Acquisition: 1949 Smith-Corona Clipper Portable Typewriter

I already own and love a 4 series Smith-Corona Clipper, but I’ve been wanting one or more of the family of 5 series Smith-Coronas for a while. I purchased this Clipper on May 14th and received it earlier this week on Tuesday the 21st. Loving another Clipper already meant that it immediately skipped to the front of the line for repairs. I had planned on cleaning it up over the weekend, but impatience got the better of me.

I present a brown series 5 Smith-Corona Clipper with serial number 5C-102313.

Brown bodied Smith-Corona Clipper with green keys sitting on a wooden library card catalog next to a small vase of red roses.
All typewriters should have their own dozen red roses, n’cest pas?

View of the inside left of the typewriter with the hood up showing the left ribbon cup, the touch controls and visibly stamped into a metal bar between them is the serial number of the machine

Design

Smith-Corona made a modest shift in design from the late 40s series 4 models to the somewhat more modern series 5 in 1949 and throughout the 1950s. Gone were the black bodies and glass keys and in came the brown, cream, and gray bodies with plastic (mostly) green keys. Still in was the generally rounded and compact body. The shift marked, for me at least, the pinnacle of Smith-Corona engineering and manufacturing in the typewriter space. I do like the more modern design and brighter colors of the 6 series machines, but the build quality lost a little something, particularly with the introduction of more plastic into the 60s and 70s. 

The broad line of series 5 models included the Clipper, Sterling, and Silent-Super models which had slight variations between them which also differentiated them in price as well. By 1957, the Clipper and Sterling both had 84 keys while the Silent-Super had 88 keys. The Sterling and Silent-Super also added an adjustable paper guide on the paper table, a line retainer, a retractable paper support behind the paper table, and a tabulator. The Silent-Super at the top of the line also included both tab set and clear keys (the Sterling had tabs, but they were manual), paper fingers, and a platen release latch along with an interchangeable platen. I’ve heard colloquially (but not seen documentation) that the Silent-Super also came with a softer platen to make it quieter, but with hardening over time, this feature has been nullified as a means of differentiating these models now. In addition to the tab set/clear keys, the Silent-Super’s additional two keys were generally the “1/!” and “+/=” in the top row. 

Tom Hanks thought that this series of machines was the bees knees and said so in the documentary California Typewriter (2016): 

White index card with the following quote typed onto it in blue elite typeface: 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 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. [He types: clack, clack]  I confess. [clack, clack again as he types.] —Tom Hanks, in California Typewriter, 2016

Overall Condition

I bought the typewriter in an online auction. Photos of this particular machine made it look to be in salvageable condition, but the site/seller didn’t provide any other details. With a bargain basement price, I jumped hoping that I would be able to make the best of the machine, and if not it would be a nice learning experience and make a useful parts machine.

The case was utterly filthy and needed help; I detailed the cleaning process and various photos previously

The exterior of the machine was in pretty good condition with only one or two minor scuffs, but it did need a serious scrub down. Given that it was brown, doing before and after photos seemed useless, but a lot of dirt and grime certainly came off in the washing process of the shell. I did a quick test on the interior with Scrubbing Bubbles which worked out well before cleaning the entire body. 

A wooden table with a towel on it. On the towel is the chassis of the typewriter with the body panels removed and sitting around it. Ordered next to the typewriter are several screwdrivers, brushes, and surgical clamps

Almost all of the keys were sticky and several were frozen solid (I suspect that perhaps someone used some WD-40 when they shouldn’t have?) The “C” key was not only frozen, but had been bent down on the keyboard and required some gentle forming to bring it back in line with the others. It took two rounds of mineral spirits on the segment along with a toothbrush and working the keys to get all the typebars moving like they should again. 

Close up of the cleaned segment and the typebars and typeface.

I wasn’t super happy with the type on the initial test page, so I made some minor tweaks to the ring and cylinder followed by an on foot and motion adjustment to line the upper and lower case faces properly. The shift and shift lock fortunately worked as expected. 

The touch control didn’t seem to be doing anything useful and upon checking, I discovered that the spring mechanism and linkage are loose at both ends of the settings. Not seeing any way to remedy what I was seeing, I went looking for adjustment advice online. That was a strike out, but I did find a useful video by Phoenix Typewriter which detailed an adjustment of three screws where the body of the typewriter meets the keyboard. Making the adjustment required removing the last panel of the body exterior I hadn’t already, so I took it off (and cleaned it) and adjusted things to make the touch a tad lighter and moved on. I have a theory about the old touch control being vestigial, but it’ll require some research or a service manual to verify. 

