Make Mine Pink: Smith-Corona Super-Sweet

There was so much orange, gummy residue in this S-C Silent-Super that I got from Ebay a couple weeks ago. I think it was old WD-40. The escapement (and carriage rails, margins, shift lock, space bar) responded to a good cleaning with mineral spirits, but the typebars required a lot of work. I searched my mind, but I don’t think I have ever come across as sticky a typewriter as this one.  The typebars were gummy not only in the segment but at many other tight pivot points. Some keys were sticking in the sublever segment, and some were gummy at the clevis connections. Others (I think) were sticking in the key guide comb. I also had a couple type slugs that had little corrosion burrs that caused them to stick in the typebar guide.  I cleaned up the sides of the affected type slugs with some steel wool.

The mineral spirits I buy in Virginia seems to be a more aggressive formulation than the gentle, forgiving mineral spirits I get in California.  I have to be very careful to keep these Virginia mineral spirits away from any painted surface.

After de-gumming the mechanics, I removed the Silent-Super’s tangled drawstring from its guts. I made the new drawstring from heavy duty waxed thread.  I didn’t have the little hook end for the drawstring, so I just made a knotted loop and tightened it down at the anchor point at the right end of the carriage.

I used the Robert Messenger method of drawstring attachment and pre-wound my mainspring before I attached my drawstring to the mainspring. However, I just saw a very interesting Phoenix Typewriter video that demonstrates a Smith-Corona mechanism that allows you to wind the mainspring after you attach the drawstring. You learn something new every day !

The tabbing mechanism was still halting and sluggish.  I wiped down all the pivots points I could see, but it was still slow on tabbing.  Fortunately I had Ted Munk’s Smith-Corona Floating Shift Typewriter Repair Bible. This repair manual is also available as a PDF download. After reading through the section on the tabulator, I found the buried spots I had neglected to clean with mineral spirits. After a good clean, tabbing was fast and smooth.

This service manual is also available in PDF format. I like the hard-copy books that I can paw through with my grimy hands.

The uppercase/lowercase alignment was a little off. The lowercase letters were printing a wee bit high.

I referred to Ted Munk’s post about making vertical alignment adjustments on segment shift typewriters.  Phoenix Typewriter also has a very good Youtube video on making the adjustments.

I used a 3/16″ nut driver to loosen the lowercase lock nut and turned the adjustment screw a bit with a teeny screwdriver.

Whoops!  Wrong way! It’s going up higher. Other way, other way.  That’s better.

I tightened down the lowercase lock nut and it’s all good.

Here’s a parts diagram for the Silent-Super that I snagged from a 1958 Silent- Super/Sterling/Clipper manual in Richard Polt’s typewriter manual archive:

I removed the platen to clean it and all the bits around it which were still very sticky and furry from congealed something-or-the-other.

Removing the platen is pretty easy on this type of Smith-Corona portable.  Joe Van Cleave has a good Youtube video describing the features of a S-C Silent.  At about 11:30 in the video, he demonstrates how to pop out the platen.

  • Lift the paper bail
  • Tilt back the tab cover
  • Pull out the variable line spacer on the left platen knob
  • Press the platen release latch forward
  • Lift platen out

I cleaned the gummy residue from the platen, rubber bail rollers and feed rollers with denatured alcohol.

Pinkie’s outer skin was still pretty rough.  She had lots of surface rust and bare metal.

I used diluted Scrubbing Bubbles to gently clean the pink paint.  I was worried that it would remove paint, so I tested in an unseen spot in the back.  It removed gray grunge but no pink paint.

Here’s a photo on my work bench after I had cleaned her backside.  The machine arrived from Ebay with a gray, grubby cast, but a careful cleaning slowly revealed her bright pink flesh.

Pinkie’s pink paint was very bright, but she had some major dings.   I primed bare metal spots, and I made up an acrylic paint mixture of various pinks for paint touch-up.  It was tricky because the pink was not uniform in color over the typewriter:  salmon here, coral there, dusty rose over there.

I made very conservative, respectful paint touch-ups. This Silent-Super is a Smith-Corona Super-Sweet:

Old Pinkie has lost a lot of her grungy, corrupt toy vibe.  However, I “kept it real” with this clean-up, so she still has her charming smattering of corroded freckles.

