Sunday, August 6, 2023

An inept attempt to hide stolen goods? Or crossing-out a factory mix-up?

To give the old Oliver 3 typewriter a thorough clean, so that it'd be rusty but not dirty, it was taken apart pretty completely. Down to its foundation, the cast-iron base.

The unreadable main serial number on the rear of the base had been attributed to the slapdash black paint-job, but sanding away the black paint revealed that the last digits of the serial look as if deliberately obliterated. It really looks like chisel-blows to the digits.

Removing a serial-number is suspect of course - could it be that this was an attempt from long ago to make a stolen machine untraceable? (And then also given a coat of black paint to make it less recognizable?) 

It seems far-fetched perhaps, but Olivers did get stolen. The Oliver Typewriter Company did keep track of serial-numbers of stolen machines too, as is documented in 'The Battle of Detroit' between Oliver and The Typewriter Trust (Remington e.a.) . A great blog-post about this saga is at oz.Typewriter - fascinating reading!

In case this defacing of the serial-number was an attempt to make the typewriter untraceable, this was a ridiculously ineffective action. Right next to the main serial-number, it's also stamped into the back frame-rod of the carriage. This came out undamaged from underneath the black paint. Did they miss that?

That however isn's the only back-up number that's on the machine. The serial number is also stamped under a tower platform. Not obviously visible, but accessible.

And there's more - normally hidden under the flange of the comb plate; there it is again, stamped into the base casting.

For good measure, also stamped into the main pivot-rod for the shifting.

To top it off, the number is even stamped into the little plate that clamps the leather patch that buffers the space-bar linkage inside the base. After pressing down on it for over a century, the serial-number was also in the leather patch, albeit in mirror-image :-)

Overall, if this destroying of the last digits of the serial-number on the main, raised area for it was an attempt to hide the machine's identity, this attempt failed. Must have been very inept thieves, to even miss the serial number at the back of the carriage. Or there is another reason behind the mauled serial number. 

Could it be a casting-error that made the stamping of the digits ineffective? 

The marks over the number seem however deliberate. Also the chisel-marks would be a strange damage to the (wooden) mould for the casting surely. And in case the raised area were moulded badly, this is a face that could have been easily filed/milled clean again.

Or could it be that the stamping-tools for the large digits and the small digits were not set to the same number?

In case a mistake was made at the factory in 1904, the large number stamped e.g. 114303 and all the multiple small numbers stamped as 114033. Then a reasonable fix would have been to erase the number that was stamped once only; i.e. the large number. Then it'd also make sense to hack away only at the final digits, the thousands' number wouldn't be changed too often and unlikely for an error to be there. In case the mistake was that the large stamp hadn't been incremented, so set to 114032, then obliterating the last digit would have been enough - so perhaps a mixing-up of correct digits in wrong order is the more likely mistake. 

If an error was made in the large number stamp, then the remaining small serial numbers are correct for the machine. However, if the small stamp was mistaken and the serial should have been e.g. 114303, then there would now be a duplicate machine with the same serial-number. (One way to confirm the mix-up theory would be to find another Oliver 114033 - but slim chances of that ;-) Most likely then that the small number stamp was correct and the mistake was made in the large stamp; a typewriter factory in 1904 would be unlikely to create duplicate machines.

On balance; the most likely explanation for the unreadable serial-number is a manufacturing mix-up with a mistake made in the large number-stamp.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa. I didn't know about all those hidden sn's on Olivers! I love learning new things about familiar machines. Thanks.