Toy Typewriters - a very basic introduction.
You've all seen the TOM THUMB machines (and their plastic-bodied successors like the PRESIDENT) that populate the antique malls of America, usually wrecked and still carrying a $98.00 price tag.  They're interesting enough, but so common and produced with so little variation overall as to be quickly uninteresting.  There are two other families of keyboard-operated front-strike toy typewriters out there, though, which do merit a bit further attention.
The first I'll mention is actually the newer of the two.  This family was made by Byron Jardine, located in Nottingham England and is usually found under the name PETITE.  However, it's of further interest because Western Stamping Co. in the USA, which made the aforementioned Tom Thumb machines eventually stopped making its own design and imported the Petite instead - but by special arrangement it carried the Tom Thumb name.  We see one here.

Identifying features of this family are the T-type, or T-cross section keys easily visible here.  The long thin key stems go through holes in a flat cover.  The modern print style on the keytops is also easily recognized, as is the overall body shape.  "Feather Touch" emblem often seen no matter name or mechanical variation. 
The other family was that made by Marx Toys, and which were manufactured in Japan.  This commonly-seen family actually contains quite a number of interesting variations, both mechanical and decorative and is special to some people due to the fact that very many were labeled for sale in department stores which certainly helps bring back some memories.

On the left, we see a Marx 300.  This is a three-bank single-shift machine.  Yes, there are two shift keys per side - but they are BOTH labeled "FIG" and both do the same thing.  Note that this variant has square cross-section keytops and a great deal of metal used in the interior working parts - it's an early plastic-bodied version of what had been a metal-bodied machine prior to this.
At right, a similar machine carrying the "P" emblem which identifies it as having been sold by J.C. Penney's.  Note that this machine has round cross-section keytops, and only one shift key on each side.   This example is slightly newer, and there are detail changes inside and out but it essentially retains the same overall class of features as the Marx 300 above.
This stunningly orange machine (which really looks like some of the Olympia products of the day) is a Montgomery-Ward Signature Jr.  Look closely; this machine is actually the top model in the line, and has THREE shift keys.  On the right, there is a CAP shift key.  On the left, there are both CAP and FIG shift keys; this is a true three-bank double-shift machine. 

Note that not much else changes on the outside of such machines, making it necessary to either get close enough to one to really see the mechanical design or else, if you're looking at one on the internet, you'll have to ask.
At right, a later Marxwriter which appears on first look to have four shift keys.  But, look closer; all four of them are labeled FIG and in fact when you have the machine in hand you can see that both keytops are (as you now expect) on the same key lever.  Once again, just a quick look does no good; you must inspect closely.  Single and double shift machines have been spotted in most of the age groups for the Marx machines, so you're now officially 'on notice' for this when investigating in the field.
I've decided to look into these various keyboard operated, front strike toys a bit more from now on, and you'll see the results linked from here.  There are a great many colors and styles in addition to the mechanical variations (or at least it seems so) and I'm looking forward to getting into these ... not to mention that I get to shop for toys again!

Oh -- one more thing.   As I write this, RIGHT NOW in July 2007 there is a toy typewriter available in the US.  It's made by Mehano in Yugoslavia, and at least J.C. Penney's was selling it a few months ago.
Is there a toy typewriter that's as good as a "real typewriter?"  How about one that's the same!?
by Will Davis