Acquisition: 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Typewriter

For the rapidly decreasing amount of space I’ve got for storing and actively using the handful of machines I’ve got in my burgeoning typewriter collection, I’ve begun to become a bit more discerning of new acquisitions. I had yet to add a Royal the fleet, and I’ve had my eye on a handful, but the ones that stuck out most vividly to me were a span of years in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Today  a Royal Quiet De Luxe (often seen abbreviated as QDL) has joined the family. 

A gray typewriter sits at an angle on the top of a 20 drawer wooden library card catalog. Next to it is a stack of index cards and a small wooden shadow box with three Lego people posing inside.

Design

The kicker on this typewriter model for me, beyond the general beauty of this era of Royals, was reading that Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972), one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century, had produced a model of the QDL for Royal in 1948. In my opinion, it’s one of the prettiest in the entire Royal line, and possibly in the pantheon of typewriters in general. Really, who could resist the textured crinkle gray magic paint, the hint of yellow in the lettering, with just enough black and shiny chrome, combined with metal wrapped glass keys that lovingly cup your fingertips?

Also intriguing to me was that Dreyfuss had lived, until his death in 1972, in South Pasadena, California seven tenths of a mile from my old apartment on Orange Grove Boulevard and less than 7 miles from my current home in Altadena, CA. It seems very apropos to have a neighbor’s typewriter in the house.

For those who are unaware of his name, you’re surely aware of his work which included the design of iconic products which included the Western Electric Model 500 telephone, the Princess phone, and the Trimline phone;  several John Deere tractors; the ubiquitous round Honeywell T87 thermostat; Polaroid’s SX-70 camera; the Westclox Big Ben clock; Hoover’s model 150 vacuum cleaner, and the New York Central Railroad’s streamlined Mercury train as well as their Hudson locomotive for the 20th Century Limited

It could easily fit into a dark academia setting and might be the typewriter you could imagine Cary Grant, George Clooney, or Jude Law would have on their desks.

Henry Dreyfuss’ Royal QDL certainly meets both of William Morris’ criteria when he instructed “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” As the brief typewriter manual touts, the machine “will add grace to any room or setting.” It is not wrong. This machine is both handsome and dapper all at once. If a typewriter were to wear a business suit bordering on formal, this model would be the life of the cocktail party wearing a debonair hat. 

Overall Condition

The serial number on the machine is A-1927573 which the Typewriter Database dates to 1949. Based on the spread of serial numbers from that production year, this was likely manufactured in December of 1949.  This means that this machine will celebrate its 75th birthday this coming Winter. I intend to give it the 75th year it richly deserves.

Serial number A-1927573 stamped into black metal recessed into the gray frame of the typewriter.
The serial number on the 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe can be found on the top left corner of the machine underneath the carriage.

I bought this in an online auction with very little information to go on, but things have turned out exceedingly well for just a few dollars. The typewriter came with the original case, a small 14 page manual describing it as “Gray Magic”, and a Royal typewriter brush. The machine itself has almost no external flaws or scratching. It definitely shows some signs of use and age, but the exterior cleaned up very well.

All the keys worked well aside from one or two which may need some minor attention for borderline stickiness. The machine’s shift keys were binding when I pressed them, but I couldn’t see anything obviously causing any issues. A quick trip to Phoenix Typewriter’s YouTube channel identified the problem and a fix that was done in about two minutes of simple adjustment by properly forming a small metal tab.

The variable spacer on the left platen knob also seems to have an issue, but I can easily get around it functionally until I have a few minutes to figure out what might be causing the problem. I’ll also have to do a quick clean out of the insides to remove some built up oil and dust and give it a quick service. The rubber feet and the platen have certainly seen better days; I’ll get around to replacing them shortly.

The ribbon it came with, a standard black and red on the original (universal) spools, still has some reasonable life left in it.

The case which has a predominantly yellow and black flecked tweed wrap has seen some action but is in generally good shape for its age. The interior seems near mint while the exterior has a few minor discolorations and one small stain. One of my favorite upcycle recommendations: “With the Portable removed,” as stated in the manual, “the case may be used as an ideal overnight bag.” I could almost imagine that Roger O. Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959) wished he’d had such a case when embarking on his escape on the Twentieth Century Limited from Grand Central Station with Eve Kendall. In fact, I’d almost swear that a brunette version of Eva Marie Saint is on the cover of the typewriter’s manual.

Keys

The Royal earns the “De Luxe” portion of its name with the lush keys alone. While many newer typewriters of its era were converting to less expensive mass manufactured plastic keys, the QDL went with somewhat square keys with a domed top. Some might describe them as “tombstone” keys, but their subtle roundness provides a memento mori that makes you elated to be alive and using them. The letters are a very light yellow against a black background with the yellow hints being picked up again in the numbered hashes on the paper table scale. Over the keys are polished glass which is indented slightly. The manual calls them “Finger-Flow Keys” which are “designed to cradle your fingertips.” The tactile experience is sublime.

The 49 key keyboard is a standard American typewriter set up without any frills like a “1” or an “=”. The usual back space and margin release (labeled “Mar Rel”) are present along with both left and right “Shift Freedom” shift keys and a shift “lock” key on the left side. (The typewriter has a basket shift rather than a carriage shift.) A “tab” key sits in the top right of the keyboard next to the */- key on the top row.

The front of the keyboard features an ample black Bakelite space bar which forms the front edge of the machine. It’s presence helps to ground the machine and balance out the black Quiet De Luxe badge and platen at the top of the machine. This design prevents one’s thumbs from hitting a front metal frame of the typewriter, which happens on some poorly designed models in which the spacebar doesn’t sit above the frame with enough clearance. 

View down onto the keyboard of the Royal Quiet De Luxe.

 

The Royal badging on the front of the machine and featuring a close up of the keys for 5, 6, 7, and 8 which have a shiny glass reflection on them.

Other Functionality

This is the first machine I’ve had with an adjustable or disappearing card finger which one can move down out of the way with a quick pivot. This pivot is useful for more easily switching ribbons, but given the number of index cards I go through, it’s likely to stay in the up position most of the time.

I’ve never previously had a typewriter with a Magic Margin™, but this one has got a small metal switch on the back left of the machine which allows one to set the left margin quickly and easily with a tiny pull. Of course one can flip up the paper table behind the platen to expose the two metal margin set mechanisms which can be set manually. I love how Dreyfuss has cleverly hidden this functionality. I’d have to take a look at the margin set mechanisms to ensure the escapement would be protected properly, but when storing the typewriter, one could quickly center the carriage and set the margins for the center character as a pseudo-carriage lock. 

A close up of the left rear of the Royal Quiet De Luxe featuring a chrome level labeled Magic Margin.

View of the back of the typewriter with the paper table opened up to show the two silver sliders for setting the left and right margins.

Unlike later typewriters of the mid to late 1950s which had an almost infinite number of tab stops, this Royal Quiet De Luxe is equipped with a bar on the back of the carriage with five individual stop mechanisms which can be set as desired by sliding them into place.

View of the adjustable tab stops on the back of the typewriter. Each of the metal blocks can be slid along the toothed metal bar which has the same type measurements as the typing scales on the front. Red arrows on four of the blocks pictured show tabs set at 25, 35, 45, and 55.

Just above the keyboard, almost functioning like the cummerbund of the typewriter’s tuxedo, sits a subtle band of chrome with two small, elegant but somehow substantial horizontal switches. The left switch manages the direction of the ribbon. On the opposite side is the traditional slider with red, blue and white for switching between the bottom (red) and top (blue) of the ribbon or choosing the stencil setting (white). 

The case has a clever hinge lock that can be actuated with one finger while sliding the top of the case right with respect to the bottom to remove it from the hinge posts. The case also has a convenient clip for the brush as well as for the manual and any other papers one might wish to take. Also mounted in the top of the case is a carriage protector meant to keep the carriage in place while in transit as the machine doesn’t have a carriage lock.

Back corner of the inside of the case with a black metal clip on the left hinge. Pulling the flat portion of the clip would allow the top of the case to be slid off of the bottom. The top and bottom halves of the case have been separated. At the hinge portions of the bottom we see two metal posts to which the top of the case would be slid onto.

View into the top of the case with a deep red interior. There is a silver metal clip holding a 2 inch black plastic brush with short bristles and a white Royal logo and a large black U shaped clip for holding a variety of papers against the top of the lid--in this case we see the typewriter manual featureing a woman sitting merrily at a typewriter.

The bottom of the case has two black rails with four silver metal pins and black metal thumb locks. The pins fit into the bottom of the typewriter’s feet and the thumb locks slide easily to lock the typewriter into the case.

The red bottomed inside of the case with two black metal strips.

Close up of the right side of the typewriter locked into its case with two thumb levers visible at the front and back.

Typeface Sample

The pitch on this machine is 10 characters per inch (pica). The full platen is 94 characters wide with 6 spaces coming before the ‘0’ marker.

3x5 inch index card with red lines that serves as a typing sample. It reads: 1949 Royal De Luxe Serial number: A-1927573 Pica typeface; portable Designed by Henry Dreyfuss 234567890- qwertyuiop asdfghjkl; "#$%&'()* QWERTYUIOP ASDFGHJKL:@ zxcvbnm,./ ZXCVBNM,.? the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog A VERY BAD QUACK MIGHT JINX ZIPPY FOWLS

Sound

Here’s a sound sample of inserting an index card, writing a sentence, the bell, and a return on the 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe:

Photo Gallery

Yellow and black tweed carrying case of the Royal Quiet De Luxe sitting on a polished wooden table. Royal Quiet De Luxe in it's open case sits on a dark wooden table. Oblique angle of the Royal Quiet De Luxe in its open case Vertical shot of a grey typewriter in an open case with a red interior. Table level image of the Royal Quiet De Luxe View into the basket of the Royal Quiet De Luxe which is threaded with black and red ribbon. Close up of the left side of the Royal Quiet De Luxe under the hood. In the front is the Touch Control setting with a lever which can be set from 0 to 9 View of the bottom of the Royal Quiet De Luxe showing off all the moving internal parts. Table level view of the Royal Quiet De Luxe featuring it's shiny gold Royal decal which is blurrily reflected in the waxed wooden table surface. Close up of the subtle crinkle texture of the gray magic paint on the hood of the Royal Quiet De Luxe Black plastic typewriter brush with short black bristles. The Royal logo is impressed onto the base. View into the basket of the Royal Quiet De Luxe from behind. In the background one can see the keyboard.

If you’re an analog zettelkasten fan, I just bought a few bricks of 500 index cards for $6.08 each at my local Amazon Fresh. Most brands list for $12-$16 for this many; even Amazon.com is currently listing them for $10.50. Sadly it doesn’t match my all-time-best of $2.06. What’s your best? 🗃️📝
Two small black metal L-shaped bookends with their packaging card

I’d mentioned that my Steelcase card index came without the traditional card stops/follower blocks at the back of the drawers. Needing a solution for this, I’ve discovered that my local Daiso sells small, simple bookends for $1.75 for a pair and they’re the perfect size (7 x 8.9 x 9.2 cm) for the drawers. These seem to do the trick nicely, though they do tend to slide within the metal drawers without any friction. Giving them small rubber feet or museum putty from the hardware store for a few cents more fixes this quickly.

Acquisition: Remington Streamliner 196X Portable Typewriter in Metallic Mint Blue

On March 11, 2023, I’d gotten a nice deal on a Remington Streamline portable typewriter in a generally uncontested online auction. I was certainly taking a small chance on a typewriter only by a few photos and the label “untested”, but I couldn’t resist the mint blue color which seemed like it would be a close match to my TWSBI Eco T fountain pen and my custom General Fireproofing 20 gauge steel desk

Yesterday, the typewriter arrived, and today I took a short break to open it up and give it a short test drive. In addition to the fantastic news that the machine is in stunning shape, its color is about as perfect a match to the pen and the desk as one could ask!

Close up of the Remington Streamliner logo in black and red on the typewriter's hood on which sits a matching mint blue TWSBI Eco T fountain pen with red ink.

View of a working desk area featuring a silver/glass topped mint blue desk on which sits a matching colored portable typewriter, a fountain pen and a stack of Post-it notes. In the background is a card index filing cabinet and a barrister bookcase full of books.

Overall

The overall condition was beyond my dreams for this vintage and with some plastic portions. The typewriter only has a few signs of use and wear with some paint worn off at the corners of the back and on the right hand side where the platen knob meets the body. A bit of the “R” on the top Remington logo is worn off and seems to be thermally printed on, so I wouldn’t recommend heavy scrubbing, harsh abrasives, or caustic chemicals when cleaning the bodies of these for fear of removing the logo all together. These small flaws gives the machine some nice patina and the street cred of some reasonable use as a portable. There’s some small wear to the plastic hood where the two position return lever has rubbed against it. Otherwise it is in about as good a condition as one could hope. 

All the keys worked with some severe stickiness on the “L” key. The smallest of tweaks on the head of the typebar remedied the issue without resorting to cleaning. The margin release wasn’t operating properly, but only because an obvious and easily re-mounted tension wire had become unhooked.

There is some minor grime and dust inside the body which could stand some cleaning, but it’s in great shape right out of the box. I’ll try to spend some time blowing it out and cleaning it up internally while I await some replacement ribbon.

The typewriter itself is has a metal chassis which is permanently screwed into a slightly darker plastic green base. This base dovetails with the plastic lid to create a case with a rubber-like plastic handle. Sadly the lid of the case was badly cracked and splintered into a dozen or so pieces in shipping, so I’m going to consider the lid a total loss. I’ll have to fashion some type of cover to keep the dust (and more importantly the German shepherd fur) out of the internal mechanisms.

On this model, the serial number is imprinted on to the black metal bottom chassis between the “U” and “J” keys when looking down at the typewriter from above. The serial number on my particular machine is AX 16 74 89. Sadly, the Typewriter Database doesn’t have serial numbers for this model or the late 60s or early 70s timespan in which these were made. One model in the database is dated to 1969 with a serial number starting with CX so it’s possible mine may be as early as ’68 or ’69 but sadly without better data, one can’t be sure.

