.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sometimes You Forget - Commodore 2000

While looking around in the vault for Consul machines to show in the previous post I happened into the ABC - Cole Steel area and spotted two similar cases.  One of them I knew right off, but the other one, which was identical except for being a different color, was not familiar.  Yet another machine I'd forgotten about?  Yes.

The one whose exterior I recognized is shown first.  This is the Sears Chevron of the late 60's and it's one of the machines Sears brought in as a mid-priced machine.  This all-steel-bodied and well made typewriter was made by MESSA in Portugal, and derives from the ABC series made originally in Germany until 1966.  In Sears model parlance, this is a Sears 5298.  But what was in the other case?

Here's the answer:  A Commodore 2000, which I almost immediately remembered after opening up the gray case lid.  I quickly tried to remember how long I'd had it, but..  nothing.  Notable on the front left corner of the machine though was the sticker seen below.

This machine was not made in Portugal; it was made in Germany!  That makes it pretty unusual, since this design didn't last long there.  I was immediately glad to have one of the newer style machines made in Germany to compliment the Sears Chevron.

The earliest of the ABC line of typewriters had the general appearance of the "Hammertone Green" machine seen above, relabeled for sale by Cole Steel Office Machines in the United States.  This design was apparently expensive enough to make that the original maker in Germany redesigned the key lever / type bar portion of the machine while leaving most of the rest intact; the resulting redesign is seen above as the Commodore 2000 and, when moved to Portugal, the Sears Chevron. The redesign converts the front end of the machine to the modern 'four dowel' method of key lever mounting, with the ribbon bail driven off the top of the cranks formed by the key levers. 

The redesign apparently did not kill off the original basic design however, which was shifted to a plastic body and sold at a lower price.  This Sears 5297 actually has a significantly higher serial number than the Chevron / 5298 seen earlier, and of course was also made in Portugal.  To be clear, the machine seen here retains the same key lever mechanism as the original ABC (Cole Steel).  It's possible the company was simply using up stocks of parts to construct this late model. 

Anyway, the Commodore 2000 is one of the more unusual machines Jack Tramiel's Commodore Business Machines brought into Canada in the days before it became well-known as a computer manufacturer.  In this case the machines were made in Germany (by the original maker of the ABC line, Koch's Adlernahmaschinenwerke, Bielefeld) unlike the Consul-derived machines which arrived in pieces and which Commodore itself assembled.

These two - the Chevron and the 2000, whose fit and finish are identically good - are much better typewriters than their flattish appearance might let on.  While they're not as sturdy as larger more upright models they're everything that the contemporary Princess machine is in terms of quality and almost are in terms of typing feel.  They're solid and unlikely to get out of order; this variation is a definite improvement on the earlier ABC style with the early, different key lever mechanism.

I was reminded that this isn't the only old-style Commodore machine I had; there was also a Patria family machine somewhere down there to be found.  I eventually found it. 

This is a Spanish-made machine, with labeling applied for Commodore (part of which has long ago broken off; I got it this way.)  These Patria family machines were more often seen as the Amaya overseas and, in a later plastic bodied variant, the Florida here in the United States.  As with the German made machine this machine was wholly manufactured by its OEM originator and shipped complete to Commodore for distribution.  

Commodore registered its name for use on typewriters in 1964, although it stated in that filing that the first use of the name in commerce occurred in September 1959.  According to Tramiel's obituary in The Guardian, he formed the first version of Commodore in 1952 using a $25,000 GI loan; this was a shop in the Bronx, New York (actually the result of the buyout of a local shop, Singer Typewriter).  Tramiel moved and opened Commodore International Ltd. (later, Commodore Business Machines) in Toronto, Canada in 1955, according to the obit, "to import and sell typewriters."  According to Tramiel himself, there wasn't profit to be had solely in typewriter repair, but there was considerable profit in importing foreign made typewriters and selling them.  Soon, Tramiel found himself with a license to construct the Czech Consul typewriters and a big contract from Sears, Roebuck (Simpson's-Sears) in Canada.  Tramiel is quoted in that interview as saying that the actual application of the name Commodore to its typewriters didn't occur until 1958.

While it's the Consul machines that get mentioned most often by Tramiel in interviews, it's clear that the company was bringing in other makes to sell directly.  The company even brought in Remington standard machines which I've seen, carrying the same semi-script Commodore label.  As to the Commodore 2000, that model wasn't in production very long before manufacturing was shifted to Portugal, making it a solidly mid-60's machine.  

