Wed, 05 Oct 2011
For what probably spans the last 20 years, I've had a vague desire to own a manual typewriter. There's absolutely no reason behind this -- I do all my writing on a computer. I cannot jusify the space or expense of buying even an inexpensive typewriter. I think the mechanisms are kind of neato.
And yet, here we are. I found a decent deal on a Hermes Baby Featherweight (Internet evidence suggests it was produced in 1937), and couldn't resist. This is the tiniest, cutest typewriter I've ever seen, yet it's clearly and completely not a toy. Made in Switzerland just before the outbreak of WWII, this is clearly a well-thought-out tool with one purpose in mind: converting thoughts to words with the fewest possible impediments in the way.
This particular typewriter model dispenses with such fancy amenities as an automatic platen advance upon returning the carriage, tab stops, or the numeral 1 (but to be fair, this is last one is pretty standard for manual typewriters).
I picked it up today, and of course what I needed to do when I got home was not to play with the new toy. I needed to do some graphics work for an upcoming show at Annex (c.1993 (you never step in the same river twice)). Amazingly, I was able to do my work, but it was only a few minutes after finishing and turning in a draft that I pulled out my photo-ma-jig and set to work.
It needs some help, of course. Previous owners have clearly been smokers (a quick wipe-down with a dry piece of tissue paper pulled up an astounding amount of black goo; it's hard to imagine what I'm going to get out of it with proper cleaning). The number keys and several of the peripheral, less-used keys fail to retract after hitting the platen. Several of the keys are missing some or all of their inlaid paint. The Hermes logo on the left side is missing a chunk from the middle. The platen is heavily marked where years of typing have slowly broken down the rubber of the roller.
But for all that, it appears to work remarkably well. It even came with a spare ribbon, and (somewhat to my amazement) it looks pretty likely that I can trundle down to my favorite office supply store and pick up a brand new ribbon for $5. Apparently, in a flush of the kind of sanity which is impossible to imagine today, typewriter manufacturers standardized on one kind of ribbon from about 1920 to about 1970.
One interesting thing is that, according to one website I found, the "known" serial number range goes from 107xxx to 125xxx for this model, but I definitely have 102432, so I'll have to send in an email and a link to the photos I took tonight. If that site is correct, this machine was made in 1937, probably in Spring or Summer.
Overall, I'm very pleased to own this thing, and am really looking forward to getting it cleaned up. I don't know that I'm going to do a whole lot of writing with it, but between this, the Eagle desk lamp you see in the pictures, and the black bakelite pulse-dial desk phone I've got kicking around, I have a killer vintage desk set in the making.
Written by Ian Johnston. Software is Blosxom. Questions? Please mail me at reaper at obairlann dot net.