Voss De Luxe

Voss1Voss6

Voss3 - Copy

Voss2Stunning machine. Hard to put down: it’s silky smooth and exudes engineering precision. The bulbous body glows with a sheen, and the feel is crisp; the return lever swings like glassy water. It mesmerizes and seduces, extracting secrets and confessions. It laughs at your puny reams of paper, and responds like a coiled spring.

 

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1937 Woodstock

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I’ve owned two Woodstocks, and I was disappointed by both: they seemed very sensitive Woodstock3to typing technique, and had a tendency to blur and shadow letters. I sold the No. 5 recently and, on a whim, decided to write a letter with this one, which had also languished for several months. It was my favorite due to its soft feel and angular grace. But the squashed type was a turnoff.

Halfway through the page, I realized this is a wonderful machine. I realized the muddy lettering was due to being overly aggressive with it, and that a gentler, slightly sharper touch did the trick without sacrificing the quality of the imprint.

It has a few issues: it often misaligns upon the return, and the backspace key doesn’t work. I have both issues with a Rheinmettal KST, and I resolved them the same way. I shifted the margin setting, at which point it Woodstocktypefacesometimes goes past the beginning of the line. This is much better than having to return the carriage with added force: all I have to do now is tap the space bar. The backspace problem isn’t really an issue: I simply move back manually. Once I adjust to the velvety keystroke, I have crisp copy. But it usually takes me a graph or so to get there: I’m used to pounding uprights.

It amazes me how some machines improve with time and distance,  and how perceived defects become character quirks.

Rex Visible No. 4

 

RexVisible

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I wanted a Harris Visible as soon as I saw one owned by a friend. But asking prices online were too high, and I ended up with this Rex, not knowing at the time that they are essentially the same machine.  That didn’t matter much, though, when I received it: it seemed as if it had languished in a farm shed. It had rust issues, a stiff carriage and a hiccuping space bar. Even worse was the catching carriage: I couldn’t type a full line without stalling. I was mortified: another clunker.

RexVisible5I took a closer look at the carriage the next day and noticed it snagged at the same points. On a hunch, I removed the tab rings in the back. It moved along without a hitch. It surely helped that I soaked the innards in penetrating oil the previous night.  It hiccups now and then, but not enough to distract me.

RexVisible4Though Rex typewriters, which were manufactured starting in 1915,  were reportedly budget models at the time, there’s nothing cheap about them. In fact, I find the design and engineering brilliant: the red tab button  and margin release are at left, and the shift release, ribbon selector and back-space key at right. The ribbon reverse is in front. Makes sense: everything is within easy reach.

The feel is very similar to my oldest L.C. Smith No. 8: crisp and slightly jaunty. Unlike the RexVisibletypeface8, this has a three-bank keyboard, something which confounded me at first. But typing speed improved after a few days with it, though this isn’t a machine to be hurried. Which, I believe, is a good thing: being more deliberate results in less typos and, often, writing that is better thought out. The only hurrying I do is hurrying home to switch on the desk lamp and work this beauty.

Cutting edge

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Burroughs2

Typewriter paraphernalia—from vintage paper and letterhead to tape dispensers and paper holders–has always fascinated me. When I received the spring issue of ETCetera, a quarterly typewriter journal edited by typewriter guru Richard Polt, I was turned on to vintage letter openers.

ETC116-lgThe article, which is well researched, has pictures of several letter openers, two of which I was able to find on eBay: a Burroughs and an A.P. Little. The latter is in poor condition but the Burroughs is in very good shape. Considering their rarity, I think finding them a coup; they were also fairly priced.

If you have a typewriter addiction, and correspond regularly, you may as well go full hilt and open letters in style.

On a roll

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It’s a long story, of course: that’s one reason I bought the paper roll in the first place. It’s graph paper made for EKG machines and measures 8 1/2 and, I’m guessing, at least 100 feet. I decided to use the white backside because it’s less distracting. I bought it for $10 shipped from a shop in China.

Roll1I turned to the roll because my prose slowed to a trickle: I was overly deliberate while trying to write “literature.” And yet, I wrote letters every day, usually for hours. So I decided to pen a manuscript that is essentially a long letter. The goal is to put aside the ivory stage and tap the inner core, “energy unchecked;” to forge ahead regardless of polish. That will come–if it gets that far–during the editing process.

