Art In The Everydaybooks

Art In The Everyday: Royal Typewriters

by Maxwell Tielman

As the world hurtles faster and faster toward an all-digital age — of non-printed books, non-stamped mail and film-free cameras — we begin to look fondly upon objects that have outlived their intended use. The Brownie Hawkeye camera with its now quaint knobs and lenses, the vinyl record with its oversized cover art and plainly visible grooves — objects such as these have become charming mementos of days not-so-far gone. Although the obsolete design object has always held currency for the collector, few have become as symbolic or as cherished among everyday people as the typewriter.

A word processor without all the nasty distractions that come along with a WiFi connection, the typewriter is comfortingly simple and bare bones. With satisfying tap-tap-taps, exciting dings! and sometimes a gentle hum, typewriters conjure a collective romantic vision of days past. John Steinbeck didn’t write East of Eden sitting in Starbucks on his MacBook Pro with his pumpkin spice latté in hand. Indeed, no vision of our most iconic writers would be complete without the trusty typewriter. Whatever one’s reason to love it, the typewriter has emerged as an object of desire to many a design enthusiast.

Janine Vangool, editor of Uppercase Magazine, is no stranger to typewriter love. The author of the forthcoming tome, The Typewriter: A Graphic History of The Beloved Machine, Vangool has amassed quite the collection — not only of typewriters but of all sorts of typewriter-related ephemera. Although she seems to have an eye for any well-designed token of the typewriter age, Janine does confess to having a favorite. “Royals are my particular favorite,” she says, referring to the Royal brand of typewriters produced from 1906 through the 1970s. “I have the Quiet Deluxe in turquoise, pink, red, grey, and teal.” Throughout its long history, the Royal typewriter company not only pioneered several important technologies for typewriting, but also produced a wide range of stunning, multi-colored products and promotional material — pure eye candy for any typewriter fan. For more images and history about this fabulous brand, continue after the jump! — Max

Images and captions courtesy of Janine Vangool and Uppercase’s Typewriter project.

Above image: The 1937 model of Royal highlights “Shift Freedom, Touch Control” and “Finger Comfort Keys,” making for smooth operation.

Above image: Miss Magic Margin proclaims, “Everything you write looks better; and it’s a wonderful time-saver.” “You’re pretty wonderful yourself,” Santa replies. The Royal Portable was touted as 1939’s most exciting Christmas gift . . . and it looks like Santa agrees.

The Royal Typewriter Company was founded in 1904 by two business partners: Edward B. Hess and Lewis C. Myers. Although the two were strapped for cash, the advances they had pioneered with typewriter technology (a friction-free one-track rail, a new paper feed and complete word visibility, just to name a few) caught the eye of the wealthy financier Thomas Fortune Ryan. After receiving a substantial investment from Ryan in exchange for partial control over the company, Hess and Myers introduced their first typewriter in 1906. Produced in a relatively small machine shop in Brooklyn, the Royal Standard Typewriter stood apart from its competitors because of its unique “flatbed” design (most typewriters at this time featured an upright design).

Royal’s typewriters proved incredibly popular and, in order to keep up with demand, the company soon moved to a larger facility in Hartford, Connecticut. Here, they would continue to produce their typewriters well into the mid-twentieth century. In addition to featuring a number of trail-blazing new technologies, Royal Typewriters were also notable for being portable and incredibly durable. Because of this, the president of Royal purchased an airplane in 1927 for the sole purpose of parachuting more than 200 typewriters to distributors along the eastern seaboard. Shockingly, only ten machines were damaged during this publicity stunt, a testament to the brand’s promise of “ruggedness.”

The Royal brand changed hands several times in its later years. In 1954, a few years after introducing its first electric typewriter, Royal merged with McBee, a manufacturer of accounting machines. In 1964, Litton Industries purchased what had at that point become Royal McBee. Two decades later, the Italian typewriter manufacturer Olivetti gained control of the company. Olivetti remained the owner of Royal until 2004, when the company parted ways and became, yet again, a private American company. Today, Royal has set aside its typewriter production and refocused on printers, calculators and other office supplies. Although Royal’s typewriters might now be in the company’s past, they will certainly not be forgotten any time soon.

Above image: The Royal Portable (1956 through the early 1960s) came in a variety of fabulous colors.

Above image: The Royal Futura (left) and Royal Signet (right) were the perfect gifts for studious types for Christmas 1961.

Above image: The rugged Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable from the early 1960s offered a choice of six exciting colors, matched to suit your personality. “Perhaps you’re a bit frivolous? Ah, love that pink! And what neat-looking letters it turns out for you!” “If you’re the cool and collected type, maybe blue’s the one you want. And it’ll help make B’s into A’s.”

