Friday, September 20, 2013

Blue and Green

The first coat of spar varnish and marine paint applied,
the workshop is suffused with an intoxicating ambiance
Even the delicious odor of spar varnish and boat paint could not fully distract me from typewriters, could not alleviate the insatiable need, the sense of acquisition opportunities being missed. Was it something Manson Whitlock once said, that portables, their performance compromised by the need to fit too much into too small a space, could never match the big standards? Once my attention wandered from boat maintenance toward typewriters, it veered toward those regal and stately machines. Staggered by the workshop fumes, I found myself checking the eBay listings between varnish coats for the big guys. Those pre-1930 beasts, their massive cast iron architecture decorated by ornate lettering and gold scrollwork. And there it was - a beauty - in what looked to be in good condition, and free shipping at that! Alas - although newly listed, some undeserving wretch had already snapped it up. Frustrated now, and a bit pissed off, I began to slam through the listings, determined to find a machine as fine and a deal as good. Aha - there it was.

1929 Underwood No. 3

A gleaming 1929 Underwood No. 3, in all its glossy black glory. For local pickup only, but, wonder of wonders, only a couple of miles away. This one would not escape. It could have been a junker, a hopeless wreck, and I would have carried it home chortling and chuckling, in my deranged rebound from the supposed beauty that had been stolen from me. But on the workbench it seemed to be a solid machine, even deserving of the blue ribbon I'd been saving for something special. Clacking out the old standard phrases, bouncing the type slugs off the granite-hard platten, all the keys did their thing, as did the backspace, margin release, ribbon reverse and advance, line spacing. Amazing. and 84 years old, too. Finally mollified, I filled a page with blue words (not that kind of blue), chuckling all the time hunched over in my dim bunker.

While in ribbon installation mode, I plopped a green one into Kermit, a lovely little Royal Royalite recently acquired from Mike Clemens, who is inexplicably experiencing a need to de-acquisition that no doubt he will regret, but that I've been doing what I can to help with.

Kermit, the Royal Royalite

I promise an addendum to this post with typing samples, in the appropriate blue and green, from each of these machines.

But first I  need to apply another coat of varnish and marine paint.
1921 Underwood Typing Sample

1957 Royalite Typing Sample


  1. An Underwood 3! How lovely! I always hope to find an decent Underwood for a good deal. But they are either overprices or too far too drive...

  2. That Underwood looks superb. The blue ribbon really stands out, aswell.

    Congrats on the great find. Can't wait to see a type sample.

  3. That's a handsome Underwood, cheers Tony!

  4. That us a mighty fine looking Underwood. Congratulations!

  5. I too like the feel of the old, pre-WWII desktop typewriters a lot. Personally I think that the "fault" of most portables is that, by design, they have to be light, and thus they are not as solidly built as these big machines.
    Kermit looks great with its green ribbon, but I have to join the chorus: that Underwood is a real gem!

    The varnishing is coming along very nicely! How do you apply it? with a brush, or with compressed air?

    1. Yes, the goal of light weight in the smaller portables seems to give them a tinny sound and feel. In my very limited experience (three pre-1930 standards vs about 10 portables of that era), the huge cast iron standard monsters have a better ability to keep on keeping on than the portables of the same vintage. But I think Manson's point, if I recall correctly, was that the need to fold the key linkage into a small space compromised the action.

      I apply the varnish with disposable foam brushes, and it goes on just as smoothly as when I formerly varnished with a costly natural bristle brush. The trick is many thin coats, and using light reflected off the surface to detect and correct the inevitable sags and dribbles, as well as the thin spots.