Sunday, 27 October 2013

Repairs and new additions

My girlfriend went to Melbourne last weekend with a friend of hers, leaving me with a positively delightful amount of time to dedicate to pottering around in the laundry with typewriters, while neglecting more important matters. I detail some of the events and very minor repairs carried out over the weekend below.

Underwood Noiseless 77
My gorgeous shiny and expensive Underwood Noiseless 77 which I've spoken about in a previous post here had been in need of new feed-rollers for months. Not having found anything suitable in the meantime and after a good boiling didn't do the trick with the existing rollers, I decided to try simply shaving the edges of the squared rollers off with a pocket knife, leaving them slightly rounder.

Believe it or not this actually did the job. I was expecting to need to roll a bit of duct-tape around one or two to fatten them up to size, but no. I now have a fully functional sparkly new looking Underwood Noiseless. If I happen to find suitable replacement rear feed-rollers at a later date I can always fit them in. Accessing and removing the rear feed-rollers on these machines (Remington Noiseless 7 / Underwood Noiseless 77) is a relatively simple matter of adjusting the margin stops to their outer-most limit, activating the paper release to move the rollers away from the platen and lifting the whole assembly (4 rollers attached to a single rod) out of their holder. Moving the carriage to one extremity helps ease of access.

Remington Portable 5
Another satisfying repair was finishing off my shiny Remington Portable 5, for which I had previously borrowed John's tool to straighten the keytops on (mentioned here). After the keytops and the feed rollers had been done, the only thing left was the carriage return lever. I had assumed I would be able to use the carriage return lever off the parts-machine Remington 4 that John had loaned me, however this was not to be the case.

Remington Portable 4 parts machine

 Remington Portable 4 carriage return lever

 Remington Portable 5 carriage return lever (terrible photo, but you can see it's got an almost 90 degree curve in it, as opposed to the Rem Portable 4 one which is almost straight). While the line-spacing mechanism is almost identical on the Portable 4 and 5 models, the difference is the Portable 4 doesn't have platen knobs on both sides, thus the carriage lever doesn't need to bend around anything and thus is designed to sit straight up. So I borrowed this Portable 5 curved carriage return lever off (yet) another Remington Portable 5 that I had bought off eBay a while back.


A very minor issue remains when typing, with the bottom of the letters being fainter than the tops, but it's still very legible and I'll get around to that addressing that another day.

Remington Standard 10
A week or two before, I had found what looked to be a Remington Standard 10 on Gumtree going for a half-reasonable amount. A drive over to a leafy outer-south eastern suburb secured me this old beast and it was only on this typewriter-filled weekend that got around to even inspecting it. The seller informed me his father had collected a few old typewriters from businesses around Western Queensland years before. Coming from hot, dry Western Queensland accounts for the layer of dust around most parts and the relative lack of rust considering it's age. All in all it's in passable nick and although the mainspring is slipping when tensioned, I'm sure I'll be able to fix this. The carriage is a little crunchy and it does like to remind you that it's older than the hills, but I wouldn't be surprised that in time I might have myself a working machine. The Standard 10's are rather skeletal looking things, little covering and prone to dust. On the flip-side however, the lack of side-plating (if that's the word) provides you with near-effortless access to much of its innards. My aim for this one is to get it fully functional in time for it's 100th birthday. It's serial number (351496) dates it to early 1914 and so I have around 3 or 4 or so months to get it dressed up and ready to party. Me being famously impatient, I forgot to take a "before" shot when it was covered in dust which I'm rather annoyed about, as it looks much better than it used to. All I've done is give it a once over with a damp, then dry cloth and there's plenty more to do yet......

An unexpected visit
Finally, to top off a rather typewriters kind of weekend, Scott K of The Filthy Platen, rocked up and dumped 12 typewriters on my lawn. These were acquired with a little bit of once-in-a-blue-moon eBay magic that only a deceased estate and truly awful presentation skills can create. Scott tells the full story on his blog here, but to cut a long story short, I scored two of these dusty beauties, one of which was gleaming and typing away like new the very same afternoon. More on this another day.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman

I have quite seriously considered writing a children's book named after the title of this post. All I need is to find someone proficient in watercolours to draw me pictures of a hunched, hooded, toothless second hand typewriter salesman rubbing his hands together and chuckling quietly to himself in a dank, dark corner of some picturesque Eastern European castle, while he schemes up his next dishonest transaction... I'll get around to that one day.

The great thing is, however, that the main character in this story is not entirely fiction. Last year before I started this blog and fairly early on in my interest in typewriters, I went to Europe for six weeks. A conference near Copenhagen at the beginning, a conference in Birmingham at the end and the best part of 4 weeks to gallivant about the place as I saw fit. I have a great fondness for England. In Australia, you get a whole bunch of big old loose lettuces in the supermarket. No idea where they're from, you just grab your lettuce and head home, don't think anything more of it. In England you get these dear little lettuces packaged in pairs and they're not just any old lettuces either, they're East Anglian lettuces. I don't know whether the majority of England's lettuce supply happens to come from East Anglia, or if you were in Cumbria say, you'd get Cumbrian lettuces and so forth, but I was in East Anglia and I bought these East Anglian lettuces and these sorts of things warm my heart.

Anyway, I'd been scouring UK ebay for a long time prior, looking for something old, something sparkly and something that would be a great deal cheaper in England than it would be in Australia. Patience paid off and a gorgeous old Corona 3 "pick up only" came up at a very reasonable price within only 15-20 minutes drive of my uncle's house in Sudbury. I contacted the seller saying that if I won it I would collect it around the bank holiday weekend once I was on that side of the world. The price didn't change and with baited breath I stayed up late one night to put in a bid at the last minute. But to my horror, ebay didn't let me bid on account of the seller not offering international postage. At this early stage of my collecting, I simply didn't know ebay worked that way. So I sent an optimistic message to the seller saying how much I'd have liked it and woe is me, etc, and if the sale happened to fall through to let me know.

Enter the naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman......

To my surprise, a reply did come from the seller:

"Such a shame - a time waster in Latvia has won it and emailed me to say he 'will take a courier service' and obviously doesn't understand what collection only means! Will have to wait a week or two for the whole thing to sort out no doubt (frustrating), but will save your email and contact you as soon as it falls through, and it's yours with pleasure!"

What ensued however was a rather harrowing affair for the seller, Gill, a wonderful soul, who kept me updated throughout the saga. It turned out the naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman had set up a fraudulent UK ebay account, using a non-existent postal address in central London and a fake phone number, just in order to be able to bid on "no international postage" items. He had won the auction and then demanded the typewriter be couriered to Latvia despite the listing being a "pick up only". Gill had emailed him saying that it's pick up only and she wouldn't courier and that she would cancel the transaction, but then he refused to accept the cancel and started sending threatening emails and the whole thing sounded rather nasty. I remember sending the money via paypal when she thought it had been sorted, but then she refunded it again, citing further complications and ended up getting out of the sale via an unpaid item dispute as he had not paid within the allocated timeframe. Gill advised me that it appeared the naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman was an antique dealer based in Latvia, dealing mainly in typewriters and that he would buy cheaply from around Europe and on-sell at a significant mark-up. In the end, my dream did come true and couple of weeks later my uncle and I went for a drive in the countryside and came back with a gorgeous old 1921 Corona 3.

Gill was a delightful person, about to be married only a week after I picked up the Corona. She runs a small business selling items for local people via ebay and taking a small percentage of the sale. The naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman had also won a bid on an ancient upstrike Remington of some description. Gill was selling and she offered it to me for £15 when I came to pick up the Corona and my goodness if only my suitcase was larger!!

Separately I had also bought a late 20's Corona 4 from Cheshire and organised to have it sent down to my uncle's house in Sudbury. It is delightfully cheap to send typewriters locally around England, but awfully expensive to send them overseas to Australia. So an enjoyable couple of days was spent recuperating from my previous travels in my uncle's house, tinkering away with my new Corona 3 and Corona 4. I have little back-story for either typewriter, except that the Corona 3 was previously owned by an elderly gent named Nick who had bought it himself from an antique or second hand store over 40 years ago. Its condition indicates pretty limited use during that time. Both the Corona 3 and 4 type well and required no mechanical work at all.

My suitcase was enormous and flimsy and had been bought for $4 at a garage sale while typewriter hunting before I left Australia. I left my suitcase at my uncle's while I spent a week visiting and traveling around London, Bath and Brighton and it was only when I was loading the suitcase into Malcolm's car, after I'd put in the two typewriters, some other stuff I'd bought in England and half a kilo of Marmite, that I thought "I've got to get this thing back to Australia". The suitcase as I later found out was 29.6kg and the wheels began to bust as I ambled from the mainline trains to the tube at Liverpool Street station. By the time I was hobbling up and down stairs between the Euston Road tube and the Euston mainline station to catch the train to Birmingham they were completely knackered. Annoyed commuters on the crowded tube got the toothy grin that only a man in possession of two freshly purchased antique typewriters can give. I do hope the sight of a short weedy Australian struggling with an enormous bulging suitcase with busted wheels, sweating profusely in a t-shirt on a cloudy 16 degree day as he hobbled towards the Birmingham train, might have provided at least a little mirth to the crowds at Euston that day. Once in Birmingham it was a simple matter of a taxi from the station to the hotel and another taxi to the international airport four days later after the conference, but I think it'll take me a long time to forget that rather memorable trip from Sudbury to Birmingham that day.