An odd-looking typewriter called Oliver
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    Auction Finds

    The many incarnations of the noble typewriter

    Most of the typewriters on the tables at the auction house appeared to be in good condition, bearing little of the dust I’ve seen on some that have been stored in basements for years, unseen and untouched.

    I had seen lots of them at two auctions, likely part of someone’s collection, and I suspected that many more coming. Some had absentee-bid stickers, and I was sure that all would get snapped up.

    Most bore familiar names, with Underwood among the most recognizable. It was one of the top producers of office typewriters a century ago, and some of them weighed a ton. Today, they’re museum pieces or collectibles, or as we auction-goers like to say, good for doorstops.

    Petite toy typewriter, made in the United Kingdom, fully functional.

    Petite toy typewriter, made in the United Kingdom, fully functional.

    The round cream keys on some of the earliest typewriters are used to make jewelry.

    I am always fascinated when I see one of those typewriters. I like the utilitarian beauty in their simple designs, their crafted keys, their sturdiness. They age well – when they are not left to collect dust as someone has collected them. Sometimes, the makers try to get a little fancy with them in color and style, but most times they just are just machines built for purpose.

    Some years ago, when I was in Atlantic City nosing around pawn shops to see what people left there, I came across a typewriter whose name I had not heard of before. It was a Blickensderfer, and the current auction even had one of those.

    The Practical Typewriter No. 1 by Simplex, early 20th century.

    The Practical Typewriter No. 1 by Simplex, early 20th century.

    Machines for typing appear to have been around in some form since the 16th century, but the first commercially sold typewriter was in the shape of a ball with the keys in a circular format. It was called the Hansen Writing Ball, invented in 1870 in Denmark and successful in Europe.

    In the United States, the first practical and successful typewriter was invented by Christopher Latham Sholes and three other men in Milwaukee in 1867. It was manufactured by Remington (which was making sewing machines at the time) in 1874, and had a QWERTY keyboard that was adopted by other typewriter makers. That first machine also introduced what became the standard arrangement of keys and key movement.

    Underwood Standard Portable typewriter, 1919-1929.

    Underwood Standard Portable typewriter, 1919-1929.

    With these new contraptions, folks debated how to use them. Two fingers or eight on the keys? Should the typist stare at the keys or the paper? In New York, typing was taught in schools and at the YWCA. The machines were so big that typists could not even see what they were typing as they typed.

    The Underwood Typewriter Company – which was making paper products  – produced its first typewriter in 1895, improving the machine in such a way that typists could now see what they typed. The company’s metal-heavy No. 5 became the machine of choice in offices starting around the turn of the 20th century and held that spot for more than 30 years.

    Smith Premier typewriter, circa 1908.

    Smith Premier typewriter, circa 1908.

    Also during the late 19th century came the invention of the index typewriter, which used a pointer or stylus to select a key. It was pushed out by keyboard machines.

    By the early 20th century, most typewriters looked alike. There were 89 companies making them by 1909, and the machines had become a part of the American landscape. The earliest electric typewriter was developed around the turn of the century, and by the 1930s, IBM gained success with its Selectric model.

    Here are some typewriters that were up for sale at auction:

    Hammond No. 12 typewriter, 1905.

    Hammond No. 12 typewriter, 1905.

     

    Hermes Rocket typewriter, 1950-1960s.

    Hermes Rocket typewriter, 1950s-1960s.

     

    Hermes portable typewriter.

    Hermes Baby typewriter, 1930s-1940s.

     

    Pittsburg Standard No. 11 typewriter, circa 1908.

    Pittsburg Standard No. 11 typewriter, circa 1908.

     

    Two Underwood Champion typewriters, 1930s-1940s.

    Two Underwood Champion typewriters, 1930s-1940s.

     

    Remington Noiseless 8 typewriter, 1930s.

    Remington Noiseless 8 typewriter, 1930s.

     

    Bennett Bantamweight typewriter.

    Bennett Bantamweight, one of the smallest typewriters, 1909-1910.

     

    Underwood portable.

    Underwood portable typewriter.

     

    Underwood model.

    Underwood Standard Typewriter No. 5.

     

    Blickensderfer No. 5, first introduced at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

    Blickensderfer No. 5 typewriter, first introduced at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

     

    Royal Eldorado, 1960s.

    Royal Eldorado typewriter, 1960s.

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