It's always nice to head into your collection and discover something you'd forgotten about, especially when it triggers another look at a history you'd written once before (the first Commodore pages appeared on my original site well over a decade ago).  Since downsizing considerably over the last several years I haven't had much opportunity for that to happen, but it still can today.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Consuls Continue

When looking back at having had typewriter-related pages on the internet for 18 years this month I'm reminded of the early days of going out to second hand shops, antique stores and antique malls, consignment shops, garage sales and flea markets looking for typewriters.  One brand that we had in bunches here in Ohio that seems harder to find elsewhere is the Czech-made Consul.  These sold quite well here; perhaps it's not as big a mystery why as one might think, considering the very wide Czech-origin immigrant background we have here.  (They've provided us not just with great typewriters to collect, but great food as well!)

First off we see a machine labeled President - a name surely applied to give the machine better appeal here in the states - and which is dated to 1958 by the case label sometimes but not always found stuck either in the center of the lid or centered on the base under the typewriter.  This early series of Consul portables was a straight development from the Zeta portable, which probably explains the ZP prefix that the serial numbers of such machines have.  This example is serial ZP-111888. 

These segment-shifted machines were pretty well made, but these early ones just are not as tight and refined as major makes their size from their day.  Still, they're good machines and it's pretty clear that just like Japan would do with automobiles the Czech firm of Zbrojovka Brno, who made the Consul machines, was taking feedback and improving design and assembly all the time.

The machine above is of the same lineage, but is missing its front label.  It's a safe bet that the machine at one time said "Consul" on the front as we'll see on others later but there's also the chance it had some American-sounding name for sale here.  This example is serial ZP-121555, is dated to 1959 by its case label and actually came with tools and its instruction book. The machine also had its rubber carriage knob caps that serve as the carriage immobilization - one can be seen on the left of the machine in the case base.  Interestingly, neither the cover illustration nor the interior diagram in this machine's manual matches this typewriter.  We'll briefly see those below. 

Here we see two illustrations found on the instruction book for ZP-121555 from 1959.  The upper illustration is close to the machine but has two fewer character keys, while the interior diagram illustration is the more deluxe model with rounded lines.  Clearly, the product lineup was in a state of change and development. 

What's known officially as the Consul 1511 comes next in our stroll through the Consuls.

Consul 1511 serial ZP-157225 is seen here; this machine has a case label dating it to 1959.  This design has a lever-set tabulator and automatic margin setting like many Royals and others.  Compared to the previous machines, these are deluxe models and are good running machines.

Consul 1511 serial ZP-164862 (label date also 1959) is not different from the previous machine. Note that the "Consul" name label on both of these deluxe models is chromed.

This machine is a Consul Silent, with serial number ZP-185678.  There's no case label, but this machine might be from 1960.  There's nothing special or different about this machine to make it any quieter than any other; the model name is thus probably simple marketing.  What is unusual is that this is the only machine I've got in the old, square body style that has smooth enamel paint on it, which is a sort of strange beige.  The others are all crinkled. 

These models above were all found locally; the local supply also yielded a much later Consul portable, seen below.

The Consul 221.1 seen here is an excellent typewriter, and any real typist encountering one of these in any kind of good shape should buy it.  These are solid, well made and pretty fast.  This machine is serial number 0 221 115301.

The portables seen above - sometimes thought of or referred to as "upright" or "desk model" portables - were not the only portables ZB manufactured.  The company also introduced an extremely widely sold and successful line of flat portables, some of which we'll see below.

This is a Consul 1531, the earliest of the flat Consul portables which was introduced around 1959 or 1960.  This machine is serial 031133364.  The "031" on the front of the serial refers to the model.  

A similar machine stripped of its mask components reveals the simplicity of the flat Consul machines.  Key levers are mounted on four dowels that themselves are held in a 'dowel plate' at the front of the machine, and act simply as cranks pulling the intermediate link (a wire) and then the type bar itself.  Simple stampings make up the frame.  This basic construction feature was shifted over to more and more by manufacturers around the world in an attempt to get manufacturing costs down. All Silver-Seiko flat machines, all Nakajima manual machines, the Olivetti Lettera 32 and all derivatives thereof use a form of this design of key lever mounting - as do a number of others.

