Angle on a brown crinkle painted typewriter with green keys.

Acquisition: 1953 Smith-Corona Silent Typewriter

I’ve been wanting either a 1950s Series 5 Smith-Corona Silent or Silent-Super for a while now to better support some of the regular use of index cards in my daily work. Both models came with standard three roller paper bails as well as two adjustable paper fingers on top of Smith-Corona’s traditional two metal paper card fingers found next to the ribbon vibrator assembly.  This means that I can type not only more easily on index cards, but the process is far quieter and also allows me to use more of the card’s surface area without as much work.

I’ve seen variations of these machines in untested/unknown/poor condition selling at auction for $50-150 dollars recently. (I saw a really filthy/poor condition and not fully functioning Sterling, the Silent’s little brother, with a disintegrating ribbon in a vintage shop last month for $150 as their rock bottom price.) In clean, working condition these can easily be north of $150, especially if they’ve been serviced and had their platens replaced ($300-450 is not unreasonable here.)

I was thus thrilled to see this one listed as a “Vintage Smith-Corona Typewriter” for auction this past month. The fact that GoodWill left off the Silent’s model name in the auction title gave me great hope that it would be overlooked by most hunters. My luck paid out handily when I ultimately won the auction for a paltry $23.00!  Things got even better when the machine showed up on my doorstep incredibly well packaged and in far better condition than I might have hoped. 

It has easily jumped to the top of my collection as my daily use typewriter.

Angled view from the right hand side of a 1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter in brown crinkle paint with green plastic keys.

Design

Without even cleaning this up, it was almost immediate to see why Tom Hanks gushes over the Smith-Corona Silent.

An index card typed on a Smith-Corona Silent typewriter that contains a quote which reads: 
"If I had to keep only one typewriter, if I had to get rid of them all and only had one left... There is a version of this Smith-Corona which is the Silent Smith-Corona. (...) Somewhere around whenever they started making this, the Smith-Corona Silent and various other models that have the same silhouette. The rise on the keys is just almost perfect---going from an N to a Y requires almost nothing. The size of the type is not too big and not too small. But listen to the solidity of the action. (types) This is a solid, solid piece of machine. That's got beautiful highlights like the stripes here and there. The colors are good. I love the green keys. I would probably say that this with a good case would be the one typewriter I would take. And that's why it's kinda out (on my desk) right now. I rotate this one into use an awful lot (clack, clack) I confess. (clack, clack as he types)" 
---Tom Hanks, in California Typewriter, 2016

Like Mr. Hanks, I’m a fan of the smooth curves, the low-slung body design, and who wouldn’t love the two sets of racing stripes on the hood. I’ve always been a fan of the dark brown body color matched with green plastic keys. The six light green-yellow keys on the sides of the keyboard and the similarly colored Smith-Corona injection molded plastic badging on the hood provide some nice contrast as do the matching numbers and hashmarks on both the margin scale and the carriage front scale. And almost better, this model has a brown plastic spacebar which matches the body color incredibly well compared to some others I’ve seen which seem terribly mis-matched. The slightly cupped key caps have a lovely gleam in contrast to the matte finish of the crinkle paint. The chrome margin stops have red arrows that almost look like exclamation points and were designed to be simple to move and set. 

Close up of the paper table on the back of the Smith-Corona featuring the model name "SILENT" in light green lettering next to a shiny chrome thumb-actuated margin set with a bright red exclamation mark-like pointer arrow.

Overall condition

My particular typewriter, received on 2024-06-01, was in about as great a shape as one could expect a second hand typewriter picked up at a thrift shop to be.

The serial number 5S-409288 places the manufacture between December 1952 and December 1953 based on data from the typewriter database. Assuredly it was made in 1953. Based on my very basic linear manufacturing birthday calculation using data from the Typewriter Database, I’ll celebrate the Silent’s birthday as May 4, 1953. This means that it’s just past 71 years old. The rock hard platen can certainly attest to its age.