X Over It has a nice collection of Smith-Corona portable advertisements. Pinkie’s color is officially called “Coral Pink”. In 1957, Silent-Supers’ list price was $129.00. If you convert that to 2019 dollars, that’s about $1160.00. That sounds like a lot, but I know that I spent more on computers in the early 1990s that are now considered e-waste. Hello, 386/33 with a whole 4Mb of RAM!

Pinkie gets along great with her blue S-C Sans-A-Tab brother. Maybe I can rent out my pink and blue Silent-Supers to people throwing gender reveal parties.  Typewriters seem safer than involving  alligators.

Blue Boy and Pinkie

I have a pretty collection of colorful Easter eggs sunning themselves on the bookshelf.

Sing it, Pinkie:

 

Old Pinkie the Smith-Corona Silent Super

In our dining room, we have a framed artifact from a simpler time.

This is Old Pinkie.  It started out as a Halloween costume and was worn every day for several months in 2005/2006.  Here is Old Pinkie in late December 2005.

It was about 50 degrees and foggy, so my daughter is wearing Old Pinkie and flip flops.  Contrary to the opinion of every grandmother out there, going coatless and wearing the same ballerina costume every day are not life or death situations.

We framed Old Pinkie because it serves as a reminder of the limits of power when faced with a wily, tenacious, and vocal adversary.

Welp, there’s a new Old Pinkie in town: a 1956 Smith-Corona Silent Super, serial number 5T 416581X.

Last week both my husband and my daughter were out of town, so I had the whole house to myself for a few days.

I conducted a science experiment in the garage. More about that in a future post.

Hmmm.

I thought that having the run of the place was going to be a lot more fun than it was, but I was at loose ends without the customary structure to my days.  I binged-watched Russian Doll, finished off a bag of marshmallows for dinner, and trolled eBay.

I found an Art Nouveau beast at eBay that I really, really wanted, so I put it on my Christmas wish list.

Also on eBay, I found this SC Silent Super that I impulsively, guiltily bought. What a honey. This is my kind of typewriter: one that looks like it will involve many pleasant hours of tinkering and cleaning.

It’s seen some action.

It came with a “Holiday” case:

I had no idea you could remove the metal fastening frame from the case, but you just push the frame release lever to the right and lift it out.  This is going to make cleaning so much easier.

Here’s a Godfrey’s Fix-it Shop (Seattle, WA) price list from September 1969:

It looks like rotisserie repair was more lucrative than typewriter repair at that time.

The typewriter itself was impressively dirty, full of orange gunk and hair. Touching it left me sticky and hairy.

The drawstring was snapped and twisted around the mainspring.

None of the keys moved initially, but I got the letter T to type.  I pulled left on the carriage to see if the escapement would advance, but no go.

Underneath, all the dogs and rockers and wheels and springs and whatnot were paralyzed in orange congealed goo – perhaps this typewriter was the victim of WD40?

I did a quick wipe down with mineral spirits and manually worked the escapement  until it was springy and responsive. The carriage began to advance when I hammered the letter T.

This Old Pinkie is going to be just fine. I have another Silent Super to refer to if I run into problems:

To be continued.

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:

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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:

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A 1955 Royal Quiet De Luxe:

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A 1957 Torpedo 18a:

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Looks

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.

Dimensions

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

Weight

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

Shifting

Basket shift for all three. I like that.

Margins

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.

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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.

Sound

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.

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Ear protection is a good idea

Touch

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.

DSC03939

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

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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.

The Smith-Corona Sans-A-Tab

I have been working this past week on the Smith-Corona that was a freebie from Moe.  Once it was typing, I began to address its cosmetic issues – which were many. Happily, just cleaning it with Scrubbing Bubbles made a huge improvement.

