Poetic justice

Underwood5Czech

This Underwood No. 5 is my rarest typewriter. It’s in exceptional condition, and I dated it to the ’30s at the earliest judging from its cosmetic shape. The serial number, however, dates it to 1915. The body and chrome is the best I’ve seen on a No. 5, and the platen is good, with slight indentations on the backup sheets. The basket and other parts are shiny and devoid of rust, unlike my other Underwood 5s. It only needed a cursory cleaning, since none of the keys stuck, and a new ribbon. It used to belong to an elderly lady in the apartment building of the seller.

Underwood5CzechkeysI did a double-take when I looked at the keyboard: it had keys that I mistook for Czech symbols. Baffled, I consulted forum members at Typewriter Talk and a sharp-eyed contributor declared them–get this–scansion marks, or symbols that denote stresses and caesuras in poetry. I never imagined such a thing existed.

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What endears it to me is that I am a poet and have turned more to classical forms such as sonnets and rhymed syllabic verse, all which are decidedly unpopular these days, at least with publishers. Not one for words poured into a formless mold, I have gone ahead with my penchant for rhymed structures, publishers be damned.

 

Underwood5poetryScansion marks are most useful to a teacher, since contemporary don’t usually mark the stresses in verse. That, however, would have been useful to a poet writing in the rhymed verse of earlier period. Adhering to classical meters was an essential part of the challenge of poetry at the time. Some things never get old.

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Man the Torpedos

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Torpedo3Not being well-versed in Torpedos, I can’t identify this model, which was made in West Germany in the ’50s or ’60s. It’s an astounding machine, and reminds me of my Olympia SM5, though it has a different feel and personality. It has a fabulous touch, and doesn’t require a strong keystroke. In fact, I find a light touch is best with this one, else the print tends to smudge slightly. The keys have a deft heft.

 

TorpedotypefaceI find the elite typeface seductive, along with the design. It’s not flashy but it’s certainly not drab. It has an understated elegance. My preference lately is for American uprights from the ’20s and ’30s, but I find excuses to use this Torpedo, which is never far from reach.

 

L..C. Smith No. 8 (elite type)

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This one was in good shape when I bought it, though I wondered why it didn’t have the L.C. Smith name on the back metal paper plate. It also didn’t have the model number in front. Closer inspection revealed that it had been painted over (quite well, I admit), though I could still read “L.C. Smith & Bros.” in the metal plate and “No.8” in front, which retained the “L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter” script under the type bars.

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lcsmith8elite2Hell of a machine, and even more exciting because of the elite pitch, which is the first I have seen on an L.C. Smith of this period. This one, according to my research, dates to the ’20s, and is my second-oldest No. 8. It types beautifully, and the elite typeface looks great on linen paper. It seems that it’s smaller than regular elite. Is there such a thing as 13- or 14-pitch? Regardless, it’s an exceptional machine that will stay in my lineup for some time.

L.C. Smith No. 8

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Shortly after a renewed interest in older standards, I retrieved this L.C. Smith from the garage, where it had lain dormant since last year. Newer machines held my interest since then, and only a fascination with an Underwood No. 5 drew me back to the venerable standards I had long ignored.

I ignored the No. 8 because I remembered s typeface as being too grungy for my tastes. It had a special place in my heart, though: it was given to me in a dire state, and the shop wouldn’t take it, saying it would be too much work. I had more rudimentary skills then, but through sheer persistence I managed to get it working. I was so thrilled that I wrote a 12-page letter with it. It must have been treasured by someone, since that person took the time to weld metal strips with where the body had cracked in the front and left side.

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On a whim, I took it out last week and discovered that my prejudices against it were unfounded. It’s a great machine, and I have been using it almost daily. It has some “character”: the carriage sounds like an old coffee grinder when returned, and the keys sometimes skip, albeit for half a space, if I type too fast. Now I find the inky typeface appealing and, well, full of character.

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lcsmith8typefaceAll of which makes me wonder that initial impressions of a machine are best put aside until one has given it time for more substantial assessments. This has happened to me before, most recently with a Woodstock 5 I initially considered over-hyped. I was wrong about that one, too.

I gave short shrift to these older L.C. Smiths and now find myself coveting them. My cherished Olympias have receded into the background. Some things truly get better with time.

Underwood No. 5

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This is the machine that renewed my interest in older American standards, specifically those of the ’20s and ’30s. I’ve had it for a few weeks and can’t put it down: it fascinates and excites me. I love its feel, which I find unique. It’s a great typer, and the pica typeface is stunningly neat.

It came to me in the most unusual way. I bought an Underwood Four Bank portable from a craigslist seller in L.A. and he offered to deliver it to San Diego. When he arrived, he had a big box on the hood: it was the No. 5. He apparently got confused and thought that was the one I purchased, since he had others online.

I was delighted. I had been looking for one at the time on eBay. It was in very good condition, and its feel sealed the deal.

