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  • 03/18/13--02:26: Testing 123
  • New to me, this Blogger. So some random jottings first, to see if this works. And of course to figure out a bit how it works too.

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  • 03/20/13--10:04: Why

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  • 03/23/13--08:13: Trendy?
  • Perhaps typewriters are now/becoming trendy again. Just noticed that the user manual of a Fiat 500 (a trendy car, it's selling point is mainly it's design I think) is entirely typed.

    Well, they used a typewriter typeface, the blackness of the characters are very regular for the same character. But it is even in red and black, now that is very appropriate for such a typeface :-)

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    The feed rollers after ~75 years had become very hard and D-shaped instead of round. This made paper feed a very random affair. Even though the machine comes with a "World Service", it's out of warranty by about 74 years. 

    To get the machine to feed properly again the back-rollers have now been replaced with new 'rubber' from several layers of heat-shrink tubing (in-expertly). The platen is a bit hard (noisy, but not a big issue) and seems to have worn or shrunk un-evenly (makes the paper want to go awry on linefeed). Over about an inch on the left-side of the platen it is about half a mil smaller in diameter than the rest. After having tinkered with the rollers, I'm not tackling that or taking the carriage apart in any way however.

    The machine works again, cleaned and with new ribbon on the spools.

    A very explicitly mechanical machine that lasts. Should be good for another 75 years :)

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    The first Royal portables were afaik the boxy design, the 'Model P' and so forth. Replaced mid 30-ies by the rounded squarish design.

    When did Royal make a small portable typewriter in a streamline design?

    There is one listed on the local Ebay version for sale with a cover that looks more like a Corona streamlined design than anything else but marked Royal.

    Where does this fit in the Royal line of portables, wondering...

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  • 03/29/13--12:33: Just arrived, shipment
  • Latest (and last, honest) shipment arrived today.

    Bought via the major local online auction site. Packed with only a layer of cardboard (and tape, tape is good :) around a single layer bubblewrap wrap. The postman thankfully was careful, arrived pretty much unscathed as they usually do via the post.

    and inside

    In the picture it looks in great shape. When viewed up close in person - needs some work. Good thing is that the feed rollers are still pretty ok (round at least) and the platen seems fine. The feet are totally gone, seem to have taken the last 80 years to perform a slow-motion explosion.

    The case does have some damage also, likely older damage and not from the last shipment. The cleats have partly just sheared off the case. Have to think about how to fix that.

    But first de-gunk and clean!

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    Browsing an older issue of 'Het Leven' ('Life') magazine of 1937, the following article caught my eye "A relief for speedy composers.":

    The caption (in Dutch) reads:
    "The laborious writing down of musical notes, sharps and flats, the time consuming writing out of the different orchestral parts and all the burden that the complicated musical notation is for the speedy composer have been resolved in one fell swoop by German engineer Rundstatler, with his machine that can write musical score with the speed that a typist can take a letter! The machine writes everything, both the musical notes and the bars as well as even the most complicated chords - now just some inspiration, and our composers write a symphony in a day!"

    One other mention of the Rundstatler machine turned up on a first quick internet-search. A scan of an advertisement for the machine (included in a thesis for it's graphic design).

    Looking at the machine in the photograph, it somewhat resembles perhaps an Adler mechanism. Still has at first glance a 'normal' 4-bank keyboard and the sheet clearly shows indeed musical notation. The print-ad suggests this was probably on the market and for sale; in this blog some recent (and much better) pictures of an actual Nototyp machine.

    A second internet-search quickly yielded a patent for the machine and also showed that it (of course :-) was already the subject of an article on oz.typewriter. Including a much better quality version of the photograph above and much extra information on these machines.

    But still enjoyable and inspiring to run across such little tidbits of ingenuity from decades ago.

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    And with the new ribbon; it types again! (Skips though. A lot.)

    The old ribbon was completely out-of-ink. I won't say 'dry' or 'empty', because I do suspect the ribbon to be responsible for some of that mouldy-smell. It had been folding double length-wise, winding onto the spool folded in half. This of course meant it wound to a larger diameter; so it had become firmly stuck inside the spool-cup. And when it was well and truly wedged stuck, my guess is that the ribbon-reverse also didn't work anymore. It then probably spent a decade or more developing that green/black layer that glued everything even tighter. Yuck.