This Clipper came with a 16 page manual which Richard Polt has already archived at his site.

Cover of the gray typewriter manual with  a large script word "Congratulations" on the front followed by the words You now own the world's finest portable typewriter. The Smith-Corona logo is at the bottom of the page below a small picture of a typewriter.

Based on the serial numbers in the TypewriterDatabase, the beginning serial number in December of 1949 was 5C-122567, so I can only guess that mine was manufactured late in 1949 before the beginning of December. This means that this Autumn, my new clipper will celebrate its 75th birthday. I also seem to be the owner of the second oldest 5 series Clipper listed in the typewriter database presently.

The rubber on the feed rollers is in reasonable shape and isn’t flattened. The platen is almost rock hard with only a tiny amount of “give” left and may be the last part I’ll fix by sending it off to J. J. Short Associates. With this final tweak, the machine should be in good enough shape for the next 50-75 years of its life.

Keys

The green plastic keys on the ’49 Clipper are a major change from the chrome and glass keys of the prior year’s model. The plastic seems to be double shot so that the lighter green plastic of the lettering is integral to the key and not simply printed on the keytops. The majority of the 48 keys are dark green with light green keys used for the backspace (arrow pointing right on the left side), shift, shift lock, and margin release keys (“M-R” on the right side), and a milk chocolate brown key for the spacebar, which runs roughly the length of the bottom row of 10 keys.

Close up of the dark green plastic keys which comprise the keyboard of the Smith-Corona Clipper. The Shift and shift lock keys are a lighter green and the spacebar is a darker brown than the body of the machine.

Of particular note with respect to my particular model, I’ve got a Dutch keyboard layout which includes the “Æ/æ”, “Ø/ø”, and “Å/å” keys. The inclusion of these which displaces the traditional “, ,”, “. .” and the “: ;” key respectively. The usual “? /” key is replaced with a “: .”. There are two unmarked green keys on the upper right of the keyboard next to the number 0 and letter P which comprise the “/ %” and “- ”” (the later for diaresis, I think, but someone might correct me). This means that the keyboard has two keys for the % symbol. Lost altogether are the usual “1/4 1/2” and “@ ¢” keys. There’s also no semi-colon, but the ever-creative and type-limited typist might remedy this with a colon, backspace, and comma.

Close up of the right side of the keyboard featuring several Dutch characters.

Other Functionality

As is typical of most Smith-Coronas of this period, there is a bichrome selector with a stencil setting. The ribbon has an auto-reverse as well as a manual switch on the left side of the machine by the keyboard. 

The unit includes the famous segment shift “Floating Shift”. There isn’t a traditional paper bail which appears in later versions of the Clipper, but this design incarnation does have two adjustable paper fingers as well as two card fingers which are integral to the typing point. (By the late 50s, paper bails were standard and paper fingers were only found on the higher end Silent-Supers.) Left and right adjustable margin stops are at the back of the paper table by way of sliding chrome tabs. Being a Clipper, this machine has no tabulator though this functionality was seen on the Sterling and Silent-related models.

View down onto the ribbon cover and into the typebasket of the machine. On the back we can see the markings going up to 100 on the paper table, and the word Clipper written on the top side of the back of the machine.

As was the case with the prior 4 series, there is a permanent variable spacing mechanism actuated by a pulled knob on the left side of the platen.

view of the left side of the typewriter which includes a dark brown plastic platen knob with a silver button on it

On the bottom of the right side of the carriage is the same carriage centering lever as the prior 4 series model which is helpful for storing the machine in its carrying case; there is no carriage lock.

Close up of the round brown knob on the right side of the carriage. Just underneath it is a chrome button which when activated allows the carriage to be centered on the machine.

Next to the carriage return on the left side of the carriage is a line selector for single, double and triple spacing settings.

View of the left side of the typewriter looking in to the basket and the left side of the carriage including the return lever.

Case

The wooden case covered with black fabric and spring loaded hinges are almost identical to my 1948 Clipper. The internal metal hardware is slightly different and includes two metal brackets in the middle of the case where my prior version had wooden blocks nailed in.

Sadly, as ever seems to be the case, there was no included key. I suppose I’m going to have to figure out a way to do a 3D printed version of the key for my Smith-Corona cases.

For more images of the case, see the linked post referenced above.

Opened black Smith-Corona case with green interior sitting on a wooden library card catalog.
It’s only vaguely visible in the photo, but someone has written a name and address in large pencil script on the inside top of the case. It roughly looks to me like John Stramsvåg, Jh Vigegl 9, Bergen, Norway. I’m presuming it’s the name of a prior owner, though I got the machine from Orange County, California.

Angle on three sides of the black fabric covered typewriter case sitting on a library card catalog.

Typeface Sample

This machine has got an elite face with 12 characters per inch. Again, there are several Dutch-specific keys.

3x5 inch index card with a type sample that reads: 
1949 Serial number: 5C-102313 Smith-Corona Clipper 
Elite typeface, 12 CPI, portable, bichrome, Dutch keyboard 234567890/ qwertyuiop- asdfghjklå, zxcvbnme. "#$%&'()% QWERTYUIOP" ASDFGHJKLÅ? ZXCVBNMED: 
the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. A VERY BAD QUACK MIGHT JINX ZIPPY FOWLS:

Sound

The bell on this rings 8 spaces before the left margin stop setting. 

Here’s a sound sample of inserting an index card, writing a sentence, the bell, and a return on the 1949 Smith-Corona Clipper:

Photo Gallery

View down onto the ribbon cover and into the typebasket of the machine. On the back we can see the markings going up to 100 on the paper table, and the word Clipper written on the top side of the back of the machine.

view of the left side of the typewriter which includes a dark brown plastic platen knob with a silver button on it

View of the Smith-Corona typewriter of the rear.

View from the rear of the typewriter down into the typebasket. The typeface is almost gleaming.

Angle down onto the right rear of the typewriter as seen from the back.

A view into the typebasket and the ribbon and ribbon vibrator with the hood of the machine opened. On the inside of the hood one can seen thick, quilted-looking felt.

Close up view of the ribbon vibrator and ribbon threading on the Smith-Corona Clipper

table level view of the front of the typewriter featuring the brown shiny spacebar in front with the green keys sitting slightly above them. In the backgound on the right is a green house plant.

Watched Smith Corona 5 Series Typewriter Keyboard Adjustment for Lighter Touch Silent Super by Phoenix TypewriterPhoenix Typewriter from YouTube
This is a fascinating find. Thanks for the tip.
 
In looking at my own ’49 5 series Clipper I notice that the manual adjustment with the H 6-5-4-3-2 L lever attaches to a short spring, then a small plate, and from there to an arm attached to the universal bar. None of the settings on my machine effect any actual change because the entire assembly is loose from start to finish. Your machine in the video does much the same as I can see the spring attached to that lever hangs loose as you move from the L to the H settings.
 
Given the screwdriver settings you’re showing, I’m wondering if that Touch Selector is a vestigial appendage from the 4 Series days? I do notice another nearby unused arm on the universal bar with a hook-like end on it that the spring might have been attached to to provide actual tension. Unfortunately I only have a few 4 series machines to compare with (and their assemblies are dramatically different) and don’t have any other 5 series machines to see what the proper connection setting for the manual touch selector should be.
 
As far as I can tell, no one’s done a proper video of the manual touch selector assembly on the 5 series machines, if in fact they ever worked at all. Perhaps something to add to the list of videos to produce the next time a 5 series Smith-Corona comes through?

Bulk Order of Typewriter Ribbon from Baco Ribbon & Supply Co.

Having surpassed the 10 typewriter mark in my collection, I felt it was time to invest in some more serious typewriter ribbon for the “fleet”. There are some purveyors charging in the range of $10-20 for typewriter ribbon (and yes! people do still sell and buy typewriter ribbon!)  I’m pretty sure by buying from closer to the source that I could drop the price down significantly and potentially save the money toward repairs, new platens, or even other machines. 

Naturally the first stop was Richard Polt’s site, where he lists a handful of purveyors. I’ve heard good things in general about Baco both from Richard and Joe Van Cleave as well as others in the past few months, so I took the plunge and ordered a full reel of 660 yards of nylon black/red typewriter ribbon for $65. It should keep all my machines inked for quite a while. 

Given that the typical standard/universal spool will accommodate 16 yards, this should be 41.25 spools. This also brings the price down to a far more economical $1.60 per spool versus the much higher level others are charging, particularly since I generally self-wind my own ribbon onto original metal spools and don’t need the additional plastic waste. It also has the added benefit of supporting the efforts of Charlene Oesch until she decides to retire. 

