Thursday 25 April 2013

Got it in one

Ha ha haaaaaa!! You’re all wrong!!! Well, technically you’re absolutely spot on. The typewriter is mechanically, cosmetically and physically a Remington Noiseless 7, aside from the fact that it says Underwood Noiseless 77 on the back plate. The fact that so many of you could simply look at the box alone and tell me what was inside is very very impressive indeed! Although in saying that, the fact that no one mentioned the possibility of an Underwood 77 does provide me with just a tiny tiny little bit of satisfaction!

You’re also spot on in that it arrived unscathed. This was largely due to the sturdy clasp things that hold it to the case. Inside the box was just these token couple of bits of scrunched up of newspaper which would have done almost nothing if one of the clasp things had have failed on its voyage from hot, dry Cathedral City, CA.

But I’m stoked to own this shiny old Underwood Noiseless 77 Serial Number 844407. I have no idea what things it’s been up to in the last 77 years, but I don’t think typing is one of them. It seems like its almost brand new, which was a big selling point. Pretty much all my typewriters up to this point have been a bit beaten up or scruffy or rusty needing repair or all of these things simultaneously. So inspired by Ken's recent post on his "like new" Olympia SM5, I really was keen on finding something that looked, smelt and worked like it had just left the factory. Owning a machine with the noiseless mechanism had also been on my wish list. I saw the noiseless mechanism in the flesh for the first time at the Brisbane Type-In early last month, where John showed me how it worked. I found and still find it fascinating how it works and will look forward to searching for information as to why it wasn’t more enduringly popular. The fact that this typewriter is as common as the rain doesn’t bother me either, as spare parts will be easier to come by if I need them and this time around I was definitely after sparkle rather than rarity. Achieving both these things simultaneously can be rather too painful on the old hip pocket...

Clean typeslugs and an almost gunk-free mechanism

The only slight gripe I have with the transaction is that the seller listed typewriter as “mint” condition, which it certainly is cosmetically. But by “mint” I perhaps optimistically assumed it would be working in mint condition too which it’s not and I didn't bother to ask. The ribbon vibrator wasn’t holding the ribbon properly and needed minor attention with long-nosed pliers and the paper rollers are all but square. These will require replacing if I can find the right ones, or otherwise a bit of boiling or gaffer tape or all of the above. The keys are a tad sticky and the print doesn’t seem completely even, however I’ll find out for sure whether this is an issue or not once I replace the ribbon as this one is pretty dead. This certainly isn't anything major though and theres nothing wrong with a bit repair tho. It will be a little bit scary mind you, as it’s one thing to work on a beaten up cheap typewriter, but it’s a little more daunting working on something which reflects your face as you work on it and looks a new car (even if it does smell like a musty attic). This may be a job for Monday...

Tuesday 23 April 2013

A little game called Risk

I decided to buy myself a present of sorts to mark one year since my first typewriter. For a few weeks around the end of March / early April I was keeping a watchful eye on international eBay for a change. Trying to copy and paste text into Google Translate when using my iPhone in bed. Setting alarms at odd times of the night. That sort of thing.... This is a dangerous practice to get in to. The rest of the world (believe it or not) has a far bigger population than Australia and a far bigger supply of typewriters. These factors when combined with an unusually high Aussie Dollar makes for a wide array of fantastic machines, many at lower prices than they would fetch in Australia. The only catch of course is the $100+ postage cost. But this was my very first ‘obsession anniversary’ so for once I wasn’t concerned about making a hefty contribution to the good people at whichever postal service I ended up going with.

So, what make/model is it and in what condition did it arrive???????

P.S. Do excuse the product placement, i.e. old shoe, matchbox. This is just to give an idea of the size of the box and the case. Don't stare at the screen for too long though, it really does make you want set fire to something....


Friday 12 April 2013

Toejam & Earl

Below is the newly green machine that I bought from Paddington Antiques and proceded to paint an obnoxious colour. Clearly the spacing isn't quite there yet. There's a "before" photo on a previous post. I'm not sure whether I'm happy with this or not. It's as if a huge radioactive monster with a bad viral infection has blown its nose all over this once modest Remington SJ. Granted the sacrilege may not quite as bad as pulling apart a Sun #2 and feeding it to a light-bulb-eating man, but I'm sure this does not constitute a contribution to the greater good of typewriters.

Toejam and Earl music links below- the first minute or two is enough to get the gist...      (Original music)       (Live cover of the song above)    (More funky goodness)

And now for something completely different.....

