Showing posts with label Smith-Corona. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Smith-Corona. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Typewriter Mentor

Last Thursday, my student teacher graduated and I gave him this typewriter as a gift:

Oooh boy, that's a shiny typewriter.

With Marie Kondo whispering in my ear, I stuffed my heart with steel wool and tin foil and made some decisions about my many collections. A few weeks ago I culled the typewriters, keeping the ones that brought me the most joy. Before that, I decided how many slide rules you need to have a collection, but not an obsession. Days before that, I asked myself if I need three of the same Swiss army knives?

The process continues, but I am sure that Joe (my student teacher) will enjoy this typewriter as he begins his journey in teaching.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Take Dictation, Please

For much of the 20th century dictation was a fairly low-tech affair. Someone would write down what someone said and then type it up on a really nice Royal HH. Well, if we were living in some sort of weird future we might have a machine like this:
There have been many typewriter/solenoid mashups that do their best to bring the typewriter and computer together. To my thinking there hasn't been one that makes me smile as much as this one posted to Zip Zaps YouTube channel.
The build includes a Pololu Maestro servo controller, some servos, an Arduino, and Windows' voice recognition software. I think it's very nicely done and seeing it in action definitely makes you smile.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jittery Apostrophe

My Smith-Corona Electric has a problem:

My, what a jittery apostrophe. I think it has something to do with the power-roller. What do you think? Have you had this problem?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Dilemma: Should it Stay or Should it Go?

I had a college professor who like to point out that the real meaning of dilemma was a choice between two equally undesirable outcomes. Dilemma connotatively means any problem, but in this situation it is a true dilemma.

The problem centers around this typewriter.

A once proud and mighty grande dame of the office, this Super Speed is now a decaying wreck. I can only assume that it was stored in dampest, dankest, darkest basement ever dug by human hands. The corrosion is impressive.

Needless to say, to restore this typewriter to its original state would take countless hours and probably more than a few q-tips. This typewriter was a gift. It was free from a very kind person and I didn't have the heart to tell him that I would never get around to fixing it.

Other projects came and went.

Time passed.

And now what do I do with this albatross?

I like the Super Speed. It's attractive typewriter. The horizontal banding breaks up the strong vertical look of this machine. It's very Moderne. The new design came at a time when Smith-Corona was looking to update the look of their office machine. I agree with Alan Seaver when he says, "In my mind, this version of the Super-Speed belongs more to the '30s than the '40s..."

As much as this typewriter looked new, under the ribbon cover everything was very much the same. To the end of the product line Smith-Corona Super Speed used the same ball-bearing design to hang the type bars that had been designed and used on all L.C. Smith machines for the previous 50 years. By the 40s no company was using that technology. Slotted type segments were the norm, but Smith-Corona still hung on to the tradition.

Even with such a great past and good looking design, the realities of the modern day still linger. I can't keep the machine (I need space for new ones) and restoring this machine is not going to happen. What does that leave? I think parting it out and recycling the frame is my only option.

I don't like the idea, but I am in the middle of a dilemma. So much of the typewriter collecting field focuses on salvaging typewriters, but should we be so squeamish about getting rid of common and broken typewriters? Is every machine worth saving? 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Last Word on Justification

So, I thought that this post would have been over some time ago, but as I dug further and further into the topic, I could see that there was more than I could have ever imagined. We have all drooled over the Varityper at one point or another. That's a shame because I know– from my vast experience and rugged good looks– that drool really falls short as an ink substitute. Drool'n aside, the idea of cold typesetting typewriters really heats up by typeshuttle. Mostly because of justification which I have mentioned here.  The Varityper later became the Coxshead DSJ an example of which Richard recently acquired in an antique shop. A more drool-worthy machine never existed. I, however, will confine myself to a drier, lesser history of the justified typewritten page.

Let's start, again, with the snippet from Popular Science that started my interest in this topic. I posted it some months back. It details a new device that can be added to a typewriter to make it a justification-capable machine. The article–if you could even call it that–does not list an inventor or a date of invention. Without either it would be a slow drudgery to look through thousands of patents trying to find the responsible inventor. 

So, that's what I did. Not, first, without doing a little Shelrock Holmes routine on the advertisement. There are always a few clues that can lead you to an answer.

