1937 Woodstock

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Woodstock2

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.

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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.

Royal 5

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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.

Underwood No. 3

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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

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.

Underwood5Czechkeyboard

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.

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 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.

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.