A variety of machines was developed from the flat 1531 including those seen here, which we'll briefly take a look at individually.  

Consul model 232, serial 5 232 291108

Consul model 232, serial 5 232 298786

Consul model 233, serial 3 233 009437

The Consul 1531 was directly replaced, it appears, by the 232, but the 233 was added later.  This machine, as we can see, had a different body, two more keys, a lever set tabulator and different keytops.  However, the mechanical concept of the machine was essentially the same. 

Above we see a relabeled Consul 233.  This machine carries the name "Baldwin," and is serial number 6 233 040454.  It's suspected but not confirmed that this machine was sold by Bundy Typewriter in Philadelphia, who was known to sell and service both the Czech Consul line and the Bulgarian-made Maritsa line.  

Concerning the flat machines and identification - it seems that the single digit out in front of the serial is a year reference; the next three digits are the model number, followed then by a serial.  This holds true for other subvariants of the flat line, not shown here.  

On the rear of the Consul 233 we can see the distinctive Zbrojovka Brno emblem - a capital Z in the center of a rifled gun barrel.  This is because the firm was originally an arms manufacturer; it got involved with making Remington machines before the Second World War under license.  However, the segment shifted big portables and flat portables seen on this page were developed independent of Remington and are unlike any of that company's designs.  In fact, it seems likely that the Czech large portable was the first segment-shifted big portable to be sold in numbers that was made in Europe.

Zbrojovka Brno sold the rights and tooling for typewriters to a company known as RVHP in 1977 at the time when nationalized industry was privatized; that company lasted making Consul machines until about 1988.  My records show that a new firm, REMAGG, relaunched Consul production in 1992 but, as might be expected, that company quit typewriters (and office equipment) in 1998.

So much for our little walk down Consul memory lane.  You used to be able to find lots of these here in Ohio - I passed on quite a number back in the old days.  I could have had double or more of these, but I left them for the next person.  Who knows where they all went ... but for sure, there are many more out there, somewhere, waiting to appear from attics, basements and barns.  Even today!

ZP-121555 and ZP-111888

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Royal Safari at Eighteen Years on the Net

Folks, I put up my very first typewriter-related web page eighteen years ago this month.  The purpose of that early site - which started on AOL Hometown and then was supplemented by GeoCities - was to identify the myriad of portable typewriters found out in the wild which had no source for identification.  There were no sites, no lists; no databases. No books of use.  Nothing. No "serious" collectors had any interest in any modern portables at all. I was essentially alone, but after I got started and people in the collecting world became certain I was serious, a number jumped on board.  Eventually those original sites expanded to cover not just world-wide portables (many shown and identified there for the first time anywhere) on the Portable Typewriter Reference Site, but also early visible standards and hundreds of European machines of all sorts.  The original set of sites, with some Bravehost pages added, was well over 220 separate pages on various subsections at the peak.  Many collectors eventually helped out; many are still friends today.  Sadly, a number of critical people from those early days are no longer with us - but are well remembered.

Looking back on those early days when every portable interested me isn't too different from now - they still do.  Since it's been 18 years of this hobby and thus 18 years of friendships, co-authoring, contention, work, and fun all wrapped up I thought I might put up a few posts that hark back to the early days, showing some of the sorts of things that initially intrigued me.  Here's one such sort of thing - the relative zoo of Royal portables labeled "Safari."

A ROYAL SAFARI - of sorts

The Royal Safari was introduced about 1962 - at least, the version seen here which is likely to be that variant most frequently brought to mind when the model name is mentioned.  This variant was produced at Royal's still-new plant for manufacturing portable typewriters in Springfield, Missouri.  These machines (that is to say, this basic mechanical design no matter the small changes or model name) were well made and very widely sold, keeping Royal at the forefront of the field.

Royal itself, however, was not to continue for very long in its original form.  The company, which properly had been merged into the new Royal-McBee Corporation in 1954, was bought and merged by Litton Industries - a giant conglomerate corporation.  The merger took place on February 28, 1965, marking the beginning of what would become a huge office machine organization.

An interesting change took place almost immediately; the company began bringing Silver-Seiko manual portables into the US and selling them under its name.  The next year, 1966, Litton bought Imperial Typewriter Co. in England; in 1968 it bought Triumph-Adler (which already owned Grundig, who was producing the Tippa portable.)  The firm has also bought adding machine manufacturer Monroe in 1967.