    But all that is now cleaned. And disinfected with a good helping of IPA alcohol on the bare metal parts (taking better care now to steer clear of the bakelite).

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    When browsing through an old issue of Popular Mechanics (the March 1930 issue to be exact, amazing what is on the internet), the following short article drew my attention.

    The text was intriguing and not quite clear to me at first reading. Did make me wonder: what did such a machine look like?

    Another slightly longer article in an American newspaper of April of the same year gives more information about the machine (but still no pictures) and especially information on the rationale for such a machine:

    Reading this pitch; it should be a great success! But these machines did not become ubiquitous. This had me wondering for a bit. Why is that?

    The machine may have been too costly for it's benefit back in the 30-ies, but probably there is a another cause. The fact that also today we use mostly character based keyboards is a strong hint there is a fundamental flaw in the proposition of a word writing machine.

    When viewing a writing machine from the information flow point of view, then I think there is a likely, fundamental reason word-writing machines are not and will not be a great success.
    In the case of a regular typewriter or a modern computer keyboard, the user needs to choose over time a character from a keyspace of about 30 characters. With every decision made, the information (character) is added to the result (text).

    For a word-writing machine, the user has to choose from a keyspace of 100 (50%), 400 (90%) or even 1000 words (98%) in addition to the individual characters. Assuming an average word length of 6 characters, this would allow the user to need 6 times as long to make the choice in this larger keyspace to still need the same amount of 'work' to write a text. The time ('work') needed to make the choice and enter into the machine is I suspect not a straight linear relation with the size of the keyspace. Probably there is an exponential relationship. Making a choice and a keyboard entry from a 130+ keyspace takes longer than entering 6 regular keystrokes.

    The benefit of word-writing (if any) is too small to justify the cost of learning a new entry method.

    Anyways, I get distracted. What did it look like...

    A quick trawl through patent databases turned up a few patents with likely relevant titles. The US patent numbers 1,587,137 for a "Word Writing Machine",  1,590,998 for a "Combined Keyboard and Chart" and 1,619,691 for a "Typewriting Machine" all describe and claim such a device. These were filed for during the early 1920-ies.

    From the text of the patents it seems that Mr Balston started filing patent applications for this invention already in 1914. Overall, Mr Balston was a quite prolific inventor over a broad field. His published patents range from a "Nursing Bottle" (1890) to a "Photographic Camera".

    But back again to the word-'macro'-writing machine; the first patent describes the machine that has the ability to print a series of letters in one go; print a whole word in a from a single key-press. It does this with a row/rack of letter-rings, indeed much like the mileage counter on a speedometer. The hard rubber letter-rings have all printable characters on the outer diameter. The rings are rotated so as to form the word to be written and then hammered against the page. The rotation is controlled of course via the key selected on the keyboard and encoded in the mechanics.

    It could be seen, in working principle, perhaps as a hugely parallel Hammond-like machine.  Or similar to the mechanism of adding machines (or cash registers) to print all digits of a number in one strike, albeit with many more characters.

    Rather complex drawings, but they do show the basic arrangement:


    Driving the thing was a problem to be solved, the depressing of the key does not give enough energy to make the whole-word imprint. (Adding machines have a hefty lever for that.) In the patent a clockwork spring is mentioned that would be wound up so as to have sufficient energy for the machine to work for some time. An electric motor would probably be the preferred solution...

    Selecting the words was rather ingenious, as described in the newspaper article above. The diagram from the patent shows the general idea. Also it shows the complexity, there is a large choice to be made by the user for every entry:

    Given the sophistication of the patents and the detail in the articles, at least one functional machine would surely have been built. Can't however find any sign of this device becoming a commercial product.

    The complexity in the construction added by the 'macro' function, combined with the unusual keyboard operation probably were more costly than the cost of just writing the individual characters. Also by 1930 the form-writers were, I guess, established products, using paper-tape or pre-punched aluminium strip or sheet. These would be hard to compete against in such a specialty product for a niche market by an unproven method that would take more work.

    Still curious if a photograph of this machine (or such a machine) exist?

    Distracting, this internet. Interesting, but distracting...

