Friday, 3 May 2013

Lets try and repair a Smith Premier 10 (Part 1)

By October 2012 after seven months exposure to typewriters, I came to the rather premature conclusion that maybe I knew enough about typewriters (and had enough confidence in their resale value as "conversation pieces") that I wanted to try my hand at something old. Not just old as in pleasantly vintage, but a typewriter made in the days before all the standard features got standardised. Something upstrike or something Blickensderfer or something with an unnecessarily large number of keys on it. My wish was granted when a Smith Premier 10 came up on Australian ebay. Early in the morning of the 31st October 2012 I eagerly watched the minutes tick down on this auction, but then inexplicably couldn’t bring myself to place a bid on in the last few seconds. I related this later in an email to Scott in terms of suffering a dose of the freshly-awakened last-minute heebiejeebies about paying almost $100 for a lump of antiquated metal that I knew nothing about and probably couldn't fix anyway. In truth, the phrase “lacked the balls” says as much in fewer words. As it turned out, the auction ended without a single bid, so when my wits returned, I was able to negotiate a price with the seller, bought the typewriter outside of ebay and organised my own courier to transport it up from Melbourne.

The Smith Premier 10 is a curious beast. This was the last of Smith Premier’s double-keyboard machines and is the only double keyboard machine of any make to have the modern front-strike type action. It therefore sits somewhat at the crossroads of the antiquated and the modern(ish). Some of its features carried on to became standard fixtures of typewriters for the following 100 years (such as the front-strike action and qwerty keyboard layout); while other parts of its design died out almost with that very model, never to be seen on new machines again (for instance the double keyboard and curious vertical rear-mounted ribbon spools). One has to wonder about the manufacturer's confidence in their typewriter, even one made so long ago, when the newspaper advertisements point out the spacebar and backspace key (among other features) as selling points:

This ad assures us that the durability of the typewriter is complemented by "greater speed and greater accuracy without mental and physical strain". However the Underwood 5 was around at the time when the SP10 was released and I would love to meet the secretary who could type faster and more accurately (with less mental and physical strain to boot) on an SP10 than an Underwood 5. Alas, I digress. This post is not to do with emancipated young secretaries of the 1900's labouring away at a double keyboard, but with my impatient attempts at typewriter repair. Here follows a brief summary of my rather simplistic repair work to date on my own SP10. An account of a far more comprehensive and impressive restoration of a full-keyboard typewriter (in this case a Yost 10), can be found here courteousy of Guy PĂ©rard

My particular machine, a Smith Premier Model 10A, serial number 37103 arrived in early November last year. The only information that I got from questioning the seller about its past life was that it had been in the family for ages and was used many many years ago by an elderly mother when she was young. This elderly mother had recently passed away and hence the sale. It didn’t sound like a happy time for the family and I didn't ask anything further.... In any case, the parcel arrived at my house in November 2012, containing an SP10 that was a fair way off working order.

Initially I began by cleaning it up. I figured that even if I couldn’t get it going, at least I could make it look a bit nicer. To clean the keytops I used a citrus-based goo remover. After a comprehensive de-fluff and a once-over with a damp cloth, I applied car polish to the parts of the black enamel paintwork which weren’t completely shot.

Next came the platen assembly. The SP10 and probably other Smith Premier models of the day boast an incredibly easily removable platen assembly. It appears the idea here was to enable platens to be seamlessly interchanged. This capably demonstrated by the young lass below who seems to be effecting a "Scientific saving" as we speak. 

This ad raises more questions than it answers for me. For instance it mentions instantly interchangeable carriages, whereas I thought the carriage was fixed and the platen assemblies were interchangeable? In order to fit a long platen on a machine, the machine would have to first be fitted with a long carriage. To then fit a more modest sized platen onto a wide carriage machine I can only assume the modest sized platen would have to be matched with a longer platen rod? Suffice to say I think this ad is a little to scientific for me and I would welcome comments from those who know more than me.   

The feed rollers on my machine (where they still existed) were not only squared off but had positively fused themselves into the platen. Once freed from the platen with a sharp knife, I followed Scott’s advice and utilised hot water to attempt to re-shape the extant rollers. 

In Scott's post where got the idea for this, Scott writes:

“I didn't feel that I needed to so much cook the rollers, as much as I needed to heat them. So I dropped the rollers individually into a container that I then filled with boiling water. Doing it this way, the temperature was probably going to be 10-20 degrees lower - helping retain the consistency of the rubber while I put it under stress”.
However being the impatient individual that I am and being met with rock hard and severely squared rollers, I figured that this considered and gentle method just wasn’t going to cut the mustard. So instead I got a pot going on the stove and added plenty of salt in order to marginally increase the boiling point of the water. Once it was boiling away furiously I reached for the oven mitt and the salad tongs and thrust the feed rollers deep into their scalding bubbly fate....

 Stay tuned for the next (potentially cringe-worthy) installment of “Let’s try and repair a Smith Premier 10”. 


  1. I will keep following... I have a SP10 making its way to me as we speak (Belgium to US) for about the same price you mentioned... I may be forever thankful for the timing... or wishing you had posted one week ago (before I considered looking for one).
    Gerald (gee)

  2. Wow, Super Series!! Thrilled to see part II !

    1. Ha, yes real "hold on to your seats" material are these SP 10's......

  3. Mmmm. I think I know how this ends! :P

    Good to see you're writing this up. Observations made during repairs like this will often be helpful to others. And you have done quite a lot of work on this.

  4. Impressive machine - impressive project too :)
    To share: My Victor also had totally 'not-round' rollers. Tried warming, only to 70C though. Got softer and could be rounded-off a little, but after cooling again D-shaped. In the end removed all rubber and applied layers of heat-shrink tubing onto the bare bushing. Building up the diameter in 0.5 mm steps. Then cut the sides with sharp knife to size.

  5. Wow, what an ambitious project. Every success to you!

  6. Very well done; I'll be following along! I've just discovered your blog and will add it to our blog roll; I'm looking forward to perusing your past entries.

    Isn't the Smith Premier No. 10 a fascinating machine in many more ways than one? -Will Davis

  7. Gerald- Fear not! With a bit of time, good luck and advice from members of this great typosphere, the Smith Premier 10 is a great investment!

    Scott- You do indeed know how it ends! Thanks for your your help with it.

    Robert- Nice work. Yes I've heard from others that heat-shrink tubing and various other rubber products indended for other uses work very well. Glad to hear of your success.

    Ton- If you want an ambitious double keyboard project, follow that link to Guy Perard's site that I've listed above! This blew my mind! Thanks for the well wishes

    Will- Great to meet you (sort of!). Your website was a fantastic reference when I was first learning about typewriters and I continue to refer to it from time to time. So I owe you a big thanks for inadvertantly teaching me quite a bit of what I know about typewriters!

    1. You're quite welcome, and a pleasure here too. We're keeping going on the blog we've had up for a few years now, updating when time and material permit. It's nice to get back into the typewriter world once in a while and see how it's evolving. I don't understand how some of those long-long-time "old timers" just gave it up and went away.

  8. Wow, you found yourself a nice project there! Curious to see how it comes along. :-)