Richard Polt has a Remington Streamliner manual for the 60s available, and though it’s close in broad look and functionality, it’s obviously not for this specific model or year.

Given the time period and the metallic mint paint, I do sort of wish this model also had Positraction, but then I suppose it would have needed to be produced by GM rather than Remington.

Angled view from the right hand side and behind of the Remington Streamliner typewriter with the hood removed to provide a view of the typebasket, typebars, ribbon spools and the platen.

Keys

The keys appear to be thin beige pieces of almost bone-like plastic floating in mid-air but have thicker plastic and metal bases which give them a nice action. There’s a standard back space (curved arrow on the left), a margin release (double arrow on the right), but surprisingly for the age, is missing a dedicated 1/! key. There is no built-in tab functionality.

Close up of the cream colored keys of the Remington Streamliner keyboard

Ribbon

The machine has the typical larger Remington ribbon cores and this one included a dead, improperly seated ribbon on original metal rings. I swapped these out briefly for a new ribbon, though the plastic hub doesn’t seat as tightly as one would wish for the ribbon advance to work properly. I’ll get some new ribbon and handspool it onto the original cores and we should be off to the races. I’ll note that no metal ribbon covers, which had been standard on earlier models of this make, were present, though its probably just as likely that these were never included on their later models either for weight, functionality, or manufacturing cost reasons.

I’m don’t see any switch or button for the spool reverse, but suspect that the built-in mechanical sensors will operate as expected for Remingtons of this era. If not, it’s easy enough to actuate the switch manually with the hood off.

Also not available on this model is a switch for using two colored ribbons, so I’ll just have to be satisfied with a single color. 

Overhead view from behind of Remington Streamliner typewriter with the hood removed to allow a view into the typebasket featuring all the typebars and pica typeface as well as two plastic ribbon spools.

Other Functionality

 As a later portable, the machine is missing some of the additional niceties of heavier late 50s or early 60s desk models. It does have a “card finger”, though only on the left. The return arm has two positions and a simple friction fit operation—one for use and the other for storage.

The machine has a carriage shift rather than a basket shift. The platen knobs are rather on the small side, and don’t have a typical button for variable line spacing. This line spacing functionality is built into the small switch on the left hand side for single or double spacing, but is labeled as “0” for small adjustments. It doesn’t appear to have a carriage lock of any sort, but does have margin stops and a satisfying bell.

In general, this model is a no-frills portable meant for basic functional typing on the go.

Typeface Sample

The pitch on this machine is 10 characters per inch (pica). The full platen is 85 characters wide.

Since I don’t have a properly inked/fitted ribbon for it yet, I’ll post a typeface sample at a later date. 

Old school 3x5 inch index card in cream with red lines which serves as a type sample. It reads: 196X Serial number: AX 167489 Remington Streamliner Pica typeface; ultra-portable 234567890- qwertyuiop asdfghjkl; zxcvbnm,./ "#$%&'()* QWERTYUIOP ASDFGHJKL:@ ZXCVBNM,.? the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog A VERY BAD QUACK MIGHT JINX ZIPPY FOWLS

Photo Gallery

 

 

 

 

Acquisition: 1957 Remington Quiet-Riter with Miracle Tab Manual Typewriter

In my recent typewriter collecting spree, I’ve received what may be the best of the group so far. Immaculately wrapped and boxed, the portable Remington Quiet-Riter arrived on my doorstep yesterday afternoon. With it’s incredibly smooth, quiet action and crisp elite typeface, I can tell it is going to be my daily driver for years to come.

Overall Condition

Having purchased it “untested” as an auction item at bargain basement price, you’re never quite sure what to expect, you just pray for no major escapement damage and go from there. I fully expected to need to fix half a dozen bits and some heavy cleaning as I have with other machines. As it turned out, each part I began testing worked flawlessly and the machine is quite clean!

In general the machine is in near mint condition. There is one tiny brown discoloration spot on the case, but, the case being brown, it’s not very obvious. Beyond this, the case looks like it just came off the factory floor. 

The machine was generally very clean and almost looks like it had been serviced and then not used since. There was some lint and dust on the bottom which wiped off easily and a quick blow out should clear the rest. There are one or two minor signs of wear to the powder coat on the front and a small bit of peeling on the bottom rear, but overall it’s been pretty well loved and probably not seen more than a few years of moderate use.

Everything functioned as expected save two required adjustments relating to how the slugs strike the platen. The capital letters were striking a tad higher than the lower case, but the adjustment for the UC “on feet” screw on the bottom of the typewriter fixed that issue fairly quickly. There’s also two separate brackets each with two screws that will require adjustment for the caps lock to be properly aligned as well; I’ll take care of that later this week sometime. I notice one or two small screws that could use some fine tuning as well, but I’ll get to that shortly as well. Interestingly there is already a YouTube video for some of these adjustments for this exact year model should anyone need it. Additionally, Theodore Monk has some details for alternate makes/models.

The serial number on the machine is QR3214352 which the Typewriter Database dates specifically to April 1957. This means that this machine will be 67 years old this coming Spring.

The serial number QR3214352 stamped into the metal chassis.
The serial number on the Remington Quiet-Riter can be found stamped into the chassis on the right hand side of the machine on a piece of metal next to the ribbon spool underneath its hood.

Keys

Unlike many early typewriters, this keyboard has a dedicated key for the “1”/”!”  as well as a dedicated caps lock key for the right hand (in addition to the usual one for the left). Also present is a special “Tab” key on the right hand side just below the margin release “M.R.” key.

Close up of the green keys with light green lettering on the keyboard of the Remington Quiet-Riter.

Other Functionality

In addition to some of the standard functionality, including tab settings which became common in the 1950s, this unit has an auto-reverse for the ribbon, 3 type select settings for finger pressure/action, and three line space selections. Richard Polt hosts versions of the Quiet-Riter manual (1955) as well as a parts catalog (1953) a service manual (1953).

Of particular note (and something I’ve never seen on a machine before) is a set of teeth on the platen which have a custom switch for fractional line spacing. This is useful for sub-script and super-script needs. It’s effectuated by pressing down on the line locating lever on the left side near the platen knob which then allows one to rotate the platen up or down the required amount to type the characters. When done, one switches the lever back to set the platen to the original line spacing. This would also have been useful on older machines for creating equal signs with two strikes of the hyphen, but isn’t needed on the Quiet-Riter which has a dedicated “=” key.

While the unit came with an all black ribbon in usable shape, I chose to switch it out with a new blue/black combination. The Quiet-Riter has the larger custom 2cm core rings and spools (and this unit had the original metal rings and covers), so I had to manually remove the plastic cores from the newer ribbon and carefully insert them into the machine so that when the spool empties the mechanical sensor will trip and automatically reverse the ribbon. Of course, given the set up one could also wind their own replacement ribbon as seen here:

Typeface Sample

The pitch on this machine is 12 characters per inch (elite). The full platen is 110 characters wide.

Typed library card catalog card that reads:
1957 Remington Quiet-Riter Miracle Tab 
Serial number: QR 3214352 
Elite typeface; portable; platen 38mm 
1234567890-= !"#$%&'()*+ qwertyuiop
asdfghjkl; 
zxcvbnm,./ QWERTYUIOP ASDFGHJKL:@ ZXCVBNM,.? 
the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog 
A VERY BAD QUACK MIGHT JINX ZIPPY FOWLS

Sound 

Here’s a sound sample of inserting an index card, writing a sentence, and a return on the 1957 Remington Quiet-Riter.

Photo Gallery

A powder coated gray typewriter with green keys sits in its open case on a wooden table. View into the very clean type-basket of the Remington Quiet-Riter View of the top right corner of the Remington Quiet-Riter carriage return with typeface markings that go up to 110 where the margin selector has been set. Oblique angle of the right side of the typewriter. View from the keyboard up into the underside of the open hood of the typewriter featuring several pieces of black felt which help to dampen the noise it makes. Close up view of the steel ribbon spool. A view of the bottom of the typewriter indicating how generally clean the machine is. Close up of the bottom right corner of the machine which has a few small patches of peeling paint, one of the few flaws on the machine. A view of the rear end of the typewriter featuring a painted Remington Rand logo. The open hood of the typewriter featuring the right ribbon spool in front of which is the color selector for either the top color, the bottom color or the stencil setting (middle).

Exquisite brown textured hard case with brown rubber edge trim and large tan stitching sitting on a wooden table next to a green plant

Acquisition: 196X Smith-Corona (SCM) Galaxie Deluxe 10 – 6T2V Series Manual Typewriter

I purchased this SCM typewriter through an online auction on 2024-03-02 and received it this morning on 2024-03-07 at 10:00 AM. The seller stated this was a 1969, but the Typewriter Database doesn’t seem to have serial number dating for this range of typewriters which were manufactured between 1966 and 1972. I doubt the seller was in possession of any details to support their 1969 claim.

The machine didn’t come with its original manual, but Richard Polt’s site has a reasonably close one for the Smith-Corona Galaxie line. You have to love the atomic logo on the front and the description “World’s Finest Non-Electric Portable”, which means that at the time, electric machines must have begun taking over the market.

Serial number: 6T2V-146176

Overall condition

The machine is in fairly reasonable shape with some scratches and imperfections. I’ll clean it up and post some additional photos shortly. I’ve already created a stub for it on the Typewriter Database. One of the noticeable bits of “wear” is that what were surely white plastic trim and keys have yellowed with light exposure over the ages. 

There is some body wear and scratching commensurate with age, particularly where the return bar might hit the hood. It sadly didn’t come with a case.

The good news is that it not only works, but works pretty well for the model and age and the $18.00 I paid for it. Just playing with it a bit this afternoon has already given me more joy than the cost of admission. I can’t wait until I’ve given it a complete overhaul.

Keys

Close up of the typewriter's keyboard .

Space bar key is friction fit onto the keyboard and came off pretty easily when I flipped it over for some quick repairs. Fortunately it goes back on quickly.

I think this is the first time I’ve had a typewriter with a dedicated “1” / “!” key rather than relying on the “l” or the usual apostrophe-back space-period combination for those to glyphs.

It came with broken linkages on keys “1”, “T”, and “.”, but these were easily fixed although the “.” was blocked a bit by internal mechanisms. The “T” type-bar was slightly bent, but when back into alignment with a small tweak. All the keys work well though the “.” is a bit sticky, something that should clear itself up once fully cleaned. I suspect that these broken linkages were the reason the last owner gave up the typewriter. Overall, the typewriter has a pretty sharp action and a satisfying snap when typing. I’m including a sound file below.

View of the bottom of the typewriter with its bottom covered removed. several pair of handheld clamps are holding pieces in place and short lengths of dental floss are tied to portions of three different type arms.
A simple “surgery” to fix some broken keys and we’re off to the races.

For the fast typist that occasionally gets stuck with jammed keys, this model has a key unjammer (on the right side indicated with a key that has a down arrow over two opposing right and left slant marks). When pressed, it presumably pushes back on the U-bar which forces the typebars back. I’ll have to take a closer look at the mechanism when I open it up for a deep clean. This allows the typist the ability to keep their hands on the keys during a jam instead of needing to put their hand into the basket and manually fixing it. The key is roughly where the backspace/delete key on a computer keyboard would be, so it’s reasonably usable for the modern typist.

The machine comes with a clever tab, tab set, and tab clear arrangement just above the top row of keys. With the rear carriage open, one can see a row of metal “teeth” which are either switched “on” or “off” to allow the tab mechanism to operate.

The typewriter also has a fantastic “power-space” button to the right of the space bar that allows the carriage to quickly ratchet itself along. I’ve never had a machine that did this and can imagine using it regularly. I can’t wait to get into the internals to see how the mechanics of this work.

Other Features

The rubber feet are in reasonable shape and are still soft/functional. 

View of the bottom of the typewriter which has a sheet of metal that could be removed by unscrewing four screws.

The machine seems to be missing a plastic cover on the left side of the carriage, but this doesn’t affect functionality. The clear plastic line indicator which also holds the paper against the platen where the slugs hit the paper has sadly been broken off. There are still extant posts, so perhaps I can manufacture a replacement. One can align the top of the line retainer with lines on one’s paper and then advance to get proper type alignment in any case. This can be done by pushing in the black button in the center of the left platen knob to allow for variable line spacing

The original manufacturer sticker has faded into nothing-ness

The unit came with its original metal ribbon spool, but otherwise didn’t have ribbon, so I’ve replaced it with a blue/green ribbon combination. Ribbon installation was very simple and straightforward. Of note here is that instead of lifting up and back as on many other typewriter models, the hood on this model has two internal arms which allow it to slide forward for easy access to the ribbon and type-basket.

The typewriter with it's hood slid forward to see the type-bars and ribbon inside.

The bell works! 

The center of the type-basket is marked with the phrase “Jeweled Escapement” underneath a crown which includes a small red jewel.

Close up of the type-basket and a crown with a ruby colored jewel.

The machine comes with a page gage on the left side of the platen assembly with markings for several lengths of paper. This cleverly allows one to set the page length of paper one is using, insert the paper, and then as one gets to the bottom of a sheet, lines appear for 2 inches left, 1 inch left, and finally a red line to indicate that one is at the end of the page and will need to quit typing to change sheets. With careful management, this allows the typist to have a consistent page margin at the bottom of their sheets.

Close up of the numbered markings on the edge of the platen which indicate both 1 inches and 11 inches.

The Galaxie Deluxe has line spacing controls for single, double, and even triple spacing.

At the base of the carriage near the right platen knob, there is a metal locking tab that when actuated will center the carriage and place it into a pseudo-locked position for storage or transportation in a case. It prevents the machine from typing or the carriage from moving to the left. Presumably it also disengages the escapement to prevent wear on the teeth during shipping, but I’ll have to check this when I’ve got it opened for cleaning.

Typeface Specimen

This typewriter uses a pica scale and the paper scale has markings up to 83 but will space to 84.

An index card with the typewriter name, serial number, and a sample of all the keys typed out followed by the sentence "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog"

Sound

Here’s a sound sample of inserting an index card, writing a sentence, and a return on the Galaxie Deluxe.

