Mid-century Mid-sized Portable Slugfest

I had yet another of Tim’s dirty typewriters in the house for a clean up – a 1955 Royal QDL. This one wasn’t so bad, just cosmetically off-putting. It was gamely typing through greasy dust. The case is lined with green felt – it reminds me of a pool table. It’s a Minnesota Fats kind of typewriter. The typewriter looked like it had been smoking too much and indulging in Wite-Out.

Moe’s friend Tim is a retired newspaper reporter with a taste for typewriters.  He has some wonderful typewriters that I have cleaned up: a pretty gray Royal QDL, an adorable Royal Companion, a Smith-Corona Clipper, a very classy Remington 5 and now I have here this second dirty Royal, a 1955 Royal Quiet De Luxe:


I cleaned it up and it looked better though I just couldn’t completely remove the blob of Wite-Out on its cover.  It was typing great though.

I recently acquired a junker 1957 Smith-Corona Silent-Super and I thought: Hey! Perfect time for comparison typing! I can host a mid-century slugfest on my dining room table.

I know that there are 1950s Smith-Corona portable fans and 1950s portable Royal loyalists. I honestly didn’t know which category I fell into, hence the side-by-side comparison.

I also decided to throw a wildcard into the fight – a 1957 West German Torpedo 18a. These are all the mid-sized 1950s portables I have in the house presently. How I wish I had a 1950s Olympia to throw in! I haunt eBay now and then, looking for junker Olympias. I am looking for a really bad looking one.

This tournament is not completely serious or scientific: I have three individual machines before me with unknown histories of use and abuse. This would be a fair competition only if each typewriter had just rolled off the assembly line. As it is, each of them has about 60 years of living under her belt. At the end of this exercise, I won’t be able to say that I am won over by a particular brand – only that a particular machine on my dining room table is my favorite.

However. The Smith-Corona feels like the limited number of 1950s S-C portables that have come through my fingers.  The Royal feels like the limited number of Royal portables I have had the pleasure to type on. So there’s that.

The Contenders

A 1957 Smith-Corona Silent-Super:


A 1955 Royal Quiet De Luxe:


A 1957 Torpedo 18a:





Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the Silent-Super wins me over with its lovely chunky curves. The Royal QDL’s utilitarian angles are all business while the Smith-Corona’s curves promise a bit of solid fun. The Torpedo is a beautiful machine, but for a 1957 typewriter, it seems a little “old school” compared to the Smith-Corona’s more modern lines. Silent-Super wins.


They are all about the same size:

  • Smith-Corona Silent-Super: 11.5″ width x 12.5″ depth x 4.75″ tall
  • Royal Quiet De Luxe: 11″ width x 11.5″ depth x 5.25″ tall
  • Torpedo 18a: 11″ width x 12.5 depth” x 5″ tall


  • Smith-Corona Silent-Super: 12 lbs
  • Royal Quiet De Luxe: 12 lbs
  • Torpedo 18a: 13 lbs


Basket shift for all three. I like that.


I am not a big fan of the Royal’s Magic Margins.  And I am lukewarm on any other gimmicky margin control. I love everything about my Remington Rand KMC except its KMC (keyboard margin control).

The Torpedo’s margin setting is under the paper table in back, not visible.

The Smith-Corona’s straightforward margin setting is PERFECT.  You set the margins right there in front and what you see is what you get.


Carriage Return

Smith-Corona’s carriage return is quiet and light as feather.  The Royal a little heavier and louder and Torpedo is heavy and LOUD.


I love the gentle tap-tap of the Smith-Corona.  It has a lovely muted quality.  The Royal is much louder and I don’t think it’s the platen.  The Royal’s typebars seem to accelerate as they approach the platen, giving it that snap in the touch and a powerful thwack. The Torpedo is louder than hell and I think it’s a hard platen. “SNACK SNACK SNACK,” it says.


Ear protection is a good idea


I love the feel of the Smith-Corona Silent-Super.  It’s got a controlled and comfy feel, like I’m typing on a well-cushioned couch.  It’s slow, but I don’t think very fast, so do I need to type that fast?

