Saturday, December 9, 2017

Designing a typewriter shop receipt for the 21st century

In the 19th and early 20th century, typewriter manufacturers and dealers, like other businesses, printed marvelously intricate images on their stationery and bills. (See Peter Weil's story in ETCetera No. 95.) Here's a nice example.

But I'm personally more fond of mid-20th-century designs, especially Art Deco graphics such as these:

The other day I found a series of receipts from Spain online that particularly impressed me with the density of their imagery. You could buy a couple of typewriter ribbons and get a receipt with a beautifully designed, multicolor letterhead, an elaborate typewritten account of your purchase, a signature, a rubber stamp, and a tax stamp. The receipt was itself a treasure!

REMER, or Reconstrucción Española Máquinas Escribir y Representación (Spanish Reconstruction of Typewriters and Copiers), produced its own typewriter 3 years after this receipt was typed. (Story in ETCetera no. 87.)

The signature on Señor Trumpy's stationery reminds me of Donald Trump's:

I particularly love this image of the tiny repairmen clambering over the typewriter (or is it normal men and a giant typewriter?). A bit of research uncovered this image, uploaded by Georg Sommeregger:

This ad for "over 200 bargain typewriters" dates from 1935, a year later than 1934, the date on the Spanish receipt shown just above. So I don't know when the graphic was originally produced, but the machine shown is indeed a Continental from Germany.

Spanish repairmen seem to have loved images like this, to judge from this sign I saw in 2015 in the window of a Madrid typewriter shop (which was, sadly, out of business).

These drawings, probably inspired by the Continental image, show Hispano-Olivetti M40 standards, the most plentiful model of large typewriter manufactured in Spain in the first half of the 20th century.

Even though I don't systematically collect typewriter-related paper, these receipts made me contemplate starting a new collecting line.

But then I had a better idea: I was inspired to try designing a receipt for my own typewriter services (benefitting WordPlay Cincy) which would share some of the charm of these old documents. I had a fine time last night and this morning dreaming it up, along with a business card.

I'm having these printed up by Vistaprint. Now I look forward to providing some collectible paper of my own to the customers of Urban Legend Typewriters.

The oh-so-appropriate image (the skyline even reminds me of Cincinnati and the Ohio River) comes from this August 1930 cover of Fortune magazine (which really was meant for the fortunate few—who else could afford to spend $1.00 on a magazine in 1930?).

View from Cincinnati's Carew Tower:

If you like the fonts I used, you can download Geomancy and Royal Vogue for free. Geomancy has lots of interesting details, and it's really two capital-letter fonts in one, with shifted and unshifted versions.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A magnificent Remington 3

On this beautiful evening in Cincinnati, I stopped to pick up the latest machines to be serviced at Urban Legend Typewriters.

Here's a nice two-tone green Remington no. 3 portable:

But what's this?

No color selector lever and no black and red dots on the indicator?

The notches on the end of the platen seem very big ... and the line spacing knob won't move at all.

Have you guessed yet? This is a "Magnatype" machine, with huge 6-pitch type (6 characters per inch).

Such a typewriter can't handle a 2-color ribbon; the top of each character would be black and the bottom would be red. It also has to advance the paper a lot for each line, so the normal line spacing has been disabled. This is an attractive typeface that could have been used for typing easily legible speeches, texts for young children who were learning to read, or signs and labels.

A final interesting detail is the bright gold of the pattern on the cloth that covers the base of the machine, which was revealed when some old rubber cracked away. This must have looked spectacular when the typewriter was new, in 1931.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Niente Affair, Part 4

It's the controversy that just won't die. I have the honor of receiving a letter from Prof. D. F. Niente himself, or so it would seem.

Those who are new to this kerfuffle may want to read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Macy's Portable No. 1 typewriter

The advantages of a sabbatical include the occasional 8-hour typewriter repair session. That's what I did on Thursday. I received a package containing a Macy's Portable No. 1, which I had grabbed on eBay when I saw it for a reasonable Buy It Now price.

