.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Friday, July 30, 2010

ABC project behind the scenes

The blog has gone a little quiet all of a sudden the last few days, largely because fellow collector and long time collaborator Thomas Fuertig and I are engaged in yet another enormous research endeavor concerning the West German-made ABC portables. We're investigating all of the various changes the machines took over the years, as well as model variations that came later and the movement of production to Portugal in detail never before attempted. You will see the results here when we're through! Illustration from 1957 ABC brochure courtesy Thomas Fuertig.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ode to the Generation 3000

O Ignored and ignoble one!
O how maligned thou art!
How base, low, and reprehensible!
See how unreviewed and unappreciated thou have been?
See how those who type manually and/or portably have turned their backs on you?
Thy fate is certainly undeserved, is it not?
To think, thou art one of the last manual typewriters in manufacture, available new, un-blemished and un-used, and with instructions.
And are those who would look upon you and yet not purchase you un-moved by your singular position, being available through such fine and well establish-ed institutions as Dr. Leonard's and Carol Wright?
Yes, you have appeard in more than one guise, but even as "Rover 5000" thou art new and shiny, smelling of recent manufacture and machine oil.
Un-typed upon, un-previously owned, un-marked and un-stickered with "Larry's typewriter repair and Ice Cream shop-- 531 N. South Street."
And now, thou have become unavailable except as clothed in an Olivetti guise. The good Doctor and Ms. Wright choose to carry you not, it would seem.
Glad am I that I have come to know your notchy operational characteristics, and glad too am I that you now reside in my collection next to typewriters of much higher station than you would ever have.
Thou art a Chevette, a Pinto, a Sparkomatic, yet thou doest type well and/or true, as thy alignment test would attest to.
Thou art not flashy, but plastic-y, light in weight but heavy in history, as one of the last in manufacture.
O ignored Generation 3000, or Rover 5000, or Olivetti MS25 Premier, or whatever name you choose to go by, we are glad to have known you.

Collegiate update

Our German friends at Historichesbuero have responded with some data. Thomas Fuertig informs us that the Collegiate I now have is also sometimes seen in Germany as the Neckermann Brilliant S. (Look here for more Neckermann Brilliant cross labeling instances.) The machine was never sold in Germany with the name Collegiate and so it's considered rare there - and it's rare here too considering that I've never seen one before! This machine is actually, in its original branding and in this decor, the early version of the ABC 1001. Look here for more ABC variants.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

John Cameron Swayze's COLE-STEEL

We have decided that some sort of restorative action or preservative action is needed on the exterior of the case of the Cole-Steel formerly owned by John Cameron Swayze, pioneering television news man, which is in my collection. This machine, serial number 2-24954, is in a leather case (top of the line) and is finished in Tomato Red. The machine shows signs of very hard use; however, the machine was very well maintained and operates quite nicely. Swayze was featured in magazine ads for the machine wherein it was called the "Cole Portable"; he stated that the machine had been around the world with him and was still in great shape. The machine was won in open auction on e-Bay quite a few years ago; I decided to put some information here since the original AOL site page which featured the machine is long lost. Note that it still bears both labels on the machine and case, typed and taped on with Swayze's address as well as a luggage tag. This is the only machine I own attributed to anyone of any notoriety and I intend to make certain it's well preserved.. as it has been for all the years I've owned it.

Newly discovered ABC variant

Just arrived here today, after an unopposed win on e-Bay is the COLLEGIATE, serial number 501963. I recognized the machine as some sort of variant of the ABC when I saw it on e-Bay (and that's "Cole-Steel" to those familiar with the variant normally seen here in the USA) and put in a large bid. The machine is different from all other ABC machines, and thus Cole-Steel machines in its exterior styling. A quick search of the European Patent Server produced lucky results; this styling was patented for use on the Koch's Adler ABC machine in 1960.

Here is a cropped view from one of the three drawing pages supporting the 1960 patent for Koch's.

This machine has 44 keys typing 88 characters, in an English keyboard format. Interestingly, the machine has no touch regulator and no ribbon selector and can thus be considered somewhat of a stripped model as compared with the other ABC / Cole-Steel machines normally found. The margin release doubles as a jam clear key, through use of a key lever extension that acts on the ribbon bail. As is clear in the photo, the Collegiate is in a very attractive "Hammertone" light green which is also found on the ABC / Cole-Steel. What differs is the casing in which the machine is contained. We have no data with the machine and have not on preliminary examination discovered any affiliation with the "Collegiate" name but will continue looking. It's very fulfilling to know that even at this late date there are yet-unseen and unidentified machines out there to find.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Form / Function; Will's five picks

Dave's recent post comparing form vs. function for typewriters generated a comment asking about five top picks -- that is to say, five great looking machines with details of the operation of each. Dave told me that I should give it a whirl, even though it was his topic, so here we go. In no particular order after the first one..

