8 Vintage Typewriters from the Late 1800s-Early 1900s
From the creation of the QWERTY keyboard to the world’s first portable typing machine, Typewriters is a visual homage to the golden age of mechanical writing. The book ranges from the world’s first commercially successful typewriter—the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer of 1874—to the iconic electric models of the 1960s.
In total, a whopping eighty vintage devices are profiled in elegant photographs and fascinating text, leaving you with a fresh appreciation for these machines. Here are a few of the older models that really stood out to us, teeming with luxurious details and peculiar quirks.
The Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, 1874
Original price: $125
Weight: 30 lbs
Dimensions: 15½ x 16 x 15½ in
The first commercially successful typewriter, this machine was invented by Christopher Latham Sholes and Carlos Glidden with assistance from a team of inventors and promoters. It was manufactured by E. Remington and Sons, an arms and sewing machine manufacturer in Ilion, New York. The Type Writer, as it was first called, was the landmark invention that helped transform business communication and industry in the late nineteenth century. Advertised as “a machine now superseding the pen,” the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer is ornately decorated with patriotic banners, flowers, images of young women, and landscapes. It types in uppercase characters only and was the first QWERTY keyboard, the same keyboard arrangement in use today.
The Caligraph No. 1, 1881
Original price: $70
Weight: 14 lbs
Dimensions: 12¼ x 14 x 10 in
The Caligraph was Remington’s first competitor in the typewriter market, invented by former Remington employees who contributed to the design and production of the original Sholes & Glidden Type Writer. They formed the American Writing Machine Company of New York to manufacture the machine. The Caligraph No. 1 uses its own unique keyboard arrangement with six rows of keys and two spacebars, one on either side of the keyboard. Like the Sholes & Glidden, the Caligraph No. 1 types in uppercase characters only, and a sheet-metal cover at the very front conceals the mechanism beneath it—this also serves as a deck for resting one’s forearms while typing as well as the location of its nameplate.
Columbia (Index), 1885
Original price: $30
Weight: 5 lbs
Dimensions: 10 x 5 x 6½ in
The Columbia Index typewriter was invented by Charles Spiro of New York, an attorney and inventor who enjoyed an extensive career designing typewriters. Spiro’s apprenticeship in the clock industry in his youth may have influenced the design of the Columbia Index. The index plate resembles a clock dial with a clock hand, which is actually a pointer to select the desired character for printing. In addition to its eye-catching appearance, the Columbia offered a number of advanced features for its time, which include interchangeable typewheels and variable spacing that resembles type found in printed material. Although the Columbia Index typewriter was short lived, Charles Spiro went on to achieve greater success with the Columbia Bar-Lock typewriter.
Victor Index, 1889
Original price: $15
Weight: 5 lbs
Dimensions: 12 x 9 x 3½ in
The Victor was a semicircular index typewriter manufactured by the Tilton Manufacturing Company of Boston, Massachusetts. Historians credit the Victor for being the first typewriter to print with a daisy wheel, a circular disc with letters mounted around its outer edge. Almost a century later, in the 1980s, daisy wheels were widely used in modern electronic typewriters. The daisy wheel in the Victor typewriter is controlled by placing one’s finger in the selector cup and moving it along the circular index of letters. While rotating, two ink pads rub against the letters on the wheel and apply the ink for printing. Once the desired character is selected, a lever on the left side is depressed, driving the print hammer into the daisy wheel to print. This produces characters with consistent impressions regardless of the amount of force placed on the print lever—this was a fairly sophisticated printing mechanism for an affordably priced 1880s index typewriter.
Bar-Lock No. 4, 1895
Original price: $100
Weight: 26 1/2 lbs
Dimensions: 14 x 15 x 9 in
The Bar-Lock No. 4 is one of several models from the Bar-Lock family of typewriters that originated in 1888. It was invented by Charles Spiro, a prolific typewriter inventor with numerous typewriter designs to his credit, and was manufactured by the Columbia Typewriter Company of New York in 1895. The most distinguishing characteristic of the Bar-Lock No. 4 is its highly ornate, semicircular shield standing 5 in (12 cm) tall. This decorative shield conceals the typebars that are located directly behind it. The Bar-Lock is equipped with a double keyboard that includes individual keys and typebars for each character. The double-keyboard design came about in an effort to avoid infringing on patents that were in effect for the shift mechanism. The total number of keys is seventy-eight plus a spacebar and a margin release key.
The Chicago, 1900
Original price: $135
Weight: 16 lbs
Dimensions: 12 x 12 x 6 in
The Chicago’s mechanical design was the offspring of inventor Samuel John Seifried’s earlier model known as the Munson typewriter of 1889. The Chicago uses a unique type sleeve for printing. This sleeve slides horizontally while simultaneously rotating to find the desired character. Once a character is selected, it is struck from the rear by a hammer pressing the type against the ribbon to print. The Chicago’s type sleeve is easily interchangeable with a variety of other type styles. The Chicago was available in cast iron or aluminum, and was a low-cost alternative to some of the higher-priced, full-featured, typewriters of the day. It was sold with a carrying case, which classifies it as a portable typewriter.
Original price: $15
Weight: 4 lbs
Dimensions: 11 x 5 x 2 in
The Junior arrived in one of the smallest packages ever seen for a full keyboard typewriter, and was advertised as a typewriter a businessman could place in their coat pocket. A close look at the Junior reveals a three-row keyboard, typewheel typewriter, with two ink rollers on either side of the typewheel for inking. The keyboard is easily removed with two thumbscrews in order to gain access to the ink rollers and the typewheel beneath it. Its odd keyboard design causes any depressed key to also lower the key(s) below it in that vertical row, and its fitted cover snaps tightly to the base to protect it while unused.
Corona Standard with Animal Keyboard, 1935
Original price: $49.50
Weight: 13 lbs
Dimensions: 11 x 12 x 4 1/2 in
Corona portable typewriters with an optional animal keyboard were first introduced in late 1935, just in time for the holiday season. This is not a toy typewriter or practice keyboard but rather a fully operational portable typewriter, promoted as a teaching aid for children. It was advertised that “a child could have no gift more fascinating——and perhaps none of greater lifelong value!” The machine included a lesson book and a set of nine rings that corresponded with the animals on its keyboard: a bird, dog, bunny, bear, elephant, duck, mouse, cat, and pig. This novel method of teaching a child to type came at a time when poor economic conditions made it difficult for many to afford such a luxury item.
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For more iconic typing machines, check out Typewriters by Anthony Casillo (complete with a foreword by Tom Hanks!).
Photographs by Bruce Curtis and Anthony Casillo
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