Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I'm using the tiny slices of downtime I have today to work on my "new" toy, an Erika folding typewriter from the 1920's. I found it on Craigslist, and spent an interesting hour talking with the owner: she had hung on to this and many of the other family artifacts, but now her children are grown, and she is slowly emptying her now too-large home of all the treasures. I'm actually sad that I only brought enough for the Erika, as she also had some old box cameras and a candlestick phone. She was parting with the things that didn't hold as much meaning for her, and the typewriter was one of those things.

The Erika is of the "minimalist German engineering" school of design. It's a three-bank machine, which theoretically should be simpler to operate, given that you need far less typebars and levers to do the work. This necessitates three platen positions to strike regular, uppercase, and "figure" symbols. I can puzzle out the shift keys clearly enough, but it took some trial to realize that the nondescript silver lever on the side is the shift-lock. This is the first typewriter that will feel like driving a stick-shift (something I am notoriously poor at doing.) Unless I'm mistaken, the small odd-looking screw on the back is a touch adjustment, though I don't have the tool to turn it. The carriage is equally non-intuitive, and only through experimental poking and testing have I figured out the line advance, double and single-space lever, and (I think) the roller detent-disengage thing (turns the roller smoothly, without the ratchet.) No return lever is present on these models: likely it would interfere with the folding action, and was possibly seen as frivolous by the designers.

My fingers are greasy with Liquid Wrench as I try to unjam each row of keys -- now only the top row insists on moving as a unit, as decades of non-use have seized up the mechanisms. I am gradually coaxing the bars to move independently again. Like the other machines in my care, I hope for this to eventually become a "user" machine, resurrected from its prior status as a display piece.

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