One thing that really bothered me was that the machine was missing its back top cover plate.  Not only did that look bad, but the delicate mechanics were exposed and vulnerable to damage and dirt.

backpanel

The blender carefully backs away from the greasy hunk of metal I’ve brought home

So I bought a top back cover for a S-C Silent on eBay and hoped that it would fit my typewriter which I guessed was a S-C Silent-Super. It arrived quickly, beautifully packed. Five stars to the eBay seller.

topCover

And it looked to be an almost perfect fit.

fitting

I was unsure as to how to anchor the top cover to the machine, so I needed to do a little research.

Fortunately for the typewriter, Moe’s shop had two comparison typewriters in stock: a Smith-Corona Silent and a Smith-Corona Silent-Super.

IMG_5419

I compared the anchoring mechanism for the back plate on each machine and took a lot of pictures.  What I came away with was this: if I wanted to use the Silent top cover that I got from eBay, I would have to remove the tab setting/clearing mechanism from my Silent-Super.  I was OK with that because (to me) protecting the delicate insides that were  exposed is more important than a functioning tabulator.

tabRemoved

So I removed the tab setting/clearing pieces and carefully filed them away.  Perhaps some day I will restore the tab function, but for now this typewriter is a Smith-Corona Sans-A-Tab.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do about the mismatch in color – blue machine with a brown top cover.  I have seen typewriters that have been decoupaged like this one and I thought maybe the brown top cover plate could be a candidate for fabric decoupaging.  Perhaps I could cover the brown top plate with the tartan of my clan, MacEchevarria.

greenTartan

However, I was shot down by both my husband and my daughter who were emphatic that I try to match the powder blue of the main machine. They were right.  I couldn’t find the right plaid anyway.

So after carefully washing and degreasing the top cover,  I pulled out left-over house paint and sponged on a thin primer coat over the brown of the Silent cover plate.

primed

I then mixed up a batch of flat paint (gray acrylic house paint plus tiny bits of blue, yellow and black acrylic craft paint) and came up with a blue that was fairly close to the original Alpine Blue.

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I sponged the paint on because I didn’t want brush marks and I wanted to preserved the pebbly crinkle texture.

After two thin coats, I was getting close to Alpine Blue – it needed just a little more black in the paint to make it just a shade grayer:

twocoats

The resulting color match is not perfect, but very close in color.  There are big dings in the front that I have touched up.  I didn’t sand beforehand because I get the feeling there is plenty of lead in this 1950s typewriter paint.  I just painted over the chipped areas with multiple coats and tried to get the surface as level as possible.

I now introduce the lovely Miss S-C Sans-A-Tab:

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03

06A

05

With so many chips and dings, this typewriter is a candidate for a complete sandblast and powder coating. However, I don’t think I’ll go that route.  I am currently embracing her imperfections – they are part of her very interesting history.

So Deliciously Low, So Horribly Dirty

One old film that I enjoy more with repeated viewings is 1938’s Pygmalion. It’s the much funnier, smarter predecessor to My Fair Lady. A phonetics professor Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can take a bedraggled Cockney flowergirl, clean her up, train her in proper speech, and pass her off as a duchess. This S-C Silent-Super reminds me of that draggle-tail guttersnipe, Eliza Doolittle.

I’ll be honest: broken, dirty machines like this Smith-Corona are irresistible to me. I take a Higgins-like interest in them: I clean and rehabilitate them, hoping to pass them off as duchesses.

When I saw this S-C Silent-Super in the portico of St. Paul’s, er, in front of Moe’s junk shop, I knew that I had a wonderful project on my hands.

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Here’s Wendy Hiller killing it as Eliza Doolittle in 1938’s Pygmalion. Sorry, no typewriters in this film.

 

The Slippery Smith-Corona Something

Last weekend I had a variety-pack of fun that involved a junior high school musical, a Kentucky Derby hat project, and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.  It was jammed-packed with excitement, but I still made time to work on this broken beauty that was sitting on my kitchen counter dripping oil:

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This is the FREE typewriter that Moe gave me last week.  A hauler found it in a house that he was cleaning out.  He drenched it with oil but couldn’t get it to work.  He was going to throw it out, but Moe stopped him.

