Over the weekend we picked up a typewriter I’d frankly been coveting for some time. A Hermes Ambassador is a fine enough acquisition in and of itself: it’s a massive, marvellously overbuilt standard typewriter with all kinds of bells and whistles, including a document feeder and two margin release keys (one for adding just a few extra spaces), plus support for a carbon ribbon and a motor. But this example, built in 1960, was something else: it has a keyboard that may literally be one of a kind.Continue reading…
Not Too Cheap to Upgrade
In December 2020 I won an eBay auction for a 1968 Royal 200. With shipping, the typewriter came to a grand total of $63.87. It was an ultraportable made in Japan by Silver-Seiko and sold under the venerable Royal brand; the 200 appears identical to the better-known Mercury. Our example turned out to be surprisingly good, not just for what it was—a cheap, small typewriter—but full stop: it types better and faster than many ostensibly superior machines, and despite some yellowed plastic1 it remains in terrific shape. But while its platen and sound insulation could stand replacing, I wondered whether it was worth spending money upgrading such a cheap typewriter: the expense would not necessarily be recouped if we decided to sell the thing on. Meanwhile, the typewriter blogger Joe Van Cleave went and did to his Royal Mercury what I was simply musing about: he replaced the platen and installed a sound insulation kit, with good results. He clearly intends to keep using his, and at this point I think I’m likely to do the same with mine. Resale value should be a moot point in this context. In a way it’s too bad that it’s no longer quite as silly to get J. J. Short to recover its platen, now that Joe’s broken this ground. I liked the idea of doing something silly.
Facit Typewriter Resources Page
Because I have an abiding interest in vintage Swedish typewriters, and information on said typewriters is somewhat thin on the ground online—especially in English—I’ve put together a page of links to various manuals, guides, reviews and videos about Facit and Halda typewriters. To be added to as I go.
A Musicwriter in Action
Further to last year’s post about music typewriters: Typewriter Muse posted a video last September demonstrating a Musicwriter—in this case, a converted R. C. Allen typewriter—in action. Now that I’ve seen one in operation, it seems less tricky to use than I thought it might be.
The Facit Man
Chris Sandström’s slideshow charts the history of the Facit Man. This was the slightly disturbing mascot of Facit, the Swedish company that made mechanical calculators, office equipment and my favourite typewriters. Basically an elf on a shelf with a pointy cap adorned with either numbers or the Facit name—a Clippy for the mechanical age—the Facit Man was more about promoting Facit’s main business, mechanical calculators (in comparison, typewriters were just a side hustle); when electronic calculators came along Facit just got clobbered.
(A million Facit Man figures were made; I need at least one.)
The Art of Swedish Typewriter Maintenance
I have recently become obsessed with Facit typewriters. Made in Sweden, with the most unusual carriage rail and tab mechanisms, they’re impressive machines that are an absolute joy to type on, but they’re not necessarily the easiest to work on. I’ve acquired two Facit portables so far and each has one or two issues that we’re a bit scared to tackle because of the Facit reputation for being difficult to repair. At least neither suffers from the dreaded “frozen Facit” issue (where the typewriter’s original lubricant has hardened and seized up the escapement), but there’s a fix for that, which Nick describes here and Tony has put to use: repeated applications of solvent to dissolve the old lubricant. As for other issues, Ted Munk has posted a PDF copy of a Facit repair manual, which is helpful but doesn’t cover older models or every exigency. Charles has posted tutorials on how to remove a Facit portable’s carriage—which we’d all been warned not to do—and how to remove its platen. All of which help, but more is needed.
The Musicwriter is one of several music typewriters created to print sheet music. Some music typewriters were their own thing, whereas the Musicwriter started life as a normal typewriter before being converted to print notes and staves. You operated it by typing with the right hand and moving the carriage with the left, which sounds a bit tricky to get right—like writing music with an Etch-a-Sketch. Several typewriters served as Musicwriter root stock over the years, including the 6-series Smith-Corona and, more recently, the Olympia SG3 (an example of which can be seen in this Facebook group post). More about Musicwriters from Ted Munk in Et Cetera 109 (2015), pp. 12-15, and in this addendum collecting all kinds of photos, ephemera and type samples.
Queens of the Keyboard
Robert Messenger looks at the mid-20th-century phenomenon of international speed-typing competitions, and the women who competed in them. Explain to me how these women are not already the subject of a Netflix series like The Queen’s Gambit: the 1920s rivalry between Millicent Woodward and Robert George Curtis could be a movie all by itself.