Rationalization of production was not long in coming, and in 1969 Royal closed its Springfield portable typewriter plant.  Imperial's plant closed in 1974.

During this time the trend of selling imported typewriters was growing in every market, and typewriters were becoming more and more international than they'd ever been before.  The first "Safari" that Royal sold which wasn't really a Royal came from Portugal - where it had transferred the machinery to make the original "1962" Royal Safari. 

At left we see one of those Portuguese-made Royal Safari machines, in a nostalgic shot from my old website.  These machines were very heavily encased in plastic, with a fair amount of space between the body shell (mask, officially) and the machine itself.  What this machine actually was had no relation to the former-US made Royals, but in fact was the last development of the old West German ABC machine from the mid-1950's whose production had also been transferred to Portugal - specifically, to MESSA S.A.R.L.

The Royal Safari was a fairly close copy of the abc2000s which is seen below in a very recent shot.  This was also sold as the Imperial Safari; the Litton versions are all-plastic but the abc version has considerably more metal used in the body and lid.  Rarely, the Safari can be found in green.

Following the years of Litton ownership (which ended in 1979 when Volkswagen bought TA-Royal) a few other machines were brought in and sold as the "Safari" - but with Roman numerals added.  These are seen and briefly discussed below.

The typewriter above is a Royal Safari II.  This machine, it will be noted, does not bear the Litton Industries "Li" emblem anywhere and postdates that firm's involvement with Royal.  The Safari II was manufactured by Nakajima in Japan, and is a late model whose primary key lever mount is completely enshrouded, preventing fouling.  The rounded, downward curved margin set tabs are always a giveaway for a Nakajima (although there are some Nakajimas out there that don't use this design, mostly electrics.)  This carriage shifted machine is a pretty solid runner, and capable of decent speed.  

Above we see the Royal Safari III.  This machine was manufactured in South Korea by Dong Ah Precision, the second of two Korean typewriter manufacturers (the other being K-Mek, which made the Clover.)  Interestingly both Korean makers were building clones of Silver-Seiko machines; the Clover was a copy of the very common small Silver-Seiko, while this Safari III was a version of the much larger and different Silver-Seiko machine that is also much less commonly seen.  So far as this writer is concerned this is a very good to excellent typewriter; the response is smooth and solid, and the machine could be used comfortably by people with a wide range of typing competence and style.

This slightly improbable machine, the Royal Safari IV, is by far the hardest to find of the bunch and, frankly, the worst.  This is another version of the small Silver-Seiko machine, but this time manufactured in Bulgaria by Typewriters Works Plovdiv.  This machine is analogous to the Maritsa 30 (original name) and the Omega 30 (the name commonly used for export to the US.)  The Safari IV and an Omega 30 are seen below.  All examples of the 30-series Bulgarian machine suffer from poor gluing of the label plates, and these have often been found to be missing on these machines.  As an aside, the same machine can be found with a TA-Royal label.

In 1986, Olivetti bought TA-Royal, ending any further potential variations like those above and seeing the Royal name instead applied to other designs.  

What you're seeing me calmly go through above, rattling off models and makers took years to develop, research and prove.  The internet wasn't what it is now in those days, and there was precious little help.  (Those who DID help know who they are!)  Advertisements, trademarks, patents and, most importantly, international collectors who could provide pieces to the many puzzles were all necessary to properly write the history of so many varied brands.  And we're still discovering things, still finding new information and updating old - it likely will never end.  And that, my friends, gives me hope for another 18 years or more in this wonderful hobby!  

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Typewriter Type - Making Type Slugs

Some recent questions have come up in online communities surrounding the manufacture of type for typewriters.  We have a few answers.

First, I'd suggest reading this piece that covers typewriter type terminology.  That's a mouthful, but it's important to have everyone understand and use the same terms in order to communicate.

Now, a bit of history....

Type slug from Harris Visible No. 4.


For much of the history of manufacturing typewriters in the United States, it appears as if all the big manufacturers actually made their own type in either their own plants or plants captive to them.  The companies began to employ special designers as time went on to develop more and more interesting kinds of type styles to be offered, but still kept all of the manufacturing in house.

