Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Originally appeared on this blog on 1/18/2013
The story of the Royal Mercury began in Tokyo, Japan in 1965. A knitting-machine company, called Silver-Reed had designed a typewriter, with the help of a leading industrial design firm, called GK-Design Group. Early models of Silver-Reed portables can occasionally be found in the United States; those marketed as “Royal” typewriters are much more common. It should be noted that by 1971, the only typewriter manufacturer that was still making typewriters in the United States was Smith-Corona.
The Royal Mercury has the distinction of being the first full-featured portable typewriter marketed towards children. Until the 1960s, all of the other typewriters marketed for children had been stripped versions of standard portables. (An excellent example is the Remie Scout.) Despite being marketed towards children, the Royal Mercury was originally designed for use by adults. At the time, Japanese-made goods were thought to be cheap and low-quality. However, Japanese-made toys were incredibly popular. As a result, Royal felt it would be a better idea to sell the Mercury to children.
The Royal Mercury may seem like an ordinary typewriter; however, it offers many interesting features, including a jam-release key. If two keys are jammed, depressing the margin-release key will unjam them quickly and easily. Also, the Royal Mercury has the most user-friendly case—the lid just snaps over the typewriter. The bottom of the case is formed by the bottom of the typewriter.
The other unusual feature of the Royal Mercury lies in its marketing strategy. The Royal Mercury was marketed towards children. The first national advertisement for the Royal Mercury states that “The New Royal Mercury was made for kids.” (Royal Typewriter) The same advertisement also cites the two-position touch control lever, claiming that children press harder when they are first learning to type, but as they get better, their touch becomes lighter.
While it was marketed nationally towards children, many Seattle-based stores marketed it towards the general public. One of these stores was Bartell Drugs, who described the Royal Mercury as “the ‘with-it’ portable that has everything. (Bartell Drugs)”  A 1967 advertisement indicates that Bartell Drugs initially sold Royal Mercury typewriters equipped with “Elite“(smaller) type. (Bartell Drugs). Frederick & Nelson, a Seattle-based department store described the Mercury as “a handsome, lightweight model ideal for traveling and students at home or school.” (Frederick & Nelson). The Bon Marche, a large, Seattle-based department storeadvertised the Mercury as having “’it’ designing with all the great features: touch-set margins, paper table scales, wide carriage, full-size 88 character board, three line spaces, $35.88” (The Bon Marche). The J.K. Gill Company, a Portland, Oregon-based office-supply store pitched the Mercury as the “get-with-it portable that has everything including a get-with-it price! Full-size office typewriter keyboard, touch regulator, two-color ribbon, stencil cutter, calibrated paperbail, 1, 1½, 2 line spacing, dual shift keys, weighs only 10 pounds with case.” (J.K. Gill Company).
Many other Royal Portables used the design of the Royal Mercury, including the Royal Jet, and the Royal Signet, all of which had fewer features than the Mercury. The Royal Mercury was discontinued around 1975. A related portable is the Royal Sprite, which is found in a plastic shell, and has a transistor radio built into the console carrying case.
Bartell Drugs has the distinction of being the oldest drugstore chain in the United States.
Since 2005, The Bon Marche has been known as Macy’s.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
This is one of the best fountain pens I've ever used. It was manufactured around 1963 (when all Sheaffer Imperials were given the name "Lifetime" to commemorate the reintroduction of the Lifetime Guarantee). The trim is 14K gold, and it works beautifully. It has the same amazing feel of the Sheaffer NoNonsense and Cartridge pens, and is cartridge-filled (I am clumsy enough that I know an inkwell is a terrible idea...a man must know his limitations.). The feel of a pen is highly subjective, but this one just feels right to me (in the same way that a Ballograf feels right for a ballpoint).
The advertising for these pens was very forward-thinking (in an accidentally amusing way)--I have no idea if anyone made a wristwatch TV, or a "Credit card ring"--or a camera built into sunglasses (Google glass?)
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
This is one of my all-time favorite typewriters, from its styling to its performance. I won it in a Goodwill Ebay auction on June 1, 2016, for $22.46. Since then, I've cleaned and oiled it, and got a new instruction manual for it (thanks, Greg Fudacz!) It is the smoothest running portable I've ever owned, especially for a compact. I love its imitation leather styling, and vibrant red case!
The Olivetti-Underwood Lettera 33 was introduced in 1967, to supplement Olivetti's Lettera 32 line.
I found few advertisements for the Lettera 33 (one from The Bon Marche advertising a "Lettera 33 demo., now greatly red. to clear $49.95"), Apparently, its 1970 retail price was $79.50.
Here is a list of Olivetti-Underwood dealers from the 1968 Seattle Telephone Directory
Friday, June 2, 2017
Here is the rough start of a project I am working on--a complete history of the American portable typewriter market:
Royal Portable Typewriters, 1926-1940
In the early twenties, three of the four major typewriter manufacturers had a portable typewriter in their lineup. Remington introduced the first four-bank portable in 1920. Corona introduced the first widely-available portable typewriter in 1907 (which became known as the Corona in 1914) and their first four-bank portable typewriter in 1924. Underwood introduced their first portable in 1913, which like the Corona, offered a three-row keyboard. Underwood introduced their first four-bank portable in 1926. In the same year, Royal introduced their first portable typewriter.
Royal’s portable typewriter was a relatively standard design, with four rows of keys, frontstrike action, and carriage shift. The feature that made it unique was its marketing. While most portable typewriters had been marketed toward businessmen, the Royal Portable would be marketed toward women. As Bruce Bliven wrote in The Wonderful Writing Machine: “In 1926, when Royal began to make a portable, [George Ed] Smith figured that it was important to introduce the junior machine with as loud a roll of drums he could muster. The first of Smith’s tricks was color. Like all three of his competitors, he had his eye on the nation’s fifteen million homes as the focus for his little Royals. He realized that the major-domo in each dwelling was a female, just as Hess had understood in 1904 that the secretary, rather than the boss, actually decided which office typewriter should be bought. Smith, thinking of the ladies, had the new portable painted in two tones in a full line of colors, from quiet buff-and-brown to brilliant green-and-blue, a total of more than five hundred combinations, including black-on-black for the ultra-conservative housewife, or the woman who did a great deal of formal entertaining.”
(Bliven, 1954) Many early Royal Portable dealers were home appliance stores, as Bliven continues: “Portable outlets were, for the most part, home-appliance stores. The idea was that a housewife, looking for a waffle iron, might easily come home from the shop with a Royal portable instead, having been won over by the way its lovely colors matched her library drapes.” (Bliven, 1954)
Another unique marketing technique that Royal used to sell their portable was to drop it from an airplane. The theory behind it, in Bliven’s terms was “He wanted the ladies, in particular, to notice. But he wanted their husbands to understand, at the same time, that the machine was rugged despite its bright coat of enamel.” Over eleven thousand Royal portables were dropped from Royal’s Air Truck, a Ford Tri-Motor airplane that cost $75,000 (equivalent to $1,066,238.37, at the time of this writing
(Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017)). Of those eleven thousand portables, only six were damaged beyond repair; the portables were dropped in their cardboard boxes, which were equipped with parachutes to guide them gently to the ground. If one landed on its corner, the typewriter would not survive. Those that landed on their edges were discreetly pushed out of sight. Ironically, one of the ones that landed on its corner was dropped on the lawn of Thomas F. Ryan, founder of the Royal Typewriter Company.
Early (1926-1930) portables were equipped with a two-part case. The bottom of the case was a slab of leatherette-covered wood, which was screwed to the base of the typewriter. An angular lid made of leatherette-covered wood slid over the base, forming the carrying case. By 1930, a new type of case, the “Duo Case” had been introduced. The new Duo-Case had two purposes; when the machine was inside the case, it served as its carrying case. But, as soon as the user removed the machine from its case, the case became a handy overnight bag. The Duo-Case was made of wood, covered in an alligator-grain leatherette. The case was lined with a light tan canvas, and the case was equipped with brass latches. Four catches held the typewriter’s feet in place, to prevent the machine from being rattled around.
In 1930, the Royal Portable was redesigned, splitting the Portable line into two models. The original design continued in production through 1934 as the “Model O” or Standard Portable. The new model took over the “P” serial number prefix, and became the “Model P.” The Model P offered several advantages over its predecessor, most notably the enclosed ribbon. It featured two ribbon covers, one over the left spool, and the other over the right spool. Both were hinged on the outer edge of the machine. The Model P also had wider styling, with visual columns near the ribbon covers and under the carriage.
The new portable had a new style of two-tone paint, which consisted of a solid color that was blended into another color. These new “duotone” paint schemes could be very sedate, from tan-and-brown, to the very vibrant yellow-and-orange. Many of these machines, if rebuilt, were repainted black. Woodgrain finishes also continued in production. The Model O could also be ordered in the same color schemes as the Model P, but could not be ordered with a tabulator, like the Model P.