1. ABC / Cole-Steel This typewriter, introduced in the 50's in Germany and before the end of that decade here by license, was styled by Prof. Wagenfeld in a very modern and smooth style for that day. In fact, the styling of the machine isn't what we'd think of here as "50's" .. it's in advance of it in some ways, behind in others and frankly just timelessly classic. What's even more impressive is the total perspective approach that Wagenfeld took with the casing which means that the machine is attractive from all angles and elevations. Normally, the carriage side or rear of a typewriter is fairly uninspiring but on the ABC the machine is appealing stylistically from all 360 degrees of view. The optional hammertone paint colors available make the move from attractive to almost stunning. Operationally the ABC is a smooth, accurate machine with a fairly positive key action, fairly solid carriage operation and decent if not excellent auxiliary controls. It could be said that the machine looks better than it types, but it would be really difficult to match the styling with any typewriter that would fit the size envelope.

2. Alpina The Alpina in its most commonly seen form is attractive enough, but in the two-tone color schemes found on late versions is exceedingly attractive. There is something about the top cover styling combined with the other lines and curves on the machine that give it the exact, perfect 50/50 combination of stylistic elegance and mechanical impressivness / mass that you would hope for in the perfect portable. Once you take that exterior and combine it with the incredible quality and feel of the Alpina's internals, you have a combination that's very hard to beat. The only reason I put the ABC above this machine overall is that the ABC's styling is just that much more refined, thought out, and complete that it gets the nod.

3. Smith-Corona Super 5. I can't stand these machines with white keytops, but I love 'em with green or any other color. I prefer the earlier ones, like the original Silent as introduced at the end of 1949. I don't like the later pastel colors. Having said all that, you can mark me down as actually liking the styling of these machines. Compared to many other offerings, its elegance lies in the degree of understatement.

4. The late Underwood portables. See here. You can't get much more overstated than some of these, stylistically (especially some in the round-top variant) but all of them are somewhere from cool to fantastic, style wise. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of these machines and their intrinsically weak shift feel. Definitely obvious why Underwood had lost the lead in sales years back and no amount of fabulous style could get around that. That said, I think they're very highly collectible and I look for them.

5. Consul 221. See here. This may seem an odd pick, but frankly this machine looks like it works and like it feels. Although ZB clearly didn't understand anything about colors that would work in Western countries' households before the end of the 60's, it got everything right with the 221. In either the two-tone white/gray or the gray/blue (see both at the link) the machine is attractive and modern-looking. (Modern in a late 60's sense, that is.) The combination of lines, the spaced letters spelling "Consul" across the front, the block keytops, and the cleanliness of the carriage details and controls (very cleaned up from previous models) gives a wholly satisfying look and a look that says that the machine is ready to work. Work they do- they're not Super 5's, but they're solid, tight, more precise than any other Consul machine, and as ruggedly attractive as earlier models were awkward. This might well be an award for "best style recovery."

I could go on and on, and could easily go to standards (Is there a better looking standard typewriter than the Victor No. 3?) but we did say five form/function comparisons. What would be interesting would be to try this the other way - are ugly typewriters always below average machines? Maybe that's another blog another day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Assorted form vs. function typewriter analogies

My last blog post got me to thinking about the topic of form versus function in more detail, so i thought I'd share some of my thoughts on that with you. By all means, respond in the comment box with your thoughts on this matter!

Sometimes I think that people believe that Will, my Dad, and I have a huge warehouse somewhere in Nevada filled with "Super 5" variants, which we are leaking into the market at inflated values, and this is why we talk them up so much. Not so. (All I'm admitting to here is that the warehouse is not FILLED with them.)

The reason we are so fond of them is that we have all USED them extensively, LONG before word processors existed, and are familiar and comfortable with them. Now, do I think that from an aesthetics standpoint that they are the best too? Absolutely not. In fact, I think that as portables go, they are actually less than average looking. Really, I do. But, if I want to or need to type something out, my Tower President is the machine I would go for every single time.

To make an analogy: I own a lot of tools. My wife says too many. (We differ on that. She asks how many screwdrivers can I use at one time. I ask how many pairs of shoes she can wear at one time. Standoff.) One of my UGLIEST tools is a Snap-On 18 inch long half inch drive breaker bar. I got that tool from a Snap-On tool salesman after I told him that I hated Snap-On tools. He gave the thing to me to convince me, I guess, that it was superior to all my Craftsman tools. I hated that thing from the beginning. I tried everything I could to break it. All of the guys knew that when it was time to try to break something really big or really stuck loose, that I would get that thing out in hopes of breaking it.

It never broke. I still think its ugly, I don't like the rounded style handles, but now, when I need a breaker bar that I can trust, I get that one. It works. It is not pretty. But for getting a task done, it will absolutely do the job.

I do not hate the S/C Super5's at all, but I think many, many machines look better. My Royal Quiet DeLuxe looks MUCH cooler. But the S/C's are analagous to that Snap-On breaker bar. The job will get done, efficiently, reliably, year after year. Do I leave my Tower out on display? NOPE! Odd, that I don't display my most used, trusted machine? Maybe so!!

It should also be noted here that often times, Will and I look at machines from a mechanical standpoint, and maybe people think we are completely devoid of any kind of artistic or aesthetic appreciation. Not so, but for example, given Will's engineering background, well, what would you expect!! Same for me, I tend to be mechanical first.

We've both got some machines that are visually striking, even beautiful, that are absoultely positively TERRIBLE at the job of TYPING. But, we can truly appreciate both their external beauty as well as their questionable engineering. So don't think that we necessarily believe that function is all there is to collecting. Looks play a big part too for us, even if we don't tend to mention it.

Look at it this way. We cook a lot around here. If we need to do some serious chopping and cutting, out come the "good" knives from the drawer, while the other ones in the pretty block on the counter stay put. What kind of comparisons can you make like this? Let me know!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Ideal A in detail

In 1900, the firm of Seidel & Naumann introduced a machine that it labeled as the IDEAL, and which was designed by American engineer E. E. Barney. Barney would later become something of the "front strike visible" guru at Union Typewriter, working for a number of that operation's subsidiary companies. For a review of the Ideal branded typewriters over the years, look at the website of the European Typewriter Project and navigate to the Ideal page under "Germany."

The photos here are of our family's Ideal A, serial number 13023 which was built sometime between the first two examples seen on the ETP site and which are owned by Tilman Elster. That means a 1904-1908 time frame, so this machine is both from the front edge of the mass-production "visible writing" generation and over 100 years old. If we consult Dirk Schumann's "tw-db.com" site we get a date for this A2 variant machine of ours at 1903 or maybe 1904.

The Ideal A is one of the most unusual typewriters ever manufactured due to its inclusion of what I refer to as composite shift. Typewriters normally use motion of the carriage to shift cases and figures, or else they use motion of the type basket / segment for this purpose. In the case of the Ideal A, both the segment and the carriage move simultaneously when the shift keys are depressed; the segment moves up, and the carriage down, against a very strong pressure. The silver tab on the front left top is the shift lock- you pull it up to lock the shift with shift key depressed. Another unusual feature is that the carriage return lever is mounted to the right of the keyboard, on the frame of the machine instead of on the carriage. This is accomplished by a shaft that runs parallel to the frame on the right side, along to the rear of the machine and to the front of which is connected the lever. As typing progresses, the lever moves from a position in which the long part of its shaft is roughly just outboard of vertical to a position above the keyboard with the long part of the lever pointing roughly at the ten o'clock position. Operation of the lever first causes, by a roller contact, the movement of a bail on the carriage forward (toward the typist, but invisible underneath) that causes the spacing action to take place through a linkage from the bail to the right side of the carriage to the ratchet. When all travel of the bail, and thus line spacing is complete, the roller will move to the end of travel on its small mounting and the linkage will contact a tang that allows it to move the carriage out to the full return position with full lever travel. The lever can be used to continue line spacing with the carriage fully returned, but with this arrangement can't just return without line spacing.

There is a touch regulator of sorts on the machine - a metal strip is held against one of the intermediate levers in the escapement trip mechanism which can be tensioned heavier or lighter by use of a thumbscrew.

Unusual too are the type bars, which are forked at the connection end; the split rides along a crescent-shaped guide as the type bar moves to the print point which does in fact have a print alignment fork that shows very heavy wear. No doubt this style of mounting and type bar may have been superior to individual mounts with no alignment guiding or fork as in the original Monarch Visible and the L.C. Smith & Bros. machines, but it's fairly primitive looking to us. Note that this machine doesn't have a segment like modern machines, but rather individual mounts for the type bars; often we use the term 'segment' now for convenience when originally the term was 'basket' shift for machines that moved the 'type basket' (colloq).

The machine types decently well if not solidly. The type bars have a lot of slop and lost motion in the direction of travel when not near the print point, due to the simple four dowel and intermediate link setup for the key lever and type bar mechanism - but impact to the print point is solid enough. The machine almost asks you to follow the keytops all the way down which is not correct technique for modern typewriters. (Note: Yes, we know - this isn't a modern typewriter!)

Overall, the Ideal A is one of the most impressive looking typewriters you're ever likely to encounter. The open sides with the IDEAL name cast in are especially noteworthy as is the style of the case, if you're lucky enough to have it (and we do which explains partly why this one's in such good shape.) Operationally the machine isn't up to modern standards as we know them but then again it was invented before those modern standards of operation were set in stone and adhered to by any company that wanted to compete. Viewed in proper context, the Ideal A was clearly a very high quality machine capable of heavy use. It's now apparent to us, having very early and very late Ideal standard machines, that quality at Seidel & Naumann was top priority and the fully operable examples we have of A from 1903/4 and D from 1946 prove that clearly.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The End of Remington

At the recent collectors' convention I had the chance to mention, fairly in passing, my long-ago reporting on the very end of the Remington concern of long fame and found that a number of my colleagues weren't totally familiar with the admittedly obscure case. Since the end of companies is historically as important as the beginning, I'll give a brief discussion and then some links.

In 1979, Sperry-Rand Corporation spun off the business machines / typewriters / office portion of its business to a newly formed Remington-Rand, Inc. At about the time that happened the company had developed a single-element or "golfball" style machine along the lines of the well-established IBM Selectric; the Remington machine was known as the SR-101.

Now, the subsidiary of Remington in Holland was still around and was known as Remington Rand Holland BV. The initial arrangement was that the US firm would receive machines made by the Dutch subsidiary for sale here. In 1981, both firms declared bankruptcy; however, in June 1981 the subsidiary entered new ownership which then both began to develop a sales network of its own and cut off Remington Rand from receiving the machines that it had proprietary rights to. Further litigation and the horrible quality of the SR-101 doomed both companies.. but not before Remington in the US managed to get some SR-101 machines built in Italy under license. You'll also find, by the way, manual portables made by IMC but carrying the name REMINGTON distributed all over South America. Through the mid-80's Morse Distributing was bringing manual Remington standard machines into the US, according to NOMDA records and there are also records for Remington-Rand daisy wheel electric machines. It isn't clear at this juncture just which machines were licensed by which firm although it's a safe bet that any sold in the US were related to the US firm. One wonders if the IMC-derived manual portables in South America were creatures of the US, or of the Dutch, concern.

All of that stuff (those really late machines) however is minimal in impact and unimportant historically; Remington had really ceased to be any kind of a motivating factor many, many years before (perhaps even many decades before, really) and the Sperry Corporation spinoff that created the two firms carrying the Remington-Rand name in 1979 was really the end. To parallel Beeching's style in matters of this sort, at that time death had occurred and everything after was just the occasional twitch as far as the Remington name was concerned.

If you'd like some minute details you can look at this link and then you can look at this link and you'll see just what the situation for Remington Rand was at the time of the spinoff and SR-101 debacle.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Alpha and Omega, sort of

At the recent gathering that Richard Polt held at and around his home, I was treated to the sight of a Barr typewriter. The Barr, I thought... One of the biggest research articles I ever wrangled together (with the help of innumerable friends in the hobby who can always be counted on) was on the Barr; the history, the variants, the options, the colors. The whole nine yards, as always on one of those big projects, but on this one it was really big and the original article that first appeared around November 2004 ran eight pages.

I'd just gotten an early Barr (serial 2521, in red) a month before or so and was really intrigued by the machine and its design. Moreover, the machine's apparent superiorities in terms of quality vs. cost of manufacture made it seem as if it should have gotten a better shake. So the whole huge article gets done, and later there's more information and before you know it there are more Barr machines pictured on the net on that article than pictured total before, everywhere. But I only still had one!

Yes, there are colors and options and model variations and so on but I'd never pursued another one. However, at the meeting I was reminded that I had always .. "always" .. thought that I'd like to get a machine as late in the overall production (from Weedsport, to be sure) as my red one was early.

So you know that when I saw a Macy's Portable No. 1 show up "Buy it Now" on e-Bay and I was the sixth person to view the page, I naturally hit the BUY button. The price was fair... probably even good. Especially if you consider I wanted one very late; this one is serial number 39840 which is about as late as my red one is early.

We'll be featuring more on this machine from a technical standpoint -- that is, design, manufacture, and operation -- in the very near future. You can consider this to be "Barr 201" if you consider 101 to be the original article. So keep checking back.