The second part of this post can be linked (incredibly tenuously mind you) to the recently deceased Margaret Thatcher and the financial market. In the same year that Thatcher decided it was a great idea to go to war over a bunch of islands many Brits had never previously heard of, this book was released.

In a quick lunch-break run to the second hand book store to buy myself a thesaurus, I came across this particular volume. Millers it turns out specialise in antiques to this day and have moved largely online of recent. Without having time to read the waffly blurb at the start of the book in full, I understand the purpose of the book was to provide a guide for what antiques were worth based on sales that had taken place the previous year. Although there was only one or two typewriters listed in the entire volume, one was a "Sholes and Cliddon". They obviously knew their typewriters!

To my amazement, and if I read this right, for a mere £1,800 or so in 1982 you could pick up not only a Sholes and Gliddon, but a whole bunch of interesting paraphernalia and a letter to Queen Victoria! Even converting that figure into today's values, using Measuring Worth, that's still only £4,950 using the retail price index or £7,540 using average earnings.

In January of this year, Robert covered the story of a Sholes and Gliddon selling on ebay for an impressive US$20,230 (~£13,132). Thus even ignoring all the interesting paraphernalia, letters to the Queen etc, one could argue 31 years has added between £5,592 and £8,182 of "real" value onto the value of a Sholes and Gliddon. In terms of an investment and not indexing to inflation, the difference between £1,800 and £13,132 translates to an annual average increase in price of over £360. 

It is worth pointing out here that I didn't do maths, economics or finance at uni for good reasons and don't really know what I'm talking about here. Please feel free to correct any or all of the above, as I'm sure I'm miles off on several matters. One thing that I'm more confident about however is that in this instance, a S&G represents a better investment than many tech-stocks! Even in the last 12 months on eBay while I've been browsing, I reckon bargains are becomming slightly harder to come by. While none of us (I don't think) are in this for the money, prices would not be going up without interest in typewriters going up proportionately and this, I think, is absolutely marvelous.

Monday 8 April 2013

The great digital future

One of my more realistic predictions for the future is that the number of persons, places and things with online/digital footprints will increase exponentially over time as the world continues its rapid transition to co-existing online. I also think it is pretty safe to say that in order to compensate for the unfathomable amounts of stuff online, internet search functions of the future will be incredibly powerful tools. Considering the inevitability of an increasingly digital future, I'm pretty certain the typewriter-related information generated today will be of significant benefit to future generations of typewriter tinkerers and probably many unforeseen other people. Already thousands of us are leaving potentially useful online footprints about typewriters right now (many inadvertently) by contributing to forums, writing blogs, posting photos, buying them online, selling them online and everything in between. However I reckon we can take this one step further. My idea is to start listing the serial numbers of all the machines that I talk about on this blog. So that every typewriter story told can be traced to the machine's serial number.

See the plan here is that long after my ashes have been tipped from an urn; some weedy hipster of the future might be planting his organic basil when his trowel strikes something hard. He starts excavating and unearths an ancient old Lexikon 80. "Huh, liek wtf's this?" he exclaims and Tweets these thoughts immediately. After using the online photographic recognition software of the future he finds out it's an ancient writing tool. Using the Google of the future he then searches the make and model and finds out all sorts of information on Olivetti, on Nizzoli and importantly, where to find the serial number for these machines. He then adds the serial number of the machine to his internet search and is incredulous to find a story about the very machine in his hands, written by one of its past owners on a "blog" back when the internet was in its formative years. Hopefully, if the next owner after me does the same, this thin sunburnt organic gardening hipster of the future might be able to establish a fair chunk of the history of this ancient machine he's just found. If everyone starts linking stories to serial numbers over time there will a huge wealth of free online history amassed, not just of typewriter companies and designers and models, but of thousands of individual machines with their individual owners and individual stories...... Of course this is hugely naive and dreamy, but one is allowed to dream!! Let me know your thoughts on this.

So on this note and following on from my previous post, I continue the story of my first typewriter; the seed of a lasting obsession; an Olivetti Lexikon 80, serial number: 21174266 

After winning the auction ebay, exactly one year ago- April 8th 2012-  I rolled up to a house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a rather well to do suburb to pick it up. The retired professor from whom I bought it from was pleased to show me how to wind in paper, return the carriage, backspace, use the Tip-Ex strips and set the tabs and margins, all of which I found fascinating. The type-cleaner however had turned to a curious consistency of play-dough and wasn't much help.

The typewriter it turned out had been his for many years. According to this affable old gentleman, back in the 60's and 70’s his faculty within the University of Queensland (UQ) offered regular and free servicing to the typewriters of academic staff who typed up their own documents. This was a means of minimising the workload of a regularly over-worked typing pool. He told me he had originally bought the typewriter from an office equipment auction in the late 60's when it was already almost 20 years old and that he understood it to be a typing pool machine in a large company before they upgraded their fleet. “So it’s got about a million miles on the clock but I’m sure it’s got another million or so to go!” He said how he was proud to still be using his big old manual typewriter at UQ at a time when many of his colleagues were using modern or electric machines or handing their work to the typing pool. When he retired in the late 80’s, he and his wife continued to use it for correspondence and creative writing. More recently however they too had been swallowed by the computer age and it was with pangs of regret that he had finally decided to put the now disused typewriter up on eBay. He wasn’t sure why the ribbon cover is a different colour to the rest of it; it was “just the way I bought it”. As John notes in a comment on my last post, both are Olivetti colours and the original cover was probably just lost and swapped with a spare.

So this fine old-style glass-keyed Lexikon 80, with its endearing two-tone paintwork, home-sewed green vinyl cover and associated box of tricks fast became my pride and joy. After leaving the seller's house I took it straight to Gary of Alderley Business Machines to show me how to fit a new ribbon and ask him if it needed any repairs. Gary said the seller’s claim of “It’s got about a million miles on the clock but has got at least another million to go,” seemed to be pretty accurate, as did the claim of regular servicing at UQ. Twelve months and more than twelve typewriters later, this remains one of my favourite typers to use. It's currently on loan to a good friend who is far more creative than me, she was keen on typing up some personalised Christmas greetings.

Monday 1 April 2013

The seeds of obsession

After my paper was hurridly finalised and sent off to Interact around a minute before the March 26th deadline.... After a mad rush of proof reading my diligent students' assignments prior to their March 28th assessment deadline..... And after driving the 160km back to Warwick to "relax" over the Easter break with the old folks (read: cycling, bush walking and chopping their wood), I can now sit down and tell the story of how I came to be sitting here blogging about typewriters. The timing is good too, as this post comes almost a year to the day after I saw my first typewriter advertised on eBay.

The seeds of my obsession with typewriters were sown in late March 2012 and I remember it like it was yesterday. Ironically, what started the chain of events leading to my interest in old and obsolete writing technology was my girlfriend going out one sunny day and buying an example of the latest cutting edge writing technology: A shiny new MacBook Pro.

This sleek new machine, despite its many gigabytes and gigahertz and awesome clarity of display- when you press the ON button, it still makes that endearing old-school Apple start-up sound “chhmmmm!!” which I’m sure you’re all aware of. This sound transported my straight back to my childhood in the 90’s and inspired me to locate and fire up Dad's old hand-me-down 1993 Apple Powerbook 180c for comparison. This laptop I had salvaged from Dad’s tip-trip pile years ago when I still lived at home, considering that it was far too cool and chunky to throw out. The 180c was one of the first colour laptop models made by Apple and was as compact, techy and classy as computers got when it was first released. Unfortunately I’d thrown out the battery for Dad’s laptop some time ago, as it was starting to corrode. As such, there was a big hole in the side where the battery goes, so it didn’t look half as nice in the comparison photos as I’d hoped. To compensate I took another one with the offending hole framed out as best as I could. It did, however, still work fine with mains power and still made the endearing "Cchhmmmm!!" when booted up.

Deciding that it just wouldn’t do to have this big gaping hole in the side of this otherwise groovy old laptop, I got on eBay and started looking for a replacement battery for an early 90’s Powerbook. Now I don’t remember quite how, but somewhere in this search I happened upon a listing for a "vintage" typewriter selling for a similar amount to a replacement laptop battery. As soon as I saw it there, I knew it wasn't the laptop battery I needed, it was one of these! Staring back at me was an example of a classy writing machine much older than both the computers, could this be possible?!?

Knowing absolutely nothing about typewriters, I went purely on looks and age and stayed up very late one night to bid on the oldest and coolest looking typewriter of the two that were being sold in Brisbane at the time. This happened to be a Lexikon 80 being sold only a couple of suburbs away, which I shall blog about subsequently. The sale turned out to be the regretful sale of a much loved and much used typewriter by a retired university professor. The story that this professor told as he showed me the basics of how to use it, the exhilaration I felt as I staggered back to the car with it and the enjoyment that I had (once back at home) of dusting it off and trying to work out how the thing worked...... I knew from that moment I was hooked!