A Pretty Machine–The British Imperial Typewriter
Ok. I’m not collecting typewriters. Really. I’m not. Really. But I bought one anyway. My wife was wanting to use a really old typewriter in the banner of her blog, so I was half looking for an ancient Underwood or Oliver. Turns out her dad gave her the Royal portable that took him through college and seminary in the 1940’s, so that one is a great match for her site.
With typewriters still in the corner of my mind, I walked through my favorite antique shop in Dallas. Ward, Don, and Scott at The Uncommon Market tour the flea markets of Great Britain, France, and Belgium regularly, bringing back wonderful things. Don had recently unloaded the container from his last trip. One of the items was a striking European typewriter. It is more of a skeleton of a typewriter, with all the nickel plated parts exposed on a minimalist iron frame. It reminded me of Ericsson’s skeleton telephone of the same era. It has a curved keyboard, introducing a completely new kind of carpal tunnel syndrome. It also has fewer keys than most typewriters. A close examination shows why. Most typewriters shift for caps. This one has three shift positions–lower case, caps, and characters/numbers.
Everything had some surface rust, and one type arm was broken off, but it was a charming machine, and looked seriously old. Yes, I bought it, and have avoided looking at other machines on EBay (mostly). Back at home I began researching the brand. I was thrown off the path at first until a typewriter collector identified it for me under a slightly different brand (more on that later). I found that it has an interesting history. It is a 1915 Imperial Model B.
Here is an ad for it from www.typewriter.be/index.htm If you want to become fascinated with the mechanics and history of typewriters, visit this excellent site, hosted by collectors and restorers Wim Van Rompuy and Guy Perard, both based in Belgium.
The Imperial was created by Hidalgo Moya, a Spanish-American engineer who moved to England to start a typewriter company. The most distinctive feature of the Imperial is that you could change fonts. The curved keyboard and type basket snap off and can be replaced with another set up for alternate fonts. Pretty slick!
Moya was so successful that he began licensing his design and brand name to makers in other countries. That is why my typewriter is labeled “The Imperial Importing Company–Amsterdam.” Mine was found in Belgium.
Since everything showed, my only option was to completely dismantle the machine and burnish individual nickel-plated parts with fine steel wool. I took a lot of digital pictures before and during to guide reassembly. As much as possible, I would take a few parts off at a time, clean them, then put them back. Always fun to learn about something new. It now is sitting on my work desk next to my laptop.