Above image: Ads typically depicted the secretary in a room outside of the boss’ office, with the typewriter machine deployed as an extension of the secretary’s efficiency.

Above image: The Royal Electric may be massive, but you only need the lightest touch — illustrated here with a piece of candy cane — to depress its key. “In fact, the going is 13 times easier on a Royal Electric than on a non-electric typewriter,” highlights the ad copy. (1960s)

Above image: Apples — and Royals, like this Safari model — are good for you. 1965.
Above image: Janine Vangool’s Royal Quiet De Luxe in smooth pink. This model was first introduced in the mid-fifties and was a very popular model then — and now.

Above image: Some Royal typewriters on display in the UPPERCASE studio for a typewriter event a few years ago. Each tag included a little history or story about the machine. “All my typewriters are working,” Janine notes, “each with its own endearing faults and sticky keys.”

A selection of typewriter ephemera from Janine’s personal collection. She not only collects typewriters and ribbon tins, but also manuals, advertising literature, typing charts and photographs.

Special thanks to Janine Vangool of Uppercase for allowing us to feature images from her fabulous collection of typewriter ephemera. To learn more about Janine’s collection and to contribute to her upcoming typewriter book, please visit the website for The Typewriter: A Graphic History of the Beloved Machine. Also, check out the fantastic video that Uppercase put together below!

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  • Cool story. My father leased space in the old Royal factory building in Hartford when I was a kid in the 70’s. I spent many afternoons running around the enormous, mostly abandoned warehouse. I rode forklifts around the machine shop floors and climbed up and down the stairs, in and out of the industrial elevators. I loved the huge windows and it gave me a love for architecture and raw, empty spaces. Thanks for bringing back those memories!

  • Gorgeous to look at? Yes. Use and Function in a ‘real life’ application? Simply Awful! Imagine erasing every mis-type and error, no saving of your docs, no re-arranging of paragraphs except to re-type the whole thing at 2AM!

  • I love Uppercase magazine and can’t wait for this book to come out!

    (Can’t help but wonder how East of Eden would have turned out, if it had been fueled by pumpkin spice lattes, lol!)

  • I have a stunning grey and salmon colored Royal and it always makes me smile! This will be a fantastic book to set next to it in the guest room.

  • The last British built typewriter rolled off the line this week and went straight to a museum, what a coincidence you posted this today. Only heard a snippet on the radio this morning about it. The end of an era.

  • If you’re writing a rough draft anyway, why not type it on a typewriter, then do subsequent drafts on a computer from the sheets of paper that you’ve “saved.” Mistakes would be irrelevant. A primary advantage or “function” of doing it this way is you eliminate a world of distractions. It’s just your mind, your fingers, and your typewriter.

  • I’m so happy she said Royals were her favorite– that’s the brand my Grandad sold! He won all kinds of typewriting speed awards (the Guinness book record is still his at 146 wpm) so you can bet his demonstrations sold a whole bunch of typewriters. You can actually spot him in the collection of ephemera: that’s Albert Tangora on the cover of ‘Common Typing Faults’.

  • gosh, I love the Red Royal…it is a great photo prop. I want to borrow one for my next professional photo, while I wear my fire engine red glasses (to be bought soon with HSA money). I don’t think there was ever a Royal in my childhood years, but I’d buy a red one in aorta beat.

  • I think that the typewriter does indeed need to be afforded a place of honour. It was one of the symbols of career liberation for women. Typing was a subject I practiced for 3 years of my 5 yr high school career, finally cracking an A grade in my final exam. Touch typing. But I did not enjoy it when I went into the work place. There was no margin for error, and it was often intimidating. When the computer and particularly the windows software came along allowing me to delete an error among so many other functions that made my life on the type so much easier, I was thrilled to bits. No longer did I have to battle it out with the ole tippex to try to correct my errors. What a relief. I for one am delighted with the digital type world and will always honour my manuel typewriter as it sits on the shelf.

  • Love this article! I got a royal quiet deluxe last year for Xmas! Turquoise!! It’s sooooo cute! The only issue is finding someone locally to make some repairs. :(

  • I just saw an old episode of “Fringe.” A character goes to a cluttered appliance repair shop. The proprietor lets him into a locked room that has been waiting for him. He sits down to communicate with his other-worldly associates. To do this, he types on a special Selectric typewriter (that types out an answer). I love typewriters! I learned to type on a manual; we typed along to Sousa marches.

  • I really enjoy that people, today younger then 20 years ago, are interested in these beautiