I have been wrassling this week with an Olivetti Praxis 48 that I have fixed once already. I bought it off of Craigslist last year, fixed it and gave it to the Arduino Kid (son of Roia who works at Mozo’s shop down the street)
I brought the Praxis home last week with its jammed carriage:
The Chewbacca mug mistook the Praxis for the Millennium Falcon and came over to see if he could recalibrate the hyperdrive motivator.
I removed some loose hinge pieces that were dangling inside, plugged it in and it worked. For a couple minutes. Then it was jammed again.
And that led to:
So I was sweating and swearing at this technological marvel when I got a phone call from Moe at Mozo’s. She got some new typewriters including a really cool Olympia that I just had to check out. So I walked over to the shop.
On the floor, Moe? Really? With case open for stepping on?
And of course, it was One of Those.
Moe didn’t know. I pulled her over and showed her the SS key.
1943 Olympia Robust
serial number 470745
The typewriter is functional. The carriage feels a little loose and the typed imprint on the right side is a little light, but it’s typing.
The case is wooden, a faded blackish-green with a German instruction sheet pasted within it.
The typewriter has a QWERTY keyboard and German characters. My guess is that this was a US soldier’s war booty and that when he returned from overseas, he had the Y and Z placement switched.
The “front panel slide” (“schieber im Frontblech”) is mysterious. I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to do though it does obscure what has been typed. Would the slider have protected the delicate mechanics out in the field?
A lot of people have mixed feelings about these SS rune WWII typewriters. There have been lively discussions in typewriter forums about the ethics of owning an SS rune typewriter. I wish I could say something deep and meaningful about artifacts of difficult history, but I am coming up short.
I wish my father were still alive; I’d love to get his take on this typewriter. Born in 1918 at the end of the first world war, he was a US Army serviceman during the second world war. He was an expert typist and bookkeeper, skills that did not go unnoticed by his superiors, and he diligently typed and kept the books through the war. I imagine he would have studied this Olympia Robust with great interest. It is the machine of his German SS counterpart, possibly a wartime clerk like himself, who used it to type up requisition forms for canned peaches – or status reports from death camps. We don’t know.
My father had a taste for the absurd and he framed his WWII service portrait in a WWI German commemorative frame he somehow came across. It says around the frame: “Zur Erinnerung an die grosse Zeit – 1914-1915” (Memento of an Important Time, 1914-1915)
I feel my father would have regarded this typewriter as a reminder of how war is absurd and monstrous – and full of the workaday. It’s really hard to orchestrate organized, large-scale evil-doing without clerks and paper pushers. You need a good typewriter too.
We Americans like to think of ourselves as “the good guys” though we are not as morally superior as we’d like to think. US history has some very dark chapters, and that difficult history should make us a bit uncomfortable. That discomfort should prod us toward a better future.
This Olympia Robust typewriter is a piece of difficult history, an object from a dangerous time and place. I really wouldn’t want the Robust to go to someone who acquires it as a fetish – an object of dark magical power. I’m hoping that it will find a home with someone who appreciates the significance of its history in a matter-of-fact way and who will preserve it and share it as a reminder of a terrible time in the world. Cue Santayana: those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.