Photo Gallery

Hiding inside

One of my favorite parts of used goods is the hidden things one finds inside of them. Here I really only expected the typical pencil eraser bits, but I also found a tiny photo of a boy from what appears to be the early 1970s.

A metal ribbon spool, two small pieces of broken plastic and a tiny tumbnail sized photo of a boy from the 1970s.

 

Type On!

Steelcase 8 Drawer Steel Card Index Filing Cabinet for 4 x 6 inch cards

Maybe I didn’t have enough filing space for index cards yet? Maybe it was because the price was too alluring to resist? Maybe it was because of the stunning black and grey powder coat? Maybe it was because I didn’t have any serious Steelcase in my atomic era furniture collection yet? Maybe it was the stunning art deco styling touches on the aluminum drawer handles and label frames? Regardless of the reason, the undeniable fact of the matter is that, as of yesterday, I’ve got another card index filing cabinet or zettelkasten. 

The empty frame of the black Steelcase filing cabinet sitting in a corner next to a wooden barrister's bookcase. Eight empty drawers lined up on the floor in a 4x2 matrix makes it easy to see the storage capacity of the Steelcase card index. Close up of one of the 16 aluminum index frames on the exterior of the cabinet featuring several sets of milled lines in each frame giving it an art-deco vibe. Fully assembled Steelcase card index filing cabinet next to a bookcase

This one is is a 20 gauge solid steel behemoth Steelcase in black and silver powder coat and it is in stunning condition with all the hardware. It stands 52 1/4 inches tall, is 14 7/8 inches wide, and 28 1/2 inches deep (without hardware). Each drawer had two rows of card storage space totaling 55 inches. With 8 drawers, this should easily hold 61,000 index cards. 

Close up on a single drawer full of 7,000 cellophane wrapped index cards in blocks of 500.

Sadly, someone has removed all the card following blocks. I’ll keep an eye out for replacements, but I’m unlikely to find some originals, though I could probably also custom design my own. In the meanwhile I find that a nice heavy old fashioned glass or a cellophaned block of 500 index cards serve the same functionality. The drawer dimensions are custom made for 4 x 6 inch index cards, but A6 cards and Exacompta’s 100 x 150mm cards fit comfortably as well. 

Based on the styling, I’m guessing it dates from the 1940s to early 1960s, but there are no markings or indications, and it will take some research to see if I can pin down a more accurate date.

Close up feature of the aluminum handle, index frame, and lock mechanism on the front of the Steelcase drawers. Each features matching milled lines which give an art deco feel to the cabinet.

A few of the indexing label frames on the unit are upside down and one or two are loose, but that’s easily fixed by removing a screw and cover plate in the front of the drawer and making a quick adjustment. I’ve also got a few extra metal clips to fix the loose frames.

Two metal rectangle clips with a small hole punched out of their centers. These would grab onto the posts of the index frames to hold them onto the filing cabinet

Much like my Singer card index, this one has internal sliding metal chassis into which the individual drawers sit. This allows them to be easily slid out of the cabinet individually for use on my desk or away from the cabinet. The drawers come with built-in handles at the back of the drawer for making carrying them around as trays more comfortable. The drawers are 10.6 pounds each, each chassis is 4.6 pounds, and the cabinet itself is probably 120 pounds giving the entire assembly a curb weight of about 240 pounds. Given that 7,000 index cards weight 29.3 pounds, fully loaded the cabinet and cards would weigh almost 500 pounds.

Angle on a Steelcase card index drawer and chassis. The back of the drawer features a hole just large enough to put one's hand through to make carrying the drawer as a tray easier. Card index drawer on the floor in front of a Steelcase filing cabinet with a steel drawer chassis pulled out. The Steelcase card index with a few drawers inserted, but one removed and featuring the silver metal chassis which is pulled out to accept its drawer.

Placed just behind my desk, I notice that the drawer width is just wide enough, that I can pull out the fourth drawer from the bottom and set my Smith-Corona Clipper on top of it. This makes for a lovely makeshift typing desk. The filing cabinet’s black powder coat is a pretty close match to that of the typewriter.

A drawer is pulled out of the filing cabinet and a black typewriter sits on top of it as an impromptu typing desk.

I’ve already moved the majority of my cards into it and plan to use it as my daily driver. This may mean that the Singer becomes overflow storage once I’m done refurbishing it. The Shaw-Walker box, which was just becoming too full and taking up a lot of desk real estate, will find a life in the kitchen or by the bar as my recipe box.

I’ve also noticed that some of my smaller 3 x 5″ wooden card indexes sit quite comfortably into the empty drawers as a means of clearing off some desk space if I wish. Of course, the benefit of clearing off some desk space for that means that I can now remove individual drawers for working with large sections at a time.

A steel case drawer of two rows of 4 x 6 inch index cards (approximately 5,000) filed behind a forest of tabbed card dividers. The drawer is out of the filing cabinet and sitting on the edge of a desk. The two label frames on the front of the drawer are labeled Memindex and Beatrice Webb respectively.

This may be my last box acquisition for a while. Someone said if I were to add any more, I’ll have moved beyond hobbyist collector and into the realm of museum curator.

View of a steel desk with a typewriter on top of it. Behind the desk is a swivel chair, a Steelcase card index, and a barrister bookcase full of books.

The best part of the size and shape of the drawers is that until its full of index cards, I can use some of the additional space for a variety of additional stationery storage including fountain pens, ink, stamps, stamp pads, pen rolls, pencils, colored pencils, tape, washi, typewriter ribbon, stencils etc. One of the drawers also already has a collection of 3.5 x 5.5 inch pocket notebooks (most are Field Notes) which are also easily archivable within it.

An index card filing cabinet drawer with index cards on one side and a few dozen pocket notebooks on the other.

Steelcase file index card drawer dedicated to stationery supplies including pen rolls, colored pens, fountain pen ink, typewriter ribbons in a rainbow of colors, several stamp pads, some stencils and a pencil case in the shape of the brown and yellow colored squirrel-esque Pokémon named Evie.

 

Library charging trays for vertically oriented 3 x 5″ index cards

Amidst my seemingly ever-growing collection of index card boxes and trays, I’ve been contemplating getting something that would store cards in a vertical orientation rather than the traditional horizontal. As I’ve been watching the market over the past couple of years, nothing had really come up that suited the bill until this past summer. 

That’s when I saw a small handful of what are known as library charging trays pop up. 

What is a library charging tray?

These library charging trays were traditionally used in libraries in the mid to late-twentieth century at the circulation desk. A librarian would remove the book card from the pocket adhered to one of the inside covers of the book. This card would identify the book’s author and title and generally have a list of borrower’s names along with either the due date or the return date, or sometimes both. Once filled out, the card would be placed vertically in the charging tray behind a tab indicating its due date. The librarian would then place a due date card into the empty pocket with a stamped due date on it. Alternately some of these pockets may have been printed with grids into which a due date would be stamped. 

The last page and inside cover of a the library book Webster's Early European History featuring a book card with the author's name and book title along with a list of due dates and borrower's names sitting on top of the book pocket glued to the inside cover. On the last page of the book is a 3x5" slip glued onto the page with a grid of four columns for stamping due dates. There are about six dates stamped in from the early 1980s.