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  • 04/12/13--12:23: Large, heavy, green and gone
  • Large it was. The machine itself, a solid office desktop machine, has already quite a footprint; add to that a carriage with a 50 cm wide platen. This could take an A3 - sideways. This really made it unwieldy, hard to carry and hard to store.

    Heavy it was. Even though most of the machine was aluminium, the material was used rather generously. Very solidly built. The extra wide carriage probably made the machine just that little bit heavier than even a regular version would be.

    Green it was almost but not quite. It is the brand's particular shade of not quite green and not quite grey. It's period I suppose.

    Gone it is. Selling it on the local online auction site proved really not feasible. There just isn't that much interest in a 50 cm platen machine, as I can well imagine. Now I've read about the desirability of these machines elsewhere, but overhere they are as common as mud. There are at any given time 5 or 10 of these listed in between several hundred machines of other makes and sizes. And that is just the local (national) auction site for this fairly small market. So in the end it was dropped off at the local charity shop...


    When I got it (ages ago), I rather liked the glass-topped keys. They did however seem quaint and out of place on the otherwise sleek and modern body. I've assumed that for specific keyboard layouts (e.g. with the 'ij' key) for smaller markets glass keys may have been used. Then they would perhaps not need tooling to make small-run keytop graphics. Or it's just random.

    Every machine has a serial number, so I've read. Being curious, I looked for it but couldn't find a serial number anywhere on this machine. I didn't remove any glued-down felt padding to look underneath, but otherwise I looked pretty much all over the machine and I did use a flashlight. Not a number in sight. The one thing that was inside the machine was a small scrap of paper with the word 'Asterlist', stuck under a clip. No idea what that was of/for/about; maybe the name of the typeface. I put the scrap of paper back where it was and put the machine together again.

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  • 04/16/13--10:50: Taking the air

  • It must run out of smell eventually...

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  • 04/22/13--01:22: Free typing course

  • Well that is nice! The kind Remington company throws in lots of FREE stuff with their Noiseless Portable typewriter. (The actual price you will pay for the Noiseless is worryingly absent from this full-page magazine ad. Hmm...)

    That a portable machine comes with a case I would rather expect as standard, but hey, the whole ad is rather 'loud' anyways. (The differing 'tones' of the ads of the different brands can be a whole subject of itself probably...) But that typing course would be neat to have.

    Writing to the company would be rather pointless. I didn't buy the machine new of course and apart from that, the whole company is no longer there.

    Yet also after ~75 years, the booklet is still available. A few sellers of old/rare books have it on offer for about $30,- (not 'gratis'). Even more amazingly, such a booklet is available in a couple of places online on the internet. Scanned and in a handy PDF format even, at That is awesome: Thanks!

    So.   Got the Noiseless.   I wanted the booklet.

    With a very physical machine like a typewriter, it seemed better to also have a physical booklet (with operating instructions too!). So to complete my new Noiseless, I printed myself a copy.

    Starting with the online scans, used picture editing tools to edit out most of the stains, spots and creases that paper collects with age. Then made a printing layout for double-sided on A3 paper (thin, smooth, just a little too white probably), at about the right size (I think). So to the color laserjet printer; then stack, staple and cut to size: Booklet!

    By the way, when sitting down to read my newly printed booklet, I noticed that the company actually recommends the manner of typing touch, top of page 5; "strike them quickly and do not allow the finger to hang on to the key at the end of the stroke". That sounds a lot like a description of 'staccato' style :-)

    Now to practice. Or perhaps just stick with my 'sight method' of typing.

    Joy :-)

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  • 05/01/13--00:18: New Speedline Corona

  • Now I did see this sensational new portable typewriter in many pictures online. Now still to be among the first to own one is unlikely; the ad is from '38 announcing the new '39 model. But even if not amongst the first, from what I read about it and saw of it; I did now want to own one :-)

    Did not mail the coupon to Messrs. L C Smith & Corona, but started checking for one to pop-up on the local auction site. After a couple of weeks a Sterling gets listed and in burgundy too. It looked a bit worn, but after holding off for some weeks; did bid and did buy. (Passed earlier on a mint-condition Silent in crinkle...)

    So a Sterling.  And that really is what it is.

    Sterling design, it's styling is spot on and "looks as though it could be no other way" as a designer friend commented. And that, he said, is very hard to achieve in design. It really has a 'zing', has a swing to it.

