.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Mystery from the Great Typewriter Gathering

Visigraph serial 12970 - Will Davis collection

As regular readers of this blog are well aware, earlier this year I had the good fortune to win the Visigraph you see above in open auction.  The machine created a bit of buzz in collectors' circles because it is not a previously known example - in other words, it isn't as if I'd acquired the machine from another collector.  This was a fresh find, and makes only the 13th known surviving example of this make.

At the now-well-known Gathering (an event so momentous, it surely must be capitalized) held earlier this month by Herman Price, we had the good fortune to have an unprecedented three Visigraph machines in one place, as well as only the second known wooden Visigraph implement / tool box.  Below we can see the three Visigraph machines as they're prepared for comparison in detail.

The machine on the left is that belonging to Herman Price, serial number 10077.  In the middle is that belonging to Richard Polt, serial number 13807.  On the right is my machine, serial number 12970.

Below is a view taken from the other direction; the relation of machines remains the same.

The most obvious external difference between the machines is that Richard Polt's machine is fitted with the optional decimal tabulator, although the key stems have long since been removed from the machine.  The rest of the mechanism remains in place, however and functions essentially as designed.  Other than this purely optional change, the machines displayed no outwardly visible changes in manufacture of any note whatsoever.

The surprise was to be found inside the machines.

As it turns out, my Visigraph -- which is in between the other two in serial number -- has a key lever / type bar mechanism which is very different from that of the other two.  My machine has the mechanism so clearly seen in all of our videos up until now; the other two use a link with a hook at each end to connect the primary key lever and the intermediate bell crank.  Perhaps more significantly, examination of all other available photographs of other known machines (three others available) shows that they all match the hooked link design.  This means that among the surviving Visigraph machines, my machine, serial 12970, is completely unique at the moment.  Examination of the other examples known to exist will have to be arranged.  (This blog post will help facilitate that process through use of photographs for comparison.)

The design employed in my machine is shown well in this video.  Note carefully in this video the point at which we're examining the type bar mounting from the Visigraph, removed and sitting on the work bench.  Note the forked, or slotted, extensions on the back of the bell cranks that are mounted on the back side of this assembly.

For completeness, above is a static view of the type bar mounting assembly from Visigraph s/n 12970 sitting on the workbench.  Note the 'feet,' through which are large holes for the mounting bolts.

Above is the underside of the type bar mounting from Visigraph 12970, seen outdoors during cleaning.  (This was during one of the last warm weeks we had here; it's now far too cold for this!)  The slotted rear extensions of the bell cranks are sticking straight up in this photo.

The view above is looking straight down at the largely disassembled Visigraph 12970.  The right side mounting location for the type bar assembly can easily be seen.  Sticking up from the machine are extensions that are screwed on to the primary key levers.  These engage the slots on the back of the bell cranks in the type bar mounting.  It is through this sliding connection that motion is transmitted from key lever / key lever extension to the actual type bar, through the bell crank and a further link.

The design employed in the other known machines is seen in detail in the photos below.

Above is a view looking into the rear of either Herman's or Richard's machines -- I did not record which one it is, but in this respect the machines are identical.  The connection between the key lever and the set of bell cranks in the type bar mounting is not made with an extension and a pin-and-slot connection to a slotted bell crank, but rather is made with a link, hooked on each end, connected to both the key lever and the bell crank through a simple drilled hole. 

Without getting into incredible detail, this change is significant.  It's significant from a theoretical standpoint (since the design of 12970 includes true accelerated type bar action, which the others do not) and from an assembly standpoint (the type bar mounting will not anywhere near as easily come out of, or be put back into any of the machines other than 12970.)  What's even more interesting is the fact that it is clear that the company changed to the new design by the time 12970 was made, and then changed back to the other design by the time 13807 was made. 

For whatever it is worth, it looks to me as if the key lever extensions on 12970 are just screwed into the same holes used for the links to hook to the key levers as seen on 10077 and 13807.  This would certainly be expedient.

Of course, many were exposed to the Visigraph for the first time at this meeting; few were aware that this machine incorporated a design that allows for a very quick carriage removal.  Below is Richard Polt's machine s/n 13807 with the carriage off.

The housing for the stop levers in the decimal tabulator mechanism can be seen at the top of the photo, mounted at the very back of the typewriter.  On the front is a rotating bar that has marks which corresponded to the keys to operate the mechanism, with four varied scales on the rotating bar.

Peter Weil brought along his rare and interesting Visigraph accessory box, seen below, to make four very scarce related items that were in one place.

