.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Underwood Standard 3 / 4 / 5 sub-model identification

Sometime back, I acquired a rebuild manual for Underwood typewriters that included a rather curious breakdown of different blocks of serial numbers for some of the machines by letters.  I detailed this information on my own serial number listing page; click here to see that page.  The Underwood section is at the bottom of that page.

After having found that information, it's been years since any such thing has reappeared to expand upon or explain this breakdown of groups.  We recently had a breakthrough.

I bought a brochure printed by the Pittsburgh Typewriter and Supply Company about 1918 (the brochure says "Established 1903" and describes the company having been "established 15 years") which lists a number of Underwood machines with both model numbers and letters.

The illustrations will be presented in the order of increasing complexity of features for each range of models, beginning with the regular No. 4. Next, the No. 5 which parallels the No. 4 but adds extra keys; and the No. 3 finally, which is the wide-carriage machine.  I've never seen so many great cuts of Underwood standard machines in one brochure, covering such a wide variance in models.  Underwood fans are sure to "go to town" with these codes and nuanced differences. 

The original descriptions are included in the illustrations.  Click to enlarge.



 
 
 
 
 
What we're pretty clearly seeing here is that this rebuilder (clearly stated as such) is offering a range of ages of Underwood typewriters of each model (3, 4 and 5) and that they have varied features --- with more appearing as time goes on.  The machines are mixed up in the booklet, which is why I've clipped the scans and placed them in order.  So that we can make sense of these things, here's a brief summation of the codes from this booklet.
 
No. 4-J  76 character machine
No. 4-L  adds auto ribbon reverse
No. 4-P  adds back spacer and two-color ribbon selector
No. 4-D  adds lateral paper guide
 
No. 5-F  84 character machine
No. 5-R  adds auto ribbon reverse
No. 5-M  adds back spacer and two-color ribbon selector
No. 5-E   adds lateral paper guide
 
No. 3-T  has all features of 5-M but wide carriages
No. 3-K  has all features of 5-E but wide carriages
 
We can try to zero in on the age range of the machines you've seen using other evidence.  For example, we know they're all post-1900.  Also, note that none of the machines you've just seen (except for the 3-K) has a shift lock key on the right side of the keyboard; they're thus all pre-1915 (or so) when that feature was added... again, except for the 3-K.
 
The OMEF serial list, looking at the No. 5 model, says that back space and bichrome ribbon began on that model at about serial 245,000, or in the 1908-1914 time range.  Looking at tw-db.com we see that these features are listed on the No. 3 as having been added in 1909 - so that's a good solid guess for the No. 5 to have added the back space and two-color ribbon as well.  This then places the 4-P, the 5-M and the 3-T starting in 1909. 
 
The brochure, as noted, is from about 1918.  Right now, it doesn't look as if it matches up properly with the groups from the rebuild manual - the rebuild manual's K groups are placed by serial well after the print date of this brochure.  What we do now have though is a couple of solid pieces of evidence that, internally, Underwood was referring to changes in features by letters suffixed to the model number of the typewriters; it remains to be seen if we will ever be able to find a complete listing of such codes.
 
Let us know, in the comments, if you have anything to add to this code mystery!
 
5:20 PM  9/11/2013
 
 

35 comments:

  1. Wow, I didn't realize there were so many subspecies. I don't think I've run across any Underwood with no automatic ribbon reverse, no backspacer, no bicolor ribbon, or no paper guide; i.e. every Underwood I remember seeing has had all of those features. My guess is that the El Cheapo model didn't sell very well.

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    1. It's significant to remember looking at these variants that they're chronological; this isn't a price and option snapshot, it's a spread of the various features as they appeared.

      I note that the illustration in Mares' 1909 book appears to be the 5-F or 5-R model, and has no backspace, no ribbon selector, and no shift lock key. This is a good extra confirmation that the first two of these features didn't appear until 1909 or after on the Underwood standards.

      I have a 1924 or so Underwood sales brochure here, and I note that the machines shown therein appear very largely identical to the final variants seen in the spread above. These models were discontinued around 1930 or 1931, so that there must be a very large indeed number of extant Underwoods with all the "bells and whistles," which all look quite similar.

      I think this set of illustrations will be a really good spotting guide for those in search of exceedingly early, unmodified Underwood standard machines.

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  2. All great information. I did not realize there were so many variations of the Underwoods. Thanks for the post.

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  3. Very interesting.
    From the brochure, I gather my machine is a 4-D (it has all those features that are mentioned.)

    Its serial number is 1065013, which I meake it to have been built in 1918. It also has a right shift key that indicates it is rebuilt by Shipman Ward in Chicago.

