Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Black Oliver 3 typewriter and a quick age estimate

Oliver typewriters are generally olive green, this however is a black Oliver. There is no type-number anywhere, but from the appearance and its serial-number 114033 this is clearly a number 3.

To estimate the year of production from the serial number, The Database was consulted. Early Oliver data is however sparse, with a start and end-number for the 3 plus a serial number for 1906 from a documented machine.

Taking the start and end-serials, a total of about 148,000 machines were made. The machine in the 119k range that was rented in 1906, would not have been made after 1906. If it had been newly made in 1906 however, this would mean that about 60,000 Nr. 3's were made in 1906 and about 10,000 per year before that. There will have been fluctuations in production and sales, but overall the 1901 to 1907 period should be relatively stable and any trend or fluctuations would have been gradual and limited.

To fabricate or estimate serial numbers for the Nr. 3, the start and end numbers were taken as a given and a constant production rate of about 25k machines per year was assumed. This then gives estimated serial numbers that would place the machine that was rented-out in 1906 as manufactured in 1904 - rent being due on a two year old machine seems plausible.

These quickly estimated serials then give 1904 as the likely manufacturing year for this Oliver Nr. 3 with serial number 114033.

(Using serial numbers for the Nrs. 1 and 2 and their annual production rates and those for the Nr. 5 could give extra information on annual rate increase of Oliver and that way further improve the estimates - but this quick-guess is nice enough for now.)

Seen from the side, this typewriter really does look 'different' - as the company itself said: 'a striking and radical departure from the norm'. (There is a great article about the machines and the history of the company on the Made-in-Chicago museum site.) 

These are sometimes called 'batwing', but when viewed from an angle they also really look like a period battleship. Two complicated masts and lots of pointy-bits sticking out. Comparing with ironclads of the era - the Oliver fits right in.

Rebuilt Oliver machines were sometimes finished in black, and in spots the olive paint could be found under the black paint. This is a re-finished machine then. The black paper table does have Oliver decals, so the re-paint must've been done fairly long ago, when Oliver decals were still current and available. From the rather slapdash paint-job on the machine, it is however obvious this was not a professional (factory) rebuild.

The machine must have been used a lot, then followed by decades of being stored badly - it is very worn and rather rusty. Some parts are broken-off and others are missing, but it still mostly works! This typewriter is also built like a battleship.

The platen-knobs look extremely worn especially. Apart from the occasional missing screw, the mechanics of the carriage is mostly complete. It also is dirty and rusted. By the look of it, this Oliver's been in a battle.

The ribbon on the machine is an incorrect, standard half-inch on plastic spools. That is an uncomfortable fit for the vibrator that is made for a 7/16" (11mm) ribbon. The plastic spools are probably also the reason the spool-covers are missing, they wouldn't have fitted over regular-size spools and subsequently lost.

Surface rust and lots of surface dirt are all over the machine. Plus there's the patches where mechanism was covered in black paint. 

On an Oliver, the right margin-release is in an odd position central in the machine, just in front of the escapement and star-wheel. 

When releasing the right margin and continuing typing, the carriage rolls right off the machine - tossed overboard. The carriage comes off an Oliver with astonishing ease. Fortunately it goes on just as easily.

The cast-iron nameplates - the Oliver's bulwark - were taken off to be de-rusted with a wire-brush. Only traces of the originally bright nickel remained, but in grey metal these do look suitably robust for this black Oliver. These nameplates also wouldn't be out of place on a Victorian railway-engine.

This pre-dreadnought machine is a bit out-of-scope for the collection and was an 'opportunistic' by-catch in a larger batch of portable typewriters. Undecided what to do with it, this machine will first be 'mothballed' - laid up until it's either getting repaired or sold-off.


  1. I also have a 1906 Oliver 3 (SN 158930) that is in remarkable shape for its age. Not a daily typer for sure. I plan on restoring it in the next few months after I finish an Erika M I am just starting to restore.

    1. Congrats - when these old Oliver's are in good shape, they do look fabulous. And good luck on the M - I lucked out on a 'mint' M - they can be magnificent typing machines :-)