•  It is at this point that the tales of the Visigraph will go underground.  I've decided, after many years of having been prodded by other collectors, to finally write a book on typewriters.  This book will be titled "The Visigraph Story" and will detail not just this machine and its history, but also the competitive environment into which it was released.  Peter Weil, who is aware of the project, has given his full endorsement and offered help - and the other collectors who own Visigraphs have already begun to contribute photos and information.  The book will not be large -- Peter has labeled the concept as a "slim volume," which rightly it will be.  I hope to have it out sometime very late this year or early next.  This will be a great challenge with my schedule, but I have at least begun the project during the year marking the 100th anniversary since the appearance of the Visigraph on the market. 

(Oh .. one more thing!  This post was originally going to have been made with a video.  However, I lost my voice due to laryngitis a week ago plus, and still do not have anything like my normal voice back.  Rather than produce an unintelligible video, and rather than continue to wait for my voice to recover, I've decided to post pretty much everything I'd have said or shown in the video here on the blog.  We have things for video piled up, and when I'm back to being able to talk fairly normally for longer than a short while, the videos will come right back.)

Finally, I'd like to thank Robert Messenger for the very kind review of the session in which these machines were compared during the Gathering held by Herman Price.  You can find the post he made here.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

National Combination Typewriter: The National No. 5

Our long-ago page on the National / Portex, part of the Portable Typewriter Historical Spotlights page, and the (original) page on the National / Portex  (linked to the Harris - Rex - Demountable article, since they were made at the same plant) remain essentially accurate in whole and in detail, and are the only authoritative collections of information on the history and development of this line of typewriters. 

One particular name variant of this line is however not represented in enough detail to express its importance; this is that labeling variant that concurs with the company having advertised the National as the "National Combination Typewriter," with the direct implication that the machine was both suitable for use by travelers (as was, say, the folding Corona 3) and for use by those who wished to keep it stationary in a home office.

In both of the National / Portex pages listed above, National No. 3 serial 12681 (part of the Tilman Elster collection at the time) carries the round decal known to have been used during this labeling and marketing period.  I've acquired a No. 5 machine with a slightly more elaborate decal.

National No. 5, serial 16169, Will Davis collection

While this machine carries the designation "National Typewriter No. 5" on its front frame as one would expect, the paper table carries a more descriptive decal seen below.  Click any photo to enlarge.

In the paper table decal we see the description that the machine can be considered either Portable or Stationary, and the description as the "National Combination Typewriter."  It's clear that the manufacturer, the National Typewriter Company, wanted prospective buyers to consider that this typewriter was substantial enough to take hard use. 

Below is a May 1921 advertisement for this typewriter; the ad is in my collection.

The machine has liberal terms, as did quite a number of mail order or "cut rate" machines of the period.  It's interesting to realize that the Rex Typewriter Company and (somehow always associated) National Typewriter Company were among the first to produce standard and portable typewriters in the same factory.  The persons in charge clearly realized the massive profit potential available in portable typewriters at the time, which could charge a semi-premium price for their portability and novelty -- which, considering the very small amount of material they included, assured a large profit margin.

Another advertisement (not shown) from the time stated that the National "Will do the work in any office..  is light enough to be carried anywhere, and heavy enough to 'stay put' when operated rapidly."  Historically we might well consider that this advertising effort heralds the kind of machine we would eventually see in the Alpina -- a portable heavier and more substantial than others of the day, intended to be applicable for small offices if required, but still portable.  Of course, the National's advantage over such machines of the day such as the folding Corona and Fox portables wasn't anywhere near as large as that of the Alpina over other 1960's portables, but the intent of the advertising clearly points in that direction.  Thus, the theoretical implications of the advertising are of interest to historians even if the National's impact in the industry was small.

Above, the front of the National No. 5 can be seen.  The decal says "Sold and guaranteed by National Typewriter Co. Fond du Lac, Wis."

The advertisement seen above states that a carrying case was free with each machine.  National No. 5 serial 16169's case is seen below.  It differs from some later National / Portex cases.

The inside of the case is purple -- just as it is with our Portex No. 5 from a later period.

Very soon after the machine we've been seeing was made, Rex Typewriter Co. took over National Typewriter Co.; National had been using space in Rex's factory, and perhaps it defaulted.  Whatever the case, Rex spent $50,000 to retool the portable machine's production and alter material specifications to reduce its weight to nine pounds even (from nine and a half.)  This was then announced as the Portex; the carrying case was made an option.  Initial announcements for the machine did not specify that the National brand name would be continued, but it most surely was as we know from surviving examples.  What changed in the case of the National-branded machines was that the "combination typewriter" ad approach and labeling was dropped. 

As to the assertion above of "very soon," the machine seen above is serial number 16169 and the lowest so far identified Portex machine is serial number 16390.  The buyout and changeover occurred about May, 1922.

Above, Portex No. 5, Davis Bros. collection, serial number 19882.  This machine has the optional carrying case, with interesting purple lining.

Above, National No. 5, Will Davis collection, serial number 22036.  Note that the "Eagle-N" emblem has appeared, the paper table boldly says "National Typewriter" and that there is no hint of the earlier approach to advertising.

The "National Combination Typewriter" advertising and labeling appeared during production of the National No. 3 machine, and as we've seen stretched right to the early 1922 takeover of the National concern by Rex.  (It's important to note here that the National Typewriter Co. had originally been the National Typewriter Dept. of the Rex Typewriter Company and was split off during sometime in 1918 or perhaps 1919.)  It's perhaps a minor variation in labeling, but we show it here in detail to add to the history of the line and to point out the interesting implications for the future history of portable typewriter marketing and manufacturing portended by the dual-nature approach.

Information for this article from Davis Bros. archives and websites; Peter Weil; Herman Price; Business Equipment Digest; Typewriter Topics.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Post-Meeting Update; New Videos 10/14

The gathering held over the weekend at Herman Price's place was absolutely incomparable.  Collectors, authors, and general enthusiasts had several days' worth of interaction that proved once again that the core of our hobby is PEOPLE. 

Herman and Connie Price did a fabulous job with the entire affair including food and drink.  I had the good fortune to see many friends who I have not seen in a year; I had extended conversations with my friends Peter Weil, Maddie Allen, Richard Polt and Alan Seaver.  I haven't seen Dennis Clark in a number of years, and we talked a number of times (and are now working on a little research project together.)  So many others were there -- long time collectors like Mike Campbell, Fritz Niemann, Paul Robert, Marty Rice.  And of course, all the way from Australia, Robert Messenger, who I was very thrilled to meet and talk with. 

Robert Messenger has made a great post showing some of the machines and people.

So many people were there and there were so many conversations and presentations that I liked that I cannot mention everyone and everything; I can't even remember how many people I talked with right at the moment!  It was all great.  I do especially want to thank Mark Petersen, J.P. Huard and Katie Kirkland for great company at dinner the first night. 


Video Updates

•We made a video before I went down to Herman's place.  This was an update on the Visigraph, and it also delves a bit into our philosophy of how new collectors and enthusiasts should initially approach the concept of repair.  Click here to see this video.

•I made a brief post-meeting video update showing some exciting new additions. Click here to see this new video(At press time, this video was still processing - 9 PM 10/14.)


Photos from the Meeting -- Here are a few photos I took at the meeting this last weekend.  All will enlarge when clicked.

Above, Gabe Burbano's wonderful Oliver portable.  The more of these I see, the better I like them!

Above, Mike Campbell's Century.  This machine is just like the Remington Junior, but carries the branding normally associated with the Century 10.  However, this is clearly still the original configuration, right down to having the ribbon spools behind the carriage just like you'd find on the big Smith Premier No. 10.  Also notable is that this unit has a pharmaceutical keyboard.

Herman Price's Burns No. 1 is seen above.  This is an incredibly rare machine that several collectors, including Giulio Fanutti, said was on the "top of the desirable list."  What a fantastic looking machine!  Peter Weil told me that it's believed today that this machine was never put into what we'd think of as "mass production" ...  all surviving examples have differences that suggest no large standardized factory production was achieved, even briefly.   Reminds one of the Smith Premier No. 1 in some ways, doesn't it?

Above, Remington-Sholes Visible, Herman Price collection.  Another very scarce, relatively early (and briefly produced) "standard four bank front strike" typewriter like the Visigraph we've been showing on this site quite a bit lately.  When the enterprise failed, tooling for this machine went to France where it re-entered manufacture as the Japy.  (There's a Japy right next to this machine that you can't see in the photo, by the way.)

Stearns Visible No. 2, Herman Price collection.  Another relatively early visible standard, which is also a pretty scarce machine these days. 

I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to the next get-together, wherever and whenever it is!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

R.C. Allen Woodstock Ad / Late US Standards

I recently purchased an advertisement that has triggered, along with a recent video (see our video on interchangeable type) a brief look at late manual, standard typewriters.


The general history of the Woodstock / R.C. Allen typewriter line carries the fact that, in 1950, R.C. Allen Business Machines (who had bought the business) changed the name on what had been the Woodstock typewriter, and carried right along manufacturing it in its original Woodstock, Illinois factory.

Back in mid-2006 I spotted (on e-Bay) and purchased a curiosity; a typewriter that carried BOTH brand names -- that is to say, it had both the R.C. Allen and the Woodstock names.  You can see the machine below.

The machine you see above is covered in proper timeline sequence, as is usual for my web pages, at my R.C. Allen gallery.  Click here to see that gallery, mirrored on Alan Seaver's site.

This week, I was fortunate to spot and win the advertising folder (tri-fold, printed on one side only) that you see below. 

This ad both shows the typewriter labeled just as my example is, and also clearly advertises the machine as such -- namely, the "R.C. Allen Woodstock."  Finally, we have at least one piece of ephemera that shows a typewriter we all knew to exist, but for which there was no other evidence other than it, itself.  Unfortunately there's no date on this ad folder.  (Click photo to enlarge.)
As we can see from surviving machines, at least one R.C. Allen exists with a lower serial number than my R.C. Allen Woodstock... which seems to say that, at least initially, the Woodstock branding was dropped.  The company may well have thought better and decided a transition period resurrecting the Woodstock name was required.  (Smart... why ditch well over 30 years' worth of brand recognition?) 
The overall line had a LONG life... and we can tell you now from NOMDA serial number records that it went through 1971.  For comparison, the Woodstock was produced in various models from 1914 through 1950 (36 years) while the R.C. Allen ownership and production era lasted another 21 years, from 1950 through 1971.  Here are the serial numbers for the R.C. Allen Visomatic B, the last model produced (from NOMDA records.)
1965          2356M
1966          2370M
1967          2394M
1968          2415M
1969          2420M
1970          2445M
1971          2470M
The end of production of this long-lived line is just one of a series of stoppages in a several year span that marked the end of the manual, standard typewriter being built in America.  In 1968, Underwood (actually, Olivetti-Underwood) stopped manufacturing typewriters here; Smith-Corona halted production of its manual standard typewriter in 1970.  As we see, R.C. Allen followed in 1971.  Royal shut down its Hartford, Connecticut plant in 1973 so that later Royal standard manuals were made overseas; it had already been importing some.  Remington had already quit manufacturing standard machines here but these continued to be made overseas and imported.
Above, Smith-Corona Secretarial 76, manufactured 1970.
This wasn't the end of the SALE of manual, standard machines in the United States by a long shot, though. Well established brands such as Olivetti, Olympia, and Facit had manual standards available here well into the 1980's.  International Typewriter Exchange eventually obtained licenses to import both the East German-made Optima standard machine, and the Polish-made Predom machine and sold very many to the US Government. (One of these Predom machines is on the header of this blog - on the left.)  Morse, an import firm, also later continued to import Remington brand machines even after the original company had ceased to exist, with the machines being produced in Italy, in the mid-1980's. 
Above - PREDOM 1012, manufactured 1986 and imported and sold by ITE.
I'll keep an eye out for more information / ephemera regarding the R.C. Allen Woodstock, and if and when I find any you'll see it here.  I just hope it isn't another seven years!
6:20 PM  10/8/2013

Sunday, October 6, 2013

ABC 2000 Comparison

Up right now at our new YouTube Channel is a fun exercise that we would normally (in the past) have conducted using photos and text on either my site or this blog, and it involves this typewriter. The machine you see above has been shown on my various site pages (Portable Typewriter Reference Site, European Typewriter Project) for many years; it's the Sears Chevron, or perhaps better the Sears Model 5298.  This is a version of what was originally known as the ABC 2000, but this one was made in Portugal. 

Well, a long while back I acquired an actual German-made ABC 2000 variant ... and then forgot about it.  The two were right next to each other, stored, when I noticed them last week and decided to do the comparison point-for-point.  We had the idea that it might be fun to just film it cold, and that's exactly what you will see on the video.  Click below to see the video; it'll open in a new window.

ABC 2000 Comparison (Portuguese / German made variants)

Let us know if you have a particular machine you'd like to see us review, or analyze, in one of our videos.  If we get a number of votes for a particular model (that we have available, that is) we can certainly give our impressions.  We already have a number of such "walk-around" videos in planning.

8:40 PM 10/6/2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Interchangeable type, and more on Visigraph

We've created and uploaded TWO new videos which will appeal, we think, to many people interested in typewriters -- new or old, standard or portable.

The first is "Visigraph in Detail 3."  This is a continuation of the Visigraph series, showing not only this machine but introducing viewers to construction details and concepts of typewriters in general.  It's our deliberate style in these videos to slow down and show detailed concepts in a simple manner.  Of course, the end in view is that people so inclined will end up viewing these machines as exactly what they are -- machines -- first, and 'collectibles' second.  You can see me in the above photo having just reinserted the type bar assembly (which I discuss in the video) but before taking apart the carriage some more (which is also discussed in the video.) 

The second takes off on a theme we started as 'bonus footage' in another video by showing the Brother Dial-A-Type, and is called "Brother and Smith-Corona Interchangeable Type."  We show the other style of Brother machine that can be found with an interchangeable feature, and then take a quick but thorough look at some Smith-Corona machines of many varied sizes and ages that include interchangeable type.  There's even a surprise machine at the end.

Video links (will open in new tab / window):

Visigraph in Detail - 3

Brother, Smith-Corona Interchangeable Type