Thursday, July 27, 2017

A late Kappel portable typewriter






Some history, condensed from Leonhard Dingwerth's book Die Geschichte der deutschen Schreibmaschinenfabriken, vol. 2:

The Kappel factory in Chemnitz was founded in 1860 to produce embroidery machines and other textile equipment. Its first typewriter, an Underwood-like machine, appeared in January 1914. By the time of the start of the war in August 1914, the factory had 1600 workers. The company did well in the 1920s. In order to offer a small typewriter, Kappel bought the rights to the Diamant four-bank portable in 1930.

In 1931, the company declared bankruptcy, but it survived to reemerge as a limited liability company in 1932. Later that year it announced the Klein-Kappel—which turned out to be a relabeled Olympia portable, made by Europa Schreibmaschinen in Erfurt. In 1933 the Kappel Privat, a cheaper version, came on the market. In 1934 the Olympia Filia appeared under the Kappel label, with the amusing model name Knirps, soon changed to Fips (the words mean, roughly, tyke and shrimp). The VA model, short for Vereinfachte Ausführung (I almost got the word right in my typecast) or "Simplified Version," was also introduced in 1934. Meanwhile, standard Kappel typewriters continued to be produced in Chemnitz, with the model 75 appearing in 1939.

The Kappel machine tool factory was mostly destroyed near the end of the Second World War, and its other facilities were largely dismantled. In the immediate postwar period, a little industry continued in the form of typewriter repair and the manufacture of replacement parts. By 1949 the company was a Volkseigener Betrieb, or socialized "people's enterprise." However, there is no further news about its fate. Dingwerth speculates that the authorities decided that Kappel typewriters were not important enough to be revived under the challenging postwar economic circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Olympia factory in Erfurt had been severely bombed on April 13-15, 1945. The further Olympia story gets complicated, with the resumption of manufacture in Erfurt under Communist rule while a rival Olympia factory was founded in Wilhelmshaven, West Germany. Eventually the Western company gained the right to the Olympia name, and the Eastern factory became Optima.

When was my Kappel manufactured? Records list the first serial number for 1944 as 289000, and there is no information after that. My 325652 is considerably higher, but my guess is that it was made in Erfurt in 1945, shortly before the factory was bombed.

7 comments:

  1. Very nice typewriter with some unique features. You will have a one-of-a-kind on the typewriter database.

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  2. When you write 44 you can use both fours and people will be confused wondering if you went through the trouble to insert the piece of paper perfectly into another typewriter.

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  3. Very stylish, especially the faux spool-covers in the lid.

    An oddly high serial that - it would suggest over 30,000 machines were made for private consumer sales. For that late in the war, that seems a lot (any consumer product involving metal seems unlikely by then). Would the number match an Olympia range? These being contract manufactured by Olympia, I could imagine they'd assemble from whatever parts they had - everything was going to rubble very fast by then.

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    1. Thanks, you make some good points. If the serial number is in the same sequence as the Olympia Progress, Simplex, Robust, and Elite, then it dates from 1941. Of course, the situation was not so dire at that point and I don't know why they would have deviated from the usual Kappel serial sequence, but it is possible.

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