It was not until after the Second World War that US manufacturers began heavily to purchase type manufactured elsewhere for application to typewriters otherwise wholly built in the United States.  The earliest known example of this was when, in 1955, R. C. Allen began to apply type imported from Germany which had been made by Ransmayer and Rodrian, Berlin.   From that time on, other US makers began to employ foreign made type in some or other quantity; of course, many also began to import to the US portable (and later standard) typewriters made overseas which were themselves, naturally, fitted with foreign-made type.


PRINT - The Magazine of the Graphic Arts - included in its Typewriter Type issue (June, 1952) a description of the manufacture of type slugs at the Remington-Rand plant in Elmira, New York.  In order to avoid plagiarism we will simply describe the process in our own words.

According to PRINT, typewriter type was originally cast (or 'moulded') as had been done with the type used in printing presses.  However, this process by itself didn't produce a type face that could withstand years of hard use.  We don't have a good handle on the exact date that it occurred but according to PRINT, makers changed over to die forging soft slugs which were then hardened to withstand the abuse of hard service. 

The material used for the slugs in the example given in PRINT was "soft, low carbon steel" which was received at the plant in 20 foot lengths and then cut into slugs.  Actually, the slugs were cut and stamped at the same time with "wings" or tabs that were then folded to form the slot on the back of the slug that would match up with the type bar after the slug was fully complete.

Next, the slug was placed into a press which contained a die that had sunk into its face the desired type style.  Pressing the die against the slug with 11 tons of force caused the slug to conform to the die and produced the raised "type face" or lettering that would eventually make the impression on a completed typewriter; the actual mechanical action of this special machine was not just direct pressure but also a rolling or, as described, a "kneading" action in order to ensure complete formation of the raised characters.  Flash or excess from the die molding process was trimmed at this time. 

At this point the type slug looks complete but is far too soft for actual service.  Use of a soft material allowed easier cutting and forming, but a series of hardening steps was now required to prepare the type slugs for millions of impacts in actual service.  The first step was immersion in a bath of cyanide at 1600 F; following removal from this bath the slugs were quenched.  These steps hardened the slugs.  Next, when cool, the slugs were lowered into a cadmium plating bath that was intended to provide the proper hardening specifically on the type face (the characters, that is) itself.  Each was inspected after having been removed from the plating.

Of course, the final destination for type slugs is application to the type bars of a machine, and this was normally accomplished by soldering the pin and slot type connection formed by the slot on the type slug and the end of the type bar.  However, there were other types of connections on some machines, such as pin and loop. 

Alignment of the type slug was critical in every direction and dimension, and companies developed various jigs and procedures to ensure the type slugs were applied properly.  Some sort of alignment check was of course also required after the machine was assembled, and at that point the manufacturing life of the type slug is completed when the adjuster/inspector signs off on the machine and a signed or stamped type proof sheet is produced.  (These can sometimes be found with a typewriter; they were often shipped with the machine new.) 

It should be added that some rebuilders applied new type to machines as a matter of habit, in order to restore the machine to fully like-new characteristics.  These companies then had to at least have the ability to get slugs from the OEM and then also the ability to properly apply, align and inspect the slugs / machine thereafter.

Type slugs can be removed and resoldered; the most common reason for that these days is looseness or breakage but an increasing interest is being seen in converting QWERTY machines to QWERTZ or back, particularly for enthusiasts acquiring machines not regularly sold in their home countries.  For example, an American collector might acquire a QWERTZ Princess portable if he or she was fairly confident a local shop could swap two type slugs and two keytops to convert the machine to English QWERTY layout.  Naturally, other conversions are possible such as AZERTY, and so forth.

We hope this brief description has been of some assistance to collectors, historians and even those vaguely contemplating making new parts or machines.  The type (and type bars) are of course a critical part of a typewriter and require a very high degree of precision.  According to Beeching:

"There are approximately forty-two operations in the manufacture of each type bar alone.  From this it can be deduced that typewriter production is a manufacturing nightmare.  It is quite true to say that today, with any given quantity of capital, manufacturing capacity and skill, almost anything is more profitable to manufacture than a typewriter."  (Wilfred A. Beeching, "Century of the Typewriter.")

When Beeching originally wrote that in 1973 (in the first edition) he certainly was correct, although it must be pointed out that people did still need typewriters and that good ones would sell.  Today, we might consider 3D printing as a possible or less expensive way to manufacture type slugs but the questions of accuracy and hardness would need serious investigation with this new method.  In fact, the type slugs might be the most questionable part of all if 3D printing were considered for new use.