If you’re in the market, here are the basic details to call and place an order (she specifically doesn’t have and doesn’t want a website), but she’s definitely still in business, carrying on in the tradition of her father since at least 1949:

Baco Ribbon & Supply Co.
Charlene Oesch

1521 Carman Road
Ballwin, MO  63021 United States

bacoribbon@sbcglobal.net
+1 (314) 835-9300
+1 (536) 394-5475 (fax)

 

Baco takes both credit card and PayPal and ships within about a day via USPS in the United States. 

Current offerings/pricing (subject to change):

  • 660 yards (full reel) of nylon ribbon in black or black/red for $65
  • 330 yards (half reel) of nylon ribbon in black or black/red for $45
  • 550 yards of silk ribbon in black or black/red for $220
  • 295 yards of cotton in black or black/red for $75

With some lead time, she can do other colors if necessary, though she typically doesn’t keep those in stock all the time according to our conversation today. She has the option to pretty easily do blue, green, and purple in single colored reels. 

I could be in for some blue/green or purple/green ribbon, which I imagine she could pull off if anyone wanted to go in on a reel or so to make it worth the time and effort to set it up. Let me know if you’re interested. Similarly if someone wanted to split an order for silk, I could be game for that too. 

Have you tried other manufacturers? Who is your favorite bulk ribbon supplier? 

Now I’m off to find some grommets and a custom pair of pliers for them…

1949 Smith-Corona Clipper Black Wooden Case Restoration

Two overlapping 4x6 inch index cards typed in blue ink which read: 
Smith-Corona 1949 Case On my lunch break today, I spent some time cleaning up the Black fabric-covered wooden carrying case for my most recent Smith-Corona typewriter acquisition. I started by wiping down the black fabric which was filthy, but otherwise in very serviceable condition. There are a few small cuts or small divots, but nothing painfully eye-catching. It took some elbow grease with mild detergent and a damp cloth, but it came out quite well. Next up came some work on the steel fittings which were showing sighs of pitting and rust. A bit of masking tape to protect the black fabric, and a bronze brush seemed to take care of the worst of it. Wiping things down with some Sparklean a brand of jewelry cleaner I have lying around seemed to polish things up nicely. I finished things up by quickly wiping down the interior. I also cleaned out the clever spring loaded hinges, and then gave all the solid metal fittings a light and very thin coat of machine oil. Thinking 1 was done and having the case back in order for at least the next decade, it dawned on me that the white splotch on the case exterior was probably some spilled liquid paper. I went at it with a touch of 91% isopropyl alcohol and then wiped it down with a moist cloth. It came off readily and doesn't seem to have damaged the exterior. Next up for the weekend is to clean out the sticky keys and provide any internal cleaning and oiling which may be required.

Some photos in the process of cleaning up the black wooden case of my 1949 Smith-Corona Clipper which are suggestive of methods one might attempt at restoring their own versions.

A sparkling shiny latch and polished steel fittings on a black fabric covered wooden typewriter case. The fabric is press onto the wood to make it appear as if it's black painted wood grain.
Near the right side of the handle you can see the white liquid paper spill on the case which cleaned up quickly.
A close up of the feet and hinge on a typewriter case showing how rusty and nasty the metal has become over time
All the metal fittings on this case were this bad and needed some attention.
A before and after comparison of a corroded, rusty hinge and feet on a typewriter case on the left, and cleaner and shinier fittings on the right hand side.
Before and After
A photo of a typewriter case featuring a cleaned hinge next to which is a piece of blue masking tape with a hole punched into it for cleaning a rusty hinge fitting. Next to the hinge are a metal single hole punch and a green plastic-handled bronze bristled brush.
Extreme abrasives like this brass bristle brush on a fabric covered wooden case will cause damage, so mask what you don’t want scrubbed clean..

Not factory perfect, but certainly acceptable for another 75 years of happy use.

A Small Brother Charger 11 Repair Surgery

I spent some time today doing surgery on my Brother Charger 11 Correction typewriter. It was quite relaxing to tinker around for a bit and appreciate the sparse, but clever and solid internals of this late model JP-1 machine that the serial number dates to January 1985. 

Wooden table with a blue towel on top of a portion. On top of that is the internal frame and components of a typewriter with the hood, bottom, and side piece of the machine sitting behind it. Strewn around it are a variety of screwdrivers and small tools as well as a can of compressed air.

I managed to clean out a lot of white somewhat sticky cruft, ostensibly from the correction ribbon this machine once had. I initially thought it would all blow out quickly with canned air, but it really needed some careful work with my typewriter brush and some Q-tips. The spots on the still supple rubber platen and rollers came off pretty quickly with some rubbing alcohol.

I quickly found the re-connected the spring that was preventing the margin release from working properly.  I then tracked down the issue I was seeing with the vibrator assembly. It turns out someone had worked on this before and neglected to replace two small screws and nuts to hold the assembly down to the frame and at the appropriate distance from the platen. Without them it just sort of floats around between the basket and the platen. I’ll have to pick up a pair of them at the hardware store to be able to reattach it and then adjust it to the proper distance from the platen. Hopefully the rest of that assembly will operate properly once attached, particularly the bichrome lever which seems somewhat flimsy.

View of the bottom of a Brother Charger 11 with the bottom plate removed. One can see the metal escapement above which a screwdriver is pointing at two empty holes where screws and nuts ought to be to hold the ribbon vibrator assembly in place.

Beyond this the only outstanding thing I see, besides adding a new ribbon, is that the end of the backspace assembly isn’t attached to anything. It ends in a small question mark-like but very sturdy hook which I presume would have attached to either a spring or a metal wire, but I’m going to need to consult either another machine or find a service manual which details what the assembly is supposed to look like. If anyone has a helpful photo of the bottom of their Charger 11 from that hook to the escapement assembly, that would be most helpful. 

View from the back of an upside down typewriter. In the front is a small copper colored bell  and moving toward the back we see a small question mark-esque hook peeking out from between two plates on the frame of the typewriter. Something should be attached to it to actuate the backspace key.

The last couple of tweaks should have this back in perfectly serviced operating order. Its almost as clean and new as when it rolled off the assembly line 39 years and 4 months ago.

I received this machine on March 12th and just realized that I never really took any photos of it or played around with it at the time in part because that’s the day my car’s engine died. I’ll see what I can do to finish this up soon, so that I can do a proper acquisition post and include some photos of the exterior as well as a proper typeface sample.

Replied to Share with us what is happening in your ZK this week. May 3, 2024 (Zettelkasten Forum)
Swimming with Ideas. This is yet another opportunity to share with your friends what you are working on.
In the past year, I’ve re-acquired an old manual typewriter from my youth and begun using it again for first drafts of some writing work as well as some notes. In the past few months I’ve added a few new (to me) machines to the collection and have been continuing to use them in my reading and note taking practices to see what changes, if any, the modality brings to my daily practice versus computer and/or handwriting.

Richard Polt (see below) has some interesting things to say about getting the writing out without worrying about editing or deleting when using a typewriter which makes for some interesting changes in my process.

Currently reading:

  • Kaiser, J. Systematic Indexing. The Card System Series 2. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd., 1911. http://archive.org/details/systematicindexi00kaisuoft.
  • Polt, Richard. The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century. 1st ed. Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press, 2015.
  • Mattei, Clara E. The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way to Fascism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2022. https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/C/bo181707138.html.
  • Zakaria, Fareed. Age of Revolutions: Progress and Backlash from 1600 to the Present. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2024.
A wooden library card catalog on which sits a 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe Typewriter next to a crystal old fashioned glass and a fifth of Glenmorangie in a scotch bottle. To one side is a blue vase with small pink roses.

I’ve seen many references comparing the use of typewriters in an overstimulating technology space to the slow food movement. Since one regularly pairs wine with their meals, it only seems right to extend the typewriter analogy to liquor as well. Today, I’m pairing this smooth 10 year single malt Glenmorangie Scotch with the 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe.

Surely Hemingway would approve?

Type-o-sphere, what are you pairing with your typewriter today?

Typewritten index card in green elite type repeating the words of the paragraphs above.

Replied to Want to run a typewriter shop? by Richard PoltRichard Polt (writingball.blogspot.com)
This is Tom Furrier, owner of the beloved Cambridge Typewriter  in Arlington, Massachusetts. Tom is ready to retire, and he'd like to find someone who wants to take over his small, busy shop.
I’m terribly tempted by this and even have a planned trip to Boston in June. Sadly, I don’t think my wife would approve the career change or the move from Los Angeles…