Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shiftless typewriter spawns keys

I’ve been on a typewriter buying fast since last year. I’ve even come to think of myself as a typewriter “archivist” rather than a “collector.”

But earlier this month while on vacation, I fell off the wagon. I could not pass up a Smith Premier No. 10A typewriter in an antique mall in Coos Bay, Oregon.

Here, staring me in the face, was a keyboard to die for. This massive piece of Industrial Age work has 89 keys arrayed in seven rows. The octagonal keys come in three colors.

The Smith Premier had no shift key, which pretty much explains the horde of keys.

I haven’t found the serial number yet (suggestions?) but these machines date from 1908 to 1921 according research done by renowned Will Davis. The “A” being a later version, this machine probably came from near the end of the run.

Question. Will or anybody: how does the 10A differ from the 10?

Will mentions some of the features about the No. 10A that struck me right away, including the easy to remove carriage (it lifts straight out), the odd location of the side-by-side ribbon spools in the back, a ribbon selector key and, of course, that massive double keyboard.

The machine is in good shape. The only problem is that the space bar spring needs to be replaced.

I paid $58.50, down from the asking price of $65. The clerk asked whether I needed help carrying it to my car. I said I didn’t, but I was wrong. A fork lift would have been handy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Selectric guy meets the Olivetti twins

If Ettore Sottsass' Olivetti 36 has an architectural look,
it's because Sottsass was an architect
as well as a brilliant designer. For more about him go here.

Steve Collin, a retired IBM repair guy and a whiz with all things mechanical, drove himself, his 2008 ultra-Hog Harley and his wife (Cousin Ellen) up from Sparks, Nevada, for the weekend.

Of course I had to show Steve my two Selectrics. He "skinned" a Model II in 10 seconds flat, then gave me a tour of its organs.

I'm sure he knew that I was pretending to understand what he was saying. Cams, releases, pressure plates, gears without end.

Okay. Right. Check. Got it.

Thank God there was no quiz.

After the Selectric excursion, we fed him, and I put my two Olivetti 36s under his nose. Screw driver in hand, Steve delved into their Italian innards. His diagnosis was that the dead keys on the machine with the good belts were beyond repair (see previous post). Off came the belts. In five minutes he had the rubber teethed loops on the other machine.

It was only a matter of adjusting a tension wheel before it was safe to hit the "on" switch. The electric motor whirred to life. Steve's fingers tested the keys corn-row style, left to right. (He never learned to touch type. In fact, he hates writing.). The keys all worked although one needed nudging. We swapped ribbons between the two machines as well.

I now have an operating, if slightly noisy, Olivetti 36. Nice.

After the typewriters, we moved on to the computers. But that's another story and one you don't want to hear.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Olivetti repair conundrum

The other day I scored an Olivetti 36 for $10. The seller warned me that five keys are “dead” on the electric.

No problem. I’ve been on the lookout for a parts Olivetti 36 for months. I need drive belts for the one I already have.

Surprise, surprise — they don’t make them any more. In fact, Olivetti barely survived into the new century.

The belts on my recent purchase (that's the one on the left in the photos) are fine. In fact this is a better looking machine than the one I have. Now I’m thinking I’ll try to fix the keys on the new purchase first. If that doesn't work, I'll mess around with removing and installing the fragile belts on the old machine (which, by the way, came with manuals, tools and a better case.)

Besides, there’s the possibility that if I do the belt installation, the old machine’s keys could be dead too.

Such is my faith in Olivettis. Famously beautiful machines but notoriously unreliable. (I know some people like that — replete with the human equivalent of dead keys and frayed drive belts.)

I’ll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

$200 to the good

The graceful, shiny black Silent seen in my previous post sold for $200 in the benefit action earlier this month.

I bid $75 to establish the base in the "silent" auction, named not for the typewriter but for the written, publicly displayed bids.

Within minutes the price went to $100. Then, while I wasn't looking, a smitten somebody bagged the Corona for two big ones. I'm sure the machine has a happy, comfortable home. I envision it nestling into a dark, wood-paneled den.

And because the auction was to support affordable housing, the typewriter did its bit to make happy homes for others in need.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Donor's Second Thoughts

Talk about being conflicted.

In the spirit of helping our community and paring back my typewriter archive, I recently donated this beautiful Corona Silent to a benefit auction.

The auction is a bit of a “do” and has a literary theme. It comes with dinner and speeches by celebrity authors.

The auction’s proceeds go to providing affordable housing to those in need.

Well and good,

Enter the conflict.

I began to get donor’s remorse. I mean, face it, this is one beautiful machine. Just look at it. It’s in great shape. It has classic lines. If I saw it for sale at a reasonable price, I’d pop for it.

Then it occurred to me: It might be for sale for a reasonable price — at the auction.

Why of course! I’ll bid on it.

So I told the folks running the auction that the Corona should have a reserve or floor price that I would pay.


I’m friends with the organizers and they kindly offered to return the Silent in exchange for another less prized typewriter, but I declined.

If someone wants to beat my bid, the typewriter is certain to end up in good hands — for a good cause.

If not, I’m happy to make a donation to a worthy charity and to re-possess a great typewriter.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

From Collector to Archivist

At some point in the last year I stopped collecting typewriters and started archiving them. I've sold or donated several, trying to free space in my basement for other pursuits, not necessarily mine.

My wife is a potter who makes pots faster than I collect typewriters.

We have turf issues.

Clearing space is not easy because as I sell and donate, waif typewriters end up at my doorstep. The word's out that I love these old machines the way some people love kittens and puppies. If you give me a typewriter I'll nurse its wounds, feed it and make sure it ends up in a good home — either mine or someone else's.

Last week a friend brought by the '50s vintage Royal Quiet de Luxe to the left.

This archivist business comes with responsibilities that I'm certain I haven't fully met or even comprehended. I suppose I should be inventorying, recording serial numbers and establishing manufacturing dates. I've done some of that, but not nearly enough. This looks like a job for my dotage.

The one aspect that defines my particular bent in archiving is gathering and identifying machines that are the same models as those used by famous authors. I don't pretend to be any kind of expert in this area, but, as you will see by looking at other posts here, I have made some headway.

I really need to research what archivists in other fields do, just to see how much of the job I want to assume.

In many ways, collectors are archivists without knowing it. And I suppose that archivists are collectors, except that they don't pay for their items. To the contrary, in an ideal world, someone pays them to archive.

No one is paying me and I doubt they ever will— except in typewriters.

That's pay enough.