.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

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


  1. Added link to this post from Harry A. Smith page on the Typewriter Database. Very informative!

  2. Very informative post, thanks Will. If you have enough material like this, perhaps you'd consider publishing a typewriter book some day.

  3. Thanks, Ted, and Ton!

    I've been told I should publish a typewriter book numerous times. Unfortunately my work really takes up so much of my time that I never seem to get the time required! As an aside, I've got a group of people trying to get me to write a book on nuclear energy.

    Look here at our newly expanded page for links to some of the material we've published over the years: http://davistypewriters.blogspot.com/p/until-now.html

    And don't miss our main website index. Some links are broken and some content gone, but the most important and best content is all there:


  4. Thanks for the wonderful and informative post. Between you and Robert Messenger I learn more than most anyplace. I agree you really should do a book. Then there is the new addition to Ted's database. Plenty of space to add some of your great information.

  5. I agree with those above re-book. Although saying that, your authoritativeness on the subject means that even your blog posts read more like a book or an academic periodical than a blog, so you're striking happy medium already!