The Case of the Silver Reed and the Very Modern Mystery of the Missing Numerical

Silverette II, Covered

I recently acquired this handsome little portable typewriter so thought I’d share a couple of photos. If you click on them you’ll be taken through to their home on Flickr where you can view them nice and big.

It’s a compact and rather tidy machine, all in full working order, complete with protective carry cover under which it has sat largely untouched for some years.

The stamped and folded sheet metal fascia panel lifts away rather like a car bonnet to reveal all the delicious workings below. For any designer with a love of machinery, slowly pressing the keys and watching the ingenious levers and linkages move is an absolute delight. It brought to mind the first time I saw pictures of Chris AKA Lestaret’s mechanically divine¬†Adana printing press. It also presents an unfamiliar and pleasantly unnerving quality for anyone of my generation, it being a device that performs its entire function without ever being tethered to a wall socket and the national grid.

This being a fairly recent model of typewriter, everything seems really well sorted, compact and efficient. There’s not much empty space under the cover, and the rather clever mechanics translating key strike into printed character seem to utilise surprisingly few components in that clean and simply resolved way of any tidy bit of engineering.

A bit of fettling revealed a few of the keys were stiff and the typebars slow to return, but a bit of gentle manipulation has seen them all free up and return to crisp, snappy action.

Silverette II, Uncovered

One interesting source of confusion has been the lack of a numerical ‘one’ key. This typewriter was a christmas gift, previously in the possession of my gran. A lifelong antiques enthusiast, her pockets have never quite been of the depth you’d assume necessary to fully indulge the often expensive hobby of antiques collection. But she’s too smart to let a lack of money get in her way. She’s from Yorkshire.

As a result of her thrift, the vast collection adorning her house is, by her own admission, a display of bodged together worthless cast offs. Plates are arranged on the dresser to hide the nasty chips on the edges, vases rotated to offer their best aspects to the room while against the wall lurk the kind of cracks that would reduce an auction room to stoney silence.

Her collection consists of the spoils of a lifetime spent excitedly rummaging for the treasure lying unloved at the bottom of boxes in back street junk shops, jumble or car boot sales, all bought for pocket change before being cleaned up, buffed out or just arranged carefully. Worthless to anyone else maybe; beyond price to her.

With this in mind, my initial reaction to the absent numerical was that it was another example of my gran’s creative blemish-disguising mastery. Perhaps filling the gap by displacing a key from the end of the next row down, then removing any trace of it would deftly hide the otherwise obvious lack of a more prominent and prestigious key in a way the casual observer would never notice. Tricking the casual observer of antiques and collectables is something my gran has got down to an art form over the past six or seven decades.

As it turned out, upon further inspection all the keys appeared to be in the right place, connected to the correct typebars. Mechanically everything was present and correct, everything functioned as it appeared it should, yet still there was no numerical one. How on earth did one type 1 on this machine?

Alas, such intriguing curiosities needn’t last long in this age of Google. Of course anyone familiar with typewriters, or those old enough to recall their age (I nearly do, but not quite enough) will have read the last few paragraphs smiling at my naivety, knowing full well that a numerical 1 isn’t needed when the keyboard already contains a perfectly identical lower case L. In fact the numerical 0 featured on this particular keyboard could be considered a decadent luxury when the upper case O was perfectly happy to provide the service on so many others.

According to the internet, role sharing possibilities between keys were frequently taken advantage of in typewriter design as a simple way to cut down on manufacturing costs. Fewer separate keys means fewer linkages, fewer rods and levers, fewer springs, pivots and bushings. Less metal. It’s an interesting little discovery that will hopefully serve to remind me how lucky I am whenever infinite and invisible zeros and ones fly around performing my whim as I casually scroll through the abundantly stocked glyphs palettes of my various Adobe apps.

Anyway, though I’m not one for ‘stuff’ and like to keep a minimalist environment, I’ve had my eye on this smart little machine sat under my nan’s sewing machine table for some time. I’ve long thought how great it would look under the studious and versatile gaze of my other similarly smart and coil spring reliant desktop device in painted metal; my Model 90 Anglepoise. In fact the two make great companions.

Cheers Nan.