The library would then have in their charging tray an ordered list of checked out books which they could later use to follow up on if they became overdue.

Upon return of the book from the patron, the librarian would then be able to match up the title and stamped due date in the pocket with that from the card in the charging tray and refile the book card into the pocket of the appropriate book before returning it to the shelves for the next patron.

Yellow due date card for the Crowell Public Library which has it's address at the top underneath which appears three rows of black stamped due dates spanning from July 11 2016 to March 24 2018.

Models and Materials

Most charging trays I’ve seen range from 1 row of cards and have gone up to 5 rows. Most common are 2 and 3 row models. 

I’ve yet to see older trays made out of oak. Most seem to be from the 1960s onward and are often constructed of maple. Gaylord Brothers and Remington-Rand seem to have been the primary manufacturers of these, but it’s possible that other companies may have made them as well. 

My charging trays

When I acquired my Shaw-Walker desktop two drawer card index, I mentioned that I had purchased a few charging trays. Let’s take a look at the two of them briefly.

One tray has two rows for cards while the other has three. The double tray is definitely manufactured by Gaylord Bros, Inc. and still has the original manufacturer’s sticker on the bottom. The other is unmarked and is most likely a Gaylord too as Remington-Rand typically put a small metal badge on most of their products. This one not only doesn’t have that traditional badging, but also doesn’t have any telltale nail holes where it may have originally been. The double tray has 12 1/2″ of internal space for cards in each row and the triple has 10 3/4″ in each row which would give them enough space to hold approximately 3,500 and 4,500 index cards respectively.

The double tray seems almost new despite some minor wear. (We all know how rough those librarians can be.) The triple tray shows more signs of wear including some old labeling with handwriting that provides a fun level of patina.

Three column library charging tray sitting on top of a library card catalog.

Side view of a three row charging tray with index cards sitting in it.

View into a charging tray to show the metal follower blocks which hold cards upright.

Close up of the dovetail wooden join on the corner of a library charging tray

New uses for library charging trays

Naturally one could immediately consider using these trays to hold index cards for their note taking and filing practices. This is particularly useful for those who might appreciate a physical zettelkasten form factor for using vertically oriented 3 x 5″ index cards. (I’ve never seen a charging tray made for 4 x 6″ index cards and would suspect they never existed.)

Beyond this, those who are into the idea of maintaining a hipster PDA or who have 3 x 5″ index cards for general productivity purposes would certainly appreciate these boxes for their filing and archiving needs. If you’re unfamiliar with these sorts of practices see my article about The Memindex Method. A charging tray would certainly make an excellent home for a modern day Memindex practice. Pair it with an index card wallet and you’re off to the races as if you were living back in 1903.

What other functions could these trays be upcycled for? I’m curious to hear others’ ideas here.

Finding  Charging Trays

Used/Vintage Charging Trays

With the digitization of most library circulation processes the noble charging tray has generally gone out of fashion. At the height of their use, most libraries didn’t really need many of them, so they were never as ubiquitous in the broader market the way other card index boxes and cabinets were. As a result it’s rarer to see them on the secondary/used market in comparison to their brethren. When you do find them, it’s more likely that you’ll see them incorrectly listed as card index drawers. I suspect it would be incredibly rare that a second hand seller would know what they actually were, but even if they did, the key words in their name mean dramatically different things now which swamp the search engine optimization algorithms with things which patently are not these boxes.

This means long search times and patience to attempt to track them down. I’ve seen several listed as “rare” which they are to some degree, but not as rare as most sellers think they are in terms of pricing. They primarily seem rare because no one knows what to call them and as a result pricing can be all over the map. I’ve seen some two and three drawer versions listed for $300 and up. For a more reasonable reference I got both of mine for a total of $60 and a very modest shipping charge. I’ve seen one or two others sell for $20 to $30 each. A couple of trays I saw in Spring 2023 which listed for several hundred are still gathering dust on vintage store shelves.

Ferris Bueller standing in the bathroom of Chez Quis meme image with the superimposed words: "The Gaylord Bros. Library Charging Tray. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

New Charging Trays

If you don’t have the patience to get something vintage, you might try purchasing new charging trays from Brodart. According to my research, they’re the only player left making and selling them outside of one online retailer in India offering a 5 tray model for for 2″x3″ and 3″x5″ cards for about US$50.

Sadly, Brodart has had some ongoing issues with their online web store this fall, so one would need to download a copy of their catalog and order via email, phone, or fax. In my physical copy of their most recent catalog they appear in the Processing and Circulation section on page 137. They offer both single and double trays in either a light or a darker finish. Prices for them range from US$76.76 to 149.06. The smaller trays will fit 600 cards with the larger trays fitting 1,000 cards each. Given their size, they might make for rather elegant desktop boxes. On that same catalog page Brodart also conveniently offers green pressboard card guides (dividers) which are either plain or labeled with the months of the year in a vertical 5″ tall by 3″ wide configuration. Separately they have some manila dividers with 1/3 cut alphabet tabs (A-Z) for helping you to sort and separate your cards.

For those who might prefer to use these in a zettelkasten practice, Brodart also makes borrower’s cards and book cards in a range of light to medium-weight card stock (similar to index cards) which are pre-printed with a range of metadata fields common to these types of cards (author, title, date loaned, borrower’s name, date returned, date due, room number, etc. Most of these cards are listed on catalog pages 128 and 129. Some of these would be particularly useful for making bibliography cards which would use some of these preprinted data fields. The date and patron portions could then be used to note page numbers and either quotes from the text/one’s own ideas respectively. All these cards are conveniently lined for writing your notes. Naturally one could just as easily use their own 3 x 5″ index cards of choice in a vertical orientation.

Brodart book card featuring two lines at the top for the title of the book and the author followed by a two column lined grid with spaces for Date Due and Borrower's Name
Brodart Book Card Catalog Number 23-242 906
Acquired Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word by Walter J. Ong (Methuen & Co.)
Analyzes the differences in consciousness between oral and literate societies and points out the intellectual, literary, and social effects of writing
It’s been on my list for a while now, and I have newer digital editions, but today I acquired a first edition hardcover of Walter J. Ong’s text Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982). Something about it cries out to be read in its original print incarnation.

It is in excellent shape, though missing a dust jacket and has the attendant portions of an ex-library copy (Widener University). The ex-library features bring me great joy though because its got some reasonable evidence of prior readers in the form of marginalia in at least six different hands as well as two different languages (English and Chinese). I can’t wait to add my own to the growing list.

Midcentury Gaylord Bros., Inc. Oak Modular Library Card Catalog Acquisition

In a quest to expand on my analog office practices, last Saturday, I drove out to Rancho Cucamonga to purchase a spectacular midcentury Gaylord Bros., Inc. modular library card catalog. I spent parts of the week making some minor tweaks (gluing some broken wood rails) and cleaning it up in the garage. Last night, as a present and to celebrate the start of Autumn, I brought it into the house to reassemble it. It now lives in the dining room adjacent to the the office and near both the bar as well as the library that others in the household prefer to call our formal living room. I honestly didn’t pre-plan it this way, but given our floorplan, it is sitting in the “heart” of our home.

