Sunday, October 17, 2021

Cleaning the Comptometer Supertotalizer

The fur between the keys is removed and the overall machine polished-up nicely.

The keytops themselves were first cleaned of the runny 'goo' by simply wiping it off with tissue-paper. Much of the remaining dirt and expanded 'ink' was removed with a rag plus soap and water. The top surface and the sides of the octagonal keys was finally 'polished' with metal-polish - this makes the surface a little brighter again without damaging too much. Especially the white, dimpled (odd-numbered) keys have deteriorated - the old plastic has shrunk, cracked and curled up. The keytops are still not completely cleaned, but the keyboard is now serviceable and no longer 'icky' to touch.

To clean between the keys without removing them (a non-trivial procedure), a 1/4" square wooden slat wrapped in a damp rag was used to get between the stems. This slat with cotton rag with some metal-polish was next used to clean the stems themselves. Great care was taken to not rub the top-plate with the metal-polish, as this would have damaged the finish!

The case of the Comptometer is made of copper-plated steel that was then given a clear lacquer top-coat. On the front-right corner these layers are worn-through from regular use. (Quite some information about these Comptometers is on the internet at various sites, for example a lot of information on the different types and on the mechanism is on John Wolff's Web Museum site.)

The copper-coloured case was washed overall with a damp cloth with soapy water. With a wooden toothpick the dirt around the edges of the raised decorations was cleaned off.

Most of the dark stains are corrosion and/or dirt of the copper underneath the lacquer. For example; most of the dark spots on the top-plate between the stems clearly show the hole in the lacquer, with surrounding discolouring.

This means that many of the stains and spots cannot be cleaned without completely destroying the finish. These machines were never brightly copper-coloured, but always a darker brown. (Perhaps the finish was chosen to mimic the original wooden box models in general appearance, when they switched to metal cases in 1904. Pure speculation, but could well be.)

Nevertheless, the machine cleans up well. To protect the finish against future corrosion damage from cracks in the lacquer, the case was given a polish with petroleum jelly (Vaseline). This will fill cracks and help seal the metal from oxygen - plus it gives a bit of a shine to the surface.

The serial numbers of the machine are repeated on the mechanism internally. These are the same as those stamped on the outer case, further confirming the calculator is 'unmolested' and original.

On Comptometer model J calculators the back plate generally carries a list of patents. On the Supertotalizer the backplate only has the Comptometer script-logo and the patent list is now on the bottom-plate of the machine.

On this machine the list is scratched and a bit difficult to read. Even though this machine was manufactured around 1935, the list still starts with Dorr E. Felt's first US patent 366,945 for the Comptometer issued in 1887.

The display windows have strips of celluloid behind them. The celluloid is of course yellowed with age, but not too bad. Several yellowed-dot patterns on the sheets were evidence that these strips had been shifted around several times to place a new, bright bit of celluloid in front of the windows. The strips were merely cleaned and placed back.

Next to tackle the mechanism. The columns 2 to 5 work, the rest refuse to budge or will not do a carry at all. It's as if the machine is lubricated with treacle. The Totalizer bits are worse, as if lubricated by tar.

Nevertheless, the mechanism is complete with no obvious damage so it should respond well to new oil and exercise! Lots of exercise :-)

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Thrift-store find; a Comptometer JS 10 Supertotalizer

Last month on the way back from an errand in town, popped by a local thrift store to just have a browse-round. Right inside the entrance on the table that normally carries the typewriters sat this calculator.

(Not a good picture, but taken quickly - the full-keyboard calculator at bottom-right.) 

That's a Comptometer Supertotalizer, that is!

A Comptometer is a fairly common type of quick key-driven adding-machine. The Supertotalizer version however is reported to be pretty rare, so it was surprising to just walk into one here locally in the recycling/thrift store. Did a quick check and picked it up then-and-there, making a U-turn back to the check-out and quickly bought it. That browse-round of the store will have to wait for another day.

Had been keeping half an eye open for a Comptometer already for some time, waiting for a nice 8-column black-keys specimen to turn up locally and reasonably priced. When however a rare Supertotalizer sits right there for the picking-up, a 10-column machine with green keys is good too :)  

This copper-brown machine is a Supertotalizer (or Super Totaliser). Introduced by Felt & Tarrant around 1934, this is essentially a model J mechanism with the Supertotalizer bolted onto the front, both housed in an enlarged 'shoebox'. Both components have their own serial numbers, so the main serial number is J324703 and the Supertotalizer component has serial number S1919. The J-number dates it to about 1935.

It's very 'stiff', several carry's don't work and the totalizer is completely jammed, but it is complete with all the comma-indicators and keytops.

About those keys; they are present..., however, as is common for these 1930s model J machines, the plastic (Galalith?) of the white keys has severely degraded and the ink has 'gone wild' and migrated all over the keytops. The awful sticky dust (fur!) under the keys and tarnishing suggest the machine was left untouched somewhere in a barn for the last 50 years or so.

Compared to typewriters these are dauntingly tricky (and dense) mechanisms to take apart and tinker with, so hopefully a good cleaning and new lubrication will restore the mechanism to working order. First however is to 'sanitise' and clean the outside and the keyboard... (yuck!)

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Projects: group of three 'barnfind'-machines

Not so sure it was a worthwhile purchase now that the true state of the machines is visible, but definitely 'projects'. 

Yesterday acquired a batch of three typewriters that should last me for a while to tinker with to get them fixed-up and usable. They are all pre-war portables and actually neat machines of themselves. They'll be kept in storage for a while, to be taken-up as projects over the coming winter (or following summer...). But already some pictures of the three as purchased:

First the Mercedes Prima portable typewriter.

This is the most dusty machine of the lot - for a machine to attract this level of dust-fur inside a case is a remarkable feat. The case is cracked and the spools are rusty, but underneath all the dust this machine seems to be in excellent condition. The inside mechanism is completely rust-free - it also shows its Underwood origins. It is internally identical to an Underwood Universal - will be curious to see if it was converted to metric for manufacturing the design in Germany.

The serial number plate fixed per Underwood-practice to the frame behind the left spool. This makes it I think a 1934 machine.

The second typewriter in this lot was one that got my attention - an Erika M portable.

The Erika and especially its case are also very dirty, definitely 'barnfind'-condition. It seems mostly complete, but has several issues such as seriously bent typebars and non-functioning ribbon-vibrator. It is not 'mint' so will not be worried about digging into this machine to see if it can be fixed-up. These are truly magnificent machines when tuned well, so there's something aim for :)

The keyboard layout of this machine is probably a custom one-off job. It combines the very Dutch 'IJ' key with Norwegian 'AE'. More reason to want to have this machine usable again. The bent typebars are worrying though.

The third typewriter in the lot is a somewhat tired-looking 1923 Underwood 3-bank without case.

Had been looking for a nice specimen of a 3-bank for a while, but they are getting increasingly rare and nice ones are increasingly costly. So as an alternative I was tempted to get this beaten-up project-machine that will be good for fixing-up and exploring the mechanism of these miniature typing wonders. Apart from the usual rubber-issues, the mechanism seems all-there and working - albeit very stiff and 'crunchy'. The paintwork is dull and decals are worn with a light sprinkling of rust all over the brightwork. This will be a guilt-free restoration project!

First however all three will be stored. All machines were given a quick wipe-down to remove the worst of the cruft, then sealed with their case in plastic bags to be put away (in a dry and warm spot). The plan is to take these out one-by-one as restoration and repair projects over the coming year(s). 

If the state of these typewriters had been clearer, I'm not sure I'd have purchased the batch. But now that they're here - many months of typewriter-tinkering fun is ensured :-)

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Reproduction comma-indicators for the Thales pinwheel calculator

The Thales model CE mechanical calculator was missing 4 of its 5 comma-indicators. 

The originals are fairly fragile and are often missing from these pre-war Thales calculators. The bottom of the thin sheet-metal stamped construction is clamped and comes away easily - the whole thing then just drops off its rails. Although the machine 'works' also without them, to be complete a new set of these "Kommaschieber" could be made using 3D printing.

Luckily there was one remaining slider still with the machine - using this one original as a guide, a 3D design of a replacement was made that would be printable in plastic, function on the machine and still resemble the original. A set of these were then printed in PA using MJF-technology printers. This technology creates parts that are quite strong, slightly flexible and with dimensional accuracies and features good enough for this part to work. The surface as-printed is slightly grainy, but can be smoothed with sanding.

For printing (and handling) a set of the pointers were grouped (with connecting 'beads') into a single printable part-file and ordered in MJF (Multi Jet Fusion) at Shapeways. When received the parts were first washed to remove any grease or other remaining contaminants. Then the group was given a coat of primer (spray-can) before a first coat of 'chrome' lacquer. The parts are then still very grainy (and shiny), ready for separating and sanding smooth.

Using water-based modelling paints in metallic-silver, the parts can be given a proper brushed-metal appearance. Because the paint is water-based, water-based inks could be used to find a good colour match for the nickelled parts of the original. In this case, brown and yellow Ecoline was added to the silver-paint to find a colour that would not jar too much with the original. (Metallic 'silver' is a surprisingly varied colour.)

It took a few iterations of filing and sanding the surfaces smooth and re-applying a newly-mixed brushed-nickel paint to get the comma-indicators looking the part. The printed parts actually fit the comma-bar without any modifications and the PA material gives it a good, firm grip on the rails for sliding them.

Now with the complete set of 5 indicators, the Thales mechanical calculator again looks as it should and comma-positions can be again indicated with the pointers. (The comma in the lower-left UW register shows the answer to square-root of 10 being 3.162277. The indicator in the lower-right RW is between positions 11 and 12, where it started with 10 in positions 13 and 12. The RW and the upper EW registers now show the remainders of the square-root calculation. These actually make it possible to determine if the last digit of the answer should be rounded up or down - if the RW is less than half the EW, then the next digit would be less than 5 so round down, otherwise up. The EW is 632... so checking against 316.. immediately shows the RW is larger with 417..., so the answer has to be rounded up to 3.162278. Have been reading-up on the use of these calculators; fascinatingly ingenious machines!)

The 3D model of a group of 10 of these indicators is available for download at this link.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Remington keyboard layout No. 645 (UNMIF)

The keyboard of this sunny little Remington Portable typewriter looked clearly Portuguese.

Now confirmed that it indeed is Portuguese; it is Remington typewriter keyboard layout number 645. For ordering use telegraph code "UNMIF" - well, back in the 1920s you could have.

On the Archive are scans of Remington typewriter keyboards. These pages give an extraordinary insight into the wide variety of regional keyboard layouts, the vast number of (to my eye) minor variations, very specialised trade-layouts and specials for large companies.

The pre-printed characters on the form also show Remington's most common variations in keyboards - the q, y, z and a were filled out by hand and the rest of the letter-characters were standard and printed. 

Almost 2000 different layouts must've been kept on file at the company - now many scanned and available on the Archive - with many thanks to the uploader!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Erika M Schreibmaschine in neuwertigem Zustand


The lacquer is truly shiny and without any damage. Likewise all the chrome is without any blemish. the decals are immaculate. The machine was not polished-up in any way, only lightly dusted off.

This belonged to a typewriter repairman who ran his own repair-shop. It was one machine that he kept for himself - perhaps a customer trade-in. Judging by the state of the machine and the fresh platen, he probably serviced it and then only used it very little. It was clearly stored well in a dry and warm spot for 40 or 50 years until it was bought from the repairman's descendants and picked-up yesterday.

The one plastic spool that was probably put on the machine some time in the 1980s will be replaced by a matching metal spool. Other than that, it will not be touched. Rather it will continue to be stored warm and dry and sometimes be used for typing (with care).

The serial number 702222/M makes this a (late) 1938 machine.

The one difference with 'the one that got away' is that this specimen has a German keyboard - as do most of these Erika M typewriters of course. It does fit the machine well (mit recht "deutscher Wertarbeit"), also it may lead to some more practice and improve my German (die Fälle hab ich nie so richtig gelernt - und es fehlt mir bisher die Übung...).

(Or alternativelz; this tzpewriter maz cause some yanz spelling :-)

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Just picked up...

Will be taking better pictures, but these identify the machine already!

Ever since walking away from one in May '18, a machine of this type had been on the 'watch' list. Finally, actually did pick one up! - now to practice my German to use it :-)

More pictures shortly, after a 'wipe-down' and light dusting.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Remington Portable with case-key and instructions (localised)

The reason to get yet another Remington Portable #2 typewriter, and a 'bog-standard' specimen at that, was that it came complete with the key to the carrying case.

The second reason to get it and even pay perhaps a bit much for it, was that it came with the original Dutch instructions.

This localised version of the instructions booklet for the Remington Portable has an interesting mix of typeface-sizes. Almost every paragraph on a page has its own size.

Comparing to the original, American instructions booklet it becomes obvious why this is. The page layout with text and images was kept near-identical, only needing to swap-out text blocks to print the localised (Dutch) version. With language however being different, it did mean that sometimes a lot more characters were needed for the translation of a paragraph. Still keeping it in the same bounding-box, they reduced the text size.

Another peculiarity is the spelling, that's odd I think even back in the 1920s. For 'schryfmachine' it can be excused, however the consistent use of the y also in other words ('maatschappy', 'aanwyzing', 'byna') that should really have 'ij' looks strange, certainly to today's (Dutch) reader.

The booklet was of course scanned and is now available on The Archive - for any Dutch machines that may be out there sans-instructions :-)

On the bog-standard, excellent Portable typewriter itself: Having gone as far as to give it a new platen, that paint-damage on the lifting tray was 'jarring'. Dipping into the spares-box for Remington Portables yielded a near-pristine tray of similar vintage. Replacing is a fairly simple process (remove top-panel and then 4 screws), but very fiddly and the fit of a different tray in a machine can be tricky.

Also this part had paint-fingerprints from handling in the factory, as seems to be common for these machines - the production process must've called for lots of manual handling of freshly painted parts. 

Now would there be any surviving documents, photographs or even movies of the Portable manufacturing of the 1920s? Would be neat to see - what is available is imagery of this Czechoslovakian factory of Remington Standards that definitely did do a lot of handling.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

New bits and a platen for a Remington Portable

The state of the rubber on this Remington Portable typewriter was not great. The platen was hard and e.g. the feet were 'tired'.

Luckily, we have new printed feet in stock here. Also recently arrived is a newly covered platen, with a fresh layer of 'contirite'. To top it all off, there's a full set of rollers salvaged from a parted-out machine. A full set!

The feet were chiseled off with a screwdriver:

The new, 3D printed feet simply snap into place.

Similarly, swapping out the bail-rollers is simple - gently bend the sides of the bail to free the bail-rod, slide off the old and on the 'new' and snap the rod back into place.

Before moving on to exchanging the platen, a new ribbon was wound on the spools. The typewriter still has the 'top left' and 'top right' in their correct spots. It must however have been serviced, perhaps still in the 50ies. The spool-trays show signs of congealed, old oil (why?) and a missing screw (again, why?). Here again the treasure-tin with parts from the parted-out Remington Portable EV167240 comes to the rescue.

With the fresh, heavily inked ribbon a few lines were typed on the old platen.

Next the platen was replaced - unless the platen-knob screw is stuck in place this is a fairly simple matter. Undo the screw, take off the knob. Then push out the platen-rod towards the left and lift out the platen. The line-ratchet assembly is moved over to the new platen (three small screws) and then the new cylinder is placed in the machine.

Then some lines with the new cylinder - first time typing with brand-new rubber!

Actually the difference was not as marked as expected. It is still fairly loud, with a sharp impact sound. The print quality is very good - although even with the hard platen it was not too bad either. Testing the hardness with the very unscientific fingernail-method, the old platen did still have some 'bounce' (Sh90+?) and was not entirely hard. The new platen is supposed to be around Shore 82, it does register much more 'bounce' with the same fingernail-test. (Will have to consider getting a durometer...) May be that for an even quieter machine, an even softer platen might be possible.

In any case this new rubber should be much better for the type. Although (I think) it still is a fairly loud typewriter, it does now give excellent print quality and, well, it just 'feels better'.

Overall, getting new rubber for my vintage typewriters is definitely something to explore further - it does 'feel' nicer. It makes this typical, common 'garden variety' Remington Portable #2 typewriter an even nicer little writing machine :-)

Friday, August 6, 2021

Damage to the paint, probably of its period

Recently was acquired another Remington Portable #2 typewriter. 

Nothing remarkable in and of itself - these are still pretty common. Even today these regularly emerge from attics and closets to be put up for sale on one of the many online marketplaces. As was this machine.

The crisp serial number makes this a 1928 machine, the 6314th machine produced in January 1928 in the USA - then exported to Holland with an 'international keyboard'. 

It will require some cleaning; it clearly hasn't been used for decades. Also the rubber will require attention. The platen is rock-hard as usual plus the feet and bail-rollers have perished. These parts will need replacing, but then the typewriter should function fine. These are great machines, very sturdy and can be tuned to be a pleasure to type on. Marvels of 1920s product-engineering. (Quiet, however, they are not.)

It took a moment to determine what it was - that damaged 'matte' spot on the lifting tray. But what this looks like, is heat-damage. Very likely somebody put his (or her) cigarette away on the panel - "no ashtray... Oh, I can put it there and it won't burn the table" - and it caused an unsightly stain. Similar damage is also sometimes seen on older slide-rules, but then the person didn't pick-up the cigarette in time so that the burning reached the rule.

A damage that is perhaps in keeping with the period. We'll have to see how to tackle this - to bring this typewriter into its next century :)

Monday, July 12, 2021

A digital machine (with a bell)

The new arrival shown in the previous post has a carriage and even a bell - mounted on the cast-iron base-plate. The larger view from the rear with the covers off shows the bell, the input-check register on top and some of the safety-interlocks to the side of the register.

The front view without the main covers shows the pinwheel drum and the carriage with the result-register and the revolution-counter - all with 10s-carry. The bell rings the alarm when there is an overflow (or an underflow) in the result-register - very nifty. (A very clear demonstration of the workings of a Thales machine can be seen at this link.)

The 'paddles' on the front of the carriage are for stepping left or right - squeeze both for carriage-release. The crank at the right is of course for driving the mechanism, either adding (cw) or subtracting (ccw). The wing-nuts at the carriage-ends are for clearing the result- and revolution-counters.

This is a Thales model CE calculator. This a fairly common model of a pinwheel calculator - a four-function mechanical calculator.
There is no single 'Database' for calculators and serial-numbers, but there is a vast and diverse range of informative web-pages on mechanical antique calculators. From browsing some of these enthusiasts' sites, this calculator could be identified as the model CE even though it is not marked as such. The model C-range of Thales also had tens-carry in the revolution-counter (very handy, quicker multiplication) and the extra E denotes it has an input-number display (Einstellkontrollwerk).
From the serial 67878 and style/features, this machine was probably made in the early 1940s.

Four of the decimal-markers are gone (as is common), but otherwise the calculator is in decent shape with the oil and grease still 'soft'. Some light extra-oiling and cleaning - and it functions. (Well, almost everything - the machine fails on the right-most digit in the result register when trying to subtract from '0' to '9' due to very worn teeth on a gear.)

The drum with pinwheels is from brass and steel, fortunately no zamac anywhere. In the picture above the pinwheel itself is shown with the first four number-wheels showing 4, 3, 2 and 1 set, i.e. four of the pins 'up' on the first wheel, etc.

Even though all it does is adding or subtracting the number on the drum (EW - entry, on top) to the result register (RW - results, lower right), with the extra revolution counter (UW - turns, lower left) on a sliding carriage it enables a whole host of calculations. Repeated addition is fairly simple multiplication - the tens-carry in the 'UW' helps reduce the the number of turns (e.g. 89 x 89 reduced to 3 turns from otherwise 17 turns). Together with the bell to alert on underflow, repeated subtraction allows for quick long-division. 

With a simple extra 'trick' it is e.g. possible to do exponents. As example; when wanting to know the precise amount of cubic cm in a cubic inch, that would be 2.54 cm to the power of 3. First multiplying 254 by 254, gives the square in the 'RW'. By then working from left to right on the 'UW', add turns to make the 'UW' copy the digits in the 'RW'. (Working left to right preserves the next digit to work on, no need to keep notes.) This then results in the 3rd power to be in the 'RW' - giving 2.54 cubed as 16.387064. (Repeating this same copy-to-'UW' procedure of course keeps raising the power.)

Another not immediately obvious technique is to split the 'EW' and 'RW' in two areas, e.g. to be able to do a proportions calculation in one setting.

Overall a fascinating little machine that is surprisingly heavy - packed dense with gears and levers - with much to discover. Not certain if the '0' to '9' issue on that single digit can be fixed, but with some light cleaning/oiling and occasional exercise it should remain 'stable'. 

An ~80 year old and very ingenious digital machine :-)