Acquired The Manual Typewriter Repair Bible by Ted MunkTed Munk (Lulu)

462 Pages, Professionally printed and coil bound to lay flat on your work table.

Includes:

  • Basic Mechanical Theory and Indoctrination on how mid-20th Century manual typewriters work.
  • Step-By-Step Typewriter Symptom Troubleshooting Guide.
  • Complete 1946 OAMI Service and Adjustment Manual Covering:
    • Standard Manual Typewriters: Remington * Royal * Underwood * Woodstock * L.C. Smith,
    • Portable Manual Typewriters: Remington * Royal * Corona * Underwood.
  • Typewriter Tools, Ribbon Spools, Ribbons, Platens, Springs and Ball Bearings Reference.
  • Typewriter Typeface and Keyboard Reference.
An early birthday present has arrived! 
I just downloaded my copy of Bob Doto’s book A System for Writing which was released for purchase this morning. I read an early draft in April and know it’s excellent. If knowledge management, zettelkasten, or writing are of interest to you, this is one of the best books on these topics. If you’re just getting into these areas, it’s required reading and will advance your practice more quickly than any four other books you’ll find.

Dark blue book cover of Bob Doto's A System of Writing featuring a network-like snowflake image.

Acquisition: 1955 Royal HHE Standard Typewriter

Usually I don’t make typewriter acquisition posts until I’ve done some reasonable work to get them cleaned up and working well. I’m going to make an exception with this one because it’s in much rougher shape than others I’ve picked up. It’s going to take more work to clean up and get functioning properly again. I’ll try to document the work I do on it to get it back into fighting shape.

I suspect it’s either going to be this or an Olympia SG1 I’ve had my eye on which will be my daily standard machine.

The Royal HH

First, it’s a Royal HH. It’s one of Royal’s standard desktop machines which they started manufacturing in 1952 and which ran until at least 1957.

This is my first standard typewriter as most of the others in my collection are portable typewriters which accompany one ultra-portable. “Standard” indicates its a big machine that was meant to be placed permanently on a desk. At about 30 pounds, it wasn’t meant to be carried around like the portables, but on the other hand, being built with more weight and internal space, it was designed to work smoothly forever with modest care. Thirty pounds is a lot of typewriter. For comparison, my Smith-Corona Silent is just 12.8 pounds.

According to Richard Polt’s well-researched compilation, writers who were known to own and use the Royal HH include: William Buckley, Charles Bukowski, George Burns, Herb Coen, Truman Capote, Bruce Catton, Patty Chayefsky, Don Dellilo, Alicen Denham, James T. Farrell, Paul Russell, Hugh Heffner, Elia Kazan, Sterling North, Robert B. Parker, Syliva Plath, Mario Puzo, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and William Zinzer. 

Polt’s site also has a 1952 copy of the Royal HH manual.

The serial number stamped on the right side of my machine just underneath the carriage when moved to the left is HHE-5765903, which the typewriterdatabase.com places as a late 1955 machine. (The grid for the Royal serial numbers starts 1955 with 5,500,000 and the 1956 model year stars with serial number 5,787,000.) The HH portion of the serial number identifies it as an HH model and the E indicates that it’s an elite typeface with 12 characters per inch versus the P which was reserved for pica typeface (usually 10 CPI). Like most typewriters of this vintage it also types at 6 lines per inch.

View down onto the back right of the typewriter with the carriage moved to the far left to show the position of the serial number stamped into the machine under the carriage right next to the typewriter bell.

Based on the available original colors listed at the Typewriter Database, I’m going to say that mine is done in Royaltone Light Gray wrinkle. Other HH model paint colors included: Charcoal Grey smooth, Nile Green smooth, Horizon Blue smooth, Coral Rose, Gray Frieze, and Royaltone Dark Gray wrinkle.

Purchase and initial observations/testing

I got this typewriter in an uncontested online auction for $5.99, so in my book it’s already a steal. It had sat on the site for weeks, slowly coming down from a price of $30. Sadly as is almost always the case with online auctions, shipping is the true ordeal. Even moreso when you consider that this typewriter is 2-3 times the weight and significantly larger than portable machines. It also doesn’t help that these machines never had cases.

Naturally the seller chose a poorly sized box, put in some heavy padding, threw the typewriter in, and put some modest, but heavily inadequate padding around it.  That’s it… ugh. They made no effort to secure the carriage, so when I opened it up, it was all the way to the right. They didn’t even bother to do padding for the back of the machine. 

A Royal HH typewriter sitting in the left side of a box that's too short front to back and too wide left to right. The carriage on the machine is all the way to the right.
How not to package up a typewriter for shipping.

Worse, it definitely took some hits in shipping so the right side Magic Margin lever is bent and isn’t working. Not having the carriage in place, the left side also took a major hit and the frame in the back left corner is bent so that the carriage doesn’t move freely. It’s going to take some heavy work to get it back into alignment if it can be done at all.

Close up of the back left corner of a Royal HH. The back of the machine is obviously bent toward the carriage preventing the carriage from moving freely within it. Handwritten on the back of the machine is a black "50".