Multi-sectional 20 drawer wooden library card catalog in the corner of a room with white walls and a hardwood floor. Oblique view of Gaylord Bros. library card catalog in the corner of a room with colorful paintings hanging on the opposing walls.

Three of the four sections are all similarly made out of oak and appear to be co-contemporaneous in terms of style and materials (solid wood and metal). The final section, a five drawer insert is obviously of later manufacture and while stained brown with what appears to potentially be a mahogany frontispiece, has  plastic trays with metal fittings and what appear to be galvanized steel card stops. The other sections comprise a low level table-like support with four legs; a 5×3 drawer section; and a 2 inch thick top which covers the holes in the top of the modular drawer sections and provides a flat surface. The top section also features the traditional Gaylord Bros., Inc. name plate.

Metal name plate nailed into oak. It features the company name Gaylord Bros., Inc. (in a large stylized script) below which reads "Syracuse, N. Y. - Stockton, Calif." and next to which appears a circular logo with entwined letters G and B around which is written "Established 1896".

Given the subtle intricacies of the construction, I’ll provide some photos of how the pieces dovetail together as well as the smaller mechanics and features in a future post.

Fully assembled the piece is 33″ wide x 17 3/8″ deep and stands 36 1/2″ tall. With internal drawer space of 13 3/4″ for the 15 drawers and 14 1/2″ for the other 5, there should be space for approximately 38,715 index cards.

I’m thrilled that all the fittings seem to be original, and all the drawers have their original card catalog rods. The drawers on the 5×3 drawer section have a spring loaded mechanism under the front of the drawer which when pushed to the left side unlocks the card catalog rods which have beefy brass knobs. The 5×1 drawer section rods are unlocked by pulling up on them slightly from the bottom and then pulling them straight out.

View of the bottom of a card catalog drawer with a finger actuating a spring loaded metal lever to unlock the card catalog's metal rod. Close up view of the metal bracket for holding a card catalog rod. The rod is missing so that one can look into the hole to see the internal locking mechanism.

I’ll have to do some more in-depth research of old Gaylord Bros. catalogs, but based on materials, manufacture, and style, I’m going to guess that the older portion of the card catalog dates from the mid-30s to the 1940s, while the newer section is likely late 60s. The overall size and standardized, modular structure allows the pieces to sit together in quite a clever way and were made over a long enough period of time that different pieces from disparate decades still work well together. While the wood grain, stain, and even fittings are all slightly different, the to different styles work fairly well together.

For those who appreciated my recent article Market analysis of library card catalogs in 2023, I’m thrilled to report that I purchased this stunning beauty—one of the prettiest, oldest, and best conditioned catalogs I’ve seen listed—for a very reasonable $250. I suspect the seller, who is a vintage collector, seasoned eBay seller, and is well aware of the market, may have gone even lower, but I was happy to overpay a little. Given the online market, something like this would usually list for between $1,200 and $1,600, but would likely sit unsold and unloved for years.

Library card cabinet drawer with a metal drawer pull labeled with a tiny red heart

I love the style and the condition, and it does make for a fantastic little piece of fine furniture with a lovely patina. Unexpectedly, someone else in the house may be even more enamored of it than I, which bodes well for its actual long term care and use. Currently it will serve as an archive storage for some of my 3 x 5″ index card note collection in addition to storage of a partial library card cataloging for some of our physical books. I also have cards from an older rolodex and a small recipe collection that will take up residence. Other empty drawers will house a small wine selection along with several bottles of scotch until they’re pushed out by the growing collection of cards. 

Oblique angle of a bottle of Glenmorangie scotch and two crystal old fashioned glasses in open adjoining drawers of a library card catalog
Surely this is what Hemingway would have done?!

Angle on a row of five library card catalog drawers open with bottles of wine displayed in each.

Other than general maintenance I don’t think I’ll be doing any other restoration work on it beyond the small fixes I’ve already made.

On the top of the catalog, in addition to space for writing notes, I’ll keep one of my two desktop card indexes and a 1948 Smith-Corona Clipper

Close up of Gaylord Bros. library card catalog with a smaller desktop card index and black Smith-Corona Clipper typewriter on top

What would you do with a library card catalog?

Acquired BOOX Tab Ultra C (The Official BOOX Store)
Latest Kaleido3 screen, HD and clear ePaper, Android 11, an exclusive GPU, and a Qualcomm processor. Tab Ultra C is an ePaper tablet PC designed to strike a balance between focus and enjoyment.
Ordered this a few weeks back and it finally arrived today. Can’t wait to delve into how this may help improve my reading and note taking process.
Acquired a copy of the Library of America’s Octavia Butler volume containing Kindred, Fledgling, and her Collected stories.

While I hope to read chunks of it over the summer in Butler’s childhood neighborhood of Pasadena, I got it to read Bloodchild for the Octavia Butler Sci Fi Book Club on 6/24/2023 at 3:00 PM at Octavia’s Bookshelf which is co-hosting with the La Pintoresca Branch Library and the Huntington Library.

Vintage desktop Remington Rand 10 5/8 inch card index for 3 x 5″ cards

I’ve bought (yet another) card index on April 22nd. This must mean that I’m officially a collector, but if I keep this up I may have to start a museum soon.

Close up of a bronze metallic art deco designed plaque on the front of a small card index that reads "Remington Rand / Library Bureau Div." sandwiched in between the words "Made" and "in U.S.A." Two small nails hold the plaque on to the box. In front of the box is a white index card that read in red typewriter print "The power of information" with a quote typed in black below it.

This model is a Remington Rand Library Bureau Division 10 5/8″ x 5 5/8″ x 2″ dovetailed wooden box with steel follower and toothed sliding track. The sides of the box are 1/4″ thick and was designed for 3 x 5 inch index cards. The box has a softer brown color and wider grain typical of the mid-century Remington Rand Library Bureau Division products. Because it is short enough, it can fit inside my larger card catalog filing cabinet if necessary. 

Angle down on a small, light brown wooden card index. The box has several manilla 1/5 cut 3x5" card dividers inside along with some white index cards. Outside of the box on the table in front of it are a typewritten index card and a black metal Rotring 800 0.5mm mechanical pencil. Off to one side is a white ceramic bowl full of lemons.

Given that Remington Rand used the Library Bureau Division brand name from its acquisition in 1927 into the 1950s and the materials and design used, I’m guessing that this model is likely from the late 40s to early 50s. This was likely used as a desktop card index or possibly as a charging tray in a library. Sadly it didn’t come with any information about provenance. With the follower all the way back it’s got 8 1/2 inches for cards which means space for about 1,200 standard index cards.

There are no nail holes on the bottom indicating that it had feet, but it does have the faint appearance that it may have either had felt feet or a felt sheet glued to the bottom to prevent it scratching one’s desktop. As I expect to use it on a glass top, I probably won’t modify it. Beyond this and a few small scuffs showing very moderate use, it’s in exceptionally fine shape.

Bottom of a 10 5/8" card index featuring two wooden slats on the sides and a metal strip down the middle for the card follower inside the box. A faint black item number "6015" is printed on the bottom.