I chose one of my Olympia SM3s with elite typeface for this project: I don’t foresee Roll2changing typewriters, and I made sure to choose one that I would look enjoy. I relish its crisp, sharp touch: it even sounds beautiful.

So far, the writing is coming along: average is three or four graphs a day (I still work on letters, and keep a journal). I don’t labor as much because I write as if I were addressing a friend, not an audience. But I have to remind myself that, if I expect progress, I need to keep in touch with the roll and roll with it.

Royal KHM

 

 

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This is a stunning typewriter that exudes elegance. It’s in great cosmetic shape and seems rarely used: the seller’s relatives said the father liked to collect typewriters but didn’t use them. Besides the customary cleaning and a brushing of type slugs, it was ready to pound paper. But it had a glaring flaw: the capitals were misaligned.

rOYALKMH3I was able to fix it after finding the adjustment nuts at opposing sides below the machine. It took a good hour of tweaks and turns which resulted in a busted knuckle. I haven’t done many alignment repairs, and was overjoyed.

A week later, I noticed it was typing lightly at times, which annoyed me. So I tinkered again with the adjustment nuts. Big mistake: while tightening, I heard a slight pop, and then the shift key seized. After two hours trying to make it functional again, I gave up. It’s the first typewriter I damaged during a repair, and the last one I wanted to bungle.

RoyalKMHtypefaceWeeks later, I took it to the shop, already bracing for a call from the German repairman telling me it was “a dead dog.” (He had used this phrase before in reference to an Olivetti Praxis.) I was resigned to selling it on craigslist as a wedding prop. But ‘ole Ott fixed it, though it took him nearly two weeks. I was elated.

However, when I tested it at home (always test a machine at the shop), I found the capitals slightly misaligned. It was an easy fix, requiring only a few quarter turns of each alignment nut. The shift key remains slightly stiff, a small price to pay for having it back in the small writing studio, a luminary among elders.

Royal 5

Royal5a

Royal5b

Royal5fI find this machine fascinating and alluring. The unusual “flatbed” design wasn’t popular in its day, early in the 20th century, but I find it beautiful and exciting, and have never seen anything quite like it. The feel is a bit ponderous, but I like that quality and have trouble keeping my hands off it. It’s in good shape, and only needed a cleaning and ribbon. These were sold with cases, though mine lacks one. It tends to cut off the upper portion of the “a” when using a black/red ribbon, so I use it with a blue or green ribbon set to stencil mode, which remedies the problem. I’m sure there’s a fix for that, but I’m unaware of it. Seems like a ribbon or setting issue. The platen is in good shape, with only slight indentations on the backup sheet.

Royal5d

Royal5c

The type slugs are heard to reach, so I have left them as-is for the time being. A smallRoyal5e wire brush would get the job done. I love the simplicity and ruggedness of this typewriter, which I also consider an objet d’art: everything is within reach and satisfies my needs, aesthetic and otherwise. It types beautifully and doesn’t skip a beat. I feel I’m playing an obsolete baroque instrument with yellowed sheet music. And it only cost $25.

Olivetti Lettera 36C

Lettera36Cb

This is delightful electric, and my favorite so far. It was Olivetti’s first portable electric, and was made in the ’70s. It was designed by architect Ettore Sottsass. The first versions had rounded keys which which were later determined to be impractical for faster typing, and later models had rectangular keys. It has a metal body and a floating keyboard, and feels light to the touch. This one came with the original black, molded case, which is streamlined and has ridges running along it.Lettera36CLettera36Cc

I find the Lettera 36C wonderfully compact and tidy. I like the sleek design and find it very user-friendly. There are three dials on the bottom front: one is the on/off dial; another is for touch-control; and the other is for adjusting key force when using multiple sheets. The red button at the top left of the keyboard is a key dejammer of sorts: when keys strike each other, the keyboard function disengages. Pressing the button returns it to typing mode.

Lettera36CdOne thing I really like is that the spools don’t have nuts, something I’ve always found irritating because lacking one can render a manual useless, at least in my experience. I also like that is has a correcting function, though I haven’t bought a ribbon for that. I’m afraid prolonged use of correction tape will result in fine dust that can  cake on key parts with time.

I’m a big fan of uprights from the ’20s through ’50s, but this charming machine is enjoyable and efficient. It’s attractive, and one feels like touching it, humming along as the sentences snake forth.