Category Archives: Typewriters
When I was at my aunt’s funeral, about 50 years ago, my Dad whispered to me that there was a guy in the hall who was a bookmaker. It turned out he was my Dad’s step brother, and he had been a millionaire and broke again more than once. I am a book maker too, but of a different sort…
Nanowrimo is over and I have printed my book. I started typing on October 30th with several pages, then began in earnest on November 1st and wrote all the way until December 4th, with but one day off. I wrote over 80,000 words and got a serious back spasm along the way. All the writing was done on manual typewriters, mostly a small group that I prefer; the Hermes 3000 & Smith Corona 5 for desktop portables, and the Hermes Baby, Olympia SF/Traveller, Olivetti Tropical (Hermes Baby clone) & Olivetti Lettera 22 for smaller ones that I use on my lap.
Instead of sending my book off to a POD house for printing, I decided to make my own book for the first copy anyhow. I checked out some videos on book binding and researched how to set up a printer to print signatures. I wish I’d known this earlier! It’s not difficult and very enjoyable. I printed the book at half letter size, 5.5 x 8.5 inches precisely, so the signatures are printed 4 pages to a letter size sheet. The PDF print driver allows this to be done and all you have to do is set the number of pages in each signature. I set mine to 5 pages, and then printed 20 pages at a time to fill the five sheets on two sides. You could go ahead and print the whole thing at once however, but then you’d have to sort the signatures afterwards. You need a laser printer that will duplex, I should add.
Rather than hand stitch, which was taking too long, I decided to sew the signatures on a sewing machine, which went through 5 sheets of paper with ease. My book has 230 pages, which means I should have made 12 signatures of 20 pages each to end up with an even number of sheets. The last signature had fewer sheets, so I added another signature at the end to make up a few blank pages for the cover, and for any correction notes, etc. These next pictures are an example using scraps to show the process.
With the signatures together in order I clamped them and glued the spine with a sheet of paper wrapped down the front and back an inch, using white PVA glue. Then I glued on a heavy card cover to the front and back sheets, but not the spine, and clamped it to dry between two boards. So far it is holding up and looks like a real book!
A better job can be done if you wish to make a fine book, complete with cloth cover. The proper way is to sew the signatures together, but I didn’t bother since I just wanted a copy to read and edit, and didn’t wish to make a work of art for my purpose. If you research bookbinding you will discover there are many more steps that can be done to make a fine book, but for just a sketch or note book this method here will do well enough.
When I first began this annual torture test, it would have been inconceivable to imagine that I would go on to do it 10 times, and now, if I succeed, which I will – damn it, do it for the eleventh time. I have already started, after having come up with the sole viable concept my poor old brain could conceive of under the circumstances. I could not wait for November first, as I feared that to do so might have left me bereft of all thought, in a sort of paralysis of the mind, sitting on the couch with my typewriter in a bewildered daze. The typewriter of the day is a Hermes 3000, which has the distinct advantage of being light enough to use on the lap, and being the best typewriter ever made in history, blah blah blah etc etc, as if anyone gives a rat’s ass about that. Suffice to say it works splendidly, an UZI for words, rapid firing, accurate, largely infallible, small, light, comfortable – a word spewing tool as effective as the Papal Swiss Guard, who only rarely failed in their duty… (historians may fact check this assertion). So it begins, 30 days of living the novelist’s dream; the goal – 50,000 words, every last one of them painstakingly constructed by pressing on plastic buttons connected to a series of wires and levers that slam inked impressions onto pre-punched Hilroy notepaper from Walmart. I exaggerate – it’s not so bad really – in fact I enjoy it. It gives me a chance to put at least one of my typewriters to good use (or bad use), and what good do they do just sitting there collecting dust for 11 months, if I never use them? Why do I have all of these obsolete devices anyhow? Nanowrimo provides the perfect answer – to write the next _____ novel, or perhaps the _____ book ever. Fill in the blanks and win a lollipop!
This giant size Seidel & Naumann IDEAL Model DZ33 standard typewriter was made around 1939 or 1940. I acquired it by chance while out on an errand with my son when we decided to visit a nearby antique mall. The place is closing and everything is going cheap, so they said!
After looking around at the last of the remaining junk, I saw this hulk of a typewriter, with a sign that said Fabulous German Typewriter, $399. Fabulous indeed! Impulsively, I negotiated the price down and became the new owner. We, my son that is, carried it out to the van, and deposited it on the floor.
Despite being 80 years old, it works perfectly. I squirted the segment with a little lighter fluid, and solved the one sticking key. Considering how heavy the carriage is, the shift force isn’t bad. The carriage runs smoothly over two round rods on ball bearing wheels, like a miniature train. The bell has a lovely tone. If only it was a proportional spacing Fraktur model!
On the back there is a plate indicating the machine belonged to the accounting department of something, and with a warning: wer mich maust oder verborgt, wird bestraft. which translates to this: whoever pinches this will be punished.
This was the only typewriter, but there was a fascinating old Leitz microscope with built in camera.
“Two hundred and fifty,” said the owner, “think what fun you could have!”
The week of smoke goes on. We now have the worst air quality we’ve ever had, almost like a good day in Delhi. Despite the smoke from the fires in Washington, life goes on. The good news is now everyone owns a filter mask! I have a whole collection of them, mostly blue surgical types, but just the other day I scored a real N95 in white (China), that fits great. So stylin’ too. Now I can parade the town with my mask on and not appear to be afraid of that little virus thing. It does make smoking difficult however. Just joking!
With my trusty filter mask I went out on my rounds yesterday, Saturday, and attended a birthday party for a friend, then later hit some thrift shops. I intended to buy an nice enlarger I’d seen, but the lens was gone. I did see a nifty painting of the Last Supper, however, which I was tempted to buy but didn’t when I realized it was not Leonardo’s, just a copy. My son and his wife are waiting for the baby to arrive at any moment, too. On the way home I saw a neighbour whom we had supposed had vanished. All this and more was later immortalized in a round of haiku typed on the Olympia Traveller, while M used her new favourite toy, the Oliver.
Oliver and Olympia are the names of the twins in my book The Magic Typer, so when I found a very unusual little Oliver typewriter for sale this week, I was delighted. The Oliver #4, as my research on the TWDB attested to, is mighty uncommon. This one dates from 1953, and is in such perfect condition that I assume it has been very carefully looked after for 67 years.
It works like a charm, but is a trifle loud. The design floors me; the round key-tops, gracefully curved top, colour matched spools, and the kicker – the punched thru logos on the top and feed table. They both have a red insert, but the feed table insert is transparent, and will glow under the right lighting. It will also cast its image onto the table!
This is one for the permanent collection, right up there with the Hermes Rocket and the Olympia Splendid. It reminds me very much of those two, more Olympia than Hermes, but having the same essence of quality in the design and build. I also picked up a fine old folding camera at the same time, a Baldix 6×6, along with a strange little viewfinder that was not with the camera. The viewfinder is a Voigtlander Kontur, a clip on device that was made for some Voigtlander 35mm camera, naturally, but which works with any camera that has an accessory shoe on the top. I had no idea what this was until I looked it up and discovered how it works. It has no view as such, but a black frame within which are some lines that let light in and create a bright frame. Keeping both eyes open, you will see the bright frame lines superimposed on the view from your other eye. Once I got the hang of it, the thing works like magic.
The camera dates from the early 50’s, like the Oliver, so they seemed like a perfect set. There was an old roll of Ektacolor Gold film in the camera, with only 3 frames exposed, so I shot the rest of it and will attempt to develop it in caffenol, which works on C41 film, albeit not particularly well, but it does develop. Ektacolor? That film was never sold here, and any I could find on line expired 23 years ago. Typewriters never expire however.
I replaced the old worn down hardened rubber feet with new soft rubber wine carboy bungs. I sawed them to the right depth and drilled out the centre holes to enlarge them for the holding screws. The bungs were the perfect diameter and the feet work very well now. All old typewriters should be so easy to fix this way!
This is a real lighthouse, but I took some artistic license. There were no seagulls on logs, but the ones flying were in fact present, for a few moments. The actual scene when I photographed it was rather duller, the colours too hazy, so I livened it up with stronger shadows and highlights.
The thrift shops have opened here, but there have been no typewriters, luckily – otherwise I might have bought one! Eventually I hope to have maybe only a dozen typewriters, but it will take a long time to sell what I’ve got, unless I give them away. I could do that, but even so there doesn’t seem to be much demand these days. This is why I am trying not to buy any more typewriters, because I have nowhere to put them. I think there’s an inverse relationship between how much of a given thing one owns, and one’s desire to own more of the same. If I had three typewriters I might get excited about some that are available in my town right now. Varage seems to have lots of them these days. Same goes for old film cameras, of which I seem to have boxes and boxes full. Who needs it. Hence I’m more focused on doing art, which is easier to store. I work on 1/4″ thick panels, so a foot of shelf space can hold 30 or more paintings, compared to say 2 typewriters.
I do keep a typewriter close at hand, however, just so I can always admire it even if I have nothing to write at the moment. If I had to keep just one typewriter, it would probably be this one, 1958 Smith Corona Silent Super, aka Eaton’s Prestige. Or, maybe the Olympia Traveller…. or the H3K… or the Remington All New…
When I first started collecting typewriters, I got spoiled by the low prices, so when I saw a Halda up for auction at $60, I declined to bid on it. That was years ago, and in the interim I developed a craving to have a Halda, for numerous reasons. For one, it looked great. Two, it reputedly was well made, and one of the best portables. Three, the body was designed by a Swedish architect, Carl Malmsten, whose work I admire. Four, Ernest Hemingway used one. Ernest must have known something about typewriters, so I took this as being a quasi recommendation.
Five, I love the green colour of the Halda. Six, I like Swedish things, and admire their design ethic and particular way of thinking. So when I recently discovered a Halda for sale across the water in Vancouver, I decided to buy it. It came by courier a few days later, and I eagerly opened the beat up wooden case. I was not disappointed. The Halda is a thing of beauty, and not merely skin deep. True to my hopes and expectations, it captured me with its subtle, clean, compact shape, and the minimalist but elegant use of chrome trim with a red stripe. Here is as close to perfection in appearance as it gets, certainly rivaling the Lettera 22, which of course was also designed by the great Italian architect and designer, Marcello Nizolli, chief designer at Olivetti.
It gives me a vicarious thrill to see such quality products that are designed by architects. Perhaps it’s simply the confirmation of my opinion that the training ground is fertile for designing many things, not just buildings. There are no doubt a lot of excellent typewriters in the world, typewriters that function brilliantly as machines, but that lack the je ne sais quoi that separates the merely functional from the beautiful. That is why I treasure my Lettera 22’s, of which I can’t seem to let go, and now my Halda. They not only do what they were intended to do, but also are so beautiful to look at that I never grow tired of admiring their beauty.
My Halda, built in 1958, has the more modern larger green key tops, not the original rounder black ones. They have a good feel, so I don’t mind that. Hemingway’s Halda had the original key tops, however, as can be seen in the pictures. Other than that, I’m fairly sure the workings of the Halda remained the same throughout it’s life. There were various cases for it, and mine is not the nice leather one, but a plywood box. The lid had suffered, so I ripped off the thin cloth exterior and the top layer of veneer that had peeled away. I glued down all the loose edges, patched the bare spots with the scrap piece from the lid, and glued on a heavy piece of primed canvas. I masked it all and sprayed the lid with dark green spray paint. Lastly, I wrapped the worn out handle with heavy black leatherette, sewn in place.
The typeface is 11 pitch, which I find pleasant. I have no information on who designed the font, but in my searching I discovered an excellent research paper on Academia, entitled Type Design For Typewriters: Olivetti, by Maria Ramos Silva. A must read for anybody interested in the fascinating history of Olivetti and typeface design.