I am not sure what kind of Smith-Corona I have here.  It’s either a S-C Super or a S-C Silent-Super.  It’s missing the paper table/ top back panel with its identifying label, so it’s hard to say. I think it’s a S-C Silent- Super.  It looks like the Silent-Supers at Typewriter Database and it has an “X” at the end of its serial number like many Silent-Supers: 5T 477968X.  From its serial number, I believe that it’s a 1957 Smith-Corona Something.

When I first brought it home, the machine was as slippery as a greased pig.   The machine was so oily and slippy, I couldn’t safely handle it – it was sliding all over the place. Also, just touching it kind of grossed me out.

I wiped it down with a rag to get the worst of it off and considered its major issue: the carriage was jammed exactly in the midway point of the platen and not budging.  I assumed initially that there was a carriage lock engaged, but no.

The Name of My Song: Tab Rack Carriage Jam

A couple of typewriters that I have worked on had jammed carriages that were related to interference from the tab system:

And I think I can add this Smith-Corona Something to the list.  Here’s the back before intervention:

backpanel

Ted Munk pointed out in a comment that the tab rack looked strange. Examining it more closely, I saw that the tabs were interfering with carriage travel, so I gently bent the tab setting/clearing assembly back with my fingers:

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And the carriage began to move. I could hear the tab setter/clearer mechanism rubbing against the tabs, so I bent it back a little more.

The tab set and clear keys were twisted and mangled:

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I straightened the keys out a bit and got the tab setting and clearing mechanism to respond to them, but they are still not reliably setting and clearing tabs. I might not be able to fix the tab system.  Fortunately, a working tabulator is not mission-critical to a typewriter.

I decided to get a replacement cover for the top back to protect the tab system and prevent it from getting bent inward again. I bought this – I hope it fits!

parts

The draw string was all tangled up inside the mainspring drum.

mainspringDrum

I tried to turn the drum gently to free it but it was all gummed up. A firmer hand was required, and I was finally able to turn the drum and free the intact draw string.  I then manually wound the drum several times to free it from its gumminess. Boing, boing, boing.  Springing easily back now. Make sure to read T. Munk’s post Replace the carriage string in your 1950’s Smith-Corona Silent!

As soon as the draw string was re-attached, the typewriter started belting out Doris Day:

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Line Lock Revelation

One thing that was really bothering me was that the line lock was not reliably engaging at the end of the line so that letters were piling up on top of each other at the end.  I have seen other typewriters with this problem and it always baffles me.

I determined that on this Smith-Corona there wasn’t enough tension in the mainspring to pull the carriage at the end of the line with enough force to engage the line lock.  I wound the mainspring another couple more times and the line lock began to engage properly.  My mind is blown! I will carefully tuck this bit of new information away.

Of course there were the requisite detached S-C clevises (spring links) that needed to be re-attached to their typebars:

detachedLinkSpringClevis

Here’s what I think happened to this typewriter:

  1. Someone bought it sometime in the mid-50s and used it faithfully for several years.
  2. When they last used it (maybe about 1970), the carriage was centered using the centering lever and the machine was returned to its case.
  3. Thirty years passed and the oil inside the mainspring congealed and solidified.
  4. Around 2000, someone takes the typewriter out of its case and attempts to move the carriage.  The draw string slips off the immobile mainspring drum and wraps itself around the inside of the drum.
  5. A tinkerer trying to figure out what’s wrong removes the easiest-to-remove piece: the back cover, exposing the tab rack.
  6. Fruitless tinkering yields no results.  The back cover is lost and the typewriter is sent to the garage where it collects greasy dirt and begins to rust. It’s leaned on its back and the tab rack and tab setter are bent inward
  7. A hauler finds it while clearing out a house, drenches it in oil, passes it onto Moe who gives it to me for FREE.

I have made a pass with Scrubbing Bubbles and the grime and grease have receded. The beautiful Alpine Blue is beginning to sparkle.

cleanerSmithCoronaSilentSuper

ZetiX says these machine have a “Flintstone-esque chunkiness” which is a spot-on description. This is a Wilma or a Betty.

I have a lot of acrylic paint left over from house projects, so I am planning to mix up a batch of blue acrylic paint to match the Alpine Blue.  After carefully cleaning and priming of the chipped areas, I am going to do cautious touch-ups with the acrylic flat paint.