Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

Meet the SV Typecasters

“You use a typewriter to write letters, but you do not put it on an altar and worship it.” — J. Krishnamurti

“J. Krishnamurti did not collect typewriters.” — Paul Lagasse

# # #

1934 Royal Portable

1934 Royal PortableThis is my 1934 Royal Portable, which I picked up for a measly $25 from an antique shop in Savage, MD about a decade ago. It was still in its original case, which looked like it had heroically repelled repeated assaults by several generations’ worth of demented, incontinent rodents. But the machine inside was in perfect mechanical condition and required only the most basic of cleanings.

Fountain pen collectors call this a “Sumgai” — exactly the thing you’re looking for, in great shape, at a ridiculously cheap price, which usually gets snapped up just before you get there (as in, “Yeah, we had one of those, but Sumgai was in here yesterday and bought it.”)

After following the excellent restoration instructions provided at Richard Polt’s Classic Typewriter Page, and instaling a fresh ribbon, this little machine has served me faithfully ever since. The lid has a rather vicious-looking gash on the right side (barely visible in the picture), and it’s missing one of its rubber feet, but in every other way this machine looks factory-fresh.

1923 Remington Portable #1

1923 Remington PortableThis is my 1923 Remington Portable #1, which I found in another Savage Mill stall not too far from where the Royal had been sitting ten years earlier. Unlike the Royal, Remmie did not come with a case and consequently shows many signs of a hard life. The machine has a fair amount of rust on the body and some of the stainless steel levers are heavily pitted as if the poor machine had been stored under a leaking roof.

I worked hard to remove all the grit and grime within reach, and it took a lot of scrubbing just to bring out the most basic of shines. Remmie would probably benefit from being stripped down to its springs and cleaned piece by piece. Even so, after a little oil and a fresh ribbon, it goes like a trooper.

Not as smooth or quiet as the Royal, and plagued by “creeping scroll,” Remmie is at the moment on assignment as a roving reporter while Royal handles the typecasting desk.

1969(ish) Royal Sabre

Royal SabreThe serendipitous story of how this cream-colored Royal Sabre came to join the Sotto Voce stable is chronicled in this typecast: “A Royal Welcome Home.”

It is in overall excellent mechanical condition, with only a couple of minor quirks that I will have to attend to at some point: a backspace key that doesn’t always engage and a balky “A/a” key that doesn’t always strike right depending on how you hit it. Cosmetically it is in fine shape, with some chipped paint on the lid where the adjustable carriage return lever had been dragged along it a few too many times, and also a bit of chipped paint on the back of the carriage. Otherwise, all it took was a quick buffing to bring out the color in all its 60s-style pastel enamel glory. The best guess of typewriter supply guru Jay Respler is that this machine was built in 1969, based on the serial number.

I’m so enamored with this machine that it now resides on the retractable typewriter stand on the secretary desk that I use in my office. That way, it’s always ready to whip out an envelope, fill out a form, or dash out a typecast on demand.

1937(ish) LC Smith & Corona Standard

Corona StandardOne recent cold and drizzly Friday afternoon in January, I received an e-mail from the owner of Back Creek Books, right around the corner from me, letting me know that he had just acquired a beautiful Corona Standard and had immediately thought of me when he saw it. Mrs. Sotto Voce and I went down to the store that evening after work to check it out.

It is in spectacular shape, and I suspect it has been recently professionally cleaned and serviced. Aside from a few minor blemishes, the finish is gorgeous. The innards needed only a slight dusting (using the included original cleaning brush) and the type faces were largely cruft-free and shiny silver. The platen is uniformly dark and lusciously spongy. The advance and carriage return are tight and accurate. The case is in great shape too. My second unqualified Sumgai. Naturally, I had to bring it home with me.

Amazingly silent and very comfortable to type on (probably because of the scalloped keys), I expect I will be doing a lot of creative writing and stream-of-consciousness warm-up exercises on this flattop.

1964 SCM Classic 12

SCM Classic 12Another case of perfect timing. Mrs. Sotto Voce and I were walking by Back Creek Books on our way to do some shopping, and as we walked by the door I thought I espied someone with a modern-looking black typewriter case in his hand waiting to talk with the owner. Sure enough, when we stopped by on the way back to chat, inevitably the conversation turned to typewriters and the owner said, “As a matter of fact, I just got something in . . . ”

Pretty clean inside and out, all it needed was a quick dusting on the inside and a new ribbon to get going. The invaluable Jay Respler of Advanced Business Machines dates it from 1964. What a year — the New York World’s Fair opens, Gemini opens America’s second round in the space race, Rangers 6 and 7 reach the moon. And this sleek, pastel-hued gem — with its folding space-antenna paper arms and its super-awesome forward-sliding lid — evokes the hopes and dreams of that optimistic, high-tech, stereophonic world.

It’s the snappiest, most comfortable typewriter I have. It just begs to be used. Like the Parker “51” fountain pen, it represents the peak of a technology just as it was about to be overtaken by something entirely new: in this case, the electric typewriter followed in short order by the computer. To hear it snapping away is to remember that our plans to go to the moon were typed on manual typewriters.

1980-something SCM Coronet Super 12

SCM Coronet Super 12The Smith-Corona contingent grows, and along with it, Sotto Voce commits heresy — an electric typewriter? I’ll be lucky if I’m not banished from the typosphere forthwith.

A gift from a dear friend who bought it to write her MFA thesis back when MFAs were a rarity, this wonderful machine is just a joy to type on. I can — and have — write for hours on it and not get tired. When I turn it on, it makes a happy humming sound and vibrates like it just can’t wait to get going. Once I get warmed up, my typing speed rivals my computer keyboard speed, and paper flows through it like water through a waterfall. It allows me to be productive.

The Coronet was in fine shape overall; the previous owner was pretty sure it had never been cleaned, but honestly it didn’t need much. It does have a couple of quirks that I will need to look at eventually, though — most crucially the linkage to the quote/apostrophe key, which appears to have come undone. But that hasn’t — excuse me, has not — stopped me from getting a lot of mileage out of it.

I just love Smith-Corona/SCM’s utilitarian, practical approach to design. This writer uses side-mounted cartridges that pop in and out with a push of a button, like ejecting a cassette from a car tape deck (you whippersnappers may have to Google those words to figure out what I’m talking about). Swapping out a correcting ribbon (still available online, by the way) takes just a few seconds, which also encourages me to use it, because there’s no more dread of making mistakes that take twenty-seven steps to correct. Those folks thought of everything.


  1. rere says:

    Dude, I think we have the EXACT SAME ROYAL. Rep! Although I have to ask, what brand of ribbon are you using to such good effect? I’m not very experienced in the field of typewriters, so I ended up picking up a generic white/black at Staples, and sometimes I feel like it’s a little loose, an issue that I cannot claim definitively as the purview of the ribbon, as I know nothing about the workings of the machine and all.

  2. sottovoce says:

    Hi, rere — sorry for the delay in response, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in Baltimore Book Festival duties. My ribbons of choice (“choice” as in “what the office supply store had on the shelves”) are “Porelon” adding machine ribbons. They have dried out a bit over many years of service (go back and check out my typecasts from 2005 — same ribbons, somewhat “wetter”) but they are still going strong.

    Hey, maybe our Royals were assembly-line brothers! We can swap serial numbers and see how close together they are. If you suspect something mechanically wrong with the spool, you should check out the cleaning and servicing instructions on the Classic Typewriter Page (link in the blogroll).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *