.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Monarch Visible: An addendum

Richard Polt has sent us a photo of his exceedingly early Monarch Visible No. 2, which I reproduce below.

Richard's Monarch Visible No. 2 is serial number 437, and replaces Jim Dax's machine in my known inventory of Monarch machines as the earliest yet found.  The decals on Richard's machine match those shown in the previous article on Peter Weil's advertisement.  This leaves some question as to the decor on Jim Dax's machine with serial in the 1500 range, but look at the following illustration from Peter Weil:

This is a 1907 poster stamp image sent to us for use on the original site.  Note that the front frame has only the large "Monarch Visible" lettering like on Jim's machine, while the paper table is like that on Richard's.  Clearly, Monarch was changing the decoration around during this time period.

As collectors, then, we might expect to find more, or less, elaborate decoration on either the paper table (with emblem, "Monarch" offset or without emblem, "Monarch" centered) or on the front frame (decal with smaller name and place of location, or just with large name.)  Normally, identification of very early variants of any given typewriter by labeling is fairly easy - but as we can see, on the Monarch it is more complicated.  The simple advice to collectors here is to make sure to get the serial number of a machine in any sort of consideration.  (We also must note the chance that any given machine we find was repainted.)


I did a typing test on my Monarch No. 2 a long time back.  I found the machine on a particularly good hunting day in operable condition.  I cleaned it up, and then, being curious about it, had it professionally cleaned and adjusted -- so far as is possible with an individual type bar bearing machine -- at our favorite local typewriter repair center, "Your Typewriter & Computer."  Below I reproduce the results of that testing as they originally appeared on my site, but with additions made in comparison with later slotted-segment variants.  I've also clarified some of my points to make sure the impression is accurate to the readers.

MONARCH VISIBLE NO. 2 serial number 66988 -- Typing Test

"I tried very hard to like this typewriter.  I attempted numerous styles of touch, from light to extremely hard and staccato, and adjusted my seating position numerous times as well.  No matter what I did, I could not arrive at any set of conditions that rendered the machine pleasant to use.

The machine has been returned to as near as possible to factory specifications by Your Typewriter & Computer, a local operation whose owner and technician have a combined 60 years of experience.  That the machine is functioning as originally intended is, to all of us involved (myself, Craig and Dan at YT&C) indeed without doubt so far as adjustment is capable; that does not remove its number of sub-standard qualities.

This machine has a key touch that must be experienced to be understood.  The machine's sound is tinny, but that is only the sound; the touch is overly stiff, with inhibition of key travel for one hundred percent of the motion at a high degree; in addition, the key level throw is rather short.  Given this fact, type bar return (to rest) ought to be rapid - and it is.  The failure on the part of this machine's design tends to result in the typist overspeeding the machine, resulting in a considerable number of jams if the rhythm is not perfectly continuous and touch not completely even.  Of course, it should be pointed out that this machine has no type guide at the print point, leading to increased full jams and uneven print.  Only a professional typist with completely even, refined touch and rhythm and who had practiced on this model exclusively for some time could produce acceptable copy with it.

The design of the type bar, the type bar bearings, and the mountings for the type slugs makes perfect alignment of the type problematical; age has only increased the effect due to wear.  It's true that the Monarch was one of the first typewriters on the market which was visible and which employed segment shift, but given the propensity for troubles with the overall design and its likelihood to get out of alignment through use -- early -- one wonders what the design engineers responsible for the Monarch were testing during the roughly four year run-up to production.

Other features were noted as we conducted this typing test (myself and my late father) but the most annoying was the wholly clumsy arrangement of the paper fingers and their slide rod.  We have not seen any notably worse designs than this (of the paper handling) on any machine of that time period, in the same price bracket.

Later machines with slotted segments and type guides (print alignment fork to some) are an order of magnitude better in producing acceptable looking copy for a range of typists' skills.  In addition, their feel is somewhat improved so that the later units with slotted segment would be vastly preferable to the early, individual type bar bearing machines. 