The typewriter came with what appear to be its original metal spools and a monochrome black ribbon which seemed to have a bit of life left in it. While the original owner may have manually rewound ribbon onto it, given the generally good condition of the machine, the evidence might suggest that this had only one owner who gave it relatively light use. Since for all intentions this is going to be my primary daily machine, I opted to unspool its original ribbon for use on a monochrome machine later and broke out the brand new reel of bichrome black/red nylon ribbon I just got to have a fresh ribbon ready to go. 

The machine internally was in broadly good shape, but needed some very light cleaning. There was one slightly sticky key, but simply working it for a minute or two got it free and clear without needing to break out the mineral spirits.

The only significant issue the typewriter has out of the box besides some light dust and dirt that needed cleaning was that the shift lock has a tiny bit of play to it which requires adjustment so shifted capitals line up properly with their shift lock capitals.

Keys

This Silent has 49 keys in molded plastic with a small indentation mean to hug the fingertips. It’s a standard QWERTY-based U.S. keyboard for 1950s typewriter. The 42 primary keys are dark green with light green glyphs. On the outsides of the keyboard are lighter green keys including the shift, shift lock, and backspace (labeled with a right pointing arrow) keys on the left and the right shift, margin release (labeled “M-R”), and “TAB” keys on the right hand side. The spacebar at the bottom is in brown plastic to match the typewriter body 

Close up of the U.S. style typewriter keyboard on the 1953 Smith-Corona Silent

Close up of the H, J, and N green plastic keys on the keyboard with the focus on the dirt and dust stuck to the metal just behind them.
Is your keyboard a dirt and dust magnet?

Table level view of the 1953 Smith-Corona Silent  with the light keys focused on in the front.

Other Functionality

It didn’t come with one, so the closest manual I could find online was a 1951 mid-sized portables manual which seems pretty close to the functionality of this Silent. 

While drilled out to accept screws to keep the space locked up and hidden on related models, this Silent is missing those screws and has a fold-down paper table which conveniently hides the tab sets on the back of the machine. The tab sets here aren’t the traditional sliders, but instead are detachable (and thus potentially lose-able) metal clips which slide in and out with some modest friction on a comb-like metal tab bar.

The platen knob on the left hand side has a permanent variable spacing pull knob on the outside which allows the platen to turn freely. For temporary variable spacing of the platen (often done for subscript and superscript characters) there’s a thumb switch on the left just to the right of the carriage return. Once those characters are typed, flip the switch back and the platen re-engages at the same spacing set up as before. Just behind this switch is the sliding switch to control the single, double, or triple spacing mechanism. 

Like Smith-Coronas of the 4 and 5 series, this machine has a platen centering lever on the front right side of the carriage. When pulled up it centers the carriage and disengages the escapement and prevents both spacing or typing. This is useful for quickly storing the typewriter in its case, however it doesn’t prevent the carriage from being manually pushed from the left hand side toward the right. This means one needs to take some extra care of the machine with packing up for shipping.

The back of the paper table has an embedded spring loaded pair of metal rabbit ear-like paper supports. 

The platen is reasonably swappable and has a platen release lever, but to use it, one does need to flip back the hinged paper table. After this, the platen lifts up at an angle and can be pulled out with just a small wiggle. No small/odd parts were packed into the left side of the platen assembly to worry about falling out when removing the platen. 

I had seen the infamous Smith-Corona “Page Gage” on 1960s models, but was surprised to see it pop up on a 1953 machine. The functionality is a cleverly marked ring on the left side of the platen with marks to help the typist know when the bottom of the page is coming so that they can provide consistent top and bottom margins for their pages. The type gives six lines to the inch, which also helps in counts for margins.

Case

In general the case is about as good as one could hope for a machine from 1953. The case is firm and solid and the material covering is still solid and tight. A light wipe down brought most of it back into almost new condition. The top of the case with the handle required the most work as it had apparently been stored upright; as a result, it had a fairly thick layer of dirt and grime.

Interior of a the bottom of a Smith-Corona typewriter case with a burgundy interior and wrapped in a yellow and brown cotton tweed-like material. We see a close up of the thumb lock and bar mechanism which holds the typewriter safely in the case. Of not, the interior is very dirty and dusty and has several dust bunnies in the corner. There's a prominent white mark where the foot of the typewriter has sat. Full view of the interior of a very dirty and dusty typewriter case with a burgundy interior. Close up of the handled top of a typewriter case layered with dirt, soot, and grime. Next to the handle is a small finger-sized patch which has been cleaned off showing the stark contrast of the grime to a yellow and brown fabric. The detached bottom base of a Smith-Corona typewriter case from 1953. The bottom interior is a deep burgundy red with metal cleats in four positions at the four sides of the case. The front cleat is attached to a metal bar which extends to the left front side where a thumb lever is used to allow the front cleat's locking mechanism to be actuated. A clean and lovely yellow and brown flecked fabric covered typewriter case for the 1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter sits on a wooden table.

Typeface Sample

This machine has an elite typeface with 12 characters per inch (my favorite, and likely what Tom Hanks was referring to when he said the type was not too big and not too small). The machine has a bichrome switch as well as a stencil setting.

Cream index card with red lines that contains a typing sample that reads: 1953 Smith-Corona Silent
Serial number: 5S-409288 
Elite typeface, 12 CPI, portable, bichrome, U.S. keyboard, segment shift 
234567890- qwertyuiop asdfghjkl; zxcvbnm,./ *#$%&'()* QWERTYUIOP ASDFGHJKLO ZXCVBNM,.? the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. A VERY BAD QUACK MIGHT JINX ZIPPY FOWLS.

Close up of the type at the end of the typebars on a 1953 Smith-Corona Silent

Sound

Here’s a sound sample of inserting a sheet of paper, aligning it writing a sentence, the bell, and a return on the 1953 Smith-Corona Silent:

 

This is a sound file of the keys being lightly pressed without hitting the ring or platen and then the light plunk of them falling back onto the felt rest inside the basket. It’s almost like the soft patter of rain.

Photo Gallery

Below are some additional photos of my favorite new machine.

1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter with brown crinkle paint, two sets of brown racing stripes on the hood, and green plastic keys. It sits on a wooden mid-century library card catalog and next to an index card with a typeface sample

Angled view from the right hand side of a 1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter in brown crinkle paint with green plastic keys.

Close up of the paper table to the top row of keys of the 1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter. A black and red bichrome ribbon is threaded into the machine which has a black anodized segment.

Close up of the light green plastic Smith-Corona badge on the hood of the typewriter.

Close up view of a 1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter fills the frame. There's a glint of light on the green plastic typewriter keys.

Font oblique angle down onto the keyboard, hood and carriage of a 1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter

 

A deconstructed typewriter sitting on a towel on a wooden table surrounded by the brown steel body portions, screws, typewriter ribbon reels, screwdrivers, pliers, and brushes.

Angle down onto the left front side of a 1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter showing the thumb release lever of the case used to remove the typewriter from its yellow case.

A brown typewriter with green keys in it's bottom case half sitting on a wooden dining room table. Behind it is the other half of the case which has been removed at the hinges. In the background are the chairs around the table and a library card catalog with an indistinguishable typewriter on it.

Unboxing Photos

A large brown shipping box with several fragile stickers on it sitting on a concrete porch next to a white wooden stick railing

Another porch shot with the typewriter case removed from the shipping box full of crumpled brown paper. The yellow hard case is wrapped with plastic wrap to protect it.

A 1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter still in the bottom portion of its case sitting on a dark wooden coffee table with some potted plants on the front porch.

The hood of the 1953 Smith-Corona Silent typewriter is up and we can see the brown felt padding inside as well as a view into the typebasket.

Published by

Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, IndieWeb, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

7 thoughts on “Acquisition: 1953 Smith-Corona Silent Typewriter”

  1. Douglas E. says:

    My favorite typewriter too (with my 1937 Silent a close second). I have a Jan. 1953 printing of the manual that matches my machine and is really pretty much the same as the 1951 version, except for a paragraph on the Page Gage and a few overdue corrections (labels pointing to the wrong key or feature). I could send you a pdf if you want.

    1. Chris Aldrich says:

      I’d love a copy of it when you get a moment. My email address is on my homepage here, or you can email it to typewriter@ this site’s domain name. Thanks in advance! I need to spend a few minutes to see when they added the page gage functionality as I had presumed it was a late 60s invention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *