Sunday, May 29, 2011

April and May Typewriter Sightings

I have been sulking a bit since I passed on getting a Remington Portable #1 (with the pop-up keys) after I tried to bargain with the flea market seller and he would not budge. I should have made an exception to my rule of not paying "full price" for anything in an open market - this was a lovely, working typewriter, not often seen, and fitting in with all my new "vintage vintage portable" aesthetic requirements. But I was stubborn, and so was he, and so I moved on. Without even taking a picture, apparently. I still have a few pangs of regret, but they're fading - although I would still like to find one of those someday.

That said, we're off tomorrow to Berlin for a couple of days, so before then I shall put up a few pictures of discoveries here and there I have been meaning to post.

 At the end of April, we made an excursion to Annecy in neighboring France to see what the fuss was all about - everyone we know touts it as a "must-visit" town, with stunning views and lovely architecture. It was just ok, methinks - the view is lovely, but living in Switzerland one does see an awful lot of lakes and mountains... so much so that my eyes just glazed over, really. It didn't look all that much different from the view in Geneva, or Lucerne, or Berne, or Zurich...

We only spent a couple of hours in Annecy, a tiny sleepy town, before beating a hasty retreat to Geneva. Fortunately, I had planned our visit to coincide with Annecy's monthly flea market, which I had high hopes for. Sadly, there was only one typewriter to be spotted: this handsome Continental standard. A decent sighting, but it didn't quite salvage the effort we had spent to get to Annecy.

I was slightly mollified to come across this stand devoted almost entirely to writing paraphernalia - dip pens, inks, ink wells, and starter kits. I didn't purchase anything, being up to my ears in this stuff already, but it was nice to see that there seemed to be such a strong interest in writing implements.

Another of my favorite objects had a strong showing: there were many varieties of globes.

Back to our local flea market, a couple of weeks after Annecy. We spotted this Underwood Champion nestled upside down in its box, all the better to show it off.

A Japy Script that had seen much better days, obviously crying out for a good soak in Evapo-Rust!

A forest-green Olympia SM-3 that evoked fond memories of the one I used to have.

A very interested potential buyer - I didn't stick around to see how it ended up, but she spent quite a good amount of time fiddling with the typewriter, so hopefully it found a new home with her.

A handsome Adler standard, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Hermes Ambassador. I like how the keys are the same exact style and shape used on the '50s Tippas, which are about a fifth the size of this behemoth...

Just yesterday, we saw... a Rooy!!! How about that? A non-portable one this time, and with the dreaded azerty keyboard. But still, a very nice sighting - just look at those massive gull-wing ribbon covers.

Terrible picture, but I feel the need to prove that I actually saw a Royal Royalite in person, finally! I was tempted - it was after all portable and reasonably-priced - but the elite typeface and plastic body (I never knew these were plastic) dissuaded me.

Not pictured are various Hermes typewriters (as usual :D), or the Olivetti Lettera 32 that I came across while perusing a neighborhood garage sale yesterday. The owner was very eager to sell it, offering it for $8 (a very reasonable price, I might add) and swearing to its immaculate working condition. But it had one of those weak vinyl cases, and I sauntered on.... eventually coming across a lady selling an unused Nook Color, which I left with instead. (I know, I know. Sigh.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vintage vintage portables: Seidel & Naumann Erika 5 (1935)

Which is to say that the best way to prevent having second thoughts later is to make the purchase - providing it fits within my aesthetic, space and budget constraints - and think about passing it on later when I've had a few good hours with it. Speaking of which, there is a remorse-filled story about a recent missed opportunity that I have yet to narrate, but will soon. Till then, some clear pictures of the Erika 5:

If one thinks of the Olivetti Lettera 32 and others of that time as vintage portable typewriters, why, then this Erika 5 is a "vintage vintage" - predating the portable trend that swept through the '50s and '60s, but still working just as well as any of those and managing to look even more stately in the process, what with its glossy black finish and glass keys.

There is no carriage return lever, but a clever system of moving up a small lever accomplishes the line spacing function admirably. If I had to change one thing, it would be the exposed ribbon spools, as I like the streamlined look of ribbon covers. That said, it is a fairly simple matter to change these when they're worn out, so I guess there is that.

The decals and name badge are in very good shape, all things considered, and besides a few yellowed keys, the typewriter wears its age quite well. The typeface is a rather ordinary pica, but I find it charming nevertheless. I don't think there were very many options when this was manufactured; I once saw an italic-type Erika (maroon colored, too) on eBay Germany, but I'm sure it was a rather rare find.

Once in the matching wooden case, the Erika 5 is just about as high as the ultra-portable '40s and '50s Hermes Baby/Rocket, but it's about 1.5 times as wide. A perfectly acceptable size, if you ask me, given that the metal from which it is made appears to be significantly sturdier, and that is even before you consider the glass keys. Worth every inch of space it takes up! There aren't many typewriters you could say that about, really.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Typecast: Water, water, everywhere

There is something of an "orderly chaos" to Alfred's approach to displaying his typewriters. Here, his "colorful typewriters" section, with several machines artfully arranged to mimic, one imagines, a riotous flower garden.

