.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New pages added to our blog.

We've recently added two new pages to our blog.  One of them ("Reading List") contains brief descriptions of books that I consider to be essential reading -- or at least highly recommended reading.  This content replaces that formerly found on my now-gone Bravehost website ("Will's Typewriter Annex.")  As an aside, there was of course a lot of other content on that site and we'll be replacing the essential parts of that here as time permits.

The other page we've added is titled "Our Collection," and it presents some of our favorite antique machines, some of our favorite 'hard to find in the U.S.' machines, and historically significant machines.  There's also a list of machines that appeared for the first time anywhere on our sites - and of course, for all of those (and many more) we own multiple examples.  We will continue to add to that page - it isn't static.

We have also updated the "Our History" page to fill out some information and cover some of the high points of our collecting careers.

These page links are of course in a box in the right sidebar.  Check them out  -- we hope you enjoy the typewriters, and find the book information useful.

In a separate update topic... We've been in contact with Charlie Spiro, grandson of Charles Spiro, designer of the Visigraph seen recently on our blog, and have also circulated a timeline of events developed after some intense research on the Visigraph to a circle of collectors (all of whom own Visigraphs, of which twelve total are now known to exist.)  That timeline, and possibly some contributions by Charlie Spiro, will appear on the site soon.  There will be yet another separate article on the mechanics of the Visigraph, completing coverage on the machine.

Enjoy the links!  Now it's off to work for me - I have a long couple days ahead.

-Will Davis

8:00 AM   5/21/2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


A small amount of buzz has been generated this week in collectors' circles with the discovery of a Visigraph.  This is an exceedingly scarce and relatively obscure typewriter, which was essentially perpetually (in the trade papers) in a state of purported imminent success and wide sale for a period roughly 1912-1919 but which in reality did not sell in total more than about four or five thousand machines.

We'll show the unpacking of this typewriter because it's an example of the best case scenario:  The seller was experienced in dealing and shipping antiques; the packing instructions I gave were thorough, completely detailed and made in a step-by-step procedure; the seller packed the machine just about exactly as described; and finally, UPS handled the box with exceedingly good care so that there was not one dent or crumple on the outer box.

The instructions of course were the standard double-boxing, with a layer of bubble wrap not less than two inches thick over the typewriter on all sides, top and bottom, and an outer box with at least three inches of dense packing peanuts or crumpled newspaper on all six sides surrounding the inner box.  In the inner box, extra protection was afforded the carriage area, and the return lever.  The front frame was well enough protected that no breakage occurred; the machine arrived here in exactly the condition in which it was discovered.

We see above, in order, the original outer box; the outer box opened and several inches depth of packing peanuts shoveled out; the inner box removed; the typewriter finally out inside its protective layering of bubble wrap -- which in this case included lots of the large-bubble size overall, with a good deal of added small-bubble type wrap specially protecting the carriage area of the machine.  Typewriters shipped with this level of concern and care are unlikely to arrive damaged.

Now, we'll take a look at the machine.  We'll save our historical and full technical analysis for later installments on this acquisition; for now, we'll just give our initial impressions.

Visigraph, serial 12970   This is the first view of the machine after unpacking and placing on the garage workbench.  The machine presents generally the expected appearance of a standard four bank front strike typewriter of the day, and has a frame shape in that overall class most commonly represented by the L. C. Smith & Bros. machines; in other words, a visible writing machine with horizontal type bar basket, unobstructed view of the writing, and a full front frame crossmember (above the type bar rest point) but with margin stops and other appurtenances behind the carriage.

The machine is in rough shape; the ribbon vibrator assembly is missing, the print alignment fork is broken off, and a number of the type slugs are missing or broken.  There are even broken type bars -- although the majority of the type bars are in fact complete.  It appears from the first inspection that this machine has been broken for ages, and stored away, only coming to light recently.  The bell is also missing.  However, the rest of the machine appears complete.

The decal on the rear appears exactly as one would expect, describing the machine as "Manufactured by The Visigraph Typewriter Co. New York, U.S.A. - Protected by American and Foreign Patents."

Immediate inspection revealed the presence of rust, pitting, debris, dirt - in other words, the generally expected conditions to be found on a typewriter this age which has just (for whatever reason) been unearthed.  We began immediately to apply various cleaners and oil to both remove grime and halt further degradation.

