Sunday, November 12, 2017

Stories of famous inventions - part one: The Typewriter

The January 1928 issue of the Meccano Magazine with an image on the cover for the article on the building of the Panama Canal. Many more articles inside on various feats of engineering, science and of course Meccano.


Also in this issue is the first instalment in a series about famous inventions. The header of the series contains a list of notable inventions. There are the expected items such as the steam engine, the sewing machine, the motorcar and the typewriter. Oddly missing (for '28) is radio. On the other hand it does mention noctovision. But to get back to this first article - the story of the invention of the typewriter.


The article gives a quick historical long view and then goes into more detail on how the 'startup' of Glidden happened, including the 'pivot' from a numbering machine to the general purpose writing machine. (To put it in today's terms.)

All back issues of the Meccano Magazine can all be read online at the Internet Archive. This link opens the January 1928 issue, browse to page 10 for the article.

For reading convenience, the pages also included below.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

It is our earnest desire

...it is our earnest desire that [it] shall give the greatest satisfaction.

Those sentiments came with an online purchase that arrived last week. This is clearly a phrase that is not from a recent warranty statement. In fact it was included with a nearly a century old toy. Much worn and the box has lost its lid and some of its shape, but the instruction leaflet was still included.


The clockwork motor itself has some spots of rust on the outside, but otherwise is still in fine working order. They were right in their claim that the Meccano Clockwork motor will do excellent service for many years.

The printing code on the leaflet dates this to February 1920. A next known printing run of this leaflet is September 1921, so the motor likely dates from some time between the two dates. The text and layout of this leaflet likely date to 1916, when Meccano started making their own motors. They had been buying these from Märklin originally, but the Great War (World War I) halted that supply of course.

This clockwork motor would have been very much a luxury item in 1920, affordable only by the well-off. (As was Meccano, to be honest.) These motors were then still supplied in 'austerity' plain strawboard boxes and only by the mid twenties were the boxes upgraded to a blue fully labeled version. Today these motors are still (or again) not all that cheap, but thankfully well within reach of many now.

Also today there is the wonder of digital image editing. With a scanned image of the old leaflet, a cleaned version was created and printed to go with the motor in a newly made box.


On the other hand it turned out that today it is not so easy to find matching brown paperboard made from straw. A century ago this would have been the raw material for nearly all paperboard, but today it nearly all is grey paper-pulp board. The local crafts-store here sell a large sheet of this 2mm thick board for a very modest sum.

Some yellow watercolour ink can create a more yellow/brown colour of the board to match the original box. What proved more difficult is that the modern board is very dense in comparison to the old strawboard and near impossible to crease and bend cleanly. It will break at the edges. Nevertheless a new lid and also a new box base were made from the grey board. More of an impression than an exact replica, but it does look the part and serves its purpose of storing the motor safely. A reproduction label then added to complete the impression of the article when new.


From references on the net (no interest so niche...), this particular motor can be identified as a nickel motor of the 'Meccanoland designation' type 6. It has the letter stamping not on the reversing lever, but on the motor side-plate. These motors are known with F, J or K, this one has a 'K'. Am curious, but have no idea on the meaning of the letter (could be initial of the person that assembled it? the subcontractor that supplied it?).


Should you have one of these early Meccano Clockwork motors that inadvertently lost its paperwork some time during the last century; an image of the instruction leaflet below - measures about 200 by 255mm:


And a newly created small reproduction box lid label:


The whole point of this new box and leaflet were to add it to the newly boxed set of nickel Meccano. Now also the motorised models in the 1920 book of models can be made. Such as this Mechanical Hammer (model 147). (There's a subject you're unlikely to find in today's construction toys! - can't see a mechanical hammer appealing much today - unsure what appeal it had back then. Perhaps it was still modern and a marvel of progress...)


In a quickly assembled model, the motor does its work fine.


Very noisy. Surprisingly noisy. This model must've annoyed the rest of the family and possibly the neighbours, also in 1920 :-)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

About succulents and Royal

Recently picked up an album - a so-called 'Verkade album'. Between '03 and '40 the cake-manufacturer Verkade published these illustrated albums, with the illustrations enclosed with the company's product. (Collect them all...)


This is a 1932 album; 'Vetplanten' ('Succulents'). The undoubtedly knowledgeable Mr van Laren gives much and varied information on the care of succulent plants and the various species thereof.


Notable on the title-page of the album is the mention that it was printed and bound by Blikman and Sartorius, Amsterdam.


In the field of typewriters in The Netherlands that is a familiar name; they were the importers/distributors for Royal typewriters. They are notable for having pasted their company name on each and every typewriter they supplied. So much so that often on the local online-ads site there is listed a 'Blikman & Sartorius' typewriter for sale, model 'Royal'. (They were however by no means the only importer to do so. James Plant prominently labeled every Underwood that passed his warehouse and Ruys tagged all Olivetti machines with their own brand. Blikman & Sartorius were the most consistent and 'visible' in doing this, though.)


As example of their eagerness to place their name, they went to the trouble of taking this Royal De Luxe portable machine out of the case and rub off the 'touch-control' label. They then put their company name prominently on the centre front of the machine.

It was perhaps a company policy; everything that leaves the door gets labeled :)






Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Well preserved motor - kept in its box

It must have been always kept in its box, a fine Meccano number 2 clockwork motor. This was for the Dutch market, a 'Veermotor No.2'.


Where the label has worn away on the box lid, it could be seen that the Dutch label is a paper pasted over an English printed box. The motor inside is in a surprisingly good condition. With the paint good still and really no rust, this motor is altogether too nice to play and build with today.


Even the spring is clean and free from corrosion - like new.


The included instruction sheet is multilingual and also a bit strange. The Meccano company made the effort to print and paste a Dutch label on the box and then included instructions in English, German, French and Spanish. No instructions in Dutch.


Another strange thing is that the Dutch warranty slip is pasted over the remnants of a torn-out slip. From the remaining printing codes, both seem from the same era (printer code suggests 1931). An original 'U' (United Kingdom?) slip was replaced with an 'H' slip (Holland, likely). Seems very sloppy for such an expensive item. Perhaps needed to quickly fill an unexpected export order, but still.


Had bought this item to get a dark red motor to go with the period set for building. On the pictures of the listing it looked decent enough and was stated to be in working condition. When I got it, it turned out to be that this particular motor is too well preserved to mar with screws. It'll mostly continue being kept in its box. A very nice time capsule nevertheless :)

Below a larger resolution image of the instruction sheet, should you have one of these and be curious on its use :-)




Sunday, July 30, 2017

Junk Shop machine spotting

Found another new thrift store in town, well perhaps more a junk shop. This one has a very wide variety of items from fairly credible old furniture to broken electronics and assorted 'junk'.

Also several typewriters.

First spotted is this remnant of a typewriter. Somehow somebody removed and then lost the body-panels. (Why?)


Even the back panel is gone! (Having gone that far. why stop and not take off the carriage cowling.) Makes the typewriter a bit harder to identify...


Next up was a (to me) uninspiring modern machine, a Royal Apollo 10 that will originally have landed in Germany with its QWERTZ keyboard.


On the shelf above it sat an adding machine. Jammed solid with unfortunately a cracked housing. (Not a typewriter, but we'll class it as related machinery.)


The next and last machine was a solid looking Remington standard looking somewhat unhappy. This is probably the maximum number of typebars that can be jammed in a machine. Unsure what caused the damage to the paint and wordmark on the top cover; it almost looks as if it's been too hot. Was it baked? Blowtorch? (That would explain the tabulator-bar being all bent.)


Not sure how wel that white label will come off (but not much lacquer left anyways), it advertises that the asking price is a full 15 Euro for the machine.

No prizes for guessing what machine was purchased - no typewriters were acquired that day. (Nor any adding machines, for that matter ;-)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Night Alarm machine spotting

Old movies are a place to see vintage mechanical writing machines in use - in their time. This is especially so when the story revolves around a newspaper - and many films do.

The 1934 crime drama 'Night Alarm' is all about the intrepid newspaper reporter uncovering the 'fire-bug' (and getting the girl). Overall it is a bit dated. The acting is quite decent, but there are some unexpected jumps and shortcuts in the story as well as an eyebrow-raising musical number halfway. It does have some lively action scenes with firetrucks and cars screeching round the corner. (Regarding the odd jumps in storyline; this surviving copy may well have been heavily cut down for broadcasting on television. It could well be that a half-hour's worth of acting was cut out. For many films, the television edit is the only copy that remains.)

To properly set the newspaper scene at the beginning of the film, it shows the typesetting room with several linotype (I think) machines.


And in more detail.


From there on, the action moves to the newsroom to introduce the players.


An array of desks with standards.

Although a bit dated, the film still is quite watchable and is readily available even; 'Night Alarm' can be seen or downloaded over at The Internet Archive.



Machine spotting!

Monday, July 24, 2017

No interest so niche... (a screwdriver)

It's been said before; these are amazing times. With the global flea-market and antique-shop that is the internet, it was possible to find and purchase for a very reasonable sum the correct pattern screwdriver for the re-boxed nickel-set.

To be fair, for a mid-twenties set it would more likely be the longer, closed nickel item. This type is more common in 1915 sets than '25 sets. But this is the exact pattern as shown in the parts-list in the 1920 booklet.


It is again confirmed. There is not a niche-interest so tiny that it is not served somewhere on the internet.