Having said all of this, it does seem certain that when this machine was brand new and the type bar bearings tight, it would have done all that was asked of it.  The Monarch is sturdily constructed, is well assembled and has a number of features that were directly competitive with all other major makes of the day.  Certain too is the fact that just about any major make of typewriter in the same bracket (and many below) had a better feel.  My late father agreed with all of these assessments, and together our overall grade for the Monarch Visible No. 2 on typing test is only FAIR."


Individual Type Bar Bearings and Sales

The above review does of course take into some account the age of this machine, wear on the bearings, and general wear of the rest of the machine. 

This exact circumstance -- the fact that this machine types out of alignment with anything but the steadiest touch -- brings to mind a conversation I had with the late George Baker, who helped run, and then took over, an office machine business that he and his father began in 1932.

George told me that his father taught him everything you needed to know about how to sell typewriters, and that the typewriters themselves could often be the best sales tools.  In the case of the Bakers, a dedicated local effort in repairing machines from the back porch of their home led to a good local business being built up.  That ripened shortly into the Bakers acquiring a Royal Typewriter Company dealership, which was quite difficult to do at the worst of the Great Depression.

Royal had just introduced its newest model, which was its well known No. 10 machine mostly throughout but converted to use segment shift (and thus with the carriage rigid.)  Baker told me that he watched how his father approached each sale, focusing sometimes on the people involved and sometimes on the typewriters involved, until he had learned what his father was really doing.

He told me that if you went into an office where L.C. Smith machines were being used that had individual type bar bearings that got sloppy with age, his father would ask one of the typists to borrow her machine and then would proceed to type a few sample lines at high speed, but with deliberately uneven rhythm and touch so that the typing would be abominable.  The same sheet would then be put into the new Royal they'd brought along, and of course the typing would be perfectly even.  This was not to say that this was what the typists were putting out on the L.C. Smith machines; they were mostly professionals and could get good copy out of bad machines with technique.  But the boss seeing prospective correspondence going out looking like this would help seal the deal.

If on the other hand one went into an office wherein something like the old front strike Remington 10 or 12 machines were in use, or even Underwoods, the best bet was to let the typists try out the Royal.  Now, the sales tactic (again, with the boss present) was entirely different; the easy shift of the Royal would quickly be noted by the typist and applauded.  The elder Mr. Baker would ask how much more important that easier shift might be late on a Friday afternoon when there was still work to be done than it was at the particular moment, and of course the answers were usually affirmative to Mr. Baker's intent.  In these situations, the typists actually sold the machines to their bosses, if you think about it.

I loved these stories, because it was the perfect union of that moment wherein you had a superior mechanical product, dedicated and knowledgeable salesmen, a very narrow market (given the economic times) and brilliant sales tactics.  It was that combination that launched the Bakers' business.

We can easily imagine, bringing us back to the Monarch and my typing test, that had either of the Bakers spotted the Monarch in action in an office, they'd have noticed that they were separate bearings like the old L.C. Smith machines, and known just what to do to secure a sale.


And finally... "Don't be confused!"

Remington, and later Remington-Rand and even Sperry-Rand Remington, kept using the Monarch name long after the Monarch Typewriter Company was dissolved into Remington - in fact, into the early 1970's.  But not one single one of those products has anything to do with any Monarch branch of Remington -- these are simply "house brand" name units.

The typewriter above, in my collection, is what normally would be found as a Remington 5T portable.. but in this case, the machine carries the name "Monarch."  There was, when this machine was built, no Monarch Typewriter Company - Remington was using the name of a formerly fairly popular and widely sold brand, now folded into its operation, for brand recognition. 

4:40 PM  9/27  Will Davis

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rebuilt typewriters vs. low-cost new typewriters

One of the things I've focused on in my years of writing about typewriters is the area of rebuilt typewriters.  I've got a large section on my site covering these; if you haven't seen it, please take a look because it's a good primer.

Rebuilt typewriters by Will Davis

Above, Harry A. Smith No. 4.  This machine is actually a rebuilt Victor No. 2 which Smith's company has sold by mail order; click here to see this typewriter unearthed.

Another thing I've focused on is the area of what we might call "low cost" standard typewriters.  By this, I mean machines that are intended to be functionally competitive with the "$100" standard machines in many, most, or all respects but which cost (for one reason or another) far less than that price brand new.  Some great examples of this class which had notable success over a period of years would be the Harris Visible line (see my article here) and the Daugherty-Pittsburg-Reliance line (see my article here) both of which sold for well under the price being charged for new standard machines at the time by Remington, Underwood, L.C. Smith & Bros. and Royal.

What happens when these two forces meet?  We know that both types were frequently close enough in price to compete directly with each other -- by this, I mean typewriters rebuilt in volume, and typewriters of the "cut rate" brand new variety.  In fact, for a number of years (even including price increases) the Harris Visible / Rex Visible line whether sold through Sears, Roebuck & Co. or through agents was right at the price level of rebuilt machines being quite widely advertised by such rebuilders as Harry A. Smith and others.

An interesting perspective on this comparison -- which for the thrifty was probably a major decision -- can be found in the back of an original advertising book for the Harris Visible which was distributed by Sears, Roebuck & Co.  Here's this book's full page dissertation:



Before it was possible to secure an efficient new typewriter at reasonable price, it may have been economy to purchase a second hand or "rebuilt" machine.

But now that the Harris Visible Typewriter is offered at $44.50, we do not believe you will care to purchase any used machine.

The so called "standard" typewriters, selling for about $100.00, are usually sold second hand for $25.00 to $60.00.  "Rebuilt" machines net $30.00 to $75.00.  The price depends entirely on the length of service and the condition of the machine.

While it is much better to have any typewriter than none, it is still better to have a new machine than one that is second hand or "rebuilt."

Really good typewriters are rarely traded in.  In nearly every case when a typewriter is traded in, its greatest usefulness has been pounded out.  If it were still efficient, it would not be traded; or if traded and really rebuilt, would command almost the price of a new machine.

Regarding "rebuilt" typewriters - the name is misleading.  Very few are actually rebuilt and these sell for $50.00 to $75.00.  The others, which sell for $30.00 to $50.00 are old machines, which have been cleaned, polished and "tuned up a bit."  Very few, if any, of the worn parts are replaced with new parts, and even such replacements do not add strength to the parts that remain and which are all more or less worn.

When considering the purchase of any second hand or "rebuilt" machine, remember that you can secure a brand new Harris Visible Typewriter for $44.50.

If you are offered a used machine for even as low as $25.00, remember you can secure a new Harris of the latest type with up to date improvements for only $20.00 more.  And remember that the Harris is guaranteed and backed by Sears, Roebuck and Co., one of the largest merchandising institutions in the world.  You take no risk; you are guaranteed perfect satisfaction.

Surely, a feeling of confidence in the firm you buy from is worth considering.

Do not buy any second hand machine unless you know its entire history and are satisfied that it has not been unduly worn or abused.  It is possible to make temporary repairs in a worn out typewriter which will cause it to do fairly good work for a short time, but it will not last.

We have endeavored to convince you that there is no economy in paying more than our price for any new standard typewriter on the market.  How much less economical it is then to pay more than our price for a "rebuilt" machine, or even a slightly used second hand machine!

Our price, $44.50, is a revelation in the typewriter industry.  The Harris is good enough for our use and good enough for anybody.  We venture to say there isn't $5.00 difference in manufacturing cost between the Harris and any of the most expensive typewriters made.  Yet there is a difference of about $50.00 in the price the purchaser is asked to pay.

Where does this difference come in?  What causes it?  You should answer this question before buying.