I’d picked up an 11 inch Shaw-Walker card index recently, but I couldn’t help making a knee-jerk purchase of another vintage desktop card index. I got it used on eBay for the pittance of $16, which compared to some of the modern cardboard,  plastic and metal options is honestly a steal, especially since it’s got a much nicer look and permanent feel compared to some of the more “modern” zettelkasten containers. Who wants a $20 cardboard box from Amazon when you can have a solid piece of history made of hard wood and steel on your desk?

Since my father worked in manufacturing for both Ingersoll Rand (no relation) and Remington at different points in his life, its quite a nice reminder of him sitting on my desk on a daily basis. Because it bears the name Library Bureau, it also harkens back to the early days of mass manufactured library card catalog equipment beginning with Melvil Dewey in 1876.

Of course, I ought to quit picking up these 3 x 5 inch card boxes and get some more 4 x 6 inch boxes since I primarily use those on a daily basis. 

Any ideas what I ought to use this box for? Perhaps it ought to be an address card index/rolodex? I’ve already made the decision to do my “memindex” in 4 x 6″ cards and the Shaw-Walker is accumulating cards with jokes and humorous observations (jokerzettel anyone?).

View from the front of an empty Remington Rand card index box toward the back featuring a steel card follower sitting in a steel slider tray with teeth on the right side for adjusting the follower in the box.

View of the back of a tan painted steel card follower in a Remington Rand card index. It has a silver steel button on the top which has a spring loaded pin lever to allow the follower to be positioned in the box at one of approximately 42 evenly spaced teeth in its metal tray.

Of course I now have a small voice inside saying that I need a Remington typewriter on my desk to match it.

1948 Smith-Corona “Clipper”

Childhood Typewriters

I’ve had a hollow space in my chest where a typewriter wanted to be. I’d had a few inexpensive plastic ones in my childhood before having a really spectacular Smith-Corona, but I thought that through many moves it had been long lost. Until, that is, I visited my parents on spring break this past week. While going through some old papers and boxes, I ran across a dusty, but stunning old jewel from my youth. 

Hiding in a corner of memorabilia was a hard black box which I immediately recognized as my old portable typewriter! I recall my parents having purchased it at a yard sale and bringing it home for us kids to use in 1984. It took a while back then to clean it up, but I used it for a variety of school projects and papers for several years until its use for school papers was later taken over by an electronic Panasonic word processor. Despite the newer technology I still preferred that old typewriter for composing and noodling around.

Ooh, my little pretty one, my pretty one

So, what is this fantastic jewel? It’s a 1948 Smith-Corona “Clipper” 4C (serial number 4C-242370). It’s still in spectacular shape. I had to re-connect the letter “A”s linkage joint, but all the keys still work well, and it’s going to need a new ribbon. The interior is a bit dusty and needs some cleaning, but a short afternoon of tinkering should make quick work of any issues. 

Oblique angle down on the top of a black Smith-Corona Clipper sitting on a brown wooden tabletop.

What’s fascinating is that all of the parts and functionalities of the machine came back to me instantaneously when I touched it. I knew all the small subtleties of sliding in a sheet of paper and aligning it to perfection. All the small niceties like the single/double space switch, the margin adjustments, the lovely bell, the ribbon direction adjustment switch, and even the centering mechanism were right there at my fingertips.

Rear view angle of the carriage return on the Smith-Corona Clipper with a view into the internals featuring the bell. The apparatus could be cleaner and features some use and dust build up on the oiled metal.

Sadly the original key wasn’t with the typewriter’s lock, but it was easily pickable. I’m reasonably sure the key will turn up as I dig through my other childhood memorabilia in the near future. At the worst, I can probably print a new key using a recipe I’ve already found online. I even unearthed a roughly contemporaneous typewriter manual for the Smith-Corona Clipper model

And the best part is that a young 12 year old was drawn to it and immediately wanted to use it and take it home with us, so the typewriter obsession may go on for at least another generation.

I can’t wait to begin using my new (old) tool for thought in my zettelkasten practice. I’m curious to see what the slow down effect of a manual typewriter has on my writing and thinking work. Perhaps the composition of my cards at the end of the day will have the added satisfaction of punching the keys of a fantastic typewriter.

Typed 3 x 5 inch index card. The top title in red ink reads "The Power of Information" with the following quotation: 
No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them. --- Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

If nothing else, the Clipper does look quite nice next to my Shaw-Walker card index which is from the same era.

Desk level view of the front of a Shaw-Walker wooden card index tray next to a black typewriter.

Ultra-luxury of the “Clipper”

Just where does the Smith-Corona “Clipper” sit in the pantheon of typewriters? A variety of writers in the 21st century still talk about their love and nostalgia of specific typewriters mentioning the design esthetic of the Olivetti, a remembrance of an old Underwood, or their fondness of a Remington, but I think Tom Hanks sums things up pretty well:

This is what I would suggest: if you wanted the perfect typewriter that will last forever that would be a great conversation piece, I’d say get the Smith-Corona Clipper. That will be as satisfying a typing experience as you will ever have.
—Tom Hanks, actor, producer, typewriter enthusiast and collector, author of Uncommon Type on CBS Sunday Morning: “Tom Hanks, Typewriter Enthusiast” [00:07:30]

Close up of the Clipper logo on a Smith-Corona typewriter. It features a red outline of the small single wing, four engine airplane with the word "Clipper" underneath it  underlined with red waves so as to make the plane appear to be flying over water.

Of course Hanks comes by this analysis naturally as the Clipper typewriter’s namesake is the Boeing 314 Clipper, which appears prominently on the front left panel of the typewriter’s cover. The context and history of some of this airplane have been lost to current generations. Twelve of these air yachts were built by Boeing and operated for a decade between 1938 and 1948. Nine of the airplanes were operated by Pan-Am as transoceanic “one class” ultra-luxury air travel featuring lounges, dining areas with silver service for six-course meals from four-star chefs served by white coated stewards, seats that converted to sleeping bunks for overnight accommodations, and separate male and female dressing rooms for the comfort of elite businesspeople and wealthy travelers in the mid-twentieth century. As an indicator of the exclusivity and expense at the time, a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong on the Clipper was listed for $760, which is equivalent to about $15,000 adjusted for inflation in 2021 (Klaás, 1989, p. 20).

Pan Am’s Clipper service of the 1940s represents the romance of flight in that era in the same way Smith-Corona Clipper represents the romance of typing in the ensuing decades. Most Americans’ nostalgia for the luxury and exotic freedom of airline flight in the 1960s and 1970s was built on this early experience operating the Clipper nearly 20 years before.

Reverse view into the opened Smith-Corona Clipper featuring a close up view of all of the type face and levers. Just visible at the top are a side view of the keys on the front of the typewriter.

Typeface sample

Library card catalog card with the typewriter's year, make, model, serial number and samples of all the slugs and the pangram sentences "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." and "A VERY BAD QUACK MIGHT JINX ZIPPY FOWLS."

 

References

“Tom Hanks, Typewriter Enthusiast.” CBS News Sunday Morning. CBS, October 15, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTtDb73NkNM.

Klaás, M. D. (December 1989). “Clipper Across the Pacific, Part One”. Air Classics. 25 (12).