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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Thrust-Action Typewriters: Is the Blick Universal German?

I can't definitively answer the question I just posed. I'm wondering now, after much research, whether anyone can, with 100 per cent certainty (given my Universal has no manufacturer's markings). But when Rob Bowker asked me about the country-of-origin of the Blick Universal, I promised I'd bring out the Big Guns - the Adler Model 7 and the Empire (as well as the Adler Favorit) - and compare them for size and design.
My contention at the time of posting on the Blick Universal  - without actually lining them all up together and comparing them - was that the Blick was much lighter and more compact than the German-made Adlers, and in turn the Canadian-made Empire, though all four are based on Wellington Kidder Parker's original thrust-action design (for the Wellington).
So here's the tale of the tape (and weighting machine), Rob:
Adler Model 7 - 23lbs, carriage width 14 3/4in, length 14 1/2in, height from boots to top plate, 5 7/8in.
Empire - 16lbs, carriage width 12 3/4in, length 13 3/4in, height from boots to top plate, 5 1/4in
Blick Universal - 10lbs, carriage width 12 1/4in, length 10 3/4in, height from boots to top plate, 4 1/8in
You will also note a significance difference in the typebar arrangement on all four machines, though less so between the Adler 7 and the Empire.
German-made or not German-made, the Blick Universal is decidely a differently designed machine from the Adler Model 7 and the Empire (and obviously the Favorit). It is markedly lighter and smaller. As I said before, I have not seen an Adler model or an Empire that looks quite like the Blick Universal, certainly not in terms of size.

The Perkeo and other Folding Portable Typewriters

My Easter gift to myself, a gorgeous little Perkeo, has arrived safe and sound. Sadly, however, I cannot yet use it to write a typecast, as there is a minor problem with the carriage gripping on the escapement rack (maybe I should read the manual that came in the original case with it). Nonetheless, I’m able to photograph it, and in doing so compare it with other folding portables, such as the Corona 3 (my latest one was kindly given to me by a dear friend, and bought on Trade Me in New Zealand), the Bijou (Erika) and the original, the Standard Folding.

The Perkeo was made in Dresden, and that’s about 250 miles, I believe, from Heidelberg. Yet I immediately wondered if the tiny typewriter took its name from Perkeo of Heidelberg (born Pankert Clemens, or Giovanni Clementi) who was a notable court jester in 18th Century Heidelberg. Perkeo now appears to be the name of a Nottingham, England, IT company.
Wikipedia tells us Perkeo is an unofficial mascot of the city of Heidelberg (I have especially fond memories of its printing machines) and region, as his name, story and image have been connected with a variety of festivals, traditional songs, and cultural and scientific institutions. That the name comes from the court jester seems to be confirmed by an excellent German typewriter website:
The Perkeo was made by Clemens Muller AF, which also made the Urania. Judging by machines from the late Tilman Elster’s collection which appear on the European Typewriter Project website, put together by Tilman and Will Davis, this model is a 3 and was made between 1924 and 1933 (I haven’t located a serial number as yet). The next two scans are from the 1923 A Condensed History of the Writing Machine:

When I put the Perkeo beside the Bijou (Erika), I found them almost identical. Yet the Bijou, of course, was made by another Dresden company, Seidel and Naumann.
The Bijou-Erika folding three-bank portables are claimed to date from 1911, which, if true, means they precede the Corona 3. There is also a suggestion Corona threatened legal action, and S & N stopped making them pretty pronto. Not sure just how true this all is, but certainly the diagrams in the handbooks for the Perkeo and the Bijou-Erika are also almost identical. The question is, if either S & N or Clemens Müller AG were frightened off by Corona, how come the Perkeo was still being made in the early 1930s? (Bear in mind Otto Petermann was still "prefecting" the Corona 3 well into the 1920s, having started "converting", or modifying/upgrading it from the Standard Folding in about 1909-10.)

Apparently Clemens Müller AG had been around since 1855 and was one of the oldest sewing machine factories in Europe. Early 20th century typewriters were designed by one Heinrich Schweitzer.

Talking About The Typosphere

I have been asked to talk on ABC Radio on Monday morning about what the producer describes as the “movement” called the typosphere. I’ve agreed to do it, but as a Johnny-Come-Lately typospherian, I feel a little bit of a fraud.
I’m assuming the request has come about because the producer, following up on the Mumbai typewriter factory fiasco, has come across Ryan’s blogs and his references to typecasting. The producer would have been directed to them, I assume, on hearing an interview on CBC radio (with Richard Polt perhaps?).