Royal Quiet De Luxe ramblings

One of the topics in the Portable Typewriter Forum that has always interested me the most is the discussion/debate about what kinds of typewriters people can get who really want to use them. Usability, robustness, ergonomics, aesthetics, all these come into play when selecting a typewriter to use frequently.

One of my favorites has long been the Royal Quiet DeLuxe you see here. This is the two tone version with the glass key tops. Designed by Henry Dreyfuss, this machine has never failed to get noticed when out on my desk.

I think it is a known fact that Will and I are two of the loudest proponents of getting a Smith Corona "Super 5" variant for heavy usage, but this machine is almost completely different from those, in looks, feel, size, everything. The glass keys and the two tone paint make this variant seem much more elegant, even refined, as compared to the bigger, heavier "Super 5's". It's action is completely different, too. Not in a bad way, but different. Both of us can flat out BLAZE on this machine if we want to. There is no doubt in my mind that these machines, in whatever variant, are great to use frequently.

Perusing E-Bay, I have noticed the very high prices that some of these command. The later ones without glass key tops go for less, but even those can approach 100 dollars! What is driving this pricing, I wonder? Style? Royal's reputation, lasting even to today? I don't know. They're distinctive, to be sure, and very functional. And I'm sure that I have seen them recommended on the PTF as regular users, at least I THINK I remember that...

This machine was purchased years ago from a professional typewriter repairman who has since gone out of business. Therefore, this machine works perfectly. I've put a lot of miles on it, and it still works every bit as well as it did when I got it. Looks just as good too. There are always several on E-Bay, so if you're willing to throw the bucks it will likely need to get one, I'd recommend one from a usability standpoint. And it doesn't hurt at all that they look good too.

Talk about coincidence....

After testing the link to the original DTW site content (on Alan Seaver's mirror right now) to see that it worked, I happened to notice that the very first ever entry on that site was made July 19, 2006. Of course, today is July 18, 2010 and it's a total coincidence that it's at the "four years since" mark that we launch this blog. This blog is really a creature of our re-enlivened passion for typewriters (AND the hobby, AND the people involved) and the timing of its creation was natural, not deliberate.

Still, it's kind of weird.

Everest K3; an introduction

In June, Richard Polt held what has come to be known as an epic collectors' convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. Among many other things that happened there was the very kind offering by Alan Seaver, who I had long wanted and waited to meet, of his Everest K3 typewriter. I in fact settled the deal for a twenty, being very appreciative of his offer and hoping to at least partially compensate the fuel cost that a five liter Mustang might generate moving such a machine over about a fifth of the continent. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Some back story is needed; years ago, while commenting generally on the rather poor and rather large Everest K2 portables, I was met with a message that Alan had a K3. I hadn't heard of that model before, and when he told me that it was a rather flat machine and unlike the K2 or in fact any other Everest, I was intrigued. Years passed without any chance of seeing another one until Alan decided to generously allow me to have his.

The Everest K3 (launch into review here) is a compact if not flat machine which surprisingly incorporates segment shift. The example seen here is serial number 1101320, which according to the British OMEF Typewriter Age Guide means that the machine was made in 1962- the last of three years in which the K3 was made. Everest had at that time been bought out by Olivetti and production was running down; the standards and the larger desk-model K2 portable ended at this same time. The K3 is a fairly well made machine, with metal body and interesting plastic (lucite?) paper support. The segment shift action is positive in feel and in point of fact the machine is superior to a few contemporary flat machines, as for example the flat Royals from Holland, in touch. Clearly, if an Italian-made small portable were to compete with the Olivetti Lettera 22, it would have to be solid and segment shifted. The machine does occupy about the same footprint as the desk model K2, incidentally.

Having said all that, the machine is not in overall fit, finish and quality excellent but rather "acceptable." That may sound like a disappointment, but it's a lot better in its class than the K2 which is universally disliked for its dead feel. Seeing further that the K3 is the final new overall design from Everest, I'm inclined more to view the K3 as a collectible machine and not as a workhorse.

Back in action with new content!

For those of you who have been awaiting (or, perhaps, dreading) our return to "new content" action on the internet, the time has arrived! Dave and I have decided that the blog format - easily constructed and easily read - is probably the most popular format right now for such direct-to-web content as I've provided in the past; this new blog is the result.

Expect all of our new repair work and historical investigations to appear here (unless they appear in ETCetera.) We'll be making a number of posts here soon with some unusual typewriters.. and we have a large backlog of machines that members of my Portable Typewriter Forum are sure to enjoy. Stay tuned!