    Sterling engineering. Very light touch, easy typing and the carriage positively purrs as it returns. The shift is light as promised. The mechanism to me looks brilliantly simple. In engineering, it usually takes a lot of effort to make something look simple.

    I've now had it for a couple of weeks and used it a bit, really am impressed with the 'sensational new typewriter'.


    After cleaning, this machine looks much better than it did. Some paint chipped from the cover (where it hits the carriage on opening if that is not to the left), the rust actually makes it less noticeable. The 'B' is bent a bit. Some scuffs and a scratch from the carriage return lever. But for all that - this New Speedline Corona still looks and works great after 75 years!

    Joy :)

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    There may not be the actual need for these little tricks anymore. For getting multiple copies it is nowadays more important to locate the print-dialog.

    From Popular Mechanics, November 1936.

    Such tricks and tips would I guess be common knowledge back when typewriters were in common use. Exchanged and passed on between users, both home and office. (I do think I remember being demonstrated this trick of loading a stack as a kid - 'ages ago'. But memory is an unreliable thing...)

    When using a typewriter today there is usually no throng of fellow-users around you to help and assist with such little tricks. This is where the 'wired' world fills the gap and really helps out! From the basic (but potentially really confusing) "where's my 1 ?" to "best to not hit the full-stop (.) too hard".

    With the digital world, the cost of communication and the impact of distance on communication has basically approached zero.  Like Clay Shirky observed in this Wired article, this now makes niche-interests possible, even mini-niche interests like typewriters in the 21st century.

    I think it could be argued that the mechanisms of the digital world are fueling this interest, enabling for this interest; "Meganiches can address any interest, even one that users themselves wouldn't have thought of until they stumbled across a captivating Web page."

    Nice, this digital world :)

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  • 05/06/13--06:50: N38954 on it's feet again

  • Tried that - no difference. Maybe this is just how it was meant to be (or the mechanism has a bit more internal resistance that it had when new). It is actually more the typebar mechanism, vibrator-bar and keys that go 'ka-thunk'; the carriage is not the main culprit.

    But back to the subject of feet.

    It took a while, a month, for the package to get to my door. After paying the customs charges to the postman, I got the package. It had been opened for customs inspection - I can just imagine the customs inspector reading 'typewriter parts' and going; 'huh?'.

    The new feet do make the machine complete again.

    The original feet had gotten totally out of control. I guess this specimen had been equipped with the special cushioned feet, as Remington proudly advertised; see mid second column:

    Probably great in 1933, not such a hot idea in 2013. The remains of the old feet had to be chiseled away. Literally. The black had become like tarmac and the red gave off a clingy type of dust and both had worked their way into the machine and into the case-lining. There is still some of the black tar clinging to the machine and feet-cups.

    But now with the new feet from TTS; fit the machine great:

    By the way; learned that the screws could do with a final extra turn after settling after typing a page or two. As the pictures show, the lettering on this machine is not so great anymore. On the back the remains of the original markings can still be seen very vaguely as an imprint in the lacquer. The wordmark on the front and paper tray have lost their gold crispness. Nevertheless, the machine is on it's feet again and it types!

    Mind-boggling that spare parts for such an old and obsolete machine can still be purchased today. Again the wonders of the digital, internetworked world; otherwise would never have known about TTS and this would just not have been possible.

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  • 05/14/13--01:43: Practice

  • Post scriptum: yesterday used my Remington Victor T to type a letter (and two drafts, the backspace did not erase...). I was really struck again by how loud that machine is. Maybe this is partly because the platen is hard, but it made me appreciate the noiseless feature.

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    New on the market in 1931. 

    Ingenious. Sounds fiddly though, especially when making more than one copy. Must be very specific to a particular model of machine to be able to use the paper guide to hold this extra device.

    The extra feature that the copy also can be two-color probably did not outweigh the extra hassle. Also not sure it wouldn't smear the copy with ink during linefeed, needs to take care with inking levels.

    In any case it was not a roaring success that drove carbon paper off the market - carbon paper can still be bought even today!

    Come to think of it, carbon paper probably pre-dates typewriters as well. And after a very quick scan of the collection of niche interests that is the internet - yes it does!

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  • 05/25/13--02:22: Corona 3 'automatic'
  • A folding Corona. These are indeed relatively common machines, also locally here. They pop up regularly on the local auction site (though sometimes with eye-popping pricetags). Several months ago I got this one also online, and had it shipped to me by a very kind seller stamped with many many stamps.

    The case has been repaired with a piano hinge, an old repair. The front flap of the case is a weak point and many show up online with this bit missing or broken. Otherwise the case looks fine and hardly any rust on the hinges. Amazing how small it really is.

    When taking it out of the case, it looks like all the mechanics of the machine really fill the available space of the box. Not a lot of space left (just a small gap for the spare ribbon tin).

    With this one I was quite lucky, all the defects and damages were minor and easily fixed. It now types quite nicely again. The left Fig-shift key got badly bent at some time, this makes the shift-lock a bit harder but I'm not going to try to bend anything back. It had a ribbon that still had good ink, but was rather worn and torn with holes. This is now replaced with a new ribbon (nylon). When the kids found out that such things as purple ribbons existed (and that it would then print in purple!) it absolutely had to get a purple ribbon. So of course it has.

    This is a late model, serial number 673841. From the available lists online this would be from 1934; one year when relatively many were produced.

    It came without any manual, so the online resources came to the rescue with two different scans.  These really were useful; I'll admit the locking of the 'shift' before folding was not immediately obvious to me (but did figure it out). One that I'd never have found without the manual is that there actually is a carriage lock too. Many thanks to the kind people that scanned and uploaded these. And very impressed with the amount of functionality that Corona engineered into such a compact machine.

    These manuals were all for 1920-ies models and showed the knobs to be fastened+loosened to change ribbon travel. With some reading up, the various models become clear with the 'Special' models introduced in 1929. This by the way matches the little spike in production volume. The 'Special' still have the knobs to change ribbon travel direction. This machine has the ribbon looping through a wire 'S'. When the ribbon is pulled taut at its end of travel, it pulls the wire 'S' sideways and switches the travel. It can also be done manually by pushing the squarish push-rods in front. Ingenious.

    With some trawling around, I'm guessing that around 1934 another product refresh was launched with an automatic ribbon reversing mechanism. This would match the little spike in production numbers.

    Coincidentally I now found (and bought) a manual for the Corona 3 'automatic' from an antique book seller. This booklet has a printing date of 1937 and it labels the machine as an 'automatic'. The pictures and instructions do indeed show the automatic ribbon reversing mechanism. (Will scan.)

     So now a Corona 3 'automatic' it is.

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  • 06/02/13--05:35: Hardboiled detective fiction
  • The detective stories by Raymond Chandler featuring his Philip Marlowe character methinks qualify as being part of the 'hardboiled' detective fiction genre.

    I learn that Mr Chandler wrote these stories using an Underwood Noiseless machine, a very soft-spoken writing machine. I'm imagining he would have used a portable (77?), but don't know or can't find the online reference I got that impression from.

    Odd. Whilst Agatha Christies' puzzle-like 'whodunnit' stories were typed on a Remington 5T portable (pretty loud type-clack) these 'hardboiled' were written on a gently soft-striking machine (only the ka-chung of the carriage).

    I wonder. Does it add something to the experience of reading or listening to a Marlowe story to imagine it having been typed with the muffled ka-chung of his Noiseless?

    To try, the short story 'The Dear, Dead Days' is a very gentle story (nobody dies) and not so 'hardboiled' at all. Though there is plenty of wisecracking.

    A more 'hardboiled' story to enjoy is 'Trouble Is My Business'. This one was first broadcast in 1948, starring MGM's dynamic young actor Van Heflin. The audio quality is not so good on this one and there is almost two minutes of commercial seduction to sit through (no, not soap - toothpaste). But still, do sit through the commercial going all lyrical over the minty new flavor to get to what I think is a very typical 'hardboiled' Marlowe story. Now imagine typing all this out on a Noiseless...

    In any case; even today I find these are enjoyable short radio-plays. Excellent for listening to during a long drive or when tinkering (with a machine).

    Enjoy :)

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    It does write 'type', but without most of the parts that normally make up a typewriter.

    From 1935, haven't been able to spot the patent of this one yet. Rather do suspect the inventor would have tried to file for one...

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