The machine we review today is a portable manufactured by Clemens Muller A.G. Dresden, Germany. This model, the Klein-Urania, appeared first in 1935 as a replacement for the very similar Urania Piccola which had been made from 1925. The Klein-Urania was produced continuously through 1943, when production ended due to the Second World War.
According to an online history of VEB Schreibmaschinenwerk Dresden, authored by H. Reckzeh, production of the Klein-Urania was restarted in mid-1946 (as was that of the Urania standard machine, the Model 9.) Whereas production of the standard machine increased year by year, the Klein-Urania was produced at a far smaller rate and not for as long. According to the work of Reckzeh, totals produced for the Klein-Urania were as follows: 1946, 705 machines; 1947, 1388 machines; 1948, 1541 machines; 1949, 687 machines. At that time, production of the portable ended while the standard continued at increasing rate per year. The company itself operated as VVB Mechanik vorm. Clemens Muller from 1948 through 1951, when it was completely merged along with Seidel & Naumann (makers of the famous Ideal standard and Erika portable typewriters) into VEB Schreibmaschinenwerk Dresden.
(Aside - This set of events was transpiring across the entire breadth of the typewriter industry that found itself "behind the Iron Curtain" in the GDR following the end of the Second World War. All of the makers, including Clemens Muller (Urania), Seidel & Naumann (Ideal, Erika), Wanderer-Werke (Continental), Optima, Groma, and Mercedes were combined into VEB's and eventually the production of all typewriters was "rationalized" so that only the Optima-pattern standard machines were being produced, and only the Erika-pattern portables were being produced. This rationalization took some years and production continued at all the firms for some time, and some crossovers did occur. For example, there are known examples of the final metal-bodied Erika portable which carry the Optima brand name. According to Wilfred Beeching's "Century of the Typewriter," nothing of the Continental brand ever reentered serial production under Soviet control; the portable plant had been moved to Belgium and was in private hands, while the tooling for the two Continental office machines, the Standard and the Silenta, was moved into the USSR and somehow just disappeared.)
The example we show here is one of the small number of post-war Klein-Urania machines. Its serial number is 423875, placing its production in 1947 according to available records (which are reproduced at tw-db.com.) The machine appears to be essentially the same as the pre-war production version.
Details and operation
The Klein-Urania is a portable of roughly average size and weight in the larger class of four bank portables offered in Germany and in the US before the War and immediately after. The machine has 44 keys typing 88 characters in the conventional four bank single shift layout. This particular example has the English-German keyboard in QWERTY style; at some time in the past, the furthest right type slug has been replaced (and the keytop legend replaced as well) with \ and $ symbols. Backspace key is on the right of the keyboard; shift keys are both sides, with the shift lock being a lever style acting on the left shift key. Carriage shift is employed, raising the entire assembly and rail.
Controls on the left end of the carriage are the carriage release lever (nearer the typist) and the margin release lever. On the right, a line space selector is forward of the platen knob shaft, while the paper release is an unusual chromed crank instead of a lever. A positive and sure carriage lock design, fitted to the right end of the carriage and to the machine body is a notable feature of the Klein-Urania. Margin stops are set from the rear of the machine in conventional style; two fold up paper arms are attached to the rear of the short paper table. The paper bail, with two rollers, flips up and away from the typist.
The ribbon selector is a three position dial on the left side of the machine. Ribbon reverse is automatic, actuated by the ribbon forks.
The machine in operation is fairly pleasant to use, striking hard enough with a normal touch to provide good impression. Relatively high speed is achievable on the machine, and it was noted that the machine seems quite reluctant to jam type bars, even if deliberately poor technique is employed in order to force the issue. Of course, it must be noted that by the time this machine was built, most portables of this size class had a tabulator available (none was on this machine,) and had more modern control arrangements; the use of a lever operated, carriage mounted margin release being noted as particularly archaic. It must also be recognized though that when this machine was built, there was a massive shortage of typewriters in Germany specifically and in Europe generally so that any decently workable machine which could be built could also be sold. Viewed in this context so unfamiliar to us today, the Klein-Urania can be found to have no real faults.
This machine has been modified at some time with a resoldered type slug, and replaced keytop legend. The space bar shows wear; it is painted metal. Pre-war machines had the name of the maker, Clemens Muller, on the front frame below the keyboard; either this machine was repainted or the decal was never there.
On the front of the machine is a small dealer identification plate which reads as follows:
Prinzenstr. 14/15 Fernrut 2049
The machine is complete with case; the machine's four feet rest in circular depressions in the case base, to which the machine is attached by spring loaded flip up levers, one each side. Case lid is separate. Machine can be fully used still on base.
I myself believe this is a very collectible typewriter, and like it very much, because of what we find out about the history of typewriters in Germany, and then later in the GDR, when we look into its facts. I am actually pleased that the machine is from the post-war period, because that period, even though newer, is far more rare in total of numbers made (total of 4,321 machines.) Further, we have in the collection a "companion" for this machine - a post-war standard Ideal, manufactured by Seidel & Naumann which is the other company that was eventually combined with Clemens Muller to form VEB Schreibmaschinenwerke Dresden.
In addition to the attraction due the machine's heritage, I also happen to like its appearance. The machine is unusual in every way and dimension, causing the investigator to turn it round and round and examine all of its sides. Doing so reveals the unusual design and placement of some of its controls, and brings up the unusual top casing surrounding the type bar rest. The machine's operative features (and in some cases lack thereof) as well as its touch would not cause the avid collector - typist to deploy this machine first, or for NaNoWriMo, but the machine's operability is unquestionable, even if in a rugged no-frills sort of way.
Background and more reading
2:30 PM 10/19/2012 Will Davis