One of the colorful typewriters awaited our writing pleasure on the dining table: a pinkish-red Olivetti Lettera 32. This would fetch a princely sum on the 'Bay, for sure.

Another section of the "colorful typewriters" display shows a red Olivetti Valentine and a green Olympia Traveler de Luxe among several brightly-hued toy typewriters.

Alfred has many Hermes Baby typewriters, but this one has a rare feature: a Hebrew keyboard.

There were so many typewriters I could barely hope to photograph them all, so I took to trying to get some decent group shots, like this one.

There were also several "demonstrator" models of typewriter parts, salvaged from commercial schools. I liked this cutaway of a Swissa Junior, showing the action by which pressure on a key-top is transformed into a platen strike.

Even the trains in Lucerne come with a special section of antique typewriters... this Rofa typewriter seems to have sprouted a trunk, arms, and legs. He was very friendly...

The very impressive Mount Pilatus, as seen from Lucerne's picturesque lakeside. I see I have no choice here but to admit that my inability to write a straight line on blank paper manifests itself in other ways too... no, the shoreline does not slope precariously to the right as though the whole kit and caboodle were about to fall into a sinkhole; it is I who is incapable of holding a camera perfectly horizontal. Mea culpa. In my defense, the boat in the foreground and the mountain still look sort of ok... ah, well.

Our tour guide, the venerable Rofa typewriter, also showed us Lucerne's famous wooden bridge, from which we watched several thousands of Swiss fitness fanatics start off on an amateur foot race of some sort. Given the high temperatures, I was glad to watch from the shade of the bridge instead!

That wraps up last week's adventure nicely. In the meantime, Georg is occupied with some intriguing research on Paillard, and I urge you to take a look at the absolute treasure trove of Hermes ads he has unearthed, if you haven't seen it already:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Typecast: Discovering the collection of Herr Wepf

Yesterday, Georg of kindly took me to see Herr Alfred Wepf, a renowned Swiss typewriter collector who resides near Lucerne, smack dab in the middle of ye olde Switzerland and thus far, far away from Geneva (we are practically in France, you see). However, having struck up a correspondence with Herr Wepf and salivated over his collection from afar (he sent me actual 3x5s of a few of his display clusters, as above), I was eager to embark on the three-hour train ride that would bring us to his house of marvels. And what a day it was!

After showing us his impressive collection, comprising shelves crammed so full of rare treasures that I could barely take them all in, we retired to the dining table to engage in some actual hands-on activity. Among the typewriters I had spotted peeking out from the dimly-lit shelves were a Barlock, Gundka, Bennett, Corona 3 and 4, Rofa, Smith Premier 10, Remington Noiseless standard, Olivetti M1, Sun Standard No. 2, Bing.... well, you see where this is going. It was great that everything was available to be handled and typed on - as long as you could clear some space on a desk and set it down, you could type on it. We didn't have time to play with everything, of course, but Georg insisted I give the Williams pictured above a try to examine its famed "grasshopper" action. I was happy to oblige.

Once we had moved to the dining table, we found a good selection of typewriters to play with, including this Oliver 9 (marked Courier). Conveniently, it had a qwerty keyboard, and never one to miss an opportunity, I rolled in some paper and went about a typecast:

As you can see, after a few lines on the Oliver, I absolutely insisted on some frakturschrift, and so Alfred brought me the Olympia. Now, when I heard he had a fraktur typewriter, I had been picturing a '20s Rheinmetall or Erika or Continental - something hefty and dark and brooding, to fit in with the somber typeface. What emerged was anything but:

It wasn't until after I had finished the typecast, complaining that the small "c" looked more like a "ch", that I realized that the actual "c" was located on the "4" key. Oh, well.

A macro shot of the fabulously ornate script.

Next up was this Mignon index typewriter, fitted with an italic type wheel. Beautiful to look at and interesting mechanism, but it took me a very long time to compose a couple of sentences! I couldn't wait to move on - sure, these were very popular in their day, but I can confirm that once you go qwerty, it's very hard to look back!

This Patria, with its snappy feel and conventional keyboard, provided a welcome respite. However, after I had tired of the small 13cpi typeface, I moved on to the best of the day:

A Continental standard! An absolute luxury, this one. I was very happy to finish out the typecast on it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Olivetti Lettera 32 Portable Manual Typewriter - Arabic

There are times when I have been able to tune out completely from current goings-on, staying immersed in my little world of eclectic hobbies - typewriters, papers, pens, ink, blogging, wondering whether it is a good idea to embark on yet another sourdough starter experiment. Engrossing stuff.

