23 oktober 2012

Early Underwood 5 typewriter

As you know, it is quite easy to find an Underwood 5. Over 3.5 million were made to last forever, and most of them still do. Because of space limitations, my collection can't be too big, but of course it has to include "the most successful typewriter design in history". With so many Underwoods around it is quite hard to make a choice. I waited and waited, till the "perfect" Underwood 5 would show up.

Last week I thought I was lucky. On the internet I found an Underwood 5, with serial number 2815-5. This early number indicates that the machine was made during the first year of the production period (1900-1931). It also had a Dutch dealer sticker, and I like to have machines in my collection that were actually used in The Netherlands. The sticker could hardly be from the period (1901), as synthetic adhesives were only used from the 1920s onwards. Well, I thought, that would be something to find out later about.

According to the Yahoo Typewriter forum, the very early Underwood 5's were made by the Wagner Typewriter Company - the inventors of the first Underwood. Franz Xavier Wagner and his son invented the linkage between the typebar and the key lever and related this to the principle of the segment and type guide. This way, they devised the idea of a segment and bars - an idea which has been incorporated in all successful standard and portable typewriters ever since (Beeching 1974, p. 26).

After some negotiation about the price (30 euros), I was finally able to get the machine. Unfortunately, the owner had bought it at a thrift store, so he knew nothing about its history. Back home, I started to clean the machine...

Before cleaning.

After cleaning. Notice the left shift key has been replaced by a French one.
Than I started to clean the back of the machine. I used a mild abrasive and noted that the typewriter was either VERY dirty, or repainted at some point (by the Dutch dealer?). The back of the typewriter was totally black with no sign of any decal. Because of its early serial number, I suspected that under the dirt/paint would be the Wagner Typewriter Company decal. So, I started rubbing...

Before cleaning
After cleaning

To my surprise, a regular Underwood decal appeared! No mention is made to the Wagner Typewriter Company. I was baffled at first, but some closer inspection of the serial number revealed the mystery:

2815-5 or 42815-5. Quite a difference!
I checked the SN when I picked the typewriter up, but didn't see that it was a 42815 instead of 2815. Nor did the former owner. The first digit is very faint. This makes it a 1904 Underwood, instead of a 1901 Wagner-Underwood. Does it make a big difference? Not really, it's only a decal... But still...

5 opmerkingen:

Richard P zei

Ah, too bad! At least it looks very nice after cleaning. It's amazing how the decals were completely covered up.

At WordPlay (see my blog) they have a #5 from about 1909 that needs cleaning. On that machine, the right shift key functions as a shift lock. Is that true on yours too?

schrijfmachine zei

Yes, the right shift key is shift lock. There is a little lever on the right that unlocks the shift lock.

I read about word play: very nice initiative!

shordzi zei

A story well told - thanks for sharing.

maschinengeschrieben zei

That magical decal appearance is almost incredible - well cleaned!

Rob Bowker zei

Well done preserving the decal. I find they are very soft and easily obliterated by over-enthusiastic cleaning. And serial numbers aren't always easy to interpret. I just wish I had the space for one of these!