Mid-century Mid-sized Portable Slugfest

I had yet another of Tim’s dirty typewriters in the house for a clean up – a 1955 Royal QDL. This one wasn’t so bad, just cosmetically off-putting. It was gamely typing through greasy dust. The case is lined with green felt – it reminds me of a pool table. It’s a Minnesota Fats kind of typewriter. The typewriter looked like it had been smoking too much and indulging in Wite-Out.

Moe’s friend Tim is a retired newspaper reporter with a taste for typewriters.  He has some wonderful typewriters that I have cleaned up: a pretty gray Royal QDL, an adorable Royal Companion, a Smith-Corona Clipper, a very classy Remington 5 and now I have here this second dirty Royal, a 1955 Royal Quiet De Luxe:

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I cleaned it up and it looked better though I just couldn’t completely remove the blob of Wite-Out on its cover.  It was typing great though.

I recently acquired a junker 1957 Smith-Corona Silent-Super and I thought: Hey! Perfect time for comparison typing! I can host a mid-century slugfest on my dining room table.

I know that there are 1950s Smith-Corona portable fans and 1950s portable Royal loyalists. I honestly didn’t know which category I fell into, hence the side-by-side comparison.

I also decided to throw a wildcard into the fight – a 1957 West German Torpedo 18a. These are all the mid-sized 1950s portables I have in the house presently. How I wish I had a 1950s Olympia to throw in! I haunt eBay now and then, looking for junker Olympias. I am looking for a really bad looking one.

This tournament is not completely serious or scientific: I have three individual machines before me with unknown histories of use and abuse. This would be a fair competition only if each typewriter had just rolled off the assembly line. As it is, each of them has about 60 years of living under her belt. At the end of this exercise, I won’t be able to say that I am won over by a particular brand – only that a particular machine on my dining room table is my favorite.

However. The Smith-Corona feels like the limited number of 1950s S-C portables that have come through my fingers.  The Royal feels like the limited number of Royal portables I have had the pleasure to type on. So there’s that.

The Contenders

A 1957 Smith-Corona Silent-Super:

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A 1955 Royal Quiet De Luxe:

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A 1957 Torpedo 18a:

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Looks

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the Silent-Super wins me over with its lovely chunky curves. The Royal QDL’s utilitarian angles are all business while the Smith-Corona’s curves promise a bit of solid fun. The Torpedo is a beautiful machine, but for a 1957 typewriter, it seems a little “old school” compared to the Smith-Corona’s more modern lines. Silent-Super wins.

Dimensions

They are all about the same size:

  • Smith-Corona Silent-Super: 11.5″ width x 12.5″ depth x 4.75″ tall
  • Royal Quiet De Luxe: 11″ width x 11.5″ depth x 5.25″ tall
  • Torpedo 18a: 11″ width x 12.5 depth” x 5″ tall

Weight

  • Smith-Corona Silent-Super: 12 lbs
  • Royal Quiet De Luxe: 12 lbs
  • Torpedo 18a: 13 lbs

Shifting

Basket shift for all three. I like that.

Margins

I am not a big fan of the Royal’s Magic Margins.  And I am lukewarm on any other gimmicky margin control. I love everything about my Remington Rand KMC except its KMC (keyboard margin control).

The Torpedo’s margin setting is under the paper table in back, not visible.

The Smith-Corona’s straightforward margin setting is PERFECT.  You set the margins right there in front and what you see is what you get.

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Carriage Return

Smith-Corona’s carriage return is quiet and light as feather.  The Royal a little heavier and louder and Torpedo is heavy and LOUD.

Sound

I love the gentle tap-tap of the Smith-Corona.  It has a lovely muted quality.  The Royal is much louder and I don’t think it’s the platen.  The Royal’s typebars seem to accelerate as they approach the platen, giving it that snap in the touch and a powerful thwack. The Torpedo is louder than hell and I think it’s a hard platen. “SNACK SNACK SNACK,” it says.

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Ear protection is a good idea

Touch

I love the feel of the Smith-Corona Silent-Super.  It’s got a controlled and comfy feel, like I’m typing on a well-cushioned couch.  It’s slow, but I don’t think very fast, so do I need to type that fast?

