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Antique TypewritersAuthor: Ed Montgomery
( Article orginally published April 1952 )
An interest in business machines of modern make should not deter anyone in this phase of work from collecting examples which mark the beginning of the trend in any category of device. So rapid has been the pace in business machine design and development that many people in their fifties can remember offices fitted out with a two-tub wetting box with wringer and a large iron screw, called a copying press. When a business wanted a "copy" of bills or correspondence, the originals were written or typed in indelible ink. These originals were then laid between sheets of tissue in a copying book, a piece of damp cloth laid over the tissue, the pages protected with pieces of press board, and into the press it would go. A tight squeeze for a few minutes and then out it came with the bill or letter "copied"; the tissue page was filed and the original, still a bit damp and flimsy, was forwarded to its destination.
Today we are all familiar with the keyboard typewriter. But what wemay be amazed to discover is that during the 1880's and early 1890's there were many typewriters made and sold which did not have keyboards, and some of which printed direct from metal type, dispensing with ribbons. Most of these were portable machines, and were guaranteed to do work comparable to the $100 Yost, Dinsmore and Remingtons - all keyboard machines.
The typewriters I have in mind (I have three of them and want the fourth one) are (1) the Merritt, with a series of cams and with press keys of the telegraphic style to change to capitals and for spacing. This machine has a platen to hold paper, prints from inked type, and in 1888 sold for about $15 to $20. (2) The Odell, which printed from a bar of type that moved at right angles to the platen and gained stability by being mounted on a cast iron base. Both of these were 78 character machines, and printed direct from metal type. (3) The "American." Here is a gadget as is a gadget! There is a pointer, moved manually, and a lever which, depressed, caused the type indicated to print on the paper. This typewriter sold for $10 or less in the 1880's. All these machines were "slow" writers. The Odell was a $20 to $25 luxury. (4) The Edison "Mimeograph" was a $35 machine in its day, minus keyboard and using a typefinder and a mallet to bang the type impression on paper through a ribbon, with sufficient force to make carbon or manifold copies! This, too, was a portable machine.
Luckily all of these machines can be pictured from original catalog illustrations. Each is an example of early American business machines, yet each one is under ?5 years old. You can write as much in one hour on your present-day portable as the operator of one of these early machines could type in a ten-hour day. But, without the inventive thought and experimentation that created the early machines, there would be no masterpiece machines of today. That's why smart collectors are buying old typewriters and salting them away. The market isn't strong as yet but I predict that a lot of smart collectors will do some profitable trading in old typewriters in the 1960's.