This typewriter sold by Macy's department stores is a name variant of the Barr, which was made for only about a decade (ca. 1929-1939) in upstate New York by a small, independent manufacturer. The typewriter was designed in the early '20s by John H. Barr (1861-1937), a professor of mechanical engineering who had been awarded typewriter patents since at least 1906 and was responsible for the famous Remington portable. (See Robert Messenger's story and Will Davis' pages on the history of the Barr).

In a way, this typewriter has come home, since Macy's headquarters are not located in New York, as you might expect, but in Cincinnati.

I brought the typewriter down to my basement and removed the shell (easy).

Note the strange position of the mainspring, circled in green in the photo above. At first glance a Barr may look like a typical portable typewriter of its day, but in fact, just about everything on it is idiosyncratic. John Barr apparently had a number of pet ideas that he wanted to try out, and he was willing to start his own typewriter company to do so. For example, the typewriter uses basket shift and a mechanism that keeps keys horizontal at all times. These features are familiar to us from the Smith-Corona portables of the '30s and later, but they were groundbreaking for a portable when Barr introduced them.

Other miscellaneous peculiarities of Barrs: The carriage is locked by pushing the return lever shaft down into a hole. The rollers on the paper bail include a length of textured metal that lets you move them without touching the rubber. The margin stops and tab stops are on a scale in back of the machine that swings up so you can see it better (a feature also found on some early standard typewriters). The platen can easily be popped out, and so can the paper tray; the front feed rollers then swing backwards so you have access to some of the mechanism. Controls on the Barr are in unusual locations or operate strangely; for instance, the paper release lever has to be held open with a separate piece that grips it from behind.

How does all this function? Sad to say, not terribly well. The controls feel awkward, and although some of that is just due to unfamiliarity, some of it is intrinsic to the design. The touch of the Barr is pretty heavy and requires noticeably more effort than, say, a Smith-Corona. Consumer Reports offered its harsh judgment on the Barr in November 1937:

My Macy's certainly needed a lot of work. Let's see if I can remember:

— Carriage return lever swung around loosely and needed a new bolt and screw. (This problem had been described in the eBay auction.)
— Paper bail had loose screws, and the scale was upside down (facing the platen) — factory error?
— Bell was not ringing and line lock wouldn't disengage (turned out to have an easy solution, just flip up the bell ringer mechanism, which had been pushed down)
— Broken left margin stop (I was miraculously able to reform the surviving parts into a functional piece, but then had to elevate the piece that bumps into the stop when you return the carriage)
— Ribbon vibrator had slipped out of its lower retaining clips (apparently this can happen if you vigorously type red capital letters)
— Margin release mechanism had come unattached
— Rod that holds the shift lock wouldn't stay in place (I had to attach a new spring and form it into shape)
— Two feet were missing (a trip to the hardware store the next day got me some bolts that could attach some old Underwood feet)

And of course, lots of dirt had to be removed and the paint needed work. (Scrubbing Bubbles + Pledge did wonders for its appearance, and a black permanent marker effectively covered some bare patches.)

This typewriter has serial #38334. Other Macy's No. 1 serial numbers known to me include #37303 (Nick Fisher collection), #37604 (ex-Tilman Elster collection), #38753 (Mark Rosenzweig collection, glossy paint), and #39840 (Will and Dave Davis collection). So it's possible that over 2500 were made, but I suspect that most typewriters in this sequence were labeled Barr, not Macy's.

Macy's also sold typewriters made by Remington. Like the Barr-made Macy's, these machines are marked with the department store's red star trademark, which is still in use today.

Another, very rare name variant of the Barr is Standard Model Mercury. (This is one I saw online years ago.)

So, after all those hours of working on my Macy's, am I going to write a novel on it? No, I'm going to put it up for sale to benefit WordPlay Cincy, where kids explore language with the help of typewriters and tutors.