Since the snippet came from a 1940s edition of PopSci, I decided to hazard a guess that the "new" invention was probably not more than ten years old at that time. Since the machine was from the 40s and the photo had a 40s look (being a 150–or so–screen halftone engraving) I decided to start in the decade from 1939 to 1949. I read the passage over a few times to get a general idea of what mechanical attributes I should be looking for in my patent searches. The one section that stood out read:

I looked for any patent that clearly had a knob/dial somewhere in the vicinity of the escapement and a pointer/indicator on the carriage.

Going to Google Patent, I was able to find two patents from the era covering a device that uses a knob and a pointer. One was from an Andras Goy and the other from an Oliver O. Martin. Martin also had an earlier 1920s patent for the same type of invention.

Mr. Goy's invention features a knob, but the knob is mounted to the front of the frame and from there links to a device on the carriage of the machine that alters the movement of the escapement. There was a dial and an indicator, but the placement make me feel like the Goy method wasn't the one featured in the article. Also, the machine would need to be completely heavily modified to accommodate a forward facing knob. Goy does not mention that this would be a simple or reversible modification.

Oliver Martin's justification system, however, looks more appropriate for a modification of a current typewriter. Martin describes this within the patent. "It is the object of my invention to provide a device which may be readily attached to or embodied in commercially well known typewriters without interfering with or changing the general combinations and features thereof..."

The above device was patented in 1920. Martin also patented a newer version in 1945 and that patent was issued in 1948. My feeling is that it is Martin's later patent that is mentioned in the Popular Science article.

Martin's second patent for a justifying attachment describes his invention thus: "It is the object of this invention to provide a simple inexpensive and conveniently operable justifying mechanism which may be attached to various types of typewriters or which may be built into such typewriters to form permanent part thereof." This alone was pretty convincing, but it was the illustration from Figure 5 that sealed the deal for me.

You can clearly see a knob that it attached through a linkage to the escapement disk. This knob adjusts the size of each space to affect the kind of movement needed to make the justifying technique possible. I guess Martin's our man. 

Even with the discovery of who probably invented the justifying technique detailed in the Popular Science blurb, I started to think about this problem. It's interesting that even with these three innovative solutions to proportional spacing no major manufacturers made full justification a feature or even attempted to find their own solution. Perhaps the technology was too complicated. Maybe the market wouldn't support the additional cost of a complicated escapement. In reality, I think these innovations and attachments were a solution looking for a problem.

I have written quite a few pages on a typewriter and–excepting novelty–I haven't had much a need for a justified page. I also don't believe that this was an expected feature of the hand-typed letter. The uneven right margin was de rigueur and the quality of a typist was how even she (and the occasional he) was able to make the margin without the aid of a justifying mechanism. Good margins are addressed in the Smith-Corona Tips to Typists booklet scanned by Richard Polt (

In this instance the uneven right margin was equated with hand-typed. A letter would be conspicuous with even right and left margins. So it came to be unnecessary for this feature. I know that my life is not incomplete at the possibility of uneven right margins. I can continue on and manufacturers didn't invest the time, money, or manpower devising a means to even both margins. 

However, the technical problems of justification even plagued Vannevar Bush, the technological visionary who presaged hypertext and the power of relational searches. 

In a patent filed in 1942, Bush described a technique for justifying the text of a typewriter using the benefit of stored memory and relays. The inputting of text, calculation of required spacing, and the composing were done by different components of the larger system. In fact, the solution was to have two typewriters one to encode and the other to decode. Think of two modified Fridens connected to a memory unit. That's the kind of solution Bush was envisioning.

You can see the influence of the coming digital revolution in his solution.

The patent illustration isn't so much a picture of mechanical devices, but a flowchart. Flowcharts are the way of the future. Bush also detailed how the typewriter should have a type of digital relay system to record keystrokes.

Which isn't too far off from the USB typewriter designed by Jack Zylkin. 

But it wasn't until the computer that a consumer would be able to justify the left and right margins on-the fly. Isn't progress wonderful?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Taste of the Typosphere's Future

As I go along I have been sipping from the Future of the Typosphere essays as one would drink a fine cordial. Every new thing I read makes me feel that the Typosphere is one of the most learned and thoughtful groups on the internet.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Corona Sterling #2A 50886

The work on this Corona Sterling Speedline began a while ago; nearly a year as as the original post ( would have it.

This burgundy beauty has been a challenge. The segments were filled with crud and I was able to get the stuff out with carburetor cleaner. I thought everything was fine, but every time I left it overnight the segments would freeze up again. PB blaster didn't help and I got the sinking suspicion that someone previously tried to unfreeze the segments with oil. The oil worked its way deep into the segment block and just would ooze out after I thought I cleaned it out. I eventually got tired of trying and decided to put the machine away and try again at another date.

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Typewriters came and went and I didn't get to this one. It wasn't until I started the restoration work–and subsequently was delayed–on the Underwood (see that I was reminded that I had this beautiful typewriter that needed to be finished. In fact, it was the picture of Tennessee Williams working on the same machine in black that jogged my memory and pushed me to finish it.
I pulled out the machine, found the body panels, and started to work. As I remembered, the segments were still stiff. I cleaned a bit more using alcohol to dissolve the remaining oil in the segment. So far, so good. The type bars are moving freely in the segment slots and there is no sign that the sluggishness will return.

Fully stocked with features, this is a great typewriter. The parallel action is good and the styling is top-notch. I like the Speedlines with crinkle paint, but the glossy ones are really quite svelte. I would prefer to have the black, but the more I look at the burgundy the more I like it. 

This example is a fairly early one coming from 1938 (as the tables tell me) in good shape. There is a small dent on the ribbon cover, but there isn't any chipping.

One thing unusual about Sterlings from this era is the inconsistent appearance of the paper bail. Some machines, like mine, have a bail. Others have fingers. I can't see a pattern whatsoever. I took a look at machines across the Internet and there was nothing leading to a conclusion.

The bail is a charming little device. When you pull the bail back you come to a stop. Wait a half a moment and the bail will move all the way back. It's a fun little addition.

Before I leave you and get to work on the Underwood, I wanted to offer a few more images of this sterling example of a typewriter:

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Silent Tower

I started working on cleaning up a typewriter that has sat neglected for a while. It's this Sears Tower.

Many of you know it as a Skyriter and it is one in every aspect except name. This particular machine is missing the decorative paper arm cover. It is a common piece to find missing. 

I was looking out the sliding glass door at the butte behind our home. (There's another one in front of our house called Deem Hill.) The sky was a pale blue. A haze covered the finer delineations of the rock face. Falcons and eagles circled overhead slowly catching thermals rising and then falling. The hilly country of the Sonoran desert has a stark beauty. It takes time to learn to appreciate it, but the beauty is there to find.

I started to think about the name Tower. It's an odd name to give a typewriter. It makes me think of the towers of Silence that played a significant role in the funerary rights of the Zoroastrians. 

Was this little Tower left to decay out of sight? Will the carrion artists pluck key tops and repurpose them as horrible rings and necklaces? Who will sweep your brittle remains into the ossuary?

I happen to have another Tower from Ton S. This Tower is Presidential, the one above is a Chieftain.

A Chieftan of what? It's fitting that not too far from my home is an amazing museum: The Deer Valley Rock Art Center. At this off-the-beaten-path museum you can see petroglyphs dating back 7,000 years.  Could they be neolithic blog posts? Is this an heir to the kingdom of the Hohokam?

A rock and an idea. It could be the ultimate in distraction-free writing. 

Back to this typewriter. As with most 1950s Smith-Coronae, the sound-deadening material smells very bad. It has a must that can only be eliminated by removal. I was able to remove the offending odor and get to work on the dirty mechanism. It's not a big job, but it might take a few days.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Central Phoenix Typewriter Hunting

Being a teacher you are on your feet all day. With all that standing I tend to wear through a pair of shoes in the course of one school year. Almost every summer I have to take my shoes down to my regular cobbler and have them resoled. Fun shoe fact: the Prince of Wales has had the same pair of black oxfords made by John Lobb of St. James for the past 40 years. He keeps having them patched and shined and they'll last a lifetime. But, enough about shoes.

While I was in the area I thought it would be nice to go to a few antique stores and see what I could find in the way of typewriters. I didn't find much, and what I did find was pretty boring, but it was fun hunting none-the-less.

The only bright spot was finding this Gestetner duplicator. I have no idea what it would take to get it working, but it was in nice shape and only $65. There seems to be a large plasticized canvas sheet that has disintegrated with time. Perhaps it keeps the stencil stretched taught over the drums. I have no idea even where you would get the parts to make it work. But if you could it would be fun. Repeat-O-Type has inks and stencils. Anyway, here it is:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Another Restoration

So, by the picture below you can see that the next machine in my restoration queue is a Smith-Corona. I am in the process of eliminating some of the stickiness in a few of the keys. I have already tried PB Blaster, but there has been little improvement. The next option is a mechanical cleaning with a stiff toothbrush. The schedule for today is light, so I will have some time to devote to getting this one done.

Smith-Corona typewriter

Smith-Corona typewriter