|Harry A. Smith by Will Davis
One of the names that comes up fairly often in typewriter collectors' circles is that of Harry A. Smith, a man who operated at least one business in Chicago, and perhaps in other places, concerned with the typewriter industry.
For a long time, it was thought that Smith was only in the business of buying out the stock of manufacturers that had shut down; during the time period when Smith was active, which was in the period roughly from the 1910's through the 1920's, there were many companies which attempted to manufacture typewriters, but failed. It had been thought that Smith purchased the remaining assets of these companies with the intent of selling remaining machines, or perhaps assembling machines from left-over parts, at a good mark-up. This appears now NOT entirely to be the case.
In the massive research performed surrounding the Harris Visible article I wrote a while back, it became clear that Smith had, in all probability, bought up either warehoused mail-order stock or office machines of that type from Sears Roebuck, refurbished them and then sold them by mail order as his "No. 6." This is certainly not a case of buying out the remnants of a shut-down manufacturer, and this evidence opened up the possibility that Smith occasionally acquired machines from many various sources for the purpose of reselling them.
Harry A. Smith "Smith Visible No. 6" ad at left courtesy Herman and Connie Price collection. Printed in 1917; rebuilt Harris Visible No. 4.
|The work done for the article at the time also made me wonder whether or not Smith had more than a casual relationship with either Sears, or perhaps Roebuck. Alvah C. Roebuck was hired by Sears as a jeweler, although he was much more of a tinkerer in many various mechanical practices -- and he is now known to have held the patents for what became the highly successful Woodstock typewriter. But the Woodstock typewriter company was not always Woodstock; previous to this, it had produced the Emerson typewriter, which failed in the market. Following Roebuck's takeover, the Emerson was dropped and replaced with his own design. In addition to this, Chuck Dilts and Rich Cincotta are aware of an ad for Sears which shows what is plainly a Burnett typewriter -- another early but failed machine -- but the ad illustration shows a piece of paper in the machine with the label "Smith." This means that we have three totally different machines (the Harris Visible, the Emerson and the Burnett) known to have been sold by Sears or that were associated with Roebuck, but which eventually ended up with the Smith name affixed. This seems to make it clear that Harry A. Smith knew somebody at Sears Roebuck -- and that, in all probability, it would have been Alvah Roebuck himself.|
|Here's another ad from Herman and Connie Price. It shows the L. C. Smith No. 8, as rebuilt and sold by Smith.
Smith was cited by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising, in a series of actions that culminated in a formal review panel convened by the FTC (and, at which, all the major typewriter manufacturers were represented) in which the term "rebuilt typewriter" was given a formal definition for the purpose of identification of fraud. The ad here was made AFTER these actions, and is of the "later" period of Harry A. Smith ads in which the fact that the machines are rebuilt is stated clearly. In "early" ads, there is NO mention of the fact that the machines are rebuilt. Only the features and characteristics are given, along with many promises and much wordy ad copy.
Quite a number of root brands have been identified as having been sold by Harry A. Smith. Right now, it appears that the BURNETT may have been from Sears stock, or that from the builder or both; the EMERSON the same. The HARRIS machines are almost certainly from Sears offices and warehouse stock, and were not from the maker itself. The source of the VICTOR machines is not known, but known machines of this type carrying the Harry A Smith name are of widely disparate serial numbers except for a block at the end of production -- which may indicate stock from the maker at shutdown. It is known that Smith tried to set up a factory in Indiana to produce what had been the BLICK-BAR, and after years of throwing money at the project, had abandoned it by 1922.
|Much more work can be done (and should be done) to discover the facts surrounding Harry A. Smith, his various businesses (note that you can see two known addresses for his companies in the ads above) and the machines he sold over time. As information comes in, this page will be updated to reflect it.|
One machine that has been associated with Smith is the ANNELL' which is seen here in a cropped section of an original ad. The name "Annell" is actually an old-fashioned female first name, and thus is probably not the actual middle name of Harry A. Smith. This means that the machine isn't named after him.
Now, one wonders whether or not, if we assume a relationship between Alvah Roebuck and Harry A. Smith, if Smith didn't have something to do with the Annell'. But it is proven that these were not rebuilt; they were brand new machines. Indeed, perhaps this was Woodstock's way of competitng with such businesses as Smith ran. For now, though, no association can be shown between this machine and Harry A. Smith.
|Click the picture to see the entire advertisement.|
|At the end of 1918, Harry A. Smith was advertising his No. 12 machine, seen at right. This was a Victor No. 3 rebuilt and sold by mail order. Two known actual Harry A. Smith No. 12 machines have serial numbers in the early range of production of the Victor No. 3, making it seem less likely than ever that Smith bought up remaining machines when production of the Victor was moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, although this is still by no means certain.
Smith also at times sold the same Victor No. 3 machine with no change in model number, and with Smith model number 9; he also sold the earlier Victor No. 2 as the Smith No. 4. This confusion of relabeling only further clouds actual dating.
|As also seen in our article on the Harris Visible, here is W. Seaver's incredibly rare Smith Visible No. 6. It is serial number 17019 and is the only example known to exist. Frame says "Harry A. Smith Typewriter Co. / Chicago Ill. USA."|
|So, how long was Harry A. Smith in business? Well, that's difficult to say. The last reliable reference we have here is a filing September 20,1926 registering the Smith Typewriter Sales Corporation in California. The exact purpose of this filing isn't clear, since the jurisdiction of the corporate entity named was Illinois.|
|Smith Visible No. 6 serial 7447
Richard Polt collection
This is the first of this variant known; this is another Victor No. 3, but this time carrying the "No. 6" model on its front frame. One begins to wonder just how many models Harry A. Smith sold the Victor No. 3 as! Richard's incredibly complete and well-decorated example has a great paper table decal and we can now show the original Harry A. Smith "Blacksmith" decal in detail below.