wagenfeld machine to the end of its production, then provide some further commentary and overview before moving on to newer designs.

ABC serial 4-237464 / Thomas Furtig collection. This machine displays another, and very uncommon, paint variation; the surface is textured, but the paint isn't the hammertone style seen on earlier machines. The texture is somewhat visible on the paint surface of this machine. Normally these machines are either finished with a smooth surfaced enamel or else with the hammertone paint - this provides an interesting and unusual paint variation for collectors to hunt down!

The highest known (so far) serial for an ABC machine is 4-242199, which was owned by the late Tilman Elster (who, were he still with us, would surely have been along on this project.) Wagenfeld body style machines with higher serial numbers than this are actually model ABC 1300, and are labeled as such externally. At this point, a brief explanation is necessary.

There is evidence that since about 1960, Koch's Adlernahmaschinenwerke had been looking at doing two different things with its typewriters: The company wanted to change the body, perhaps to make it less expensive (perhaps Wagenfeld was drawing royalty checks), or perhaps to update the style (the machine was not as modern looking as when introduced); also, the company was looking at simplifying the key lever / type bar mechanism, which was dated in design in terms of manufacturing cost and complexity since the introduction in a number of places of machines with four-dowel mounted key levers (dowels mounted in a machined block, a plate, or else suspended in space from their ends with key levers aligned by a comb.) The company did both of these things, which resulted in the introduction of new models into the lineup.

Further, after about 1963 or so the company really branched out into other distribution channels so that the number of brand names, and models, applied to machines of Koch's manufacture increased a great deal.

What is important to our conclusion of the Wagenfeld-body, original style machines is to note that this particular machine took its place in the model pantheon, with model number ABC 1300 and it's also important to note that machines in the Wagenfeld body were never changed mechanically to the newer design of key lever / type bar mechanism.

Production of the original Wagenfeld body, with original mechanism, after this expansion in designs in the 1963-1964 time frame was apparently very slight. Only three machines of model ABC 1300 are in our database; we can show the last one in the database now.

ABC 1300 / serial 4-246779 / Thomas Furtig collection. As you can see, the machine is essentially unchanged from the previous production when it was simply the ABC because there weren't other models. In the new pantheon, the Wagenfeld machine only too briefly held a place in the middle range of model numbers and probably in the range of cost to purchase. This machine is the highest serial number in our database in the Wagenfeld body.

Let's now recap the whole classic Wagenfeld-body series with some advertising illustrations and observations before moving on to the almost scattered array of models and brand names to follow.

ABC W. Wagenfeld style body
Produced 1955-1963
Known variants: ABC, Cole-Steel, APSCO, ADS
Changes over production - 42 to 43 keys, additon of ribbon selector and then later movement of selector and change of control style, slight changes in top cover latches, some very early machines with black keytops.
Serials: 1-2442 through 2-, 3- and 4- prefixes through 4-246779. Breaks in serial range identified in test.

The 1957 sales illustration shows four colors (click to enlarge) and two carrying case styles- a snap over lid, of plastic (which Thomas reports on some early machines to actually be clear under paint) and a deluxe leather case. In point of fact the former Swayze machine matches the lowest example in the ad, being 'tomato red' with the leather carrying case. The vast majority of ABC and Cole-Steel machines found today have the snap-over plastic lid.

Above, further illustrations from a 1964 brochure showing the ABC 1300 range (with art probably recycled from about 1960) and showing three styles of carrying case including the two previously mentioned plus another zippered cloth case.

It appears today that the ABC, while never making a giant place for itself among the typewriters of the world, did very well in its own way with steady distribution on the Continent and one decent if not large outlet in the United States, in the person of Cole-Steel. Certainly the styling of the machine was unique in a time when blocky, and later even angular lines were becoming the rage. The smooth, flowing lines of Wagenfeld's design are a pleasure from any angle. Further, the color combinations and options offered on the machine seem very classic to us today. Collectors not only like the style, but these color variations as well. Modern typists seem mixed on these machines; some collectors report high failure rates while others report absolutely none. The action is crisp, more than rapid enough for most typists, and made to very high (if not perfect) standards in terms of fit, finish and tolerance. The other design touches - such as the single lever on the top right of the carriage, used as both paper release and carriage release - are very well thought out.

This concludes the line of Wagenfeld-styled ABC machines. However, don't give up - there is a bewildering array of further models, styles and colors to follow in this story and in some ways what is ahead is much more interesting than what we've already covered. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. This is really an impressive series that's going to become an essential reference tool for collectors. Nice job. Keep it up.