With a screwdriver as a lever and some significant manual help, I was able to eke out a short typing sample. The key action is gummy at best though none of the keys were too sticky. I expect a thorough cleaning will revive a more snappy typing action.

Typed index card in black ink. A brief, somewhat smudgy typing sample. At the bottom of the card in orange ink are the typewriters's serial number and the serial number range for 1955-1956.

It’s definitely going to need a serious cleaning both inside and out. Someone wrote a large “50” on the back of the machine in the left rear in thick black magic marker. (Perhaps it was from a large typing pool with at least 50+ machines?) This seemed like a a propitious “sign” when I bought it as a 50th Birthday present, so let’s hope for good luck as a result. The decals on it are mediocre at best, so maybe it’s a good candidate for redoing the exterior even though the rest of the paint is in really good condition.

The alignment of the type is generally okay, but it’s going to need at least a motion adjustment. There’s some occasional piling of letters in my short test. Hopefully some of it clears up in cleaning, but knowing my terrible typing technique and Royal’s famous finicky touch, it may also need some adjustment afterwards to the timing.

The platen is as hard as they come, and will need replacing.

The all black ribbon isn’t totally horrible, but is a tad old and on the drying side. It came with original metal standard spools. I’m sure I’ll swap out the ribbon for a new bichrome black/red which the machine supports. It’s possible that the ribbon reverse mechanism may need some help.

View down onto the keyboard and segment of a Royal HH typewriter with the hood open. The machine is dirty but has it's original metal ribbon spools.

The right platen knob is loose. It’s going to need a screw tightened and/or replaced. The variable spacing mechanisms seem to work, but could be cleaner in their functioning.

Hopefully I don’t run across any additional internal damage or issues as a result of the poor shipping.

Favorite Feature

Because I do a lot of typing on index cards, I can already tell that the most interesting feature on this machine are the spring loaded card fingers. They’ve got tiny little switches on them, which—when pressed—flip them over and out of the way. 

Close up of the hood and focusing on the typing point of a Royal HH typewriter. Of particular interest on either side of the typing point are two spring-loaded card fingers. The one on the left is in its up position while the one on the right side is down. On the outsides of the card fingers are two tiny finger levers.

If you’ve gotten a terribly dusty and dirty typewriter and don’t have an air compressor or canned air at home, a quick trip to the car wash might not only get your car clean, but allow you to blow out your typewriter too!

(They might not smile much on your use of mineral spirits while you’re there, so use caution.)

A typewriter with most of its body panels removed is being blown out with a handheld blue air gun at a carwash.
I used a hand towel underneath the typewriter to capture any springs, loose screws, or pieces that might pop out just in case. You don’t want to loose anything at the carwash.
A pillar behind a carwash with two vacuum hoses on each side for vacuuming out one's car. Also on the post is a coiled hose attached to a handheld air gun. Between the two vacuum hoses is an angled metal platform with a large clip for attaching a floor mat for vacuuming it out.
If only the car mat platform was horizontal for typewriter cleaning…

Aggregated Resources and Playlist for a Crash Course on the Olympia SM3 Portable Typewriter

I got a 1958 Olympia SM3 De Luxe typewriter in a gray crinkle finish for my birthday. Naturally I’ve been doing some research and working on cleaning it up for regular use.

Along the way I’ve been aggregating some related Olympia SM3 (and other SM family) resources and videos which include several on use, a few comparing them to other machines (for those considering buying them), and a variety on taking them apart and adjusting them to peak performance including doing rack, ring & cylinder, on feet, motion, silent return spring, trip timing, and spacebar adjustments. 

The only significant piece missing is for cleaning them, but that’s remedied with an endless variety of videos (including one of my favorites) and advice from Richard Polt on restoration

I’ve tried to place the videos in rough order of introductory to more advanced as well as in order of adjustments. They’re now available as a Olympia SM3 playlist:

Special thanks should go to Duane Jensen of Phoenix Typewriter and Gerren Balch of The HotRod Typewriter Co. for the bulk of the work in creating and generating most of these videos. 

Surely there are other excellent videos out there, but this list makes a pretty solid crash course which can be used as a jumping off point.

Along with other typewriter manuals collected by Richard Polt, he’s got manuals for the Olympia SM3 in both English and German.

And for the completist, you’ll naturally want copies of the repair manuals via Theodore Munk: [paperback] [digital].

Hopefully this aggregated list of resources will help the next Olympia typewriter enthusiast who finds one in grandma’s basement or who wants to kick off a writing career following in the footsteps of fellow SM3 typists including John Updike, Woody Allen, Frank Herbert, Patricia Highsmith, Robert Penn Warren, Harlan Ellison, Carson McCullers, John Hughes, Louis L’ Amour, William Gaddis, Stan Laurel, Ryan Adams, Ruskin Bond, Evan S. Connell, Kevin McGowin, or Anaïs Nin.

If I’ve missed any truly important resources, please do let me know. 

Cheers!

A light gray Olympia SM3 De Luxe typewriter on a wooden table next to a highball glass of Penderyn whisky. In the background we can see a library card catalog.