Monday, March 23, 2015

Remington Portable with new keytops

Probably sometime during the fifties, the keyboard of this little Remington Portable #2 typewriter was altered. Some of the regular assortment of fractions of the British keyboard were replaced by greek and math symbols. This was likely done for a student starting on statistics needing to write reports - taking a then already old (cheap) machine and have that modified.

The new, assembled typeslugs look convincing, the keyboard a bit less so. The way the keys are all a bit askew and out of alignment suggest they were mangled a bit, perhaps the old rings were pulled off without the right tool - who knows.

Most keytops were replaced with late forties/early fifties Imperial labels (as spotted by Nick of x over it), the greek symbols from engraved disks. No idea why all were changed. Perhaps the whole set of keys was changed to match the '+, =' keytop that could be had in the Imperial set. Strangely the '%, ½' label is from yet another range, could be original or just one label that was floating around the workshop at the time. Some of the Imperial labels start to come out from under the rings on the side, somehow not a good fit for the keys and rings.

Net result of it all is that the chrome (not nickel) rings and the assortment of labels give it a bit of a jumbled look. And when new, some machines even had white keytops that made them look rather smart! 

Unfortunately most machines today do not look quite as bright as they do in these user manual pictures. The paper has yellowed and certainly the celluloid has tanned. Many originally white keyboards now have keys with varying shades of ivory through tan to sometimes even deep ochre.

Benefit of these later replacement keytops was that the new chrome rings were held on with three small tabs. Some keys were already loose; these rings looked easy to remove with standard tools. That made it relatively easy to consider replacing all keytops with new labels. These Portable #2's are plentiful and this one had been messed with already, so did not feel bad about tinkering some more.

Having decided to change keytops, it becomes possible to consider what typeface and colours to use! Could do something really fancy, like red keytops to match the Remington label. Or a very fancy twenties typeface...

With a drawing program, quickly some colours and typefaces were tested. For colour, very quickly found that plain black on white worked best for me (or at least; liked best by me).

Experimenting with a serif typeface made me think of Corona, rather than a Remington. Usually the special keys and top row have a contrasting serif typeface to the sans-serif main keys - experimented a bit with that, but one typeface made for the cleanest look. Keyboards of the time use a sans-serif that looks a bit like Johnston, so experimented a bit with that (top left). For the special keys it does have some drawbacks, so in the end came back to a clean, thin Gill Sans typeface for all keys (bottom right).

Even though Gill Sans really took of in the thirties, it was actually designed and published  in the late twenties so not too out of place on this typewriter with its modified keyboard. With the chosen design, one sheet was (laser-) printed on thick white (ivory) paper and one set of disks on a sheet of transparency.

Taking off the keytops was surprisingly difficult. The tabs bend out of the way
easily enough and did not even break as I feared. The rings had however rusted with the key cups, making some of them very hard to remove without doing major damage. In the end they all came off without any major mishaps. Decided then not to replace the whole keytop insert, but place the new label and sheet on top of the current laminated card labels. (One small dab of glue on the side of the label holds the orientation. Should come off again without damage to the visible part of the older label.)

The keyboard does look very shiny and new now. Makes the contrast between the chrome rings and the nickel of the rest of the machine also less jarring (to me...).

(Now with the keyboard all clean and new, the rust spots on the paintwork start to look a bit out of place. Hmm...  :-)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. And in realizing Richard said the exact same thing last post, I will change my comment to "Fine work!" ;)

  2. This is fantastic! I've been wanting to do something like this but I haven't yet found the right typewriter to do it with.

  3. White always looks nice and clean compared to anything else. Wonderful work!

  4. You are certainly becoming the expert on Remington Portables - good job!

  5. Seems like quite a risky thing to do, glad you succeeded!