Category Archives: Typewriters
I am now in the black with my typewriter collection, after many years. Last week I sold two virtually identical late 50’s Underwoods within an hour. Oddly, both were bought as gifts. One went to a young English major, no, not in the army – at university. He tired of the usual digital overload and professed a desire to his girlfriend for a typewriter. The other went to a lady of 71, courtesy of an old friend. She likes writing poetry. I just love selling these machines to writers! Like many of us, I feel good about returning a typewriter to circulation, especially if it needed my attention to get it back on the road, so to speak. Many typewriters that I have bought have needed a fair bit of fiddling, cleaning and adjusting to work well, a job I really enjoy. So, of course I just picked up 2 more yesterday, both which needed some work. The work is minor, but necessary, and there aren’t any repairmen left here.
Meanwhile, in my haunts I sometimes come across old postcards, and here are a pair that tell a tale. The message on the Canadian one is courtesy of my imagination, and typeface thanks to RP! The other has notes that I can’t read. Hard to imagine what you could say on that one.
And then there was this:
The chap in the rear, third from right, was a journalist named Fred Openshaw. His hat, which looks a tad too large, is a classic fedora or trilby style, which can still be purchased from Christie’s of London should you be so inclined (I have a Knightsbridge model that looks pretty much just like these here). Fred’s granddaughter graciously allowed me to photograph this picture after I purchased her wonderful old Royal Commander c. 1941, that was one of four typewriters Fred once owned. Fred worked at the London Times before moving to Canada, long ago. The Royal Commander must have been acquired here, since it is a Canadian model. When I offered to buy the machine the owner asked me if I would love it. I assured her I would. I didn’t bother to check it over to see if it was in working order, and she only wanted $7 for it, but I gave her a ten dollar bill anyways.
That was last Sunday and I am pleased to report that the old Commander is now up and running, and is a fine typewriting machine if ever there was one. It is also very lightweight, a real portable, and comes with a nice wooden case covered in a tweedy fabric. There were several minor problems when I got it – the carriage didn’t go far before stopping; the return lever was bent down too low, and the once rubber feet were now hard brittle disintegrating things. There was also a screw missing from a bar that pivots underneath. I found a screw that was a loose fit and filed off the tip of that to serve as a new pivot, then put that screw in place with a wrapping of teflon tape which held it tight. The carriage was still jamming midway however, so I removed the side-front-side panel and found that underneath was another frame, and I couldn’t see anything. I replaced that and when I was done I noticed on the bench that there was one tiny extra screw. Also, the carriage now worked.
I brushed, vacuumed and blew out as much dust and dirt as I could and gave the innards a good soaking with PB teflon lube (not the cleaner). That stuff gets everywhere but it sure frees things up! For the feet I got an extra large soft pink plastic eraser at the dollar store ($1) and carved some new feet. I may do this again and get the fit a little tighter, but overall I’m quite content with pink feet. I have no desire to restore this machine to showroom condition, preferring the modifications to show. It pleases me that the paint, keys and handle retain something of the past that has rubbed off on them.
Commander seems to be a rarer label for these than Companion, which is what they are generally known as. I speculate this had to do with it being Canadian. Perhaps the Imperial Typewriter Company had dibs on the Companion name here? I like Commander better, no matter. I am puzzled as to why these old portable Royals are not at the top of the list of best all time typewriters. I’ve tested many machines and this one ranks with the best, even with carriage shifting. It is compact and surprisingly light.
So what about the heading? Oh yes – Majestic! Last Saturday I picked up another JP-1, this one called a Majestic 400. It was cheap too, twice the price of the Royal at $14, but I liked the teal blue lid, so why not? It too had a problem – most of the old typewriters do, and that is a major source of amusement for me in my collecting habit – I enjoy fixing stuff. The back space didn’t work. I removed the bottom and there found the entire escapement. Those Brother engineers were brilliant – they not only made the most successful typewriter of all time, but they made it easy to fix! I saw that the little wire spring that held the lever which pushed the star wheel backwards was busted. Using a guitar string, of which I have many old spares in a box, I fashioned a new spring and with a bit of fiddling I got it do its job. A high E string of 0.010″ is very useful for small springs like this. Music wire is very much like spring steel.
I admire the simplicity and everything about the JP-1 typewriter, even though it looks cheap, which it was, and clearly still is. I once got one for $1. Some folks get them free however, which is infinitely cheaper, but that is largely irrelevant. What is the fair market value of a JP-1? Who knows? Maybe one day when the world is clamoring desperately for manual typewriters again, it will be worth its weight in gold. Aside from the spring repair, the rubber feet on this were all fossilized too, along with the rubber grommets that the lid snaps into. I took a grommet that was too large for the lid holes, and cut it in half. Then it fit into the holes and that holds the lid on once again. As for the feet – I haven’t figured that out yet, but since the bottom is a flat plate I can just place the machine on a rubber pad to use it.
Typewriter day came and went here without fanfare, or so much as a peep. However, I did sell 2 typewriters to a budding typerata. She arrived minutes after she got my response to her email about a machine I had listed on Craigslist. She loves typewriters and has a few, all with names and their own ink colours. We spent a good hour talking typewriters, and I showed her a few interesting ones. Then she spotted one of my Olivetti L22’s that was on the floor. I picked it up last week, broken, and had spent a few hours getting it to work. So she bought that one too, complete with speil about Nizzoli, MOMA, etc. Despite the general lack of community here, we had a mini celebration for typewriter day, which was good.
Meanwhile I have been shooting film again and developing it in Caffenol. I dried the washing soda in the oven this time, and also added some table salt to the mix. This works great, and even after 3 weeks it worked well enough to develop 3 rolls. The only problem is that I’ve been using very stale film. The BW film was Ilford Delta 100, and that was almost like new judging from the results. However, the 14 year old Kodak Max 400 came out very grainy and low res, despite the camera. One roll of Kodak Max was shot with my Nikon F and the much vaunted Nikkor 85/1.8 and yet the results are pretty much indistinguishable from a Brownie. The best results were from the Ilford, a film that was 11 years old, shot with a Spotmatic and a SMC 50/1.4, which gave brilliant results. Check out this old Cressida!
Colour film curls up horribly, and attracts dust like a magnet attracts iron filings, but the B&W film dried almost flat, and was relatively dust free. After this I just tossed away all the old colour film, because it’s too disappointing to get a good shot that is all dusty and grainy and looks barely focused. I’m not keen on 35mm film for this very reason, preferring 120, but since I have a lot of old cameras I like to exercise them once in a while. My Nikon F Photomic is a classic, but quite heavy and clumsy. I’d like to try shooting with it through the top, something I haven’t done. You don’t need a waist level finder to do this, although that would be nice.
The 2nd Olivetti of the week was this L35, really just an L32 with a new cladding. The carriage lock was jammed, but I took it off and straightened out the metal tab that goes up and down, filed and polished the edges where this meets the lower rail of the carriage, and now it works fine. The whole thing comes apart as easily as can be, which is brilliant. I think it would take one minute if you know what you’re doing. The beauty of this is the shell can be painted any colour you like, as there are no other painted bits to fiddle with. This machine has every feature you need in a typewriter; full auto set tabs with a nifty brake that works, rabbit ears, and a paper table, plus a platen clutch. It has an interesting design – Italian Modern – and would fit right in with snazzy futuristic furniture. However, I prefer the feeling of the L22 over the 32, although it is a more complex machine and difficult to adjust.
Here is another thing you don’t find in the store anymore – marble pen stands. This one is a Parker, and it came with one Parker pen – a ballpoint. I polished up the plastic barrel and it shines like new. They made these with high grade plastic. I also have a matching fountain pen, a Parker 51, but the ink tends to run out under gravity, so I leave the pen in there dry.
These go with the pen collection. Some are new, others are old bottles found (rarely) in thrift shops. Probably have a lifetime supply.
Here are a few more scans:
As I have repeated here, perhaps too frequently, due to my last novel I became enamoured of the Royal 10. I did get one after some hunting, but I thought that they were hard to find – until last week. We spent a week as we often do this time of year in Washington, camping and of course scouring the many antique shops. So what did I find? Yes – many Royal 10’s!
Sadly I couldn’t own them all; the one I have is perfect for me, but if I didn’t already own one… well that might be different. One in particular was in beautiful condition, and it was the least costly. Go figure. It was a rebuild, too, as noted on one shift key – by Regal, on Varick Street, NYC.
All were post 1923 with single glass sides, some with the gauge on the right side, which I don’t know the purpose of. I’m sure someone reading this will educate us on that! It was ironic that so many typewriters in the wild have little signs forbidding typing – I’d like to see signs that say “type away”. Do these sellers think that a Royal 10 that has lasted for 80 years can be broken? How absurd!
There were other interesting oldies too:
The Corona folder was exciting to see, but it was not in working order and well over $100! Had it been working… maybe. One other new to me phenomenon in these old junk stores is the proliferation of the Erie iron pans, Griswold being the next big thing. Some shops had huge collections of these, priced into the hundreds! Imagine paying $100 for a frying pan when you could buy a Royal 10 for less. More absurdity!
We got as far as Portland and just happened to park one block from Powell’s Books, the largest bookstore I’ve ever been in – it’s like a department store – think a Walmart dedicated solely to books. One thing struck us; the foul language we heard coming from the mouths of people just talking on the street. I suppose all the books with swear words are simply indicative of the general debasement of language skills these days. But what’s with all the f*cking asterisks? Just spell it if you plan to use it. Only one author among many seemed to feel thus, which is commendable, although not admirable.
Portland reminded me of Seattle, except it’s flat. Aside from the cool bookstore I can’t say it was impressive. Lots of canyon streets that feel oppressively dark, and of course the usual sad cases of homelessness. No one pays attention any more. Not that this is uncommon here either, just that it emphasizes how our society in general has failed so many people.
The thing is, when it comes to all the pseudo-wisdom spouted in the endless river of self-help books, there is no solution to the real problems. It’s all focused on the self. The age of ME. F*ck off, self help authors!