|A brief introduction for those who are new to the world of typewriter collecting. by WILL DAVIS|
|Perhaps you've had a look around the internet for various sources on typewriters. Maybe you've purchased a book -- a price guide -- or two. If you're still a bit confused on basic terminology, or "just what's going on," then this page is for you.
You'll find that general reference is made to machines in groups. One of the first things you'll find is varied reference to whether or not a machine is a typewriter, or an antique typewriter. Now, to be sure, if you were to apply conventional "antique" wisdom to the world of typewriters, then pretty much anything older than, say, thirty or forty years old would be antique. This is not so with the world of typewriters; a really convenient break has yet to be found. I myself tend to think in terms of three, not two, groups. Anything before about 1925 is antique. From 1925 through 1945 is a period interrupted by both the Great Depression and the Second World War, so that product and company lineages and histories are wildly disjointed. Post-1950 is "modern." Simple, and arbitrary? Yes, but convenient. More later.
|Another juxtaposition is found in the field of original design and intent. You'll often see reference to the terms "standard typewriter" and "portable typewriter," with an offset between the two which might make you think that everything ever built falls neatly into one of these two groups. Not so again! The term "standard typewriter" is best thought of as one which refers to a machine built for office use, which has all, or most of, the competitive features of other office machines introduced around the same time -- which lineage begins, really, with the Sholes & Glidden, continues through all of the various blind-writers, is jogged severely with the introduction of the Underwood, but then continues smoothly until the introduction of truly successful electric machines. So, then, you can simply think of a "standard" typewriter as one competing for the forefront of office purchase and use.
Portables? Well, that term is obvious -- but don't forget that many smaller-sized machines built in the antique period were not really marketed for ease of transport. They were just --- well -- smaller. Some were, on the other hand, marketed almost exclusively on the premise of tiny size and ability to carry, and indeed were so small and cheap that they were useless. The term "portable" does not even directly imply "any machine with a carrying case" as there are antique standard machines weighing nearly 50 pounds that have cases. The late antique period really saw the emergence of the portable typewriter as its own entity, which did not really blossom until the intermediate period beginning in about 1925. In this time, the portable typewriter became a marketing force all its own, and many companies who were building standards had to quickly decide whether to get in, or stay out.
|You will quickly find out that the typewriters that "don't look like typewriters" all come from the antique period. There was a huge variety of design conceptions, many of which didn't use type bars. (Type bars are the levers which carry the type slugs, with the print face on them, and which whack the paper as you type.) Some, like this Blickensderfer No. 8, not only did not use type bars (this variety uses a wheel with letters embossed on the outside) but also did not even use ribbons; many had direct inking, whereby the ink was transferred not from a ribbon to the paper, but from a roller or reservoir, to the actual type face itself, and then onto the paper. This is an interesting design subset, but is also one that makes such machines all the harder to actually use today.|
|Some machines that are "type-bar" machines don't use a design of type bar that swings to the paper; some of them push right at it, or thrust at it. Naturally, these are called "thrust-action." This Blick Universal is a thrust-action machine, and you can make out the semi-crescent shaped top cover which conceals a whole host of type bars that all will shoot out into the open space behind the cover but in front of the platen when operated. They're arranged radially around the print point, in better terms.|
|Of course, we haven't even mentioned yet those machines that don't even have KEYS. Many designs used a lever (or such) to select a letter to be printed, and then something else was operated (button or lever) to actually print the character. Some of them didn't use a lever for selection, but rather some type of dial, or even some kind of pointer. These are all "index typewriters" -- and I don't own any of them. My sites tend to focus on the "intermediate" and "modern" periods, with only a slant towards the antique.|
|Here is an example of how simple application of terms and judgement by appearance can be misleading -- and why it's better to take each machine by itself, in consideration instead of lumping 'em all together. Here are three bona-fide "standard" typewriters. It appears as if the progression in age is from left, to center to right -- after all, that Oliver No. 9 on the left looks positively ancient; the Harris Visible in the center looks normal enough, but only has three rows of keys. Finally, that Monarch No. 2 on the right looks quite like most every common standard. But, think again!
While the Oliver on the left is built to basic design concepts developed in the very late 1800's, the machine was actually built in 1919. The Harris Visible in the center is actually the newest design of the lot -- having been designed around 1908 -- but was built in the time period 1912-1916. The Monarch, on the right, was first sold in 1904, and this machine is a bit newer than that. It was actually built about 1912 -- roughly the same time as the Harris Visible you see here.
This points out the fact that not only are some "old" designs good enough that they last in production a long time, but also the fact that some designs are already obsolete when first produced. The Oliver is the former, the Harris the latter; the Monarch was "right on time."
|I said that I'd get back to that "antique" classification. You know, as I write this, I'm forced to place myself in typewriter history. I am 37 years old. I actually began using a typewriter for some school work as early as the 5th grade, and was expected to use one for reports in English class, and others, beginning formally in the 8th grade. They were still common. In fact, not until high school did I begin to see lots of electronic machines around, and after that the first word processors. I am, as you might say, actually one of those who lived "in the era of the typewriter," although near the end.
But not in the 19th Century! To me, any object over 50 years old is antique, PERIOD, no matter what it is. Only people are designed to last longer than that! So, in MY frame of reference, you could cut off 'antique' at about 50 years before I really began using these machines -- say, about 1930. But that's just me -- soon there will be collectors for whom ANY mechanical typewriter is antique. It's coming. We'll have to revise our terminology again, too!