    I've always understood my machine has fewer keys than a #5. But which are missing? I have no 1, of course. No numeral 0 either (capital O suffices here). But which other typical keys or symbols am I missing, I wonder.

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    1. According to the Pittsburgh Typewriter and Supply company's keyboard diagrams for the No. 4 and No. 5, the No. 5 did NOT add the numeral 1! Yes, this is still long before that became common.

      The No. 4 has numbers of keys in each row, top to bottom 9 / 10 / 10 / 9 for a total of 38 typing 76 characters.

      The No. 5 has numbers of keys in each row, top to bottom 10 / 11 / 11 / 10 for a total of 42 typing 84 characters.

      Added to the No. 5 are the following keys; lower case first, followed by the shifted case.

      Top row * / -

      Second row 1/4 / 1/2

      Third row @ / ¢

      On the No. 4, lower row, the right two keys are ? / , and / / . On the No. 5, lower row, question mark and comma are the same, but the next key out is the period, in both shift cases while the outermost character key is 3/4 and /.

      I have handy a 1924 sales brochure for the Underwood machines and it appears as if this set of differences between standard keyboards for No. 4 and No. 5 models was still exactly the same.

      Very neat that you have a confirmed Shipman-Ward rebuild! That adds an extra bit of interest when you know a machine was rebuilt, but also know who rebuilt it.

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    2. Fascinating! Thanks so much for the great information!

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  4. Someone just sent me a photo of a no. 5 with no question mark anywhere.

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    1. That's curious. Special keyboard? Any special symbols?

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    2. Nope, nothing else is special about the keyboard. Weird.

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  5. Added a link to this article to the Underwood page on typewriterdatabase.com! (:

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  6. Dear Davis Bros.

    Your websites & blogs are a big help.

    I'm restoring a 1927 UNDERWOOD STANDARD 5.

    How do I remove the platen on this beast? I'm trying to get into the guts of the machine so that I can replace the rubber on the rollers and platen.

    Appreciate a detailed reply, if possible.

    You can email me at: notyetpublished@hotmail.com

    Thanks!

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    1. I'd suggest you go to Office Machines Americana and get the proper service manual for a machine you're taking apart and are unsure of. Great resources. See this page! http://officemachinemanuals.com/catalog/underwood.htm

      You'll like using this sort of thing a lot better than you will like having to wait for us to (infrequently) check our comments and emails! You can't get 'stuck' because you'll have your resource right there.

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  7. Hi - I'm totally new to this world! I inherited an Underwood from my Grandmother. I've tried comparing the serial # 1126711487 but can't find anything that matches. Can you help? It's in pristine condition and everything works! I would love to read the history but can't without knowing the series. Thanks so much!

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    1. Hello; that is a REALLY long number to be a serial number. What does the machine say on its front? Its back? Is this a large heavy machine, or a little portable in a case?

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  8. Hello Mr Davis, thank-you for your very instructive post. However i was wondering, i just bought an underwood type 5 which apparently is from 1914 here in Toulouse France and she is a beauty. Does the fact that she is AZERTY change the serial number age? Maybe you know someone who can answer my question? I Looked all over the web and can find no answer.

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    1. The number is 625341 - 12 and it's AZERTY keyboard

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    2. The keyboard arrangement should have no effect whatsoever on the serial number being relative to the age. A nice machine you have found!

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  9. Good day gentleman, I received an Underwood as a gift this Christmas. Having some trouble identifying it. The closest i've come visually is the Underwood Champion, however this machine has made in Canada under the Underwood label and a red decal on the side saying 'Underwood: Elliot Fisher Limited, Toronto Canada. Does this sound familiar? Also looking to replace the two rubber feet on the bottom of the typewriter. Are they still available?
    Thanks in advance,
    RIch Davis

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  10. Hi. I have a no.5 underwood and the serial number either looks like 1377346 or the letter I before the number. 377346. it says "central 3630 young typewriter Co. Chicago, IL on the botton key of the shift lock.. was this where it was used or made.

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    1. My dad just gave me his typewriter he bought in a store when he was 12 (around 1966 I suppose). When he bought it, the store owner said "this one just came in today, I'll give you a great deal on it seems it's used). Long story short, dads typewriter has no maker label on it HOWEVER, it does have the same key on bottom right that you mentioned, "Young Typewriter Company 3630".
      Just wanted to reply here even though your post is 2 years old because I'm trying to figure out who the (original?) maker is. It doesn't really look like any of the Underwoods on this link that the Davis's blog clipped and shared.
      **On the back of dads (well it's mine now), there appears to be a circular saw-blade, gear thing...a very mean & intimidating looking machine to say the least haha!

      Delete
    2. My dad just gave me his typewriter he bought in a store when he was 12 (around 1966 I suppose). When he bought it, the store owner said "this one just came in today, I'll give you a great deal on it seems it's used). Long story short, dads typewriter has no maker label on it HOWEVER, it does have the same key on bottom right that you mentioned, "Young Typewriter Company 3630".
      Just wanted to reply here even though your post is 2 years old because I'm trying to figure out who the (original?) maker is. It doesn't really look like any of the Underwoods on this link that the Davis's blog clipped and shared.
      **On the back of dads (well it's mine now), there appears to be a circular saw-blade, gear thing...a very mean & intimidating looking machine to say the least haha!

      Delete
  11. Hello I have acquired an Underwood typewriter but am struggling to identify it. The serial number is 1226901 so I guess its a 1919? The key configuration aside from shift keys / tabs is 10 / 11 / 11 / 10 but the outermost keys are different to your descriptions of No.s 4 or 5, mine are all fractions with the lowest row being % / 1/2 what do you think I have? regards

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  12. Greetings, came across an Underwood portable w. case in just incredible (and working) condition. Serial is E965122 and trying to date it within the portables' index but not seeing sections for those that start with an E; am i missing something or ..? If it were the serial alone i'd assume it's a 1922 but have had a hard time finding insight on the piece. thanks
    -Adam

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  13. Hello, I just bought an Underwood No. 5 with the serial number 7332295. Any idea what year?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Well at first I replied thinking that the whole number was the serial which gave me 1953. However it's more likely that the serial is 733229-5 which would then be 1914, obtained from my Olivetti-Underwood dealer's guide.

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  14. First, thank you for this great resource.
    I recently inherited what I believe is a 5-E or a 3-K
    It has back space, shift lock and paper guide. Serial 427788-12
    It's in pretty good shape mechanically, key return is a little gummed up.
    Of course the rubber on the rollers is hardened.
    There is no logo to the left of the name Underwood on the carriage like in the images above.
    There is no writing on the frame below the space bar.
    I assume the frame was repainted to fix some paint chipping.
    There is a small nick in the right 'line advance' knob.
    I was hoping you might be able to answer two questions I have.
    First, how can you tell if it has auto-reverse ribbon?
    Second, it has a fitted soft vinyl-like dust cover.
    Did they have anything like vinyl back then?
    It is surprisingly supple and is from a local stationery supply that is so long-gone that I can't find any reference searching online.
    It says 'Norman's Stationery Co. 416 Mill St. Bristol, PA. ST 8-7866
    Surprisingly, that number is disconnected. ;^ )
    Thank you very much.

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  15. Hi Everyone,
    I've just bought a Underwood Standard 3, and the serial is strange...I can't find on any database online so far. (and I'm totally noob on typewriter stuff)

    The serial is: 823443-12
    I'm afraid that , given the perfect conditions of the typewriter, it is not very old (1950 presumely)

    Do you have any suggestions to make sure of it's year?
    Thank you

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  16. I've been looking up mine and it appears to be a 3K, like yours. Yours is possibly the 12 inch carriage. Mine is 120 characters wide with the number 439046-14 so I guess mine is a 3K 14 inch. There isn't any dollar symbol but there is a pound symbol so I'd say mine is built for the British/Australian market (Australia used pounds up until the mid 1960's)

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  17. I've been looking up mine and it appears to be a 3K, like yours. Yours is possibly the 12 inch carriage. Mine is 120 characters wide with the number 439046-14 so I guess mine is a 3K 14 inch. There isn't any dollar symbol but there is a pound symbol so I'd say mine is built for the British/Australian market (Australia used pounds up until the mid 1960's)

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  18. Thanks for the great info! I just found/bought an Underwriter No. 5 circa 1903 (s/n is 44516) I'm curious... I know that because there are sooooo many No. 5s out there they aren't too valuable but because of the low s/n is it possible worth more? it's pretty dirty by seems to be in all working order. Any help would be greatly appreciated. :)

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  19. Thanks for the great info! I just found/bought an Underwriter No. 5 circa 1903 (s/n is 44516) I'm curious... I know that because there are sooooo many No. 5s out there they aren't too valuable but because of the low s/n is it possible worth more? it's pretty dirty by seems to be in all working order. Any help would be greatly appreciated. :)

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  20. Hi,
    I found a Underwood typewriter S/N :
    3649259-14
    So I guess #4 or #5 with 14 inch carriage, circa 1930
    It has an AZERTY french keyboard.
    From the number of keys by row, It seems to be a #5
    I actually have to restore it because many parts are rusty.

    ReplyDelete