Writing advice from a pro



1955 Underwood 150



Underwood150bA good friend in Waco sent me this one. He wanted me to have what he considers one of the best Underwoods. It didn’t disappoint: it’s a workhorse and certainly one of the better Underwoods I have. John nurtured this one back into working order, and sent one with elite typeface, which is my favorite. He did a lot of work on it, and even painted the blue spool covers to match the keys. It feels like a Touch-Master Five, but I prefer the 150, mostly because it has a hinged panel in front instead of a removable front, something I never liked about the Touch-Master.

Underwood150cEverything is within reach: line settings, ribbon selector, tabs and ribbon reverse. The keys accommodate my big fingers easily: everything feels just right. I keep this one always within reach: it’s reliable and has its own peculiar grace and beauty. I’m particularly attached to it because it’s a gift from a dear friend who was careful to get it to me in good shape. John went so far as to cushion it with, well, cushions, which lightly powdered the machine during transit. I like it that way: it adds to its rugged exterior and reminds me of crushed paper, which is what the 150 does.  It’s a beast.

Voss De Luxe


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.


1937 Woodstock



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




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.