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REBUILT TYPEWRITERS were becoming an important market force prior to 1900; because of the fact that office or standard typewriters generally had short contractual lives (under five years, according to information in our archives) before they were removed from operation to be replaced, there were from early days a number of "left over" typewriters. The instinct of some early dealers was to destroy the trade-ins or take-backs so they did not threaten the new product being sold. However, this quickly gave way to a vast and complicated universe of buying and selling traded-in, second hand / used machines at prices far, far less than the $100 price of brand new office machines. It was in these somewhat shady and fluid price zones that rebuilding companies and some big city dealers made their fortunes and provided tens of thousands of rebuilt office typewriters over the many years that typewriters were in general use.
We'll provide some "blocks" of information that will certainly be of use to collectors and historians; anyone attempting to research information on widely produced standard typewriters of any make or model should read and understand all of these sections before attempting to interpret data. Rebuilt typewriters are likely to insert false data in any block of research.
Why buy a rebuilt typewriter? In other words, why would someone in those days purchase one of these machines? The simple answer is PRICE. Most rebuilt standard machines were offered at more or less half the going price for new machines -- and as various models became more and more out of date, they were offered at lower and lower prices.
Above is a price list insert from what we believe to be a late 1923 or early 1924 rebuilt typewriter catalog published by Young Typewriter Company. (The company moved in late 1923; the new address is stamped on this printed insert.) It is important to note that most of the typewriters listed here were introduced between 1908 and 1917, and so were definitely not brand new. Very notable is the inclusion of the blind-writer Remington No. 6 at a deep discount price of $21.00. Compare these prices with the $100 for a brand new standard typewriter, and consider that individual who works occasionally in the home printing (say, for a church or just as a side job) or the office manager who needs to get several typewriters inexpensively. The advantage is obvious. Excepting the realm of unusual, off brand or "junk" typewriters that existed, this price advantage was held exclusively by vendors of rebuilt typewriters until high quality portable typewriters began to appear on the scene, priced $50 to $65 and which gave those who wished to have a machine in the home an option for a brand new machine that could also be carried about. This generally did not begin to take hold until well after the end of the First World War; in fact, there were few good portable typewriters on the market until the mid-1920's that could stand up to the use that a well done rebuilt standard could.
(Young Typewriter Company was established in 1911 and appears to have done business through about 1928.)
REBUILT TYPEWRITERS: LEVELS OF REBUILDING
We can historically identify several brackets or levels of rebuilt typewriter that the collector will encounter today. Keeping an eye out for these is important, especially in research.
I. Rebuilt by Original Manufacturer and Upgraded.
This is actually the rarest category; few old typewriters were "improved" significantly in the process of rebuilding. Normally, the machines were fitted with replacement parts. However in some rare cases old machines were significantly upgraded.
The typewriter above is one such example. As we know today, Woodstock Typewriter Company got into the business of rebuilding its own machines (more about that later on) and that's the case with this example. However, look closely -- what we have here appears at first glance to be a sort of mix up of parts. In reality this machine is an old Woodstock No. 5 that the factory has enclosed (adding on a front panel, with the WOODSTOCK label, as well as side panels) and has upgraded with a carriage that includes the new see-through window allowing the typist to see the position of the margin stops without tilting or moving the table. The serial number of this machine is RN15206; Woodstock added on the "R" on front of the serial to indicate Rebuilt. The serial without the R indicates a No. 5 machine from the middle 1920's -- but this rebuild took place, so far as we can ascertain, most probably between 1947 and 1950.
II. Rebuilt by Original Manufacturer
Eventually the big makers of typewriters realized that there was a business to be had by rebuilding typewriters, for which (as trade ins) the manufacturers were usually giving some small amount of credit on the buying price. Woodstock is well known to have entered the rebuilding business itself; the machines carrying the special decal the company applied are common enough. This appears to have begun in the late 1930's.
The above mid-late 1930's Woodstock typewriter appears normal enough in itself. But look down along the lower edge of the frame, on the side of the machine toward the rear.
The big Union Typewriter conglomerate got into this business several years before the First World War when it converted the American Writing Machine Company from being a maker of new typewriters (the Caligraph) to a rebuilder of all makes.
The ad above, in my collection, appears actually about actual size. It dates from 1911 and shows AMWCo as advertising "All makes - all styles - all prices" of rebuilt typewriters. Naturally, the company shows one of the Union makes in this ad.
This 1930 letter from AWMCo to a customer, in my collection (see above) shows that the company was still in business then, and the letterhead clearly still advertises "Rebuilt Typewriters and Adding Machines." Some may question AWMCo as "original builder" - we credit this instance as the company was an arm of Union Typewriter, who controlled Remington, Smith Premier, AWMCo, Densmore, Yost, and briefly Pittsburg.