The Royal is such a light and snappy typer.  I can type very fast on this one. Maybe too fast.  The Royal feels a little hyper – like it needs to simmer down now. It gets ahead of itself, and I get letter piling when it gets going too fast.

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If I were a better typist, I would probably prefer the Royal.  Unfortunately, I am an inconsistent typist and make too many errors when I pick up speed.

The Torpedo tells me go faster, faster, FASTER – it has, objectively speaking, the best touch of the three, but it’s so loud I can’t type on it very long. I pull it out now and then and each time rediscover its fine, fine touch. It deserves a new platen.

Family Verdict

My husband liked the Royal much better than the Smith-Corona.  He is used to lightly tapping away on a computer keyboard. In fact, when he approached the first typewriter, he started hitting the margin release key as if it were an enter/return key.  It was hard for the him to switch modes.

He found the Royal much more responsive to his light touch, much better suited to his style than the Smith-Corona which he found resistant and slow.   Then he tried the Torpedo.  He loved that even more than the Royal.

My daughter weighed in on the typewriter evaluations. The Smith Corona was too stiff and made her hands feel numb.  She liked the snappiness and speed of the Royal, but the key tops were too small and too far apart, so she worried that her small fingers would slip in between the keys.  The Torpedo had a similar light and fast touch, but its keys were nice and chunky. My daughter’s verdict: the Torpedo was the winner.

My Final Conclusion

My favorite is the Silent-Super.  It’s not the fastest typewriter, but it feels good to me: I love its firm and comforting touch and its gentle sound. I grew up on manual typewriters – we had a big black Royal standard when I was a kid and I typed all my college papers on an aqua Kmart Deluxe 100.  I have a heavy, ponderous hand when I type, so I like typewriters that have a solid touch. The Silent-Super is not the fastest typewriter, but I don’t need to type very fast.  When I type letters, I tend to type slowly along thoughtful, meandering paths.  If I typed faster, I would not make any sense at all. I barely make sense as it is.

Also: this Silent-Super has survived against the odds. It was a greasy, rusty piece of jammed metal when it came to me, but it showed me that it had true grit. This Silent-Super has a spunky toughness and intestinal fortitude that allowed it to rise above its unfortunate circumstances and type ably against two formidable typewriters, the Royal QDL and the Torpedo 18a. You win, Silent-Super.

A Random Picture for Your Enjoyment

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My son took this madonna and doggy picture recently, and I spotted it in his Flickr photostream.  It has nothing to do with typewriters, but it made me laugh out loud.

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Now We Are Six: Torpedo and Skyriter

On Wednesday I found a couple typewriters – a Torpedo and a Skyriter – at my local junk store that needed a loving home.

These two are really good friends.  They bonded during their captivity in the junk shop and now they are inseparable.

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The Skyriter is nuzzling the Torpedo

 

1957 Torpedo 18a
Serial number: 936000

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The Torpedo was pretty dirty with lots of Wite Out splashes and some shellac-like substance dribbled on it.  The Wite Out and shellacky stuff came up beautifully with Goo Gone and the Goo Gone didn’t seem to harm the paint. The Torpedo is a stunner in gorgeous pale blue-green. This Torpedo hasn’t got a TAB key, so she’s an 18a – I think that’s the difference between an 18a and 18b.

The “Made in Western Germany” sold me.

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1952 Smith-Corona Skyriter
Serial number: 2Y 146881

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This Skyriter is such a delicious little pancake, but it was the Skyriter’s metal cover that tipped me over the edge.  Type the Clouds compared the Skyriter cover to a roasting pan.  I am going to roast up a chicken in it tonight for dinner.

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Both these machines are chock full of aesthetic appeal, but what really truly sealed the deal was the way they felt under my fingers.

For such a tiny machine, the Skyriter has a hardy, durable feel. I would happily take her on an airplane or on a cross-country road trip or on a backpacking trip or on safari.

The Torpedo has a different feel – that of a precision instrument – no clatter, just solid, classy efficiency. I feel noticeably classier when I type on it.

So now I am up to six typewriters. I think six is enough for the time being. No more distractions since I still need to finish up the Oliver and tear apart the Corona 4.