And then there are other times like the last couple of weeks, when major world events have kept me glued to my little screen, refreshing my news feed and the websites of major news outlets. First there was that hubbub about the "last typewriter factory" closing, which was mildly amusing. Then there was a wedding I didn't know I cared about, but ended up following keenly and even getting misty-eyed at parts. That was the best part. And now... well, this. Still, I've been meaning to post this little beauty for a while, so here we are. Besides, my post coincides neatly with Robert Messenger's celebration of Olivetti's hundred year anniversary!

The week I salvaged the red Everest K2 was a very good week for me, as far as typewriter discoveries go. The very next day, I decided to stop by my local Salvation Army and see what was new. There I discovered not one, but two Olivetti Lettera 32s! Truth be told, I had been hoping to find a Lettera 22 to cannibalize for parts (ours has a broken return lever), and the excitement I felt at spotting the familiar blue striped case quickly faded when I realized it was "just" another L32.

The first was nothing special: an unusable (for me) Italian qzerty keyboard, very dirty, missing case, ordinary pica font. The second looked odd. I peered in closer and discovered a pristine Lettera 32, zipper slightly separated from case (as usually happens with these models), and a very unusual keyboard. It did not take too long that I realized what I was looking at - Arabic! Very, very interesting. I have spotted a couple of Russian typewriters in the wild previously and they have evoked no interest, but this was the first Arabic typewriter I had seen outside of Mr. Perrier's museum.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't exactly enthused at first. Here was this beautiful little specimen, quite unusual, pretty rare in Switzerland, an exciting find of course - but did it have a place in my "collection"? I already have a few machines sitting around waiting to be used, and I long ago resolved not to acquire typewriters I would not use - or intend to use - on a regular basis. This was the walking definition of impracticality! I do not know the language, and while the pretty script is all very well and good, it would serve little purpose for me.

But I had to make a quick decision: the shop was closing when I walked in, and the assistants were already turning out the lights. I didn't want to leave, decide later that I wanted to give Habiba here another shot, and have to come all the way back to look for her (and find her gone, even worse). Besides, at the very least I thought it would make for a fun blog post, including a comparison of Habiba with our regular L32 pictured above (which we had also found unusual and worth acquiring because of the 'rare' qwerty keyboard). Afterwards, I could always contemplate giving Habiba away, like the Everest K2.

The two typewriters are very similar, but several years apart. The serial number of the qwerty L32 is 1903407, dating it to circa 1965, while the Arabic L32 is 6896279 - hence made in 1972.

In terms of mechanism, the differences are obvious in use, and you can refer to Richard's post on his own Arabic typewriters to see some of his discoveries with his Erika 10 and Olympia SM-5 Arabic typewriters.

In the case of these Letteras, though, you will notice that they look virtually identical at first glance. It is a common misconception that Arabic typewriters will have the carriage return lever on the right, but as you can see, this is not the case. Olivetti solves the problem by flipping the lever pretty much upside down on the Arabic typewriter - instead of pushing it towards the machine, this one moves away from the typewriter. The parts are the same, just mounted differently: the Arabic lever forms an "L", and the qwerty a "_I" shape.

 When the space bar on the Arabic typewriter is pressed, the carriage starts moving to the right. Consequently, the backspace arrow points in the opposite direction!

Other than these subtle changes - and the fact that the characters on the keyboard, type slugs, and paper table are all in Arabic - the two Letteras could be twins, and there is no indication that much was changed in the intervening seven years in terms of production methods.

Both typewriters were manufactured in the Olivetti plant in Barcelona.

Conclusion: For ten bucks, I really have no complaints about this lucky discovery! It was fun to play with it, type some gibberish, and discover the mechanical modifications Olivetti included to make this suitable for Arabic speakers. I have a few ideas about who I could give this to - including a friend who learned to read and speak Arabic many years ago and visits Lebanon every year. I hope he will be amused! We'll see.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Typecast: Happy May 1, and greetings from Antediluvia

Another weekend gone, another - incredibly sunny - month already over. Where did all the time go? Between longer days and amazing weather, I suppose I have been spending more time outdoors and less playing with my array of writing implements. I discovered a typecast I had been working on earlier and finished it:

   From what I can gather, getting a platen recovered is an expensive process particularly for those of us living overseas. Great pity, because if any of my typewriters deserved and needed an overhaul, it would be this cutie pie:

At some spots, the Arve looks just about normal:

But the bald patches are quickly discovered, although the hydroelectric dam may be exaggerating the effect of this one:

A pleasant discovery not far from the river bank, wild ramps!:

I contemplated bringing some home, but the jury is still out on these odd onion/garlic hybrids at our house, and besides I'm not sure whether they are still supposed to be as nice when they've flowered. Now that I know where to find them, though, I shall be sure to pass by a couple of weeks earlier next year to pick some up if I want it.
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