The serial number of this machine is 12970, which places it more toward the end of known Visigraph serial numbers than the start.  The range of serial numbers of known machines leads us to believe, at least for the moment, that production began with serial number 10,000 and ended around 14,000 or perhaps, very generously, maybe 15,000 --- meaning that over the roughly eight years this machine was on the market it didn't sell over 4000 to 5000 units.  (Known machines are from the low 10,000 range to the high 13,000 range.)  This example is the eleventh documented machine in existence today; it is a "new find," and was not previously in a collection.

Above, you can see an extreme close-up of the very interesting Visigraph Typewriter Company emblem on this machine's paper table.  Sometimes this appears (on machines and on illustrations of the machines in ads and trade papers) on the left side of the paper table, sometimes on the right.  This machine's is on the left.

Here is a view of the keyboard of Visigraph 12970.  Note the Ñ key to the right of L on this machine; normally, this would be a : and ; key with other symbols outside of that.  On this machine, the colon / semicolon is shifted all the way right on the second row.  We'll be examining the keyboard differences between known machines in more detail in the future.

The cleaning of the machine and general investigation looked as you see it below after about ten minutes. 

The carriage of this machine falls into that category of those best described as "platen instantly removable," which in this case involves small levers at either end of the carriage; the platen then lifts out vertically.  The ribbon spool found on the machine on the right side is original; another different pair were included with this machine by the seller as they were found with it.  That pair includes one much later Smith-Corona metal spool with ribbon safety pinned into it; perhaps an attempt to get the machine to work later, with one original spool missing or discarded.  The paper tray with rollers lifts right out and is seen just to the right of the machine. 

After about fifteen more minutes of what we might call 'emergent preservation,' the machine was in the condition you see below.

The machine went right back into the shop for further cleaning and investigation; the photo you see below is how it was left overnight.  The carriage removes quickly with operation of two thumbscrews under the machine's top deck.

We'll have a lot more about the "scarce back then and even scarcer now" Visigraph in future installments on this blog, so make sure to check back.


FOOTNOTE:  We made reference earlier to the visual similarity between this machine's frame design and that of the L. C. Smith & Bros. standard.  Below, you see L.C. Smith & Bros. No. 2 serial number 106744-2 (mfd. 1911) from our collection for comparison of the overall frame features.  Mechanically, of course, the two machines couldn't be much more different than they are!

For more information:  We covered the Visigraph (back in 2006) in then-known detail in the large body of work that covered the dawn of 'Visible' typewriters.  Click here to see that page; scroll down, as the Stearns and the Visigraph (unrelated to each other) are on the same page.  Information being collected now will, in all likelihood, supplant some of that found in the article linked. 

1:00 PM -- 5/14/2013

Friday, May 10, 2013

DELUXE - Deferred Repair Made Good

As some of our readers know, we have more typewriters around than you can shake a stick at.  Some of them have been received and been immediately unpacked and put on the Internet.  Some get put aside, repaired, and then examined for articles.  Some get shopped, commercially, where they're completely disassembled and tanked, then reassembled and adjusted -- while others (which you've seen on the old "Davis Typewriter Works" site pages) we do ourselves.  Some get forgotten entirely and then are unearthed as a sort of re-surprise.  Some are wrecked.  A couple, scrapped.

The sorriest category in some ways is that of machines in "deferred repair" status, which are those that we need to fix but just never get around to fixing.  Well, that category got reduced by one today.

Here's a machine I got years ago off of German e-Bay.  The machine was in perfect shape when auctioned, with carrying case and tool kit but no instructions.  The machine is simply labeled "deluxe" (note that in proper reference, these are all lower-case letters) and has no other identification on it whatsoever.  There is an interesting little gold crown on the paper table.  I have yet to do any real research on who distributed it.

The machine of course is a relabeled CONSUL, of the variety most normally known as a Model 1511 or "Consul Deluxe" if sold in original trim.  This example is not in original trim, carries no brand name, and in fact does not even say "Made in Czechoslovakia" on the back.  We know it was sold in Germany, and it has a proper German keyboard.  The two tone paint is quite attractive.

The serial number of this machine is ZP211239, which is among the very highest known to this author for any of either of the old-style Consul bodies.  (For a primer, see my old original page on Consul portables.)  Tilman Elster had a machine in the ZP range with a serial in the 216,000 range, labeled at Markus Elster's "plustype.de" website as a Consul Deluxe.  I can neither confirm nor deny that the Elsters' machine matches this one.