The Model O retailed for $45, while the Model P was $60. In comparison, Corona offered its three-bank portable for $45 and its four-bank model was $60. Remington offered a budget model beginning in 1932; many other manufacturers would begin offering “Junior portables.” During the Depression, Royal dusted off an older design for the P, which was patented in the early twenties, and introduced it as the new “Signet” and “Signet Senior.” The Signet was painted crinkle turquoise, and was only capable of printing in capital letters; the Signet Senior could print in both upper and lowercase, and was painted crinkle black. Neither of them offered a backspacer or right-hand margin. Both were made of easily-pliable sheet metal, and both cost less than a Model O. They were replaced by the Royal Junior around 1935. Like most Junior portables, they were rated “Not Acceptable” by Consumer Reports in their 1937 test.
In 1935, Royal changed the typewriter market with a simple feature—Touch Control. Touch Control was a spring-actuated key tensioning device that let the user determine the amount of pressure needed to operate each key. As a result, their Portable was redesigned. Both the old Model O and Model P were dropped, and replaced with two new series—the Model O and De Luxe portables. Both were equipped with Touch Control. Both had new, streamlined bodies with a horizontal emphasis. Both still came in the Duo-Case. The De Luxe offered significantly more soundproofing than the Model O, as well as nickel-plated trim and a black crinkle finish. The De Luxe was also available in a choice of colors; these appear to be rarer than the black crinkle finish.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
I found this ad copy on the website for the digital collections of the Peter Mitterhofer Typewriter Museum (http://www.provinz.bz.it/katalog-kulturgueter/de/suche.asp?kks_priref=150016564). The image quality was low, so I retyped the copy:
The Super Sterling by Smith-Corona
You’ll rave about this full duty, budget-priced mid-weight portable!
Feel the smooth action and see the precision response of this basic Smith-Corona portable. It has everything you need to make your writing chores go smoother and easier, and it’s built to stay stylish and new all through your school years. It has all the same uncompromising quality, precision, and stamina of the more expensive Smith-Corona portables. Wherever you have writing to do—at home, in school, at the office or on the road—this rugged portable will serve you with flawless dependability and distinction. Its scientifically balanced, full 88-character office-size keyboard is engineered for accelerated action…keeps pace with the fastest fingers! You’ll love its advanced, low-profile styling designed for easy traveling and easy-storability. Its sophisticated decorator colors include: Star-Mist Blue, Bengal Tan, Slate Grey, Oasis Green. Accompanied by a flight-styled all metal, vinyl clad carrying case and backed by a 5 year guarantee. All these features plus its practical price add up to an amazing value!
If you are looking for a present to give or to get, one that will be appreciated for years to come, there is no finer gift than a Smith-Corona portable. See our full line of attractive models.
Smith-Corona Marchant. The Super Sterling by Smith-Corona. Hartford, CT: Smith-Corona Marchant, 1966. Print.
Here's a flyer from the same site for the Galaxie II
Here's a flyer from the same site for the Galaxie II
Saturday, March 4, 2017
This is the newest typewriter I own, and a great machine to use (especially if you like Silver-Reeds). It was made in Bulgaria, from a Japanese design, and given an American name. (The three nameplates that were on the machine fell off; the glue was good enough to discolor the plastic, but bad enough that the nameplates fell off...). The only advertising I could find for it was circa 1990.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
I decided to change the name of my blog to serve as an umbrella name for my typewriter-related projects. For instance, my antique mall booth will soon be "Seattle-Firs Typewriter | Timberline Typewriter" and the ribbons I sell will be "Seattle-Firs Typewriter | Timberline Ribbon." Also, since I am researching the Seattle-First National Bank Building, I thought I'd pay tribute to the logo of what was once Seattle's largest bank.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Monday, January 9, 2017
I have been planning to open a typewriter shop in the Seattle metro area for a while--I now have a both at the Aurora Antique Pavilion, 24111 Highway 99, Edmonds, WA (Across Highway 104 from Aurora Village, above the Burlington Coat Factory). I specialize in reconditioned portable typewriters, which have been serviced to full working order (unless otherwise marked).
Bohn Contex with instructions (glued to bottom), $40, portable typewriters $60-150, Universal typewriter case $10, the joys of installing paneling, priceless.