Anyway, I’ve been doing some research, have noted Ryan’s mention of the origin of the term "typecasting" and of Paul Lagasse, and found something about the author.
I’ve also gleefully taken note of Ryan’s definition of the typosphere. But is there anything else I should be aware of before going on air and talking about a world I have only just entered? Please let me know if there is. I feel as though I am representing you guys. Given this is an Australian program, are there any other Australian typospherians out there of whom you are aware? How big has the typosphere become?

Last Word on the so-called Last Typewriters

Let's look on the bright side: The broad, almost unanimous reaction to the Mumbai typewriter factory imbroglio has brought typospherians closer together, united in a cause. We stand tighter, shoulder-to-shoulder, against one common enemy: typewriter ignorance. I have read Ryan's blogs and reacted accordingly, writing to the Herald and pointing out a few facts of life. Yesterday I devoted my column in The Canberra Times to this furore. My prose may be, like this text, a little purple, but the sentiments are nonetheless there, cast from the heart. Not quite a typecast, I know, but close. Below it are the words I TYPED (albeit on a USB typewriter, forgive me). For anyone wanting to access a PDF of the column, it can be found at

The insidiousness of the internet became even more apparent this week. Not only is it gnawing away at the 400-year-old roots of print newspapers, but at the same time it is allowing irresponsible journalists to further blacken the reputation of our trade.
At 6.30 on Wednesday morning I was awoken by a call from the ABC, asking if I’d talk on air about “the closure of the world’s last typewriter factory”. Fortunately, a colleague, Michael Ruffles, had some hours earlier alerted me to a tweet, in which someone pointed to a story which had appeared in London’s Daily Mail. The Mail is a newspaper for which I once held high regard, the more so for the quality of its journalism. I think here of the like of the late Ian Wooldridge, as good a sports writer as there ever was. But on reading online the Mail article about the Mumbai typewriter factory, my estimation for the paper Wooldridge once served so admirably plummeted. The story was patently wrong. 
It may not seem much to fuss about, and it should not have been. The trouble is, given the way modern technology works in this sorry state of a world we now live in, the story spread like wildfire, catching the dimly-lit imagination of unquestioning souls right across the globe. Bad enough that it was being tweeted and Facebooked, but other normally reputable outlets were catching hold of it, too. One was The Atlantic magazine, to which I have, until now, subscribed. No longer. Any publication which would spread, unchecked, a misleading yarn such as this does not deserve my continued patronage. Another was the London Daily Express. But then I guess I expected no less of the Express. I once worked for Rupert Murdoch under a former Express editor. Facts were never allowed to get in the way of a “good” story.
This Mumbai typewriter factory closure story wasn’t even a good one. Why, then, did it get such massively widespread, worldwide exposure? The vast majority of mature-aged, sane people, among whom I obviously do not count myself, have not thought about typewriters in a generation. Why suddenly now? The mere thought that the “world’s last” typewriter factory had closed, and the last 500 typewriters ever made (apparently mostly with an Arabic keyboard, the carriage moving from left to right) were being sold off, touched some previously unknown chord. It excited huge numbers of internet users. Which, for a typewriter collector such as myself, might have been good and bad news. Problem is, this was utterly false news. The Mumbai factory was by no means the last one making manual typewriters. They continue to be made in Jinan in China, for example.
Anyway, forewarned by Michael Ruffles, I was forearmed. I was able to pour some cooling water on the rumour when interviewed on air by Ross Solly. There was, as with a later ABC Radio interview, with Russell Woolf on the Drive program, a palpable sense of disappointment coming from the other end of the telephone line. I was guilty of playing down this “good” if wrong story.
After talking with Solly, I quickly got on to my typewriter blog and posted my thoughts on the subject. This, however, only seemed to fuel the fire. In the US and in Britain, people who share my passion for typewriters were desperately trying to beat down the flames. But we were firefighters not so much concerned about the job at hand as with the arsonist who started the inferno. For all of us, the issue rapidly turned from our disbelief to deep anger at the irresponsible journalism which had led to this media frenzy.
One of my blog comments was, “As a print media-newspaperman of almost 46 years' standing, I find it absolutely scandalous that so misleading a story as this can gain such circulation. By now there are probably tens of thousands of people who have accepted it as being true. So much for modern communications. The internet is fraught with the perils of spreading misinformation. Whatever happened to the old journo's credo of ‘check your facts first before going into print?”
In the US, Richard Polt, generally recognised as the “senior” (though not in age) and most decidedly the most sensible among our small but close-knit “typospherian” clan, had been inundated by requests for interviews, including the ABC in Australia. Like me, in trying to set the story straight, he felt sympathy toward journalists forced to follow a false lead from one of their own.
What was most alarming for me were the comments about present-day journalism left on both mine and Richard Polt’s blogs. These were from people so clearly disillusioned with today’s journalists that they thought us a pack of unreliable, disreputable lapdogs. Comment on Polt’s blog included, “Journalism is now, and has been for a long time, a PM magazine for 10 seconds of entertainment, which is the attention span of most of my ‘turnip’ students.” “The media sure did sensationalise a story that wasn't really true. Goes to show you that you should take your daily news with a grain of salt.”
Having a foot in both the journalism and typewriter-lover camps, one can imagine how uncomfortable all this made me feel. But I am now much more at ease in one camp than the other. The Mail man in Mumbai made sure of that.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Typewriter Posers: Fleeting Fun with Names

I imagine I'm no different to many of you, in that when I get a spare few minutes in my life, I like to scroll through the various eBays and other online auctions, just to see what's on offer in the way of typewriters and typewriter emphemera. It can, of course, be quite a dispiriting thing to do. It's frustrating to see an item I'd really like to own but can't afford, either to buy or to ship into Australia. Like this Orga Privat that came up for sale on British eBay some time ago:
Or this Creelman Brothers Blick:
More especially this Toshiba Japanese-language typewriter, possibly from the late 1950s, which sold on Australian eBay this week for $365. It seems to me that parts of a Remington were used in putting it together:
But what I do often get out of this exercise is the fleeting fun of spotting a typewriter listed under an unfamiliar name and trying to identify what it is: in other words, to work out what it is under a more usual guise. Given the range of typewriters offered by the like of Sears, Montgomery Ward, KMart and other chain stores over the years, and the Japanese practise of putting so many different model names on the same typewriters, this is not always as easy as it may seem. Often it will require reference to those excellent sites the Portable Typewriter Reference Site (Will Davis)
and Machines of Loving Grace (Alan Seaver),
as well as of course The Classic Typewriter Page (Richard Polt)
Here are a few examples:
This Sears portable came up for sale. It's an Olympiette, but with the colour, so like the Brazilian-made Olivetti Tropical. Compare:
Less easy to identify is this Nagoya-made Montgomery Ward Signature 511 which sold for $57 on US eBay this week:
It's a Nakajima, looking almost like a scaled-down Royal Safari. I'm pretty sure I have a Lemair which is the same as this, but I'd have to dig it out of storage to be sure.
On my post about the British Typewriter Company family tree, I mentioned SCM Empire-Coronas. Here's one which is a much more obvious SCM rebranding - this one sold this week on British eBay:
Another nice machine which sold (for $51) on US eBay this week was this Underwood 319 (which Alan Seaver on his site indicates is an Olivetti Lettera 92, a model I don't I've ever seen in the flesh). It may have made by Olivetti in Spain, or is it Japanese? Below it is an Underwood 378, as well as a Sears Achiever, from Will's site, and, at the bottom, from Alan's site, one of the typewriters of my dreams, one with similar swooping lines, front and back, a Montgomery Ward Escort 55 (which Alan says is a Barcelona-made clone of the Lettera 32):
On the subject of Underwoods, this Underwood 10 on Australian eBay is new to me. How it differs from the 18 I don't know, except that for once (in this line, anyway) Olivetti-Underwood seem to be have used a somewhat livier colour:
This Citizen, which was for sale on New Zealand's Trade Me, looks an awful like the Underwood 450 (which remains something of a mysery to me, as explained on an earlier post):
Another Citizen (?) looks like an Antares (Capri)-Mercedes variation. It's a Seville 3000, also from Trade Me:
And talking of the Antares, this (maybe Japanese-made) Antares 310 sold for almost $100 on US eBay this week:
Will's site has an Anatares 135:
A Boots typewriter (from the British chemist chain) sold on British eBay. It is an Erika, from the Robotron-East German factory:
A Nakajima ALL as a Majestic in Australia:
As well as yet another variation of the Nippo-Atlas:
And then, as the fun begins to wear off, some machines so non-descript I had temporarily forgotten what they were called - but the first one is a Montana masquerading under some other name, and the second is yet another version of the Nakajima ALL, this time as a Pinnock Craftomatic. Pinnock and Craftomatic were common Australian rebrandings: