|STANDARD and PORTABLE typewriters compared. Features, advantages, disadvantages.|
|Many new collectors and writers who use manual typewriters are suffering from the fact that the typewriter, itself, is enough removed from present usage (and verbage) that even the basic conception of "standard" and "portable" typewriters as two separate entities is confused. On this page, we'll examine what the differences are and what might make one consider one or the other style for use today.
It's instructive to start with a couple of simple, basic definitions.
|STANDARD typewriter - also "Office" or "Upright," although "Standard" is the original, official term. This is a large, heavy machine manufactured for use in business offices or for otherwise demanding work. Sold generally through branch offices operated by the manufacturers, or through authorized agents who also often owned typewriter repair businesses. Available usually with optional wide carriages for ledger work; also often available with tabulator or decimal tabulator for column work. Generally manufactured only in black or gray, although some later machines were tan or white - but no optional, bright colors.
PORTABLE typewriter. A typewriter deliberately manufactured in a size and weight to make it easily transported. Always sold with a carrying enclosure of some kind, which may be of a number of styles including base board and lid (with handle,) or suitcase-style case or zippered bag or snap-over lid. Sold through a much wider variation of outlets over the years, including catalogs and ads with mail-in coupon or card. Intended for use by individuals, not by corporations. Many machines from the 1920's onward were available in a wide variety of colors and color combinations intended to either fit in the home or simply allow options to attract buyers.
|The Remington Typewriter Company originally referred to its machines as "Remington Standard," perhaps in a sense that "standard" was meant to imply that the machines were the standard by which all others were judged. However, other makers began to use this term too either in ads or on the machines, and although Remington sued some of them it eventually lost; it couldn't claim the word as a trademark because it was too vague. Instead, the term "Standard" began to take on the connotation that it referred to a machine meant to be competitive with the Remington in features and capability. Of course, not all of these early Standard machines WERE identical; for example, Smith Premier made its standard machine with two sets of keys - one for lower, and one for upper case letters. Smith Premier No. 2 shown at left.|
|At roughly the turn of the century (that is, the LAST one or the year 1900) a revolution was taking place. This was the revolution of "visible writing," wherein typewriters typed where you could see what you were typing. Note that on the Smith Premier No. 2 above, the typing occurs on the bottom of the platen; on the Monarch No. 2 from a few years later, at right, it's obvious that you can see what you're doing as you're doing it. At this time, the subtle change occurred wherein most new designs of standard typewriter were introduced with four-row keyboards with single shift. Prior to this, there had been some wide variance in both opinion and design but the revolution of "visible" machines also was the spark of keyboard conformity for the most part. Thus, it began to become a further connotation of the term "Standard" that such a machine would have a four-bank single-shift keyboard ... but there were a number of machines that very clearly called themselves "Standard" that did not have this feature.|
|At left, Oliver No. 3. Note the front of the machine -- it is clearly labeled "The OLIVER Standard Visible Writer." In this case, we're meant to assume that this rather odd looking machine was mechanically and operationally the equal of any other standard machine. And it was -- these were really good typewriters in their day! And, of course we note the three row keyboard with double shift. NOT what we'd call "standard" today, in today's definition which means "everything the same." Of course, as we see below, there were more normal looking machines with three-row double-shift keyboards too.|
|At right, the Harris Visible No. 4. This machine was advertised as a Standard - and we see its upright and heavy look very clearly. But we also see a three row, double shift keyboard. Is this just a different design idea? Well, partly - but the Harris was meant to be a less-expensive machine too. When it was made, the big companies' machines were selling for about a hundred dollars. The Harris appeared in 1912 at just under $40.00 - so part of the concept was that of reducing complexity (although there might not be any stronger type bars than those in the Harris - they are fewer but heavier!) Again, then the term "Standard" means that it can do the work of other similarly-termed machines.|
|At left is a machine made in Germany - the Orga Privat. This was a light-weight, simple machine which was intended to perform the duties of a standard machine in many ways but which was comparatively even less expensive and even simpler than the Harris seen above. This Orga Privat has no tabulator, an almost crudely simple margin setting arrangement, no ribbon color selector - and so on. It's really simple and basic. But it's a bit too large - too cumbersome - to keep carrying around, and in point of fact it wasn't meant to be moved around all over the place. It was for office style work, such as correspondence, stencil cutting, manifolding but was lighter and less expensive than most any other standard machine. This Orga Privat somewhat pushes the envelope of "Standard" machines down to the lowest level in terms of weight, complexity and original cost - but its INTENT was to provide a sales opportunity where low price was paramount and a true top-end standard machine was too much money. It sold very well over a number of years.|
|Let's jump down to the portables for a while. At the same time as the visible writing revolution was taking place, moving right along with it was another revolutionary visible writing machine - the Corona. Actually, at its earliest it was the "Standard Folding" but that's not the main point. The important thing is that it was REALLY small and light, and deliberately aimed at travelers. All the advertising was pointed at the travelling businessman or salesman, or some such, initially. It seems almost as important that it could be folded up and put in its small case and carried as it is that it actually types well - if you look at the ads! Of course, it took off after a slow start and really got the makers of standard machines thinking about the vast new market of home use; there were many more homes than offices out there!|
|Could the Corona do everything a good standard machine could? Nope. Could it keep up in terms of speed? No way. Could it be expected to last as long without work? Absolutely not. But it was so light, so workable and frankly ingenious that it sold very VERY well - and a premium price markup was placed on it due to its novelty. No one cared, even if they knew - it cost about half what a standard typewriter did and sold like wild anyway. Now, the other makers began to realize not only the huge market but the huge PROFIT available. Ultimately - how do you compete with the Corona? Either you copy it, or you do better. Some, like National / Rex, and Fox, tried to sort of copy it and did well enough. Underwood made a small, non-folding 3-bank machine in 1919. All of these were fairly simple, and probably sold at a good profit. However, at that time the standard machines were so largely four-bank single-shift that SOMEONE had to eventually engineer a good, workable four-bank portable. Many did at around the 1920 mark, and the Remington portable that appeared about that time immediately took a commanding sales position since it had a true four-bank single-shift keyboard just like most standard machines. However, it still was in NO way competitive with any standard machines -- it was nowhere near as versatile, capable or fast.|
|It was in the mid-1920's that portables began to finally resemble standard typewriters visually. This ROYAL machine can be seen to have a more upright profile than the flat Remingtons of the time; it's also wider, deeper and much heavier than the three-bank folding Corona. This step in portable typewriter design expanded the market further; soon, all the makers seemed to be trying to get larger, heavier and more capable portables out in the marketplace. L.C. Smith & Corona Typewriters Inc. even made one of its new 1930's line machines the "Corona Standard" which was only one of a number of portable typewriters of various makes to describe itself as "Standard."
Many portables began to be advertised with "standard keyboard" and "standard features," which began to blur the distinction advertising-wise even though in terms of price and operation there still was no true comparison .. although it was closer than ever before.
|As we've already seen, there were standard typewriters that were intended to be simpler and less expensive than the top-end machines, and these in many cases were slightly smaller and lighter. In the same sort of progression, a number of manufacturers introduced, over time, portable typewriters that approached the size and weight of these lower-end standards and this even FURTHER blurred the distinction, at least as far as a hard cutoff point was concerned.|
|A well known example of the largest, heaviest and most capable range of portables is the ALPINA; one of these carrying the AMC brand is seen at right. These were advertised as "small office machines" but DID have a full carrying case. A further example - this time, a normal sized portable with wide carriage and advertised as being capable of some office work - is the Royal ADMINISTRATOR, below.|
|Some people refer to large, heavy and super-capable portable typewriters as "Desk Model Portables" or as Intermediate or, even sometimes, as Junior Standards. This breeds confusion; it is better to consider them as portables, alone, even if very large ones and very good ones!|
|As we can see, the actual size, weight, cost, and capability of what originally were "Standard" machines and the portables begins to blur if we consider machines from all ages and nations. It's convenient, though, to make some further general points about the two groups.
1. In general, the portables will NEVER reach the sustained speeds capable with Standards. While there are some pretty fast portables, it's really hard to keep them from moving around when typing (and carriage-returning) really, really quickly. The biggest standard machines won't move a micron on any surface but ice at any speed so long as their rubber feet are in good shape. Moreover, the return speed of the type bars on standard machines -- a very critical point in overall speed -- is much higher than generally seen on portables, and the likelihood of jamming type bars together much lower.
2. In general, the old work of manifold copying was much better on standards - their longer, heavier type bars and larger more powerful type bar mechanisms made for a much heavier blow. This also makes a difference, today, with the problems of poor ribbons and improper paper. I have found myself that the standards - if the type face is kept clean - make better looking copy with today's supplies.
3. In case of failure, the standards are much easier to repair. Many repairmen considered portables to be disposable during the heyday of typewriters; they'd encourage a trade-in instead of a repair. Of course, you can't do that now but you can find a portable much more often broken beyond repair than a standard (ignoring extreme shipping damage or dropping.)
4. The major advantages of portables are - obviously - portability, as well as color and style and wide variance in touch or feel. Many people think of standard typewriters kind of like buses -- they'll work, and get you there, but they're kind of all the same. Portables are like cars; some are like sports cars, others station wagons but ALWAYS better than buses. The field of variation is much more wide open with portables and for many writers and collectors this is a source of unending joy and fascination. (It's what got me into this hobby in the first place, by the way.)
FINALLY -- neither is "BETTER" than the other overall. You must decide both what you need a machine to do and what you like -- and then buy what you want to buy and put it to work!