The Royal is such a light and snappy typer.  I can type very fast on this one. Maybe too fast.  The Royal feels a little hyper – like it needs to simmer down now. It gets ahead of itself, and I get letter piling when it gets going too fast.


If I were a better typist, I would probably prefer the Royal.  Unfortunately, I am an inconsistent typist and make too many errors when I pick up speed.

The Torpedo tells me go faster, faster, FASTER – it has, objectively speaking, the best touch of the three, but it’s so loud I can’t type on it very long. I pull it out now and then and each time rediscover its fine, fine touch. It deserves a new platen.

Family Verdict

My husband liked the Royal much better than the Smith-Corona.  He is used to lightly tapping away on a computer keyboard. In fact, when he approached the first typewriter, he started hitting the margin release key as if it were an enter/return key.  It was hard for the him to switch modes.

He found the Royal much more responsive to his light touch, much better suited to his style than the Smith-Corona which he found resistant and slow.   Then he tried the Torpedo.  He loved that even more than the Royal.

My daughter weighed in on the typewriter evaluations. The Smith Corona was too stiff and made her hands feel numb.  She liked the snappiness and speed of the Royal, but the key tops were too small and too far apart, so she worried that her small fingers would slip in between the keys.  The Torpedo had a similar light and fast touch, but its keys were nice and chunky. My daughter’s verdict: the Torpedo was the winner.

My Final Conclusion

My favorite is the Silent-Super.  It’s not the fastest typewriter, but it feels good to me: I love its firm and comforting touch and its gentle sound. I grew up on manual typewriters – we had a big black Royal standard when I was a kid and I typed all my college papers on an aqua Kmart Deluxe 100.  I have a heavy, ponderous hand when I type, so I like typewriters that have a solid touch. The Silent-Super is not the fastest typewriter, but I don’t need to type very fast.  When I type letters, I tend to type slowly along thoughtful, meandering paths.  If I typed faster, I would not make any sense at all. I barely make sense as it is.

Also: this Silent-Super has survived against the odds. It was a greasy, rusty piece of jammed metal when it came to me, but it showed me that it had true grit. This Silent-Super has a spunky toughness and intestinal fortitude that allowed it to rise above its unfortunate circumstances and type ably against two formidable typewriters, the Royal QDL and the Torpedo 18a. You win, Silent-Super.

A Random Picture for Your Enjoyment


My son took this madonna and doggy picture recently, and I spotted it in his Flickr photostream.  It has nothing to do with typewriters, but it made me laugh out loud.

Two Royals and Birthday Lemonade

I went into Mozo’s about a week and half ago to check out Moe’s latest find: a 1970 Hermes 3000 with script typeface – mint condition:




1970 Hermes 3000
Serial number: 7059922


It had the original manual as well as an original brush:


Not only that, it had the original warranty card:


I felt like I should have completed the warranty and mailed it in.

There was also a receipt for a draw band repair. It cost $8.50 to get a draw band repaired in 1973:


My question: how does a draw band snap in just three years of use?  Hermes was obviously not using 80lb fishing line for its draw bands.

I congratulated Moe on her find and told her that while I wasn’t in the market for a mint condition script Hermes 3000, she would certainly find a happy buyer.

Typewriters in need

Moe asked me if I was interested in cleaning up a couple typewriters for her friend Tim.  Tim is a retired newspaper reporter with a fondness for typewriters. He had two portable Royals that needed care. Both were very dirty, one with a broken draw band, one with a lot of rust and a cemented segment. I told Moe that I was up for the job.


I love before and after typewriter photography. I may have a fetish for decay—if I know that it’s a temporary state. Here I indulge in what I call “Beforn”, a form of ruin porn:


That’s a dead spider by the spool


Aahh – it speaks to me…”help meeee…”


White residue on the keys. Baby Blue had the same stuff. It’s probably some chemical precipitate from the 1950s plastic of the keys.

Bad News and the Philosopher Queen

Moe called me the next day while I was working on Tim’s Royals.  Bad news.  The Hermes 3000 got dropped.  Could I come in and take a look?  Of course.