The difference, of course, implied in the price between the Harris and other standard makes was due to the fact that the Harris was at that time exclusively distributed through Sears, Roebuck & Co. and as a result there was no need to support a vast network of dedicated typewriter salesmen and repairmen, in addition to big-city stores and travel expenses.  Later, Rex Typewriter would claim essentially the same advantages except for the fact that the machine was distributed exclusively through individual agents.

It's clear that there would have been a lot of thought given by a prospective buyer in those days over whether a rebuild or a new cut-rate machine was a better buy if the $100 machine was out of the question.  Often, these cut-rate machines had very few options; for example, the Harris never had more than one carriage width, and never had a decimal tabulator.  On the other hand, the cut-rate machines were brand new as is so clearly pointed out in the Sears advertising book.  It might be more appropriate for us, as historians, to think of the cut rate new typewriters not necessarily as being direct competitors to all of the other $100 makes on the market, but rather as competitors for those machines AND those same machines when either sold second hand or rebuilt.

3:35 PM 9/25 Will Davis

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What's wrong with THIS thing?

Ok everybody, time for the newest installment of our popular series where we show you a typewriter, and then ask you what is wrong with it. Now since it has been a while let me review a few points for those who have not played along. (If you haven't, look back at older posts here on this blog to see the preceeding "What's wrong with this?" offerings.)

First off, the machines we show are machines we actually have here. Second, what is wrong with it is NOT something like "Dave dropped it when unpacking it and all the type bars fell out" or "It prints upside down" or anything goofy like that. I mean, those things WOULD be fun, but we'd just show you. But, this is "typewriterology" at the doctorate level! (Yes, the credits are fully transferable, and yes I'm keeping track of all your grades.) So what is "wrong" with the machine you are looking at might not be something immediately obvious, or even intuitive. But there is SOMTHING wrong or odd about every machine in this feature! (You can also click on the picture to enlarge it.)

So here we have a Webster XL-800. Ho-hum right? Seen one before? Used one? Know what it REALLY is? It wouldn't be up here if there wasn't something really significant about it. How much do you know about this here thingy? Leave your thoughts and answers and perhaps questions in the comments section below, and in a week or so we will reveal what is "wrong" with this machine in a feature article right here on this blog! Look sharp, have fun with it, and have a great week everyone!

David A. Davis

Friday, September 7, 2012

Where the Hell have you been?!?

My it has been a long time hasn't it? Between my toddler and work and taking night classes and everything else, there has been very little time for blogging. But that does NOT mean we here have NOT been doing some things in the world of typewriters.

There are going to be some interesting revelations coming up here, in particular regarding portable typewriters. What's that? You want a hint? Well my BROTHER and I will let the cat out of the bag when we are darned good and ready.

That little boy from the last post on this blog is almost TWO now! Don't worry, he hasn't wrecked any machines. Yet. But he loves to play with typewriters, especially the ones in my office! If you ever needed someone to test whether or not a "jam clear" key works, I've got the guy.

Now about that Remington Noiseless pictured above. You have seen that machine before, I'm sure, actually on this blog I bet. But it is noteworthy in that this is the first machine I HAVE EVER OWNED which actually made me absorb space in my home office to keep it out, to use, OVER keeping a Smith-Corona "5 series" variant handy to deploy whenever needed. Why? Well, anyone with a toddler might understand why. First off, becuause it is indeed Q U I E T! I can type at full speed down here in my office without waking up our little guy, or anyone else for that matter.

It took a lot of years and a lot of machines to displace a SCM "Super 5" variant from my office! Don't fret, though, one is still handy. OH and a Skyriter too just in case. But, if you don't own one of these, and you ever get a chance to type on one in good shape and in good adjustment, you will understand why I have adopted it for regular use.

Ahead for our blog, in between our other goings-on, there are some neat things coming up. SCM fans will enjoy them, BUT so will everyone else. My BROTHER and I have some fun things in store, so please check back.

David A. Davis