I brought home a stylish little Smith-Corona Clipper from Moe’s shop for a some R&R at my typewriter spa. It wasn’t too dirty. I took it outside and blew out the dust bunnies.
By serial number (4C135275), it looks like a 1946 Clipper:
In addition to the usual complaints (dry ribbon, grime, dust, sticky keys), the typewriter had some rotated keys – the worst being the letter “E” and the letter “N”.
I read on Reddit that I could rotate the key tops back into proper position by using my finger or an eraser. My finger didn’t work, but I found that by pressing down firmly with a good eraser, I was able to rotate the key tops back into position. It was slow going, but the key rotated a tiny bit at a time into place. Though my photo doesn’t show it, I supported the key top from below with my fingers.
So much better:
The typewriter also had a very strong moldy smell. Much of it came from the case which had mildew spots inside. I wiped it down with soap and water and put it outside to dry in the sun – this helped a lot.
Under the hood of the machine, I found that the typewriter ribbon itself was very fusty. Out with the old and in with the new ribbon. That made a big difference. I found that the felt insulation under the ribbon cover still had a slightly musty smell, so I sprayed a little Febreze air freshener on it. That seemed only to mask the odor. Upshot: changing the ribbon was key to a better smelling machine.
Cleaned up, this typewriter is quite a looker. This machine has beautiful Speedline curves and stylish glossy band around the base.
Look at that elegant profile:
So what is the story behind the S-C Clipper’s name? What is that plane on the front decal?
From what I’ve read, it’s a Boeing B-314 Clipper:
By Boeing Aircraft [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Boeing B-314 Clipper was a long-range flying boat made between 1938 and 1941 for Pan American Airways. It was one of the largest aircraft of the time.
Pan Am’s Clippers were outfitted for luxury air travel and long transoceanic flights. In 1940, Pan Am’s flight from San Francisco to Honolulu was 19 hours. With seats that could be converted into beds, a lounge and dining area, galleys crewed by fine chefs, and service by white-coated stewards, this was the height of dee-luxe travel. A cross-section of the Clipper shows that this was no modern economy coach experience.
Traveling in this fashion wasn’t cheap. A one-way ticket circa 1940 from San Francisco to Hong Kong was listed as $760 (or $1,368 round-trip). In 2015 dollars, that’s $12,866.64 one-way and $23,159.95 round-trip (per Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator)
During World War II, the Clipper fleet was pressed into military service, transporting personnel and equipment during the war.
The last Pan Am 314 was retired in 1946, the same year that this little S-C Clipper was made.
The name Clipper brought to mind style and adventure. I don’t know whether Pan Am or Boeing had an agreement with Smith-Corona for use of the name Clipper; perhaps it was some kind of cross-promotion arrangement. It’s a little strange. It would be like having a Dell computer called the Concorde with a little Concorde jet on it.
Here’s a short Pan Am clip from the 1950s looking back on the Clipper’s history:
Here is another video which has good interior shots of the Clipper (though I find the watermark a little distracting):
Check out more pictures of the B-314 Clipper »
I returned the beautiful little Smith-Corona Clipper to Moe’s shop with attached care and feeding instructions (don’t use WD-40 inside your typewriter, what to do about ribbons, yadda yadda yadda, and links to important places like The Classic Typewriter Page, Typosphere.net, TWDB, Typewriter Facebook group, Typewriter Talk).
At Moe’s I picked up a vintage light meter for my son who is a Camera Geek.
Moe had this wonderful bird (crow?) sculpture in the shop.
I like that thing. The crow is my spirit animal.
12 thoughts on “Adventure in Style: S-C Clipper”
I love that Speedline style as well, quite an advance when you think of other typewriters of that era. Funny that SC chose a fancy name for their most basic Speedline. Similar to the Zephyr name given to their least expensive ultra-portable typewriter.
It’s a wonderful little portable, however, classy Speedline styling aside, it isn’t what you would call “luxe” – no tab even.
Ha! Love that trick with the eraser – that’s one I didn’t know. for some reason I’ve never owned a machine with crooked keytops, so it’s never come up. I’ll remember that, tho. (:
I didn’t want to mess with the metal ring on the key and risk snapping off a tab or having a permanently loose key top. Using the eraser was slow business and required a great deal of force, but it worked
Note one superiority of the Royal Tombstone glass keys over round ones: tombstone keytop papers can’t turn under the glass. (:
That is true! Royal does have the advantage there.
Another Royal advantage: I have been fighting Smith Corona typebar linkage detachment problems today (long story which I am sure will end up in the blog) and thinking to myself, “Royals I have met don’t seem to have this problem.”
oh yes, the typebar linkage is the main weak point of an otherwise excellent Smith-Corona design. I tend to let go of most of the SCM’s I get, which is ok because they are still as common as dirt in thrifts.
Nice! The pictures do show it revived (also without smell-o-rama 🙂
Thank you for the eraser trick. May try that some time. The SC keytops are very thin celluloid (?) shaped dishes with a thick cardboard ring to support it. Held by the tabbed keyring on the metal stem-pads (have spares, should there be mishaps).
Oh, the opening scenes of Charlie Chan at Treasure Island are inside a Clipper on its way from Honolulu to SF – also a typewriter on-board. Not a Clipper though 😉
The bowl shaped key tops made me a little nervous – I didn’t want to disrupt the nifty set-up. I am glad I didn’t have to loosen those key rings.
Regarding the B-314: I did some research to find out if any Clippers are still around – I’d love to see the inside of one. Unfortunately, they are all gone. The last was scrapped in the 1950s.
Mary, what might work even better is to get a rubber stopper from a hardware store. Make sure its surface is sufficiently grippy and if need be, use sandpaper or something similar to rough up the surface. Place the surface on the top of the key (supporting the keytop from below, of course) and try turning. Old camera repair trick. Speaking of which, that Weston Master is a classic meter, and they are pretty darn accurate even now. The only trick is to realize that they do not correspond to current meters — I believe you have to set the Weston at a film speed 20% slower. Thus, 160 instead of 200; 320 rather than 400.
Ah! More surface area than what I got with the eraser would have helped – I will work with a rubber stopper next time. And thank you for the meter tip – I’ll pass along the information to my son.
Ahh! What an excellent and informative post. Lucky machine and the next owner is lucky, too!