You’re So Vain: 1956 Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab

Look at this 1956 Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab, serial number AA2633478.  He’s so handsome!  Underwood flexes for us and displays the bulging muscles of America’s postwar abundance. Gold accents! He’s living large – the embodiment of industrial designer Raymond Loewy‘s quip: “The loveliest curve I know is the sales curve.”

Just a hunk, a hunk of burning love—a muscle-bound mash-up of Steve Reeves, Elvis, and a ’56 Ford Thunderbird. This is his good side in side serratus and biceps pose:

However. He’s got some issues—commitment issues.  Specifically, he can’t commit to a single place on the carriage rail.  He’s a slippery fellow, unable to settle down.

I picked up this bad boy at Herman’s last jamboree (you meet all sorts) and brought him home. I was looking for a long-term relationship, but this Underwood just can’t stay in one place.

This Underwood portable is a handsome bad boyfriend: easy on the eyes, but difficult in all sorts of aggravating ways. He’s full of secrets, requiring special tools and super-human patience and abilities to unlock him.  I was spending too much time trying to make him behave, but I think I’m over him.

When I first brought him home, I took the Underwood out to workshop and stripped him down. He was very dirty—which I find provocative in a typewriter.  I thought that his sliding carriage issues were related to a dirty/gummy escapement which I’ve seen before, so I patiently cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. No dice.

It would help if I could see something.  Even with all the body panels off, I could not see the escapement.  Everything was hidden behind an interior frame.  I longed for a Royal or Smith-Corona portable set-up where everything hangs out:

I thought, well, let’s pop out the platen and see if I can see anything underneath the platen.

Oh GOOD GRIEF.  The platen screw needs a 4-spline Bristol wrench – which I don’t have:

Someone else might decide at this point to remove the carriage, but there’s no flippin’ way I am taking off that carriage.  I defer to The Wisdom of Blender.

Also from the Teachings of Blender:

Well, unfortunately I can’t find a service manual for a 1950s Underwood portable. The old Underwood standards I have worked on have been true joy.  They had well-documented guides, accessible innards, wide open spaces. Would that all typewriters were like old Underwood standards. Would that Underwood had made their portables as easy to work on as their standards.

Lurking in the Facebook Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group I have come to find that I am not alone in thinking this.  People who tinker with typewriters dislike working on Underwood portables of this era.

Still, I am so curious.  I want to look deep into Underwood’s heart and see if I can understand him any better. Is it me, or is it him?

Which brings me to another project I have been working on with my husband: replacing about 50 feet of sump drainage pipe that had silted up.  The sump drain pipe wasn’t flowing as it should, and we had problems snaking it. What could the obstruction be? Tree roots, pipe collapse, small garden gnome? We pulled the old pipe out and discovered that it had silted up – the old pipe was perforated and had no protective sock.  Fortunately my husband and I got the new pipe in before the Deluge of the Century – three to four inches fell in just an hour.

Now that the pipe has been replaced, it is my job to go out and re-seat the sod.

It is slow, hot work in the heat of the Virginia summer – the red Virginia clay is like cement:

I am hating this project and think wistfully of the cool darkness of the garage where my queue of typewriters sit.  The only thing keeping me sane while I dig in the clay is my “70s Fun” playlist. Scientists say that listening to music of your youth activates dormant neural pathways. Listening to “70s Fun” gives me almost unaccountable pleasure and gets my mind wheels turning – what was the crime Mama Pajama witnessed?  One of the very funniest songs on the playlist is “You’re So Vain” – which is overplayed (I seem to encounter it every time I’m at the grocery store) and thus not fully appreciated for its sly, rueful humor.


Once we finish with this drainage pipe project, we’ll need to regularly monitor the new pipe. So I talked my husband into a  33 ft KZYEE endoscope/borescope. Bill M. recently mentioned borescopes in a blog post, and I thought  that would be good for sump drain pipe monitoring – and typewriter inspection.

The KZYEE borescope is very nice – waterproof, nice bright light, and a tiny 5mm head. I installed the viewing app on my phone and connected to the borescope via wifi.

Wow, this endoscope is neat. This shot looks like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but no, that is a ball bearing inside the Underwood that I darest not deal with:

OK – here we are at the Underwood’s escapement. This is the best view I can get. On key press, the rigid dog jumps into the escapement wheel teeth.

On key press, the rigid dog moves into position.

What I think is happening: the loose dog is a lazy dog and fails to jump into the fray after the key is released, so the escapement wheel flies free and the carriage reels over to the left. The loose dog may be broken or worn.  Perhaps there is a disconnected or broken spring.  I can’t tell because these are the best images I can get deep down in there.

On key release, the loose dog fails to move into position.

I opened up the Manual Typewriter Repair Bible to the Underwood Portable section.  It details operations and fixes for older-model Underwood portables, but I hoped it would have some clues as to what might be happening here in this 1956 Underwood portable.

Third hole from the right, huh?

After loosening the lock nut with a pair of needle nose pliers (too tight in there to get a nut driver in), I tightened what I think is the “Rocker Limit Screw”.

The new borescope is also a wonderful focused light for dark places

This brought the rigid dog into permanent contact with the escapement wheel.  At least the carriage wasn’t sliding way over to the left anymore.  I was able to get some good pictures in its fixed position and wring a type sample out of it with some difficulty.

That’s a pity.  A nice typeface wasted on this here nonfunctional typewriter.

I may end up bringing this fellow to Herman’s in October and let members of the Brain Trust evaluate it.

You’re so vain, Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab. You probably think this post is about you. You’re fabulous to look at, but I am done with your BS.  You need professional help, and maybe you can find that at Herman’s.

Addendum: many thanks to my sweet, hard-working, but still very dirty 1956 Royal QDL (Adobe Rose East) for doing the typing for this post.

Freak Out: Remington Portable No. 1

Last week, I got a text from a local typospherian about a couple typewriters that needed a clean-up and fix.  Was I interested?  Of course!

Jean is a teacher with a deep love of typewriters.  I rehabbed a distressed Lettera 22 for her that has become one of her very most favorite typewriters.

Jean and her Lettera 22

Jean arrived with a lovely SM8 – it ‘s just a little gummy and will clean up nicely.

She also had a Remington Portable with issues. Most obvious were a broken drawstring and a typebar that was sticking up. I pulled the carriage gently to the left and tested typing. It seemed to work.

This little thing is a Remington Portable #1 from 1922, the dawn of portable typewriters with standard four-bank keyboards.

I have a confession to make: Remington portables of this ilk kind of FREAK ME OUT.  I see them a lot in antique stores, but they make me uneasy.  I vaguely remember an orchid-colored Porto-Rite I came across a few years ago that I was almost too afraid to even touch; it was so beautiful and so strange. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the typebars up, so I backed away from it cautiously, careful not to make any quick movements.

These old Remington portables are not typewriters that I understand right out of the box. I have to familiarize myself with all their weird little controls by paging through the manuals and watching instructional videos.

First up:  The carriage lock.  To disengage it, you pull out the right platen knob.  Weird, but OK. To get it back into its case, you have to pull forward an obscure little locking lever behind the left carriage release lever, push the right platen knob in and move the carriage until it clicks and locks in the center. Got it?  If you don’t lock it, it may not fit in its case and you might damage the right platen knob and scrape up the inside of the case.

Next, to get it to type anything, the typebars need to be in the freaky upright typing position achieved by raising them with a lever. Ready: 1, 2, 3…


Note that the “@/¢” slug is broken. The #1 doesn’t have the curved typebar guards on each side that the #2 has for protection.

This just seems dangerous.  How did so many of these survive 90-100 years with this sort of fragile set-up?  Also, someone might poke their eye out here. Won’t someone please think of the children?

On top of that, I kind of freak out because at first glance I think I’m missing parts on this #1:

  1. There’s no left platen knob! What the heck!
  2. There’s no carriage release lever on the right! That’s a paper release lever!
  3. There’s no carriage return lever! On these early ones, you use a little pinch mechanism to return the carriage and advance to the next line.
  4. There are a couple small and easily overlooked metal tabs for the margin release and the line spacing.

It’s so primitive and so weirdly complicated at the same time. has an excellent post on features of early Remington Portable #1s. There seems to have been a lot of experimentation, evaluation, addition, and revision in those early days.

Richard Polt’s Classic Typewriter Page has a very good run-down of early Remington portables. He estimates that 400,000 Remington Portable #1s were made between 1920 to 1925. They were very popular and Remington followed up the #1 with several successful portable models.

Per Richard P.’s Remington Portable page, some of the early Remington portables had 2-letter, 5-numeral codes: the first letter represents the typewriter model, the second letter the month of manufacture, and the first numeral represents the year of manufacture (e.g “3” means 1923).

Jean’s Remington has a serial number of  NZ27886 meaning that it is a 1922 Remington Portable that was made in the month of November.

The first thing I wanted to address was the busted drawstring. I had to take the base plate off to access the machine from beneath.  On this typewriter, there are four screws on each corner that hold the typewriter to the base that need to come off.

The drawstring has a slightly unusual set up, so I was very glad that I watched the Duane Jensen’s  Phoenix Typewriter video for the drawband repair. I used heavy duty craft thread for my repair. I think I found the thread in the jewelry department at Michael’s craft store.

There’s a little clip on the end of the carriage where I secured the end.

I used a bamboo skewer and threaded the draw string  through to the mainspring area.

Here comes the drawstring on the bamboo skewer

There’s a little clip and a pulley that the string needs to go though:

I took Duane’s suggestion of indicating with an arrow the winding direction of the mainspring.  It’s easy to get confused and wind the wrong way. I wound the mainspring five complete turns and wedged a pointy tool into the mainspring to hold it in place while I made a big knot in my new string.

The moment of truth: it types!

We need a new ribbon here.  Take a moment and watch Typewriter Justice’s video on Remington Portable ribbon changing.  It’s a little complicated, and you want to make sure it’s wound on the spools properly or it won’t feed.

Let’s put some paper in and get to typing!


Oh crud. I couldn’t feed a sheet of paper in.  The four rear feed rollers were hard as rocks and square in shape.  Ugh! The four front feed rollers were OK – a little hard, but mostly round and moving.   I finally managed to scoot some paper in by engaging the paper release lever and slipping it around the platen.  This typewriter typed very nicely but it was unusable with those square feed  rollers. I will deal with this later, I told myself.

I decided to address the typebar that was sticking straight up.

What is your major malfunction?!

Sometimes there’s something jammed under a  typebar that will prevent it from laying flat. Sometimes there’s something bent.

There was something bent. A key lever was bent and hanging up on the lever next to it.

I straightened out the lever carefully and the typebar then rested comfortably with his peers.

It was time to take care of those rear feed rollers.  Once again, Duane Jensen from Phoenix Typewriter had two very helpful videos.  One video demonstrates rear feed roller replacement. The other video shows how to remove the platen from a Remington portable. I wanted good access to the rear feed rollers and I wanted to clean the platen and under the platen.  A lot of dusty gunk was kicking up from underneath it and dirtying the paper.

I took off the top cover by removing two screws on each side. I did this for cleaning purposes.

I then removed the set screw that held the right platen knob on.

I pushed the platen rod through the platen from right to left (if facing the front of the  typewriter) and had to use a pair of pliers to pull it out.

I loosened the two screws that held the line gauge just a tiny bit and pulled out the line gauge.

I loosened the screw that holds the scale just a tiny bit so I could pull out the platen without bending it. Don’t take the screw all the way out because there is a wacky triangular nut behind that will slip out and get lost. I don’t know if I needed to do this on the #1 – the platen came out very easily.

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle and out came the platen.

Removing the little rods that hold the feed rollers in is tricky. Backspace Does Not Erase does beautiful work on Remington Portables, and I have found his blog an invaluable resource during this project.  He has a good picture of how the feed roller rods should be removed in his post on dismantling a Remington Portable.  There are a total of eight feed rollers: four in front and four in the rear.  I’m going to fix the rear four. On this 1922  Remington, there are two rods in back, each holding a pair of rear feed rollers. One end of the rod is knurled to hold it in place and you have to tap the rod out in the direction of the knurled end or it won’t budge.

I used a hammer and a thin punch to tap the rod out part way.  I then wiggled the rod out all the way with a pair of needle nose pliers.

I learned after the fact that removing the feed rollers is a lot easier if you remove the paper tray which is held in place with a couple small rods. Here is an excellent description of how to remove the paper tray.

I carved the old hardened rubber off the center brass core of the feed roller and then polished up the core with #0000 steel wool.

I bought a foot of rubber tubing at the auto parts store for about $1.50.  It had an inner diameter of 7/32″ and an outer diameter of about 3/8″.

Though it fit snugly over the brass core of the feed roller, the resulting outer diameter was a tad larger than the original feed roller.

I made four new rear feed rollers, popped them in and hoped for the best. I cleaned the platen  and reinserted it.  The platen rod required a lot of wiggling to get it to slide through (left to right if facing the front of the machine).  Once everything was re-assembled, I tested.

The new rear feed rollers work great.  They grip the paper solidly.  The platen turning is a just a hair tight, but this is more than good enough. That paper feeds so nicely.

I finished cleaning up the typewriter and scrubbed the type with mineral spirits and a brass brush.

Minty clean

I am now thoroughly charmed by this strange little thing. I’m not freaked out anymore. It’s missing the “@/¢” slug but is otherwise a nice lil typer.

I have another Remington Portable, a #2, in the queue. The decals are still very nice on this one.

It has a tragic platen.

I’m going to clean this up and recover the platen on this #2. I feel so much more confident now that I have worked on the #1.

One last thing.  I have a theory about Remington Portables with random orange keys you see here and on   Oil got in under the key tops and darkened the yellow here and there.  I actually like the warm, orangey punches of color. Anyway, that is my theory. Thank you.

One more last thing:  does anyone know the meaning of the T/S symbol on this key?  It’s on the Remington Portable #2 I am starting to clean up. Could it be a currency symbol (since it’s next to the “$” and “£”)?

Here’s the last, last thing:  Antikey Chop sells a Remington Portable #1 manual digital download in his Etsy shop and there’s a Remington Portable #2 instruction manual in Richard Polt’s manual archive.

A Makeshift Paper Mache Cover for a Consul 232

Some time ago I pulled out my Rheinmetall to type up some stuff, and I said to myself,  “How sweet it is!” The typing was perfect. I love the way this thing rolls – serious surfin’ swagger.

Toss me the keys, Baby, and let’s blow this popsicle stand.

The typing was perfect until the ribbon stopped advancing mid-sentence. What!!

I took the ribbon cover off and peered around.  I tested typing and it was fine.

I replaced the ribbon cover and the ribbon stopped advancing.

I removed the ribbon cover and completed whatever it was I was typing and then took a closer look under the hood.  I was missing a rubber washer on one side.  The ribbon feed mechanism was binding intermittently in one direction.  Perhaps the lid sat too low.

There are so many topless typewriters out there.  I wonder how many were victims of ribbon feed problems that resolved with cover removal.  The lost ribbon covers now belong to the ages.

Ribbon feed problems could be due to a number of issues:

The ribbon cover that binds on the spooling mechanism (#4)—that is a thing.

Here is a BBC article from 2012 entitled “Five reasons to still use a typewriter” with images of not one but two Letteras without ribbon covers.  Did the BBC have problems finding photos of intact typewriters in their stock image archives?

I’ve seen topless typewriters owned by famous people: Leonard Cohen, Larry McMurtry, Woody Allen. Maybe they had spooling problems that resolved with cover removal.

Which brings me to the Consul 232 without a ribbon cover that I brought home from Herman’s.

It was a wee bit rusty. The roof fell in and the rain came down:

The Consul 232 User Manual (found at Richard Polt’s typewriter manual archive) has an image of of a woman with an umbrella—something this Consul could have used at some point.

The typewriter was made in Czechoslovakia:

According to Typewriter Database, you interpret a Consul serial number this way:

The first digit of serial number indicates the year of production (4 means 1964), followed by model number (2 or 3 digits), followed by the machine’s s/n of 6 digits

So: #7232467803 means that this is a 1967 Consul 232 with a serial number 467803.

It has interesting mechanics – at least to me, someone who sees a lot of Smith-Coronas and Royals and not too many Czech typewriters. Czech out these key lever pivot rods.   They were a little crunchy, but loosened up with PB B’laster.

I am currently contemplating swapping out a broken key lever on a Royal Safari, and it’s going to be a helluva job.  If the Safari were constructed like this Consul, I’d be happier.

Here are the Consul’s weird guts.  This is before cleaning—and it still typed just fine.

The Consul isn’t rattly and clattery but surprisingly solid despite its very light weight. This cleaned up nicely.

I decided to make a paper mache ribbon cover.  It’s a cute little thing, and it didn’t seem right to leave it without a cover.

I first cut out a rough template from paper that I transferred to foam board.   I made it large and cut it down, tested the size , cut it more, and then used hot glue gun to hold it all together.  I tested typing on it to make sure all the typebars sailed through to the platen. The foam board was a light but structurally strong base – good for my paper mache.

I made a flour and water paper mache mixture from 1 part flour to 5 parts water, cooked it on the stove to boiling for a few minutes and then let it cool. It was nice and smooth.

While that cooled, I threw in a new ribbon and typed out quotes on the Consul on imperfection, etc.

Yeah, whatever, Lady. I don’t know about that.



Right on.

Strong agree.

I am currently constructing my own paper mache wand with which to hit my head.

That’s me, Gary!

Oh yeah.

I cut small pieces of the typed quotes and dipped them in my flour/water mixture and paper mached the heck out of my foam board ribbon cover. I then painted it with dilute coffee so that the white paper was more of a cream to match the platen knobs and space bar.

I don’t know – the art here seems a little corny and obvious.  With the quotes all crammed together, they sound Hallmark-y without space to stand alone and breathe.  I decided to type out details of this Consul typewriter, and my daughter suggested including the URL of my blog. She knows I like a little self-promotion.

I futzed and futzed with the cover until I realized that it was never going to be perfect —but wasn’t that the point of this exercise? Have I learned nothing?

I christened this Consul the “makeSHIFT” —ha!


This scrappy patchwork paper mache ribbon cover makes me think of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors”.  It’s on my playlist called “70s Weepies”.   I always get so choked up when I hear Dolly’s sweet, chipper little voice recount the lessons of making shift during her hardscrabble childhood in Tennessee.

I wonder if the other little Consuls at Typewriter Database will make fun of makeSHIFT and her scrappy little ribbon cover. No, they’re nice kids.

Grist for the Mill from Herman’s

Last weekend, I drove out from DC to West Virginia to attend the Spring Typewriter Jubilee at Herman’s. About 50 typewriter enthusiasts were getting together, and how could I say no to that kind of good times energy?

I stopped by antique stores on my way out to West Virginia and saw lots of adding machines but not too many typewriters.

Cumberland, MD

I got to Herman’s in West Virginia, and lots of things happened. My recollections of the Typewriter Jubilee are a bit scattered: I remember typewriters and conversations about typewriters and generalized nuttiness.  As often happens at these typewriter festivals, I may have been under the influence of PB B’laster fumes. I took a few pictures with my phone, so that will help as I try to piece together a coherent report of the event.

When I first got to Herman’s, I helped Kansas Typewriter (Alison D.) set up her tent for the night. It was enormous.  The tent package said it could hold up to 40 Boy Scouts.  Here is Alison swooning about halfway through the set-up:

Alison had arrived from Kansas with a trunk-load of cute typewriters. She had this:

It is Adobe Rose‘s twin sister, and now she is mine. I christened her “Adobe Rose East”.

I toured Herman’s fabulous collection:

This is our host, Herman. This is not Gerald Cha:

On Saturday, there was a panel discussion on typewriters:

And there were presentations:

  • Mike B. on ribbons and spools – lots of great information and tips
  • Evan B. on keytop removal and replacement. I wish I had those specialty tools.
  • Jonathan P. on the Hammond—so many twists and turns in this story!
  • Richard P. on the Hogar, a rare Spanish index typewriter

Mike B. and his collection of spool types

Evan uses a 1/2″ punch to cut out his keytop replacement legends. Brilliant!

Of course people brought some gorgeous typewriters to Herman’s.  Nicholas J.  arrived with a carload of beautiful German typewriters.  One of them was this Olympia 8.  Here he is demonstrating how easy it is to remove the carriage:

I was mesmerized by the silken shine of the Olympia and got into a long discussion with Nicholas about his polishing techniques.   He made me a cleaning cloth impregnated with shavings of polishing compounds.

Herman’s wife had wisely skipped town while the Typewriter Jubilee was going down, and Herman’s friend Ginger stepped in to help out in the kitchen.  Ginger eyed the cloth impregnation with some suspicion, but while Nicholas worked she told me about the 15 foot python that was  terrorizing Sabraton. Ginger was mollified after Nicholas cleaned her sink and faucet area and polished it to a mirror finish with his impregnated cloth.

There was also a typewriter beauty contest, and the Olympia 8 tied with this incredible Torpedo.

And there was a speed typing contest.  I was horrified to see Richard P. hauling the Crushed Lettera up to the contest table, but he crushed the competition and got first place in the speed typing contest with the Crushed Lettera.   Big WHEW.

Two of the three editors of the Cold Hard Type volumes (Paradigm Shifts and Escapements) were at the Typewriter Jubilee, and they kindly signed my copies:

I stayed through Sunday morning, and before I left, Herman gave me the requisite fly fishing tutorial. The correct positioning is “11:00 O’Clock, 1:00 O’Clock”.  I now feel confident packing my cooler and heading up to Alaska for salmon.

There are more pictures of the Jubilee on the Antique Typewriter Collectors Facebook group.

Besides Adobe Rose East, what did I bring home?  A bunch of typewriters that need some tender loving care, that’s what. There is a beautiful Underwood De Luxe Quiet Tab with a sliding carriage that doesn’t catch. It’s on my work bench and I am making progress – though I have no idea how technicians ever serviced these things.  The escapement is hidden deep and inaccessible under the carriage.

I also got a Consul 232 with a missing ribbon cover. I think I will fashion an artsy replacement out of paper maché.  Though kind of rusty and beat-up, this Consul is amazingly strong and solid for an ultra-portable. Because of its size and condition, I thought it would be sort of rattly – but no, it’s very good typing.

This Royal Safari has a broken key lever.  I haven’t played with a Safari before, so that will be an education. If anyone has a parts machine Safari that I can get a key lever from, let me know.

Mr. E told me this Royal KHM has “issues”. Come on in, KHM!

And I got a good and dirty Remington portable – a type I have limited experience with.  This should be a really fun project:

I have some work to do here.  I’m starting with the Underwood portable and Consul 232, and that should keep me busy for a bit.

Crushes and Crushed Lettera

I have some messy hobbies that junk up the house, and one of them is amateur typewriter repair.  Some people garden or crochet, but I enjoy the sweet thrill of finding the fix that makes a broken typewriter sing again. I try not to collect typewriters, but a few have worked their way into my heart.

Recently I crushed hard on a local Royal Quiet De Luxe I saw on eBay. Though it was described as typing, it looked like it needed help.  It was kind of my beau ideal of typewriters: a type I wanted for some reason or another, in bad shape.  Though not in hand, I started imagining a future for us together.  The QDL would arrive in terrible condition, but with a gentle hand and warm heart, I would bring it back to life. Ah, the romance of typewriter repair!

Crushes are rooted in fantasy and projection, and I projected my need for a triumph narrative upon this forlorn object.

This eBay QDL looked like a beat-up twin to Joe Van Cleave’s Adobe Rose. I have admired Joe’s typewriter from afar: its beautiful cream and tanny-pink palette, the red accents, the tombstone keys, and the lovely typeface (Herald Elite?).

Joe Van Cleave's Adobe Rose Royal QDL

The eBay QDL attracted no bids. I contacted the seller about price and a local pick up, but never heard back. I was crushed – no QDL for me.

I am always looking for broken or dirty typewriters to tinker with for catch-and-release projects. I had a pretty good system in California. Moe from Mozo’s Antique Search and Rescue shop would call me when they got a typewriter in. I’d clean it up, make repairs, and get to play with it a bit before returning it to the shop. Moe’s shop closed and I moved to Virginia, and now I need to figure out a similar set-up here.

I am going to Herman’s in June, so I printed up business cards. Lots of people at Herman’s have business cards.  On mine, I forgot to include my name, and I am sure there’s a typo or two. I can barely read the print on it. business card

I have recently been haunting “typewriter parts repair” on eBay.  After my QDL disappointment, I searched for a nonfunctional typewriter, something small that would travel safely if packed well. I was torn between two non-working, older Lettera 22s. One Lettera in Pennsylvania  was described as “This does not work because the carriage does not move.”  That sounded pretty good, but maybe it was just an engaged carriage lock.

The other Lettera 22 in Las Vegas sounded more interesting.  It was described as “The typewriter is Not Working. the carriage doesn’t move, the tap and the space bar doesn’t work and all Keys stuck. Sold as is for repairs. No expertise on this old typewriter.”

In addition, close-ups of the Las Vegas Lettera’s type appeared to show a lovely typeface.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - Olivetti Victoria Elite typeface

And—and, the Las Vegas Lettera had both spools and spool nuts, something I couldn’t tell from the pictures of the Pennsylvania Lettera.

Olivetti Lettera 22 with original spools and spool nuts

I went ahead and did a “Buy It Now” and waited.  The typewriter arrived quickly from Las Vegas, very nicely packed. One nice addition: a set of tools in an Olivetti-branded case.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - aluminum brush case with Olivetti branding

I took the typewriter to the work bench and popped the hood:

Olivetti Lettera 22 on the work bench

True to its description, it had these problems:

  • the carriage was very jammed – sitting approximately at center but wiggling half a centimeter in either direction.
  • The space bar was meeting an obstruction
  • Tabbing was nonfunctional
  • Shifting was meeting an obstruction
  • The keys, though a little sticky, met the platen but did not advance the carriage

I went through the list of possible causes of the carriage jam:

  • Was the carriage lock on? No.
  • Were the margins set too close together? No.
  • Was the bottom cover plate squishing into the guts and impeding function? That was a real possibility. The feet were melted and flattened:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - melted foot

I took off the bottom plate.  Though the carriage was still jammed, it gave me a chance to look around at the guts.

  • Was a tab malfunction causing a carriage jam? Probably not. I cleared a few scattered tab stops on the tab tube with my hands and then tried the clear all the stops and move the carriage.  No luck.
  • Was the escapement function stuck and gummed up? It didn’t look like it.
  • Was there a stray chunk of something or a bent piece of metal that prevented the space bar and shift from moving? Hmmmm.

I examined the route of action from the space bar and shift and keys and spotted something that looked weird and made no sense in terms of function:

Olivetti Lettera 22 trip screw - incorrect position against tongue of universal bar

The trip screw was lodged underneath the little tongue from the universal bar, preventing the universal bar from moving.

I pulled out a dental tool and popped the trip screw back into it correct position to the side of the tongue.

Olivetti Lettera 22 trip screw - correct position against tongue of universal bar

Well, now.  That was it. The carriage was freed and the Lettera was typing. I downloaded the Olivetti Lettera 22 repair manual so that I could positively identify the parts involved. I am guessing this won’t be the last dysfunctional Lettera 22 that will come my way.

Olivetti Lettera 22 types again

Its main problem fixed, I went about doing my usual clean.  I blew out the dust bunnies with my air compressor. I do that in a plastic tub in case I blow out a loose part.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - using an air compressor to blow out dust

I scrubbed the type with a brash brush and mineral spirits.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - scrubbing type with mineral spirits and a brass bristle brush

This Lettera has a pleasant blue and red ribbon – though a little faded,  I think I’ll keep it. It has that pretty typeface – I think it’s Olivetti Elite Victoria:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - typeface is Olivetti Elite Victoria

I found that I couldn’t test the Lettera 22 without its feet in place.  Because it’s so low slung, its belly rubbed on the table, and things like margins and tabs malfunctioned.  This particular Lettera might have gotten crushed (how else to explain the weird wedged position of the trip screw?) so it may be sitting very low. I think someone sat on it.

Two of the original feet had melted and I had to pick them off the bottom plate.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - melted and disintegrating feet

I made two new feet by gluing together three rubber washers of varying size:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - replacement feet made from rubber washers of various sizes

Note that the largest washer has a larger hole that the screw head can fit through. I made it this way so that the foot screw is counter-sunk into the new foot like this:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - screw is counter-sunk in rubber foot

I replaced the case / frame grommets as well since the originals had melted into tarry nothingness.

I cleaned the grungy zippered case with Scrubbing Bubbles and it came out looking pretty nice:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - cleaned nylon zippered case with Scrubbing Bubbles

We are all done here.  Now that her carriage is free, this little bird is flying over to WordPlay Cincy.  Before she wings it, she typed out a list of crushes for me:




The Regal Royal and a Broken Typebar

The other morning my husband spotted my dear neighbor Connie standing silently, patiently outside my front door with a Royal 10 in her arms.  She had carried the machine up the street from her house despite the fact that it weighs a full third of her body weight. The Royal 10 had been in the family and no one wanted it (!), so she hauled it up the block to my home for unwed typewriters. I haven’t lived here long, but the neighbors are already on to me, familiar with my strange quirks and enthusiasms.

Always in motion, Connie is in impressive physical condition  – she proudly turns 80 next year!  I frequently see her scampering across her two-story roof, addressing gutter issues. I want to be Connie when I grow up. #BodyByRoyal

I thanked Connie profusely and told her that I could clean it up for her young grandson, but she said no – it was all mine.

Only lacking spools, the Royal 10 was intact and appeared to be in OK typing condition.

It has an interesting serial number: Y-37-108373


And the right shift key has a “Regal Precision Rebuilt” insert:

Well, I’ll be darned!  It’s one of those Regal rebuilt Royals that I have read about. I am assuming from the serial number that it was rebuilt about 1937.  Will Davis has a whole blog dedicated to rebuilt typewriters of various makes: 

On the back I see the faded ghost of a Regal decal:

Right now, I’ve got  a lot of Royal 10 action going on in the garage:

Though I don’t need a third Royal 10, I am looking forward to cleaning up Connie’s Regal and finding a good home for it.

Recently the DC/VA/MD Antique Typewriter Collectors Facebook group reacted with horror at this tweet by a DC area journalist who is starting a poetry project that requires a typewriter:

There are Right Royals and Rong Royals.  Most typospherians agree that this is just Rong.

At least a couple of us in the Facebook group have reached out to the poor guy. I haven’t heard back, but thanks to Connie, I have here in my hands a solid piece of iron that may be up to the task.

I took the Regal out to the garage and blew out the dirt.

At some point in its life, the Regal had sat in about an inch or two of water.   It has a bottom cover plate my other Royal 10s lack – this was rusted onto the machine. I doused its screws with penetrating oil and hoped I would eventually be able to peel it off so I could get the rest of the chunks I heard rattling around inside..

As I gently examined the machine, I found a serious problem.