As you might be able to tell from the photos above, this machine was not received in operable condition.  Dropping of the not-too-well-protected box led to the front frame of the machine being deformed essentially in two ways; it was dished in along the front, more so to the right than in the center, and the entire front frame around the keyboard was translated to the left somewhat.  This rendered the frame of the machine into a rough parallelogram, instead of a rectangle.  It got put away just like that, but try as I did, I couldn't forget about it.

The photos above show the machine after I used a hand sledge on the machine for about ten minutes by myself.  (You'll want to use a towel on the machine to avoid damaging the paint!)  Remember in this type of machine the adage that if it got bent by being dropped or hit, it can get unbent the same way.  And "broken" covers all kinds of  "doesn't work" scenarios ...  and a machine with a frame bent badly enough to hold up the space bar and jam it into the lower row of keys (as this was when I started) is not going to ever get un-broken if you don't bend the frame back.

It turned out that one person wasn't enough.  I had to wait until Dave got into the act, so that one of us could hold the machine very steady up on the workbench, while the other hammered on it.  And look at the result from late this evening!

Here you see the machine this evening after a second application of force.  The frame is square -- we used the large carpenter's square to assure us of this.  Dave straightened the frame the rest of the way in steps, and then I re-formed the space bar support arms and a couple of key levers.  All of these work fine now.

Of more interest than that is the fact that the escapement of the machine was jammed prior to the second session.  I had determined that the space bar could move freely and could move the linkage to the rear of the machine, but nothing beyond would move.  I'd decided that after we got the frame square, I'd go into the machine to see what I could find.  Well, after the second session, when we sat the machine back on its feet, it worked!  Space bar and keys tripped the escapement, and the carriage advances smoothly and predictably.  Sometimes, a judicious application of force is just what the doctor ordered.  (Your results may vary.)

Since this is a Deluxe model, the platen pops right out with the action of one lever.  It also has the "magic margin" style lever-set margin stops.  All of this is visible in the shot below, which I took earlier today.  The cover over the mechanism just pops up and swivels back.

You might be able to discern that this example does in fact have the inscription "DE LUXE" in red letters on the type bar segment, below the print alignment fork.  On this model, the paper tray with rollers that you see lying in the carriage also just lifts right out.

So, now that it is fixed up, it'll be time to get a ribbon in and test it out.  Already of course I can tell that it feels just like the other machines of its ilk that we have, and so it'll be a good machine.  What is interesting to me about it of course is its different decor - which makes it all the better then that now it isn't one of those machines we regret not having gotten to sooner.


For more information - there's also a CONSUL page at the European Typewriter Project website, which Thomas Furtig, the late Tilman Elster, and I built years ago.

10:40 PM 5/10/2013  - Will Davis

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Harry A. Smith - No. 4, and complete Smith history

Long time readers of this blog will recall the early March, 2011 post concerning the Harry A. Smith No. 4 machine, in which we showed the complete unpacking of the machine with original shipping crate and paperwork.  The machine is shown again below for reference.

In the above photo, our Harry A. Smith No. 4 serial number 5324 is shown in a more recent photo in one of our storerooms.  The machine is sitting on its shipping crate.  Of course, this machine was originally a Victor No. 2 that Smith's concern has refurbished and completely repainted / relabeled, obliterating the machine's original make and model.
Harry A. Smith is of interest to typewriter enthusiasts for a number of reasons:
•The typewriter industry itself cannot fully be understood unless the actions of firms other than the major builders are explained; this includes rebuilders as well as smaller companies that sold only through mail order or catalog.
•Smith's firm was known for relabeling some models as seen above, which creates interest among collectors as these examples are fairly scarce.
•Smith is mentioned in a number of pieces of the accepted literature used by collectors - pieces either written for the trade early, or specifically for collectors later.
One of the things we've been able to find is an original advertisement for the exact model of typewriter shown above (and of course at the link provided.)  This ad is seen below; click to enlarge.
The advertisement dates from 1916 and clearly shows and describes the Harry A. Smith "Standard Visible Smith Model Number 4" typewriter -- an exact match for our example.  We might say that the machine is now fully documented, having its crate, paperwork, a top condition machine and an original ad to corroborate it.  The dating of the ad allows further information to be surmised.
At time the advertisement appeared, Victor Typewriter was in somewhat of a state of upheaval. According to the Typewriter Topics compendium (see our Reading List page) an attempt was made right around this time to set up a completely new corporation, worth over $2.5 million, to buy the entire operation from its previous owners.  Further research online tells us that a new factory, distant from the original factory in which the Victor was made, was being built.  We know that this attempt failed - the new factory was never used, and the ownership of the typewriter business remained with International Textbook Company who then moved the factory to its property in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  This upheaval, and a need for cash, may be an explanation as to why or how Smith obtained these machines.
A separate guess (but certainly one that might have played a role) has to do with the outbreak of war in Continental Europe.  The conflict made it temporarily difficult and at times impossible to ship goods such as typewriters to Europe, where a number of makers had formerly enjoyed brisk sales. 
The search for "why" in the case of the No. 4 again brings up the fact that Smith clearly did not simply purchase remaining machines from companies or dealers that shut down.  Smith was placing ads in publications offering to buy typewriters in lots of anywhere from ten machines to a thousand - meaning that his range of possible acquisitions was quite broad, and not simply limited to inside the business deals, as it were. 
In a separate post which will appear on this site later, we'll also discuss another newly revealed fact - the fact that the general lifetime of office machines in the early days was far shorter than we might have surmised - on purpose - which greatly increased the number of used machines in existence. 

The range of machines sold over the years by Smith has in part been determined by research of the advertisements he placed, in addition to ads in my collection.  At right we see an early advertisement from Smith, who is selling the Smith Premier No. 2 machine.  The date of the ad is not known.  Note the typographical error - the seller is listed as "Harry E. Smith."

Some machines that Smith was known to deal in over time are as follows: 

Smith Premier No. 2; 1912 through 1915

L. C. Smith (various models); 1913 through the end of the business

Remington No. 6;  1914-1915

Remington No. 10; 1915

Victor No. 2 or No. 3; 1916-1918

Underwood No. 3; 1917

Harris Visible / Rex Visible;  1917 and again in 1922

Royal No. 10; 1922

Stearns Visible;  1922

The above listed machines are not all-inclusive.  For example, Smith was known to have sold the Emerson, and is suspected to have sold the Burnett and possibly the Remington Junior.  The dates are also not intended to be all-inclusive but represent advertisements available today. 

The company did occasionally sell brand new machines; it sold the National Portable new from the factory in late 1919.  For whatever reason, the company also repainted and relabeled some National No. 3 portables as "Harry A. Smith."

Of all of the above machines, the following are known or suspected of having been repainted not as their original models but as various Harry A. Smith models:  Harris Visible / Rex Visible, Victor, Emerson, Burnett, National portable.  All others were sold as their original make/model.


Let's take a look at a timeline, interspersed with ads from my collection and which have appeared on my site previously.

1911 -- Harry A. Smith forms the Harry A. Smith Typewriter Company, with offices and factory in Chicago, to deal in rebuilt typewriters.  Smith had previously worked as a salesman for Burroughs Adding Machine for roughly 12 years, and then as a salesman for Miller-Bryant-Pierce.  Smith was born in England in 1874, and so was 37 years old when he formed this company. 

During the next several years, the company's trade in rebuilt typewriters was busy but for the most part unremarkable.

In 1916-1917, for reasons yet unclear, Smith's company begins to sell typewriters completely repainted and relabeled not as their original make/model but as Harry A. Smith models.

In 1917 after the death of George Blickensderfer,  the Blickensderfer concern sells Harry A. Smith the rights and tooling to manufacture what had been previously marketed as the Blick-Bar.  (See my page on this machine here.)  It appears that Smith set up another whole operation internal to his original company in order to build this machine brand new, while still also rebuilding typewriters as before.

In February 1918, the Federal Trade Commission files action against Smith (and several other companies) for suppression of trade due to false advertising -- essentially, the claim was that Smith was selling rebuilt machines without telling customers they had been rebuilt.  This claim is clearly true from advertising that survives today.

In late 1919 the company makes its first known attempt to sell brand new (unrebuilt) typewriters, when it advertises the National No. 3 "direct from factory."  The No. 5 was about to be announced in January 1920, so these No. 3 models may be the last of the on-hand stock.  One of these machines has however been found not in original trim, but labeled for the Harry A. Smith Typewriter Co.

In December 1919, the rebuilt typewriter operation is separated from the Harry A. Smith Typewriter Company and became the "Smith Rebuilt Typewriter Company."  The Harry A. Smith Typewriter Company continues to attempt to build the former Blick-Bar as the Harry A. Smith No. 10, even buying a plot of land and beginning to build a factory in Elkhart, Indiana.

April 1920:  Smith sells out his ownership of the Smith Rebuilt Typewriter Company to the firm's General Manager and two other persons.  This company changes its name again to "Smith Typewriter Sales Company."  This may have been to help fund his struggling other concern.

In 1921, the Harry A. Smith Typewriter Company (maker of the new machine) is declared bankrupt and a receiver appointed.  This marks the end of Smith's attempt to manufacture typewriters brand new, and the particular design involved was never manufactured again.  Smith had never achieved placing the machine in production, much less on the market.

In 1922,  the Annell Typewriter Company begins to advertise the Annell No. 3 by mail-order, which is a modified Woodstock machine.  Harry A. Smith is heavily involved; Annell is his middle name, and trade press announced him as handling advertising for this machine at the time.  This attempt -- direct mail marketing of a brand new machine, but by a firm separated from the original manufacturer -- is not entirely novel, as we will see in another later post on this site.  The attempt also fails and the machine disappears along with the company.

Sometime after the Annell events, Smith returns to the Smith Typewriter Sales Company as its General Manager and is even featured in its advertising.  Smith, perhaps worn down by years of defeats and obstacles, had developed some sort of stomach problems and died while surgery was being attempted to alleviate these problems on January 11, 1925.

(Obituary details courtesy Alan Seaver.)

Now, we'll look at a few advertisements and place them in proper time and context.  All of the ads you're about to see are either in my collection (some of these are newly acquired) or are those of friends and have been shown on my websites before.  Click to enlarge and read!

November 1914 ad - Will Davis collection

Ad in Will Davis collection; date unknown


1917 ad for relabeled Harris Visible No. 4; Herman and Connie Price collection


1922 ANNELL' Typewriter Co. ad - Will Davis collection

October 1922 Smith Typewriter Sales Co. Ad - Will Davis collection

The above advertisement is of interest for several reasons.  First, this ad presents proof that Smith or his former company sold the Harris Visible / Rex Visible design twice -- once in 1917 and again here, years later, in 1922.  Second, the ad clearly states that this batch of machines was 'salesman's samples' from around the country.  This would correspond with the shutdown and bankruptcy of Rex Typewriter Corporation, and the buyout (at Sheriff's sale) of the entire factory and operation by the new Demountable Typewriter Company.  That would mean that this second batch of machines would be Rex Visible machines originally.  The 1917 sale is thought by this author to be the selloff of the machines formerly used in Sears-Roebuck's offices and catalog administration.  The ad also continues to use essentially the same style of ad copy Smith's ads had been known for for many years prior.

Later style of ad from Smith Typewriter Sales Co.; date unknown

Late ad showing and quoting Harry A. Smith - Herman and Connie Price collection
The above advertisement dates from the final phase of Harry A. Smith's career - he has returned to his former concern as its General Manager.  Also of note is the declaration that the firm is only handling L.C. Smith machines by this time.
Harry A. Smith is known to have sold both Victor No. 2 and Victor No. 3 machines, variously labeled as No. 3, No. 4, No. 6, No. 9 and No. 12 models.  This last model was a "Telegrapher's Special."
We've shown our No. 4 machine at the top of this post; here are two other machines owned by friends.
Above is Richard Polt's Harry A. Smith No. 6, serial number 7447 which was originally a Victor Standard No. 2.  The open front is a giveaway that a Victor - if unaltered - is a No. 1 or No. 2.
Above is Thomas Fuertig's Harry A. Smith which appears to have no model numbers painted on its front frame.  This machine is serial number 20892 and was originally a Victor No. 3.
I hope you've enjoyed this fresh look at Harry A. Smith, even with a bit of an extra focus on the Victor machines.  This blog page should be considered to completely supersede my old "Typewriters by Will Davis" pages on Harry A. Smith.
Thanks to Herman Price, Peter Weil, Richard Polt, Alan Seaver and many others for information used to help assemble the evolving knowledge base on Harry A. Smith over the years.
Here is some further reading that may be of interest:
REBUILT TYPEWRITERS -- the only place on the net to research this topic in depth.  My long standing pages on the topic with complete details.
There are a couple of entries on this blog that mention or cover rebuilt typewriters.
The post on the Woodstock No. 4 contains that company's feelings on rebuilt typewriters.
VICTOR STANDARD TYPEWRITERS -- my pages on the Victor.  Complete history of the machine and coverage of all models. 
12:00 PM 5/4/2013 --  Will Davis