.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Monarch Typewriter - a brief review

The Monarch Visible will always have a place in the minds of typewriter historians and enthusiasts because it is essentially the machine that made the four Smith brothers abandon their Smith Premier Typewriter Company, and immediately open their new L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter Company. 

For those unfamiliar, the story briefly:  Union Typewriter was a gigantic trust that controlled Remington, Smith Premier, American Writing Machine (Caligraph/New Century), Yost, and Densmore.  Just before the turn of the century it became apparent that visible writing machines would become important in some way even if they did not take over; the four Smith brothers, whose Smith Premier company they had allowed to be controlled by Union, wished to produce a visible machine.  When Union made it clear that it was setting up an entirely new machine design to be made by a completely new satellite company (Monarch Typewriter Company,) and that all the other makes would retain their 'blind writers' for the time being, the four brothers sold out their interest in Smith Premier, moved across town and built the L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter Company.  They also lured with them one of the most important design engineers from Union.  The race was then on to get the new L.C. Smith machine out before Union could get the new Monarch out.

Of course, we all know how this turned out; L.C. Smith & Bros. eventually merged with Corona Typewriter and later became Smith-Corona -- and long outlasted Remington (to say nothing of the other makes) as a major force in the typewriter market.

Perhaps unfortunately for all those involved in the setup of the new Monarch machine and the factory to build it, the story of the enterprise is best recalled only in the previous light and not really as its own work, in its own right.  The actual history of the machine that Union's engineers dreamed up to compete with the visible machines on the market (we can include Underwood, the Daugherty/Pittsburg, and perhaps the Oliver) is fairly convoluted and includes one final very ironic twist; it's actually not only an interesting progression, but provides collectors today with a very interesting evolution of markings on the typewriters themselves.  We'll try to briefly dovetail those developments and the markings on the machines as they're best understood.

Above, we see the Monarch Typewriter Company's factory in Syracuse, New York.  This plant was built specifically for this company's launch; the Monarch's development began about 1900 and the machine was available on the market in the third quarter of 1904.  At that time, there were three typewriter manufacturers with factories in Syracuse; Smith Premier which had been there many years and who had just built a new plant, as well as the new Monarch and also the new L.C. Smith & Bros. factories.  Of all of these, only the Monarch factory still stands today in 2012; it is now Mission Landing luxury condominiums.

The initial Monarch models were the No. 1 and No. 2 which differed in number of keys / characters.

Above, from the collection of Jim Dax, we see a Monarch Visible No. 2, serial 1561.  This machine represents the earliest known labeling variant and is among the earliest known Monarchs.

Above, an ad from Peter Weil's collection dating to 1905.  Note that a Monarch Visible No. 1 is depicted, and that the labeling is slightly different from that on Jim Dax's very early example.

Above we see my Monarch Visible No. 2, serial 66988 built 1912.  Note that the decor of the paper table appears like that in the previous advertisement, with the name shifted right and a large round emblem added on the left.  Note the addition of the curved "Monarch Visible" name below the type basket.  Not also that the front frame now says "The Monarch Typewriter."  This is the last labeling variant wherein the Monarch fully retains its original identity, with no hint of Remington's involvement or control (Remington being the major and controlling entity inside Union.)

Above, two illustrations of my Monarch No. 3.  This machine is serial number 107517 and was built in 1913.  Some very significant labeling changes have taken place; the paper table clearly indicates that this machine was made by Remington Typewriter Company.  On the front frame, we can see that the labeling indicates "Made at Syracuse, N.Y., U.S.A." which indicates that the machine, while a Remington product, was being made at the original plant in Syracuse.  These shots were taken for our old, original "workshop" series.

In 1914-1915 at some point, Remington sold the Monarch factory in Syracuse and moved the entire manufacturing of the Monarch machine into its gigantic Ilion, New York factory.  Production picked right back up, but the labeling of the machines was quite different again.

Above, a photo from my late friend Tilman Elster.  This is another Monarch No. 3, serial M5 50451 and which was made in 1915, after the move to Ilion.  Note that the largest name on the paper table is now "Remington," with "Monarch" much smaller below it.  On the front frame, the machine is simply labeled "The Monarch Typewriter." 