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Five days later, the drawband snapped. It was the first time that happened, and I was crestfallen. A friend from Texas, however, guided me on the repair, which entailed making a new belt out of fishing line (I used 50-pound test). But I couldn’t hook it up to the other side of the carriage, opposite the drum. After nearly two hours, I took it to the shop, where the German repairman completed the repair.

underwood5cIt was my most enterprising repair, and thanks to my Texas friend I learned key things about how a typewriter works. If I had been told I would have attempted to repair a 90-year-old machine, I would have laughed. The extent of my know-how regarding repairs is limited, though I can do basic fixes and cleanings.

 

I love the sound the keys make on paper: it transfixes and invites writing.  It’s a spectacular machine, and I wouldn’t hesitate to snap up another. I have resumed using my Woodstock 5 and L.C. Smith Silent-Secretarial, which are great machines, but this Underwood is used the most. Every typewriter collector should have one.

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L.C. Smith Silent

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I fell in love with this when I saw it at the shop: I have never seen an L.C. Smith in such good cosmetic shape. It has replaced the Corona Four as my most beautiful machine. I like to sit in the atrium, where I often work, and ogle it: it’s that type of machine.

But it’s deeply flawed: it’s misaligned, and the shop wasn’t able to fix it. That, however, gave me more leverage  and I got it for a far lower price.

lcsmithsilent

I ordinarily don’t buy typewriters with misaligned type or jumping letters, but I knew I had to have it–there was no denying that. I knew that if I passed, I would regret it. It spoke to me, it beckoned, and I have learned to listen to these instincts.

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The capitals print high and the “a” prints either high or low; at best, the machine is  inconsistent. I typed a few pages and, to my surprise, found that the misaligned print didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I realized that, at least in this instance, feel trumps print precision.

I am sometimes a perfectionist when it comes to machines, but that quality vanishes when I type on this beauty. To paraphrase Dylan Thomas, we learn to love them for their faults.

Olivetti Lettera 35

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This one ended up in my hands because of a misunderstanding. A friend wrote to me with a Lettera 31, and I was so impressed by the elite typeface that I ordered one–a 35, that is. Only after the purchase did I realize I had confused the two.

It turned out to be a happy accident.

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The 35 is a stunning machine with a crisp feel, much unlike other Olivettis with a softer touch. Its sleek design invites stroking its lean sides. It has a solid, meaty body with plastic keys.The keyboard may seem a bit crowded, but I find my fingers glide along it effortlessly. I find the elite typeface beautiful; then again, I have a penchant for 12-pitch.

jarrellquote1This is at my 7th Olivetti, and is my favorite so far. The return lever is a bit too stubby for my tastes, but I don’t struggle with it. This compact portable, which came with a sturdy molded case, can hammer out a manuscript as well as its beefier counterparts.

Oz has a wonderful post on the Lettera 35 here.

Olympia SG3

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This machine’s bulk and weight astonishes me: if dropped from a plane, it would create a sinkhole that would swallow a small city. It’s not a scorcher in the looks department: the SG1 is far easier on the eyes, whereas the SG3 is all business. It has a no-frills appearance that exudes German efficiency. It’s a hulking beast made for heavyweight writing: You could till a small plot with the carriage return lever.

Though often downplayed when compared to the SG1, I find it very similar in feel. It doesn’t have as many features, but has equally beautiful elite type and authority. I have trouble putting it down (no pun intended).

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This one arrived with a few frozen tab keys, something which matters little to me because I only use five spaces for indentations. One of the keys jammed in the slot and wouldn’t improve despite gentle bending. On a whim, I lubed the slot, reasoning it would jam less and, with repeated use, align itself. It worked with this machine and a Royal KMG.

It also had an odd malfunction. When I returned the carriage, the carriage would drop slightly while typing, creating misaligned text at the beginning of the line. The line spacing would also sometimes revert from one space to a half. I lightly sanded the feed rollers and carriage, which didn’t improve matters.

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Then I noticed that it had two paper-feed levers. Both were facing toward the  back. I brought the left one forward, and it worked flawlessly, though now and then the lever will disengage. Later, when I used the SG1, I noticed both levers were in opposing directions.

This is an astounding machine. It’s made to last, and will laugh at your puny 600-page novel. Then again, it may inspire that bildungsroman.

Olympia SM4

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This machine is like a bad addiction: once you get your hands on it, you can’t stop. It has the same crisp, cushioned feel of an SM3, though for some reason I find the carriage shift on the SM4 heavier; in fact, it feels like my SM5. I bought this one from a young lady who it was a gift but didn’t use it anymore. The white body has age-related stains which resemble big freckles, and the labels on it show it was serviced a few times. It came with the original instructions and a cleaning kit, and the case is in good shape. I really like the keyboard tab system, which make setting tabs a cinch. Unlike my SM3s, this one has pica Senatorial typeface, which I have come to like very much. Like my two SM3, this one is never far from the desk. You can read more about the differences between the SM3 and SM4 here.

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