The letter “D” typebar was broken.  I have never swapped out a typebar, but I have a perfectly nice Royal 10  parts machine 10 feet away with an identical typeface and pitch.  I haven’t done this procedure before, but I found a nice little tutorial on YouTube:

I may be wrong about this, but the Royal 10s do not appear to have fulcrum screws that need to be loosened.  I tried to use wire from a coat hanger as my chaser wire, but my parts machine was still too rough and too rusty and I couldn’t “chase” the fulcrum wire.  I ended up used a very thin punch, a hammer and a pair of pliers.  I decided that my parts machine did not need a fulcrum wire and I could really use a decent chaser wire for my tool box.

I sanded down my chaser wire with steel wool and greased it up and it went in smoothly into the Regal with the broken typebar.

I made the mistake of pulling back my chaser wire and a bunch of typebars fell out.  I had to slowly reinsert them and inch the fulcrum wire back all the way through.  In the end, everything was fine, but it took a while. This old dog has learned a new trick.

The typewriter also had a line spacing on return problem.  The rubber part of the platen was not moving with the ratchet part.  I removed the platen rod and popped out the platen. Phoenix Typewriter has a video of a 1960s Royal Sabre with a similar problem. My 1920s/1930s rebuilt Royal has essentially the same mechanism and it was the same problem: the “fractional cylinder end” was all gummed up and not springing back and forth.

I cleaned up the fractional cylinder end with mineral spirits until it was springy and reassembled the platen and everything worked fine. I think it had been taken apart before because it’s missing a set screw and possibly a variable spring.  Fortunately for me I had my Manual Typewriter Repair Bible for reference during reassembly because a little tongued washer fell out and I wasn’t quite sure how it went in.

Now we’re cooking with gas.  I was finally able to remove the bottom cover plate.  I put all the bottom parts in a citric acid rust bath for the night. Everything about an inch or two up the machine was rusted including the line lock bail.  It was rusted on its pivots so the line lock was nonfunctional.  I lubricated it and moved it with my hands until it was springy and functional.

Line lock bail – pivots rusted at the ends

I ordered some Royal ribbon spools for this machine.  I’ll do a little paint touch up, and I think I’ll be done here.  This is a very nice 1920s/30s Royal standard typewriter that someone will love.

Here are my three Royal 10s in a row: one donor and two appreciative recipients.  Left to right:  the dunked Royal 10 parts machine, Mr E’s former parts machine, and Connie’s Regal Rebuilt Royal.

The three kings


Trenton J. commented on my post about dunking a Royal 10 typewriter for rust removal.  I used five gallons of de-ruster liquid.  He describes a process using just one gallon – a brilliant system!

When you need 5 gal. of Evapo Rust you only need 1. I’ve done this. Here’s the deal. Wrap typewriter in double layer of heavy duty garbage bags leaving the top open. Use duct tape to make it form fitting. Now fill all the voids inside with glass marbles or “gems” and/or smooth pebbles. You want to reduce interior volume. Place the whole thing in a big plastic tub. Actually do that first since it will be heavy. Now fill tub with water just below the garbage bag opening. Hydraulic pressure further reduces interior volume. Now you can fill the bag with Evapo Rust. One gal. was just enough for my Continental standard desktop. When finished bail out the water, cut the bag and recover your Evapo Rust.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (Probably)

A few weeks ago I had the run of the house while my husband and  daughter were out of town, so I conducted a science experiment that involved dunking a very rusty typewriter in a citric acid bath.

The experiment wasn’t a failure, but my outcomes were different from my expectations – and that’s not a completely bad thing. This is an ABC Afterschool Special where everybody learns something from a challenging experience and grows a bit.

Following a 7th grade science fair outline, I describe my experimental process below:


I dunked a solidly rusted 1929 Royal 10 into a 10% citric acid solution in an effort to remove rust.  The goal was to either a) make the typewriter functional or b) render it a usable parts machine for another Royal 10 project I have. **SPOILER ALERT** While the citric acid solution effectively removed rust, it did not produce a functional typewriter.


I bought a 1929 Royal 10. It was completely rusted but intact with the exception of missing carriage ball bearings and pinions.  I thought, yeah, I can make that work.  The machine had apparently spent much time in a damp environment, as it was an immobile, solid block of rust.  It was so rusted, I couldn’t remove the ribbon spools.

Despite liberal application of penetrating lubricants, nothing was moving. I have worked with rusty machines before, and usually after a few days of lubricants and gentle urging, the machine will move.  This one didn’t. Not a thing moved.  I couldn’t even remove the screws or cover plates. I finally was able to remove the ribbon spools using some naval jelly, but it was a struggle. Those special Royal ribbon spools are expensive, so that’s a win.

Here it is on my work bench.  It doesn’t look bad in this picture, but it was so, so solid.


Solid. Solid as a rock.

Materials and Methods

I read an interesting forum post about a citric acid dunk for a rusted typewriter, and became intrigued. Maybe, maybe I could get this thing moving.

Here’s what I used:

  • Simple Green
  • Big plastic tub
  • A collection of brushes in different shapes and sizes
  • Plenty of rags
  • Drop cloth (old curtain)
  • 5 lb bag of citric acid powder
  • Water
  • Baking soda
  • Air compressor
  • PB Blaster

The very first thing I did was remove the carriage. I did not want to dunk the platen since it has a wooden core that would swell and split. I did a dry brush with my bottle brushes and brass bristle brushes to loosen junk that my lubricants loosened.  I then placed the typewriter in my huge plastic tub and blew out loose debris with my air compressor.

I then hauled the typewriter up to the upstairs bathroom to de-grease it prior to its citric acid bath.  Wrapping the keys in plastic wrap to keep them dry, I dunked the typewriter into a solution of Simple Green and water to de-grease the typewriter since it was full of lubricants.  Then I scrubbed the heck out of the typewriter.

This is something I have always dreamed about: scrubbing a dirty typewriter like a pig going to the state fair, but it was, in reality, really gross. The typewriter was slippery and awkward and left a nasty brownish ring in the tub. I felt a wave of irritated exhaustion wash over me, but I knew I had to complete the mission. After some therapeutic swearing,  I rinsed the typewriter and dragged all 30+ slippery pounds of it back downstairs to the garage. I was already so very tired.

I had bought a 5lb bag of 100% citric acid powder online (it was about $11.00).  I liked the idea of using something fairly safe (citric acid is used in canning and soap making). In my big plastic tub, I mixed up an approximate 10% solution by mixing the 5 lb bag of citric acid (about 2268 grams) and about 6 gallons of very hot water (about 22.7 kilograms). I converted everything to metric to make my calculations simpler. If my math is wrong here, let me know in the comments.

After I filled my tub, I gently lowered my typewriter into the solution.  The level was not high enough to completely submerge the typewriter; and I wanted the level to be just shy of the keys, so I filled buckets with clean water and placed them in the tub to raise the level of the solution.

Every couple hours I would check on the typewriter in the bath, giving it a good scrub and testing parts for movement. The typewriter soaked for a total of 36 hours. I then removed it from the bath, added fresh water and a box of baking soda to neutralize the acid.  I rinsed it off, blew out the water with the air compressor and sprayed the dry typewriter liberally with PB Blaster to prevent flash rust.


After a couple hours of the citric acid soak, I was able to remove a spool cover plate.   The frozen mainspring began to move. Keys began to move.  I got very excited. And waited. I really wanted the escapement and tab mechanism to start moving. After 36 hours I gave up and removed the typewriter from the citric acid solution.

Look how fresh and clean that thing is.  This citric acid solution effectively removes rust.  However, the escapement and tabbing mechanism still don’t move.

But, I was now able to remove previously immobile screws and pins, and I started to slowly dismantle the typewriter for the parts I needed for its 1925 Royal 10 brother.

The extended soak had caused the paint was to soften and flake in places.   At least one spring disintegrated.

I ended up with about six gallons of left-over citric acid solution.  I don’t think all the hydrogen ions (?) were used up in the chemical reaction so the solution still works as a de-ruster.  I dunked some other rusty parts in the left-over solution and it removed rust.

This guy explains the chemical reaction (starting at about 7:30 in the video). To me, his wonderful voice adds credibility to his description of the chemical reaction.



My expectation was that the major mechanics of the typewriter would be freed after the citric acid dunk, and I would be able to make the typewriter functional.  That didn’t happen, but I ended up with a good source of Royal 10 parts.  Still, I was a bit disappointed. I will definitely use citric acid as a de-ruster (heck, I’ve got six gallons of it), but I probably won’t do the total dunk again.

Also, I shouldn’t have dunked it for 36 hours. The gentle acid slowly ate through paint and at least one small spring, and the extended soak didn’t improve the mobility of the escapement and the tabbing mechanism.

In addition, I learned these things:

  1. Like murder, dunking a 1920s standard typewriter is a dirty business and everyone and everything associated with it will be sullied.  And like murder, there were many dark-night-of-the-soul moments of “What have I done?”  I am very glad there were no witnesses to this. The  clean-up was interminable, but I left no evidence as to what had transpired.
  2.  1920s standard typewriters seem to gain hundreds of pounds in awkward, slippery weight during the dunking procedure.
  3. Rust never sleeps and flash rust is a real thing. You need to dry that thing after the dunk and grease it up all over.

I was fortunate in finally being able to remove screws and pieces from the formerly rusted typewriter.  This typewriter is slowly dying so that its brother, the 1925 Royal 10, might live.  Thus far, it has given up:

  • four good feet
  • two glass side windows
  • numerous screws
  • two carriage clamps
  • a key lever connector
  • a margin release button
  • platen (getting there – I need to address rusty set screws for removal first)

I was able to donate a right carriage knob to another typospherian in need of a Royal 10 knob.  If anyone needs a Royal 10 part, let me know.  I would like to use all parts of the buffalo.

What I really need to remove is the type bar guide so it may replace the broken guide on its 1925 Royal 10 brother.  After de-rusting,  I was able to finally take out its mounting screws, but the guide remains firmly in place.  Does anyone out there have experience removing a Royal 10 type bar guide? Do you just pry it off the pins? Is it secured in another hidden location?


Finding Your Fun

My verdict on the whole experience is that I thought this would be fun, and it wasn’t. It was a lot of gritty, filthy work and slippery heavy-lifting, and though I have a really good parts machine now, it didn’t result in a functional typewriter.

To work through my mild disappointment at this and to find my inner fun, I turned to the curative power of my club music playlist that’s packed with Kylie, J Lo, Robyn, Gaga and robots.  My secret shame is dance music, and this playlist transports me.  Some people meditate or do yoga or drink, but me, I listen to my Girls + Robots playlist.  When I listen to it, I am not eating a banana and doing laundry, I am out clubbing with my Party People. I am alive to the beat:

I really, really need to replace that broken type bar guide.

Seen this week in the neighborhood: a kindred spirit’s license plate