Two Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriters sitting on top of a library card catalog at angles to each other. One on the left is black with grey trim while the other is gray with chrome trim.

Users of the early Henry Dreyfuss Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Typewriters

Now that I’ve got exemplars of both the 1948 and 1949 Henry Dreyfuss designed Royal Quiet De Luxe (QDL) typewriters, I’ve been delving into others who would have used these iconic machines.

The 1948 obviously has a very distinctive black frame with dark gray hood and highlights with the black stripe across the front where the badge is. The QDL’s were distinguished from their less expensive Arrow model brothers by the presence of a tabulator and the attendant tab key in the top right of the keyboard. 

The 1949 and early 1950 version of the QDL were given lighter gray bodies and the black band across the front was replaced by a chrome strip which encircled the ribbon control levers on either side.

According to the Typewriter Database and exemplars there, the Quiet De Luxe had a re-design of the shell near the end of 1950, somewhere around serial number 2,000,000 (between 1974816 and 2064139). The hole in the hood/ribbon cover was enlarged, the chrome strip across the front was removed in lieu of chrome “wing” inserts for the ribbon control levers “except on special-order and some foreign keyboards.”

Based on the photos of Royal QDL and portable users collected by Richard Polt on his website at https://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters/typers.html, we can now separate out some Royal portable users to more closely specify which models from which years they were using. 

I started with Vladimir and Vera Nabokov. The two photos [1] [2] taken at different angles by Carl Mydans for LIFE magazine in September 1958 clearly show a light gray machine with a tabulator, the iconic hood, and the distinctive chrome strip of the 1949/early 1950 Dreyfuss Royal Quiet De Luxe. It would be nice if Vera’s hands weren’t covering up the distinctive space bar at the front of the machine’s frame, but the look and style of the case bottom the typewriter is sitting in are also consistent with the 1949 model. Incidentally, the Mydans photoshoot was just weeks after the American release of Lolita in August 1958. It was the first novel since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,000 copies in its first three weeks.

Similarly because of the distinctive features/colors of the 1948 vs 1949/early 50 models, we can put both Alistair Cooke and James Michener down as 1949/early 1950 QDL owners. Their machines also have the distinctive all gray bodies with black spacebars integral to the frame, chrome strip on front, and definitely have tab keys.

Of those in the Polt’s list, only Theodore Sturgeon has the original Dreyfuss redesigned 1948 Royal Quiet De Luxe. This photo isn’t as clear and a museum card is covering up the black space bar. We also don’t see the cutout on the hood because of the angle of the photo, but the overall coloring, the black stripe on the front, and the chrome ovals of the ribbon controls are definitely there as is the tab key in the top right of the keyboard. Better pictures could help solidify the identification, but other QDLs were different enough in shape that I’m reasonably confident here.

Of the other Royal portables Polt has listed, Marlon Brando‘s photo will need more research, but his machine doesn’t appear to have have a tabulator based on the bare silver bar on the back where the tabulator stops would have been attached, so it’s currently misidentified as a QDL. (Edit: Some later 50’s models hid their tabulator functionality underneath the paper table, so perhaps it could have been a QDL.) It could also possibly be an Arrow, a Companion (no tabulator), the related ‘F’ model, or an Aristocrat which was also manufactured with a tabulator. Stephen King’s photos [1] [2] aren’t clear or detailed enough for me to make an easy determination other than to say they’re not from 1948-early 1950. Anne Sexton’s definitely looks like a Royal portable from the later 1950s but needs more research. It’s definitely not from 1948-early 1950 either. A possible determining factor is that hers doesn’t appear to have the typical margin release key on the right hand side which was typically placed 1/2 way between banks 2 and 3. 

For other Royal fans out there, I’m curious to hear what you think about these identifications? Which is your favorite: the 1948 or the 1949/early 1950 version? Or do you prefer those from the later 1950’s?

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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.

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