It didn’t look too bad:



DSC03722 DSC03723

Moe was philosophical about the Hermes.  She said: “I don’t get upset about that sort of thing.  Why should I?”

Indeed, she’s right. Why should you?


Philosopher Queen Moe, her bevy of beauties, and a stable of stallions

When Life Gives You a Broken Hermes, Make Lemonade

Moe asked me if I could do anything to get it typing again.  The carriage was mashed into the body and not moving.  The plastic carriage housing was shattered and the cool margin indicator was pulled out. Blurg.

Then I had an idea.  My birthday was this past weekend.


I had my husband buy the mashed Hermes for my birthday (because nothing says “Happy-Birthday-Darling” like a broken typewriter).  Now I will be able to dismantle and investigate the complex mechanisms slowly and methodically at my own pace and not worry that I may never get it back together and working.  At this point, it’s an interesting parts machine, but who knows? Perhaps it will type again.

Here are the ladies of Mozo’s. Roia (mother of the Arduino Kid) is posing with the LC Smith and Moe is posing with the Parisian wrestlers:


I think this poster of turn-of-the-century Parisian wrestlers could look great framed and hung in the bathroom:


Special Love: My Baby Blue

While I was out of town at the holiday wintering grounds with my herd, Moe from my favorite junk shop called and left a message: could I please come to her shop and take a look at a typewriter?

When I got back into town, I dropped by Moe’s. She had sweet little baby blue Royal Quiet De Luxe that a lady wanted to buy for her daughter, but it was all “jammed”.

The carriage lock was engaged.  I unlocked it and all was well.


I remember when this typewriter had come in – before Thanksgiving it was. The carriage lock was engaged then, and I unlocked it so that people could test typing on it. I guess someone locked it again.

The typewriter was very dirty and needed a new ribbon, so I asked Moe if I could bring it home and clean it up.  Of course, yes.


The serial number is AB3175632 which would make this a 1956 Royal QDL.


I brought the typewriter home and looked it over.  I washed the outside down with soapy water and used my new favorite dollar-store degreaser on tough grimy areas, LA’s Totally Awesome.


The blender photobombs AGAIN

The key tops had a resistant gray and white film that took a lot of scrubbing with green ScotchBrite to remove. I was careful around the printed letters.


The machine had chunks of greasy lint hanging from its insides. I first blew out the machine with compressed air and then doused all the internal mechanics with mineral spirits and then blew wet, dirty chunks out with more compressed air. I don’t usually use mineral spirits, but I wanted to use something that wouldn’t evaporate quickly.

While I scrubbed the type, I noticed that the typeface was something a little different. I couldn’t wait to throw a new ribbon in and see what printed out.

What typeface is this? Herald Pica?


I fell in love a little with this Royal portable. The machine seemed just keen to please and was so pleasurable to type on.



After the clean up, I took the Royal QDL back to Moe’s. Moe’s shop was its usual jumble of fascinating objects perched in precarious positions. There was a new arrival, a golden Olympia Monica, hanging out on a couch in the shop.

The Monica was beautiful shade of yellow/gold.  I took a closer look:


Someone will sit on it if you leave it here, Moe.

It worked great. German keyboard. The label says that was made in the United Kingdom:


Hmm. The serial number is 5693315. I will go back and take some more (less blurry) pictures and add it to the TWDB.


I poked around in the Olympia for bit, but then it was time to leave. It was with a reluctant heart that I left the baby blue QDL at Moe’s, but I was grateful for the experience of it. I had scrubbed the carry case and attached care and feeding instructions.

Goodbye, Baby Blue.


Time for a sing-along:








A Herd of Wild Typewriters

I really love Moe’s shop. She has such a superb eye for great junk.

I haven’t been in a couple weeks and Whoa, Nellie!  Moe has a new bevy of beauties to check out. Many have small fixable problems.  I’ll take at least a couple home to work on and then bring them back to Moe’s.

1949 Smith-Corona Silent

S/N: 5S101645
Works great. Comes with a case. A little stinky, but what a sweetie.


