Last summer I went to visit my sister. It was a joyous reunion since we hadn’t seen each other in a while. I come from a family of eight kids, and we’re spread out all over the place. It’s always an exciting, chaotic time when two or more of us get together. That brings to mind the famous quote:
My sister showered me with love and food and sent me home with two typewriters she had in her basement. One was a broken Royal portable that her daughter found on the curb in New York City. Someone had mistreated this poor Royal, ripping its carriage off in an attempt to get at its secrets. It’s all messed up. This has been a good project machine.
The other is a teeny Bing No. 2. I’ve never encountered a Bing before.
When I first brought it home, I opened the lid and couldn’t get anything to work. The carriage didn’t move, the keys didn’t strike. It just sat there smiling at me. It kind of freaked me out, to be honest. It was so old and weird and tiny and delicate, so I quietly closed it back up.
The Bing came to mind again recently because I’m preparing my herd of machines for a typewriter party that I’m hosting in my garage. Pandemic has given me a greater appreciation for experiencing things in real life. I feel a new urgency to reach out to family and friends in person because life is short and Zoom and Skype just don’t cut it for me. I have been burnt by the mute/unmute button too many times.
Online communities do occasionally yield small treasures, however. I saw this post recently online about a charming 1967 Dutch edition of The Hobbit. I really identify with Bilbo – that’s me in the middle, at a party. Short, cheerful, always hungry, hairy feet. Anyhoo:
An Expected Party
I’m hosting a small typewriter gathering in my garage for DC-area enthusiasts on Sunday, November 6, 2022. Activities include: typing, typewriter talk, lite buy/sell, swapping, and maybe repair and tinkering. Details in the Mid-Atlantic Typewriter Collectors Group, or I’ll send them along if you drop me a line.
Back to the Bing. I don’t know anything about Bing typewriters. What a mess. I needed to do some research.
First up: I checked out the specimens at Typewriter Database, and I gasped at one collector’s mint “new old stock” Bing. It looks like the decals had not yet been applied, allowing for re-branding (?)
Type-writer.org has a good post on the Bing and a very nice collection of links. At uspto.gov, I found three US patents from July 1927 for the Bing. Here’s what one patent document says about the “Child’s Typewriting Machine”:
From what I gather, the Bing was an educational device, existing in a space between a toy and a “real” typewriter. A 1927 ad at type-writer.org shows the Bing 2 selling for $39. In 2022 dollars, that’s $665.26. It’s definitely not a toy, and if it were, it would be a very expensive toy. It’s hard to say when production ceased, and they don’t have serial numbers. Perhaps 1929/1930?. It was a tough financial climate for expensive “teaching aids”.
Rabbit hole: how much did a portable typewriter cost in 1927? I visited archive.org’s 1927 Sears Roebuck catalogue. It’s overwhelming and sobering at the same time – so, so much stuff. Was this the beginning of the end for civilization? Sears Roebuck would sell you anything from underpants to milking machines. Or a cute bungalow for $1,614. There’s a full page dedicated to “Rupture Appliances and Suspensories” — apparently hernias were a big business opportunity back in the day. Anyway, I didn’t find portables at Sears Roebuck, but I saw that you could buy a rebuilt Remington Standard for $40 which seems to me to be a much better value than $39 for a “child’s typewriter”.
I continued my research on Bings and learned two things:
- The Bing No. 2 is very simple and lacks some standard functions. It has no indexing carriage return, no bell, no margin setting; but the worst thing is that the ribbon lift/vibrator doesn’t move except on shift. Printed text will be obscured while typing.
- The Bing No. 2 has a marvelous typeface.
I decided to try to get this thing running and get a type sample.
I have been reading the Bing Werke logo on the exterior case as a stylized bat. The Bing is a tiny black bat of a thing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it hanging upside down in my garage.
First question: why was it so jammed up? I took a peek underneath:
Hmmm. That looks bad.
I took the bottom plate off:
I wish I had a better picture, but believe me, it was very furry. I scraped off hardened grease, blew out the dust, and carefully dabbed mineral spirits here and there. That’s all it needed. The carriage began to glide. Here’s a bottom shot before I replaced the bottom plate, clean as a whistle:
One thing that I discovered was that the machine body needs to be mounted to the bottom plate for testing. The mechanics under the typewriter need the clearance. Putting the bottom plate back on was tricky; and lining up four feet rubber feet, screws, and washers required patience.
Ok, people. Let’s get a ribbon in this thing. Unfortunately, the Bing does not use the standard 1/2″ ribbon. The old ribbon was 3/8″ wide.
I was going to go the WD-40 rejuvenation route with the narrow old ribbon, but it was shredding just with gentle handling.
I cut down a length 1/2″ ribbon to 3/8″ and wrapped it on the tiny old spools. I just wanted to see that letter “i”:
So sweet! That’s a typeface I can get behind. The typing experience is not optimal since the typed line is obscured by the ribbon. And the lack of a line-spacing carriage return is bothersome. Here’s a typing sample which is not half bad given the improvised ribbon and some platen/roller feed issues.
Bing Werke should have done focus group product testing before launching the Bing No. 2. As a participant in that focus group, I would have told them that the lack of ribbon lift vibrator was a non-starter. Kids (like me) want to see immediate results when they type. And I like a proper carriage return.
But despite these shortcomings, there are so many endearing things about the Bing: that typeface, the compact size, its light weight, the lovely finishes. The lustrous black lacquer paint is in very fine condition and literally glowed after a gentle wipe-down.
Sweet little baby bat, go back into your case with wings folded. You can come out at Halloween.