Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Royal Mercury

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)” [1] 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 store[2]advertised 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.

[1]Bartell Drugs has the distinction of being the oldest drugstore chain in the United States.

[2]Since 2005, The Bon Marche has been known as Macy’s.