Sunday, 13 July 2014

McTaggart's Typewriter Video

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As I was walking through my storage area looking for a new project I thought I heard a little voice saying, "Help". I search around and finally decided that the plea was coming from an Adler Universal which was sitting all by itself on a shelf. So I got it down and plunked it on my work bench. What a mess I thought.
I stuck some paper in and started to type, nothing moved! The carriage could move, reluctantly and so did the shift but the keyboard was solid as a rock. I could lift a type bar up but it would not return. I have got a real doozy here, perhaps the line-lock was engaged, so off with the carriage, taking out the  thumb wheels on either side of the base. Apart from the usual dust there was nothing to indicate what the problem was.
To cut a long story short, the machine had been oiled with what looked like toffee. It looked like toffee and had the colour of toffee and it was as sticky as toffee but I guess that no one in their right mind would spray their typewriter with confectionery. After a long battle with WD40 plus washing out with Kerosene and by repeating several times, some life began to return to the machine.
I re-surfaced the platen and feed-rollers, oiled and greased various components and fitted a new red/black ribbon. Slowly but surely the typewriter stared to function until I was pretty satisfied with its performance.
As I worked on it I began to remember the adjustments that I had picked up in my first job in London. I worked for H H Durham & Co in Blackfriars just south of the river Thames opposite Westminister and the Houses of Parliament. It was an Adler and Bluebird agency but generally we fixed just about anything. Naturally, the workshop was three flights up and I do not know how they ever managed to get the Adler Accounting machines upstairs into the workshop. One thing I do recall, with some horror now, was the practice of throwing out of the window any machines deemed too old or unrepairable into a wire cage , three stories below, for the scrap merchant to collect. Yes, I know, don't think about it.
I should mention that this Adler had a German keyboard and also that the base cover had had extensive damaged only held together by large amounts of Araldite . It was set hard and the covers still fitted so I left well alone but you could guess what had happened. Some immigrant from Europe, after WW2, had arrived in Australia only to find that their lovely typewriter had been damaged in transit, an all too familiar story to us.
By now the machine was working fine, just one last hiccup with the ribbon reverse, necessitating the removal and dismantling of both ribbon drives. My old friend , toffee, was the culprit, which I soon removed and  after re-assembling the wrong way all the little levers and springs making up each unit, I finally got it right .
And I should mention that this model is an Universal 20 not a 39, what is the difference? The Universal 39 has got double spacing mechanism often seen on the Olympia SG series. The serial number is 8449626
which according to my database, puts it in to the early '50s.  If this is correct then my fanciful story about the German immigrant might just be true. If it is the wrong date/period I hope someone will let me know.
In summary, this Adler is nearly the last in a long line of fantastic German typewriters from the '30s with
Continental, Mercedes, Olympia and Triumph in mind. In fact, I would class this machine as the absolute best designed manual standard typewriter ever made. A big claim I know but just get one and try it out, just perfection.


  1. Very good video! Thank you for showing the inner workings and ingenious design of this machine.

  2. Beautiful machine. Thanks for the video!

  3. I don't know how I managed to miss this post, but glad to have found it now - every one is a gem - thanks. The video is especially well done - good job to engage a camera man - thanks to him/her also! This post has convinced me to cherish my Adler J4 - a bit cheaper model than your universal, but a Beemer just the same.

  4. Thanks Tony, I appreciate your comments. However, I did get the year wrong, I mis-read the serial number and I now know that this machine came into being in 1968. I now remember that the early Adlers after the war were a sort of bronze colour
    On the subject of the J-series, my statement about Adler still holds true, there was never a better portable made, full stop. Easy to use and really easy to repair.

  5. I have the (original?) Universal from 1955 era, so yours seems to be a later model. They are beautifully designed and built - great German technology. Thanks for the video, as there's so little out about these great Adlers!

  6. Wonderful post and great save of a beautiful machine. The keytops are quite similar to my 197x J5, so I am not surprised to read in the comments it's a little later than 1950s. The mystery of the toffee like substance in old typewriters has yet to be solved… no solvent pun intended!