Remington also got into the rebuilding game apart from AWMCo.
Above, Dave's Remington Noiseless 6 as seen in his office. Collectors should look at this twice - why is this machine finished in crinkled black paint instead of smooth black enamel? And should this most likely have white keytop inserts?
Looking at the right side shift key gives the answer:
The key insert says "Factory Reconditioned at Remington Noiseless Factory."
The decal on the rear of the typewriter tells us the same thing. It would seem that Remington had decided that only those that built the Noiseless machines should be rebuilding them!
Let's take a look at a sort of middle example between "Rebuilt by Original Manufacturer" and "Rebuilt by Professional Rebuilder."
IIb. Rebuilt by Assignee of Original Manufacturer
We can describe two cases of this instance. In 1921, it was announced that a new rebuilding concern had been incorporated; Regal Typewriter Company had been organized to rebuild and sell typewriters, and one Marcus Harwitz who set up this new company had formerly been the Manager of the Exchanged Machines Department for Royal Typewriter Company.
In April 1922 the new company began to do business selling "Regal Rebuilt" machines -- which were all Royal typewriters. It soon trademarked its emblem, which can be found only on the rear of a Regal rebuilt Royal. (Seen below.)
Testimony in a lawsuit between a typewriter dealer and Regal Typewriter Company shows us the fact that Regal had the responsibility (as would have the Exchanged Machines Department before this) of doing something with all the machines traded in to Royal dealers. It is now apparent that what Regal was doing most likely was rebuilding the Royals that were traded back in to Royal on new models, and was selling off the other makes (surely at wholesale) to other buyers. (These would be other rebuilders.) This ensures a path to get the rebuilt Royals to market with high quality, and ensures some small cash flow (profit, that is) on the traded in machines of all other makes.
What Royal had effectively done was put the rebuilding at arm's length... but not too far away. Regal Typewriter Company continued in this same business until April 16, 1975 when it was merged into Litton Business Systems, Inc. (information from US Patent and Trademark Office.)
In the early 1920's, L. C. Smith & Bros. signed an exclusive arrangement with the Smith Typewriter Sales Co. through Harry A. Smith to make that company the exclusive rebuilder of L. C. Smith & Bros. typewriters. We do not know how long this lasted; we also do not know if Smith Typewriter Sales was handling all machines traded in to L. C. Smith dealers, or was just rebuilding L. C. Smith machines for resale. This does however constitute a second known case of rebuilding by assignment of original manufacturer.
III. Rebuilt by Professional Factory
By the 1910-1915 time period there were perhaps a dozen important firms doing business (mostly out of Chicago and New York) entirely in rebuilt typewriters. These firms never manufactured new machines; they always took in second hand or used machines, reconditioned them, and sold them through a number of paths.
•Some were sold direct by mail, through magazine advertisements, to private individuals or offices
•Some were sold through large catalog distributors like Montgomery-Ward, Sears Roebuck and others
•Some were sold to typewriter shops which did not have an affiliation with a major brand selling new typewriters, but which wished to get into selling standard machines
•Some were sold by agents, who were assigned territories (a method also used by many big makers at various points in history, and by most of the small, or "off brand" makers of brand new machines.)
•Many were sold overseas (i.e. outside the U.S.)
The best known of these to collectors was Harry A. Smith, who originally from 1911 did business under that name in Chicago but whose rebuilt typewriter business was later titled "Smith Typewriter Sales Co." This company (like others) obtained typewriters from any number of places, any number of ways; for years the company advertised not only machines for sale in various magazines, but also placed classified ads looking for typewriters "in batches of 10 to 100" that it would buy -- and then of course rebuild and sell any number of ways.
Above, typical Harry A. Smith advertisement in Davis collection; dated to 1914. Click to enlarge, and note the price under $50 for this standard typewriter. There is another fact about this advertisement which is important but will be pointed out later.
Eventually there were big factories (such as that of ITE or International Typewriter Exchange) which were turning out large numbers of rebuilt typewriters post-World War 2 for sale through major catalog houses such as Montgomery-Ward. These typewriters were completely overhauled and rebuilt, but were repainted in a much more modern looking color. A fairly typical example is seen below.
The Underwood No. 5 seen above is finished in overall gray crinkle paint, has no front frame decals and no beaded lines, and has only the red decal "Underwood" on the paper table. In fact, typewriters painted just like this of all makes and models were distributed through catalogs (and other venues, we are sure, including dealerships perhaps) for a number of years. Below is a small scan from a Fall / Winter 1961 Montgomery Ward catalog showing rebuilt machines for sale.
Note the simple decals on all of the machines. The prices are not under $50 any more -- but it should be noted that manual standard typewriters by this point were well above the pre-war $100 mark (the Royal FP's basic price in 1960 was $225.00.) Thus, the machines seen here were still just about half the price of a new standard typewriter, generally.
IV. Rebuilt by Dealer / Local Shop
Of course many dealerships in large and small cities had some business at whatever level taking in machines and then reselling them. In some instances the rebuilding included just painting over worn places on the typewriter frame; but in others, the dealers were able to apply and bake crinkle paint that had a factory finish even if none of the decals or the color were normal for that machine.
The above L. C. Smith Silent machine was in all probability dealer rebuilt. The machine has a good professional paint finish, a set of comfort rubber keytop covers, but only the name SMITH above the keyboard. The machine's features suggest rebuilding after World War 2, and maybe into the late 50's. Of course, when brand new, this machine would have been painted in smooth black enamel and had far different decals.
DOING BUSINESS WITH TYPEWRITER REBUILDERS
One could find an ad for rebuilt typewriters almost anywhere in the early years of the 20th century. All you had to do was look.
Sometimes the first thing you'd see would be a mail-in offer card such as below.
The card induces the prospective buyer with low down payment, low payment prices thereafter, and overall a price half that of the original maker's retail price. The prospective buyer is invited to send in the card and receive a big catalog. Below is the front cover of what you got if you sent in THIS CARD.
The spectacular front cover of the International Typewriter Exchange catalog. This catalog, by the way, is in my collection and was published in 1938.
We open the catalog and see the frontispiece below (click to enlarge) wherein ITE founder William F. Clausing introduces himself and his business to us. Be sure to read this great ad copy.
In its earliest years, ITE did actually advertise that it sold all makes of typewriter. However by this time Clausing has decided only to obtain and rebuild what he calls the "Five Big Makes" -- Underwood, Royal, L.C. Smith, Woodstock, and Remington. Let's take a look at a couple.
International Typewriter Exchange is still in business today 100 years later in 2015, offering rebuilt modern typewriters and other machines. The company notes on its website that it eventually got machines into catalogues from Sears, Montgomery Ward, Speigel and Alden's, and did sell rebuilt typewriters not just to individuals direct (as in the earlier days) but also to typewriter dealers nationally. This company was one of the biggest players in rebuilt typewriters from its founding in 1915.
Once you decided to purchase the machine, you sent away a form for it that included your first or down payment and typically two or three "references" that would act as credit checks. These were acted upon, as you can see in a rare letter below.
The above letter in my collection is an actual credit reference letter mailed out in 1909 by the Rebuilt Typewriter Company, in Chicago. Be sure to click and enlarge the photo to read the letter. The credit desired is "for about 50 dollars," in other words the going price of a top notch rebuilt machine.
(Note at the top J. E. Grady - this, for early historians, is "Grady the Typewriter Man," who started this company originally in 1905 as Chicago Office Outfitters; Grady already had good knowledge of second hand and rebuilt typewriters from previous retail experience and included these in this new personal venture. By mid 1906 he had made the decision to focus all business on rebuilt typewriters and the company was renamed Rebuilt Typewriter Company. Grady later made the claim that this company originated the business model and approach for all later typewriter rebuilding firms - a claim, given the relatively early date of his company and his statements in a letter to Typewriter Topics in 1907, that has some merit, although as we'll see there were other firms in the business in 1909. Grady prior to launching his own company had been Chicago Assistant Branch Manager for Oliver Typewriter Company. He left the business in 1915 to work in automobiles.)
Naturally, once you obtained the machine and it proved satisfactory, you continued payments until the title was passed to you. Many private individuals and small organizations obtained solid, dependable machines at low cost by buying rebuilt typewriters over the years - as did thrifty office managers who wished to equip an office less expensively through the use of these machines.
DISHONESTY, LOW QUALITY, NO WARRANTY COVERAGE, AND THE FTC
The big makers of standard machines -- even if they were dealing in rebuilt machines themselves -- frequently railed against the rebuilt machines as substandard and/or a poor substitute. While most of the early rebuilding firms were honest (J. E. Grady, above, swore by the complete honesty of his business as a cornerstone of its success) some were not.
Look back up at the Harry A. Smith advertisement seen earlier and read it once more -- you'll notice something interesting. NEVER ONCE does that advertisement say that the machines being offered are second hand, rebuilt machines, but they are. This practice, not just limited to Harry A. Smith, coupled with the low quality of some second hand machines led to a series of Federal Trade Commission actions beginning about 1916 which essentially boxed the rebuilt typewriter industry into a position of honesty and quality. This in no way damaged the business model overall, although it certainly would have driven out the more marginal and less quality-focused firms and individuals.
Harry A. Smith also engaged in the further deceptive practice of redesignating machines as "Harry A. Smith" machines, with somewhat random model numbers, and selling them under his own name rebuilt. This practice was not specifically called out by the FTC but is highly deceptive nonetheless.
Federal Trade Commission Complaint No. 36, filed February 1, 1918 (FTC vs. Harry A. Smith) had listed as causes "Stifling and suppressing competition in the sale of typewriters by publishing and causing to be published false and misleading advertisements designed and calculated to cause customers and prospective customers to believe that the repaired and rebuilt typewriters of standard makes offered for sale at a price of less than one-half that charged by the makers of such machines are new typewriters in alleged violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act."
At the same time as the above action was filed, other actions were filed against Dearborn Typewriter Company, Metro Typewriter Company and Block & Emporium.
|Later Smith ad using word "reconstructed."|
The FTC then invited the major typewriter manufacturers to its headquarters and investigated the practices, and the requirements for rebuilt typewriters. The results were published in 1920.
From the 1920 Federal Trade Commission Annual Report:
"Rebuilt Typewriter Industry. The reputation gained for properly and thoroughly rebuilt typewriting machines yielding a comparatively high percentage of efficiency was found on investigation by the Commission to have induced widespread unfair deceptive practices.
To simultaneously correct the unfair practices complained of, the industry upon the invitation from the Commission assembled and at its request defined and denounced in open meeting those practices which in the judgement and experience of the industry were considered unfair methods of competition.
The term 'rebuilt' or 'remanufactured' typewriters was first defined substantially as follows: Machines in which all substantial parts have been removed, examined, cleaned and tested; defective parts replaced; type properly aligned; unnecessary lost motion eliminated; tarnished blued and nickeled parts reblued and renickeled; and the parts of which have been reassembled, inspected and adjusted by competent workmen.
The industry then defined and denounced the use of the following practices as unfair methods of competition:
A. The selling of rebuilt or remanufactured typewriters as new machines.
B. The selling as rebuilt or remanufactured typewriters machines which have been given only superficial repairs or such repairs as are necessary to enable a machine to be operated without being rebuilt or remanufactured as defined herein.
C. Guaranteeing of a machine by a dealer who is not a competent workman or who does not employ a skilled repair or service man, and who cannot keep the guaranteed machines in repair or furnish service in answer to a customer's complaint.
D. The guaranteeing of machines sold on mail order unless guaranty (sic) expressly provides that a local dealer shall make service repairs at the expense of the mail order dealer or provides for the return of the machine to the mail order dealer for guaranteed service repairs."
MONTGOMERY WARD 1961 - REBUILT TYPEWRITERS
We've already seen two scans from a 1961 Montgomery Ward catalog. Let's see how this company was advertising its rebuilt typewriters and compare that with the 1920 FTC mandate on the industry.. To do that, we'll look at the header for Ward's rebuilt typewriters....
"Reconditioned Typewriters for Three-Way Economy!
1. Cut Overhead 2. Big Machine Competence at Low Price 3. Utility on Easy Terms
-- What does "Reconditioned Typewriter" mean at Ward's?
1. Factory Disassembled - Every typewriter is disassembled at the factory for full reconditioning. Working parts are inspected for wear.
2. Scientifically Cleaned - Disassembled machines are chemically washed of all dust, sediment, dirt. Clean parts ensure smooth operation.
3. All Worn Parts Replaced - All broken and excessively worn parts are replaced with new parts. All rubber parts are also new.
4. New Modern Plastic Key Tops - Old key tops replaced with new plastic tops for a handsome appearance, more comfort in typing.
5. New Baked Enamel Crackle Finish - All painted parts are refinished to protect machine, add to its good looks.
6. Quality Workmanship - Every reconditioned typewriter sold here assembled, rigidly inspected by skilled, factory-trained mechanics.
Judging from the description, I'd say Montgomery Ward was right in line with the requirements for honesty and excellence laid out by the industry and adopted by the FTC in 1920! It's likely that the work was being done by ITE.
As you can see, the rebuilt typewriter industry was vast and long-lived. It produced many thousands of good, reliable machines -- and a few notorious ones. It competed so fiercely with the new machine business that the industry both joined it, and had it regulated into compliance. It produced a large number of machines that for all purposes cannot be distinguished from the original article when new -- and it also produced some very odd looking machines seemingly having their design quite out of place with their decor.
We have more information to share with you on rebuilt typewriters, but will share that in a second post - leaving this one as the primary post with the "must have" information on rebuilt typewriters.
8:30 PM Eastern July 16, 2015