1920 Oliver No. 9

S/N: 852922
This Oliver has obviously lived a hard life. Dirty, rusty and corroded.  Drawband broken. Worst of all, it has been dropped on its head so it’s very squashed and typebars won’t move. Of course I want to take it home and clean it. Moe really liked the suggestion.  I think Moe is more likely to sell it if it looked better and actually typed.  However, people stopping in at the shop have been going nuts over this Oliver. We don’t see Olivers often here in California – people are quite struck by its strangeness.


L.C. Smith No. 8

Very rusty, corroded, very dirty. Drawband broken. Pieces in a bag are never a good sign. It should be fine though. Bonus: insane horse decal.


Underwood Noiseless

Love this thing. I want to take it home and play with it and look at its insides.


196x SCM Galaxie

S/N: 6T 540518
The typebars are glued to the segment as if someone poured cement or super glue all over the segment. Perhaps WD-40? Otherwise fine. Looks like a fun clean-up. UPDATE: I took it home for a couple hours yesterday and worked on the Galaxie’s frozen segment with denatured alcohol, gently loosening the keys. One of the key lever linkages had popped off when its typebar was in a frozen state.  Semi-pro tip: move the slug all the way to the platen, grab the linkage with a dental tool and re-attach in this position. Don’t try to re-attach from below; it will only end in tears.  Anyhow, the Galaxie is typing great now. So fun. Sorry, TWDB, no SCM datecode to be found.


1956 Royal Quiet De Luxe

S/N: B317581
Carriage not moving- ooops carriage lock on!  OK – all fine, just a little dirty.  Attractive color. This one will move fast. Has a cute tweedy case.


1940 Royal KMM

S/N: KMM-2590373
Dusty but functional.  Love the greenish-blue keys.  Must take home and clean. I want to compare it to my Remington KMC and see who comes out on top.


Home Dreyfuss Repair

Roia works at Mozo’s, and she is a super nice person.  She caught me on my way in and asked me if I could look at her daughter’s typewriter.  It’s a beautiful Dreyfuss Quiet De Luxe that had been working and then suddenly wasn’t.  I examined the machine. The keys weren’t making it to the platen and the space bar was nonfunctional. It was almost as if I were hitting up against a line lock or a mechanical obstruction.  There was an earring caught under the keys – perhaps something had fallen into the guts?

I told Roia that I wasn’t sure I could fix it, but I would look at it at home.


I brought it home, but I was a little nervous.  I like tinkering with my old junkers, but I have never worked on anyone else’s typewriter.

Amazingly, the internal mechanics of the 1948 QDL are virtually identical to my 1939 Royal Aristocrat with the exception of the margin release mechanism. Time for some comparisons.


click image to vewi larger

click image to view larger

After giving the QDL a quick blow-out to remove animal hair and dust bunnies, I set up the two machines on the dining room table and watched the escapement on key strike side-by-side.

What I noticed was that in the QDL, a pawl (?) or dog(?) in the escapement’s workings wasn’t darting in and out to engage the escapement wheel like it did on the Aristocrat.


I spent the evening pondering this and leafing through the D.E. Fox manual’s repair section on Royal portables.

I have a set of dental-like tools that I picked up at the hardware store for about $5. They are great for spring re-attachment and typewriter investigation.


I very carefully but very unscientifically probed with one of my dental tools around the escapement wheel and dog and then *BOING* the little pawl bounced into sight.  Suddenly the escapement was tripping and the wheel was turning and the typewriter was typing. Dumb luck. I threw a new ribbon in her and went to town:


I want to thank my 1939 Royal Aristocrat for helping me get the QDL running again:


This Dreyfuss QDL is quite a looker in her gray flannel suitiness.  I took some pictures before I returned the QDL to Roia.

Roia was really happy that the QDL made a comeback.  I sent the QDL home to Roia’s with instructions for proper care and feeding à la Type the Clouds.

I then spent a couple hours cleaning the Galaxie and when I dropped off the clean Galaxie at Moe’s, I brought the Oliver home with me for cleaning and repair.  Moe’s shop is closed on Monday and Tuesday so I have a couple days to get this thing sort of clean and mostly running.

I do have my work cut out for me. Look at how rusty and mashed this poor thing is: