Friday, May 11, 2012

Underwood Universal portable typewriter

Day #1: Removing all the panels in preparation for cleaning the inner workings.
We bought this wash-tub especially for the purpose of giving typewriters a bath;
almost every model fits inside it.
The lines on this typewriter are interesting. It looks like this model was produced in the
early- to mid-1950s -- what do YOU think?
This business equipment company also had a location in Marysville, another town in
California's upper Central Valley. It's about 50 miles west of us.
His name appeared in a couple other spots on the platen. Unfortunately, the letters washed
off when I cleaned it with brake fluid, which helped soften the surface a bit.
And let's not forget the case! What remains of the marbled-snakeskin type pattern is very
COOL. James & I discussed stripping it down to the wood, but decided to leave it alone.
"That's patina -- people pay extra for that!" James says.
I love the extra little touches, such as the "Underwood" name stenciled into the case
handle. And the one-sided latch works very well.

24 comments:

  1. Splendid! I've never seen such an Underwood, the design looks like the boxier variant of the Finger-Flite. Also, the typeface looks elegant, it seems a bit different from the usual one!

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  2. Very nice machine, and very interesting that it has some of the special characters needed to write in Spanish. The fact that the ñ key is not marked, is located in a different position than the standard (next to the L key), and that its key is molded in a different color might suggest it was a special order machine of sorts, don't you think? I mean, by the time that Underwood was made, Spanish-language keyboards had been standardized with the accents and the Ñ located to the rightmost parts of the second and third rows of keys, respectively.

    Maybe that could also explain why you haven't found its data in the usual places?

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  3. That machine's got a ton of character, Cameron. I'm glad you got it working.

    I had the same clean/work/repeat cycle with my rescued Olympia SM3. Someone used WD-40 on it once upon a time, and it had hardened into a shellac on the segment and the rails. Giving the levers a daily wipedown with alcohol did the trick at last, and what a feeling when it was finally freed up! I felt UNSTOPPABLE.

    The bonus keys are, well, a bonus! I wonder if it was bought by a Spanish-speaker, back in the day? What little I remember of middle-school Spanish tells me that you have the full set of diacritical marks on those keys. Much more useful these days than a set of fraction keys.

    Nice work!

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  4. Good job bringing a typewriter with personality back to life!

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  5. My Underwood serial number list shows 2380M (2,380,000) is very end of 1953 or very beginning of 1954 for the "F.F. Universal" or Finger-Flite Universal, depending on if it has a tabulator or not. It shows the non-tab version starting at serial # 2381M. If it has a tabulator, I would guess 1953.

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  6. PS: You might find this manual interesting. It looks like it came with a slightly newer version of yours.

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    1. Ted, the manual was indeed VERY interesting!

      My Underwood Universal does not have a tabulator, nor does it have the variable line-spacer knob usually found on the left end of the platen knob.

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  7. also, I just posted my Underwood Serial Number List for your edification and enjoyment. I love the story of yours, and great set of extra keys!

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    1. Ted -- I was definitely "edified & enjoyed". Thanks for posting the Underwood Serial Number List!

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  8. Congratulations on this restoration project. That Underwood looks great, it's got character.

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  9. Great job Cameron! That is one fine looking typewriter and the typeface looks unique also. It is nice and clear as well as it looks to be a bit smaller than a normal elite.

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    1. I think the typeface is unique, too -- there's nothing quite like it in the rest of my collection.

      I just measured the type and it seems to be the usual 12 cpi for elite. If anything, though, it looks slightly LARGER on the page than my other elite typers. Interesting!

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  10. You're so meticulous! I love how much this excites you!

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  11. What a handsome little machine! I really do adore the colors. I wish there werrr old typewriters around these parts that I could put back together like that. Great restoration.

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  12. I love that James bought the machine for its aesthetics and you brought the mechanics (and the soul, I think) back to life - a great partnership!

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  13. I very much admire your industry and patience at reviving a typewriter.

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  14. Worth persevering. I'm with James on the green - very "woodsy" too, especially for an Underwood which was reborn under wood. How could it fail? Is the tilde a distinct accent available for other letters or just a single letter ñ Ñ?

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    1. The tilde N is just on this single (unmarked) key, lower- and upper-case. The regular N key is in its usual place. As far as I know, the tilde accent is just for that particular letter of the alphabet (if I understand your question correctly).

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  15. Beautiful typewriter, and what a wonderful story of diligence and restoration! I hope to be more successful one of these days myself :)

    The typecast got better with each page, so I suppose this is a typewriter that will improve the more you use it. I have had a couple of the '50s Underwood portables and I am a fan; I'll put them up against a Hermes 3000 any day! (Sacrilege, I know.)

    Kerosene, eh? That's a new one - good to know. I remember the smell of it vividly from using kerosene lamps quite often in Accra when the lights would go out, but it's not a bad smell. I should get some just for the memories...

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    1. Adwoa, I am more patient with cleaning than I am about figuring out mechanical problems, but am slowly overcoming my aversion to all things mechanical.

      It is reassuring to know that you think Underwood portables are good quality. I very much like the "feel" of this one; very solid and snappy.

      It is interesting that you would compare them favorably with the Hermes 3000, a machine that has always been on my wish-list.

      Kerosene really does work. Not only is it an excellent de-greaser, but somehow it is also a great lubricator. This should come as no great surprise to me as a brass player, actually -- we use a modified version of kerosene to oil the valves of our instruments!

      I am currently cleaning up a Royal Model 10, that had a VERY funky smell of rancid oil. The kerosene is helping to eliminate this smell. A day later, even the kerosene smell is fading, and the typewriter now smells more "neutral". I highly recommend kerosene.

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  16. I have an Underwood "Correspondent" that looks virtually the same as this machine. Bare bones, no tabs, no extra frills but works very well indeed. Mine has 10 chars per inch however. They do have a good feel to them, and a pleasant sound I find.

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  17. Great machine! And great typecast too.

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  18. Nice job. I like your workspace. I wish I could work under a tree instead of being inside a garage, but not complaining. At least I still have a garage for now.

    I like the feel of these typewriters but I dislike the alignment not being straight. At least that's what I noticed on mine and thought it was my machine. But having opened a few more typewriters now, it seems they just have a very loose carriage system. But, this is still from my limited scope of using this model.

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  19. So very cool!! I learned to type on a manual typewriter when I went to high school in the 1970s -- taking a typing class that few boys took in those days -- and I never would have dreamed that the whole world would be learning to type in a few decades, but on much different machines. What a marvelous thing you've done, bringing this precious old thing back to life. Bravo!

    Chip

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