Carl Malmsten was a Swedish modernist, but not of the Bauhaus sort. He was closer to Alvar Aalto and Frank Lloyd Wright, who eschewed the stark, form follows function ethic of the so called Modern School that more or less made a de facto coup d’etat of much of the world’s architectural schools in the previous century. I wish we had been more influenced by Scandinavians! Not that I’m against the Modernists, but I love Scandinavian design on the whole, especially when it comes to furniture. Malmsten once designed a simple solid pine table that you will now have to pay many thousands for, clearly a predecessor to IKEA, which may have been expensive in its day, but surely not as expensive as it is now. Such is how famous name designer furnishings have appreciated, like some art that once was sold for the price of the canvas and the paint, and is now the purview of millionaires only. Far better to get a Halda for only $75 plus shipping, no? This table is listed at more than five thousand dollars. One look at this and I know I could build a decent replica in my shop, if I really wanted to. But build a replica Halda? Never! Nobody could, or they would – wouldn’t they?
Here is a picture of the Malmsten table, discovered for sale on line in Dronten, Netherlands. I once made a trip to Dronten to see their town centre, called the Dronten Agora, or Meerpal.
In researching my final year thesis project at architecture school (c. 1975), I came across this building in a magazine. It was a recently built multi-use facility in a fairly new part of the Netherlands that had not long before been the ocean. When I was in Holland the next year, I had to go see the place, so we drove a long way across the monotonous flat barren polders to Dronten. This is not where one would expect to find expensive dining sets. But I suppose it was cheaper at one time; much, much cheaper! Seeing it again in the above noted article, the building is still as impressive as ever, both in concept and execution. I was originally inspired by how the building was not a tour de force so much as a place where people could go and do all sorts of things. Its usefulness was much greater than any one activity, style or fleeting fad. Multifunctional – like a typewriter!
It’s been years since I repainted a typewriter. I recently sold the last one I repainted, so when I picked up a drab Smith Corona Clipper I decided to have another go at repainting. I had forgotten just how much work it is, and how fussy. I removed all the panels, sanded out the chips and scratches, then filled in the holes with quick body filler, sanded again, then primed and then got down to spraying. Of course I screwed it up right away by missing spots and then adding too much paint to others. You can’t respray this paint unless you wait 24 hours, another mistake I learned about the hard way when the old paint wrinkled. This machine has CLIPPER printed on the back of the paper feed, but the serial number and features are those of a Sterling, series 5A, not 5C. So it’s a Sterling with a Clipper label. I decided to recreate the Clipper logo with the Boeing Clipper, and print my own water slide decals for that and the Smith Corona name. I copied the clipper logo from a photo I found on line and worked up a reasonable facsimile by hand drawing the plane and importing that into MS Publisher. Combined with text and another imported file of a blue line I drew for the waves, I designed my own Clipper logo, which I then printed on clear water slide decal paper.
Same thing for the Smith-Corona logo.
I clear coated the lid to protect the decals and reassembled the bodywork. It’s a lovely typewriter, but I’m going to sell it because I have several of these already, and don’t need more of the same. I hope someone will enjoy this little gem. I won’t get enough money for it to justify all the work involved, but it was fun all the same. Also, I learned how to make water slide decals, and made some labels for my guitars.
During the process of hunting down the logo for the Smith Corona Clipper, I learned a lot about the Boeing 314 “Clipper”. Air travel should be like this! Beds and staterooms, dining rooms, lounges, and separate bathrooms for men and women. Air travel has really improved since those days, because now we have gender neutral toilets. Plus we have 50 channels of programs. Back then they had to get up to go eat. Now they bring you the “food”, and it is so delicious.
Boeing only ever made 12 of them, all for Pan Am Airways, but the plane is much larger in legend. Every plane was called a Such and Such Clipper. There are none left. Only typewriters remain…and of course our own Victoria to Seattle Clipper – a fast catamaran that goes from here to Seattle daily. Maybe they will buy this typewriter for the passengers to use!