Royal 5



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.



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


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.

Underwood No. 3



Underwood3cI mistook this at first for a No. 5; in fact, it was advertised as such. A friend with far more experience, however, identified it as a No. 3, making it my first. I did notice a few differences: the gold “Underwood Standard Typewriter”  above the keyboard; the lack of a model designation; the black keys (they are white, or yellowed, in the 5s); the slightly wider carriage and the background color of the logo, which is red in the No. 3, at least this one. It’s in superb condition, and the serial number dates it to 1929. It must have been well cared for or used very little: the platen is in good shape, with minor indentations on the backup sheet, and cosmetic condition is the best among my early Underwoods.

Underwood3typefaceThe feel is similar to my 5s, and it types with authority, though not being overly stiff. I have seven other uprights in my small writing room–mostly No. 5s and L.C. Smith No. 8s—but this one is getting the most use.

Poetic justice


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.


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.

Man the Torpedos



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)



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.


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


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.


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.



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


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.


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.