This machine was made right alongside (so to speak) the Remington standards at the Ilion factory until 1921.  At that time, Smith Premier halted production of its full (double) keyboard visible writing No. 10 machine, and the tooling for the Monarch pattern machine was moved to the Smith Premier factory in Syracuse, where production restarted.

Above, the Smith Premier Typewriter Company's factory in Syracuse, New York, where the visible Smith Premiers were all built.

It was long thought that the former "Monarch" machine appeared immediately as a Smith Premier, but discovery of an extremely early machine from this production run has changed the story.

This photo is from this very website from some time back.  This is our Remington Smith Premier 30, serial number MM10004.  This is the earliest known Monarch-pattern machine made with the Smith Premier name.  The rear of the machine only says "Smith Premier" in large letters and "Made Syracuse, N.Y., U.S.A." in small letters.  Notable mechanically are the facts that this machine still has individual type bar bearings, and segment shift with upward motion, exactly as the original machines from 1904. 

Apparently Remington decided to fully separate the sales of the machine, and machines made later after some indeterminate point lack any Remington labeling whatsoever. 

Above, the late Tilman Elster's Smith Premier 30, serial number MK20410, built 1922.  We can see that all Remington naming is gone from the machine; only the name Smith Premier appears.

Above, Tilman Elster's Smith Premier 40, serial number XD60448, built 1926.  Clearly visible is the fact that, by this time, the machines have been converted to use a slotted type bar segment instead of having individually mounted type bar bearings.  We can also see new "SP" emblems on the front; since it's been said that most of Smith Premier's sales at this time were for export, and given that most German machines had elaborate front decoration, this addition seems sensible.

Above we see my Smith Premier 60.  This model was the last model introduced, and appeared first in June, 1923.  This example is serial number XC40352 and dates to 1924.

Above, a closer view of the new SP emblems added to the front of the machine.

Production of this machine finally ended in 1939, after almost 35 continuous years of production at three different locations and essentially under three different brand names -- Monarch, Remington, and Smith Premier.

12:05 PM   9/26  Will Davis


  1. It's interesting to see yet again more machines labeled "Smith Premier". I would be nice to work towards a complete Smith Premier catalogue of typewriters.

  2. We do have a gallery of the Smith Premier machines in both upstrike form and visible form, but I do not believe it is complete with every variation. The myriad of Remington labeling schemes does provide a fertile ground for the collector, doesn't it?

  3. Thanks for the in-depth history of Monarch. Very interesting, indeed. I really love the SP decals on the front of the Smith Premier 60. Classy.

  4. Thanks for the great history and photos of those wonderful machines.

  5. Wow, this machine kept going until 1939?

    Great rundown. Nice to have you blogging again about typewriters.

    Your story made me realize that I've neglected to put my own Monarch no. 2 on my online collection list. It's an early one, #437. I will update the site tomorrow.

  6. Thanks, Richard. Serial 437? That might just be the earliest known, eh? Can't wait to see it on your collection page. I don't know if you have ever read my review of typing on the Monarch (early, individual bearings / no print fork) but it was not good. Not good at all. One of my least favorite machines, ever. At high speed, I could print more accurately with inked type slugs glued to a yo-yo. But they sure are beautiful to look at.

    1. That's hilarious!

      I'm about to e-mail you a photo.

  7. G'day there, I recently picked up a Monarch typewriter serial number MM50045. It has seen quite some experience! it is missing the paper tray and the linkage for the margin release however the platen looks very good and everything else seems to work correctly.
    I plan on restoring it, but I dont run in these circles and was wondering if you could point me in the right direction for maintainence/user manuals, parts or info.

    Kind Regards, Jay.

  8. Here is a great link to a site that has lots of reproduction operating AND service manuals: http://officemachinemanuals.com/

  9. I found your Monarch blog today when trying to decide whether to buy a Monarch No.2 on ebay (which I did after the seller added photos and more description). You can see it at http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/230878233388

    This is the only one I have found in photos that has the MONARCH VISIBLE decal in a straight line above the keyboard. It's also an earlier one (ser. # 6719) with no ribbon color selector nor the Tab key on front. I am a bit confused as to what year it might be as the tw-db shows the two color ribbon, lacking on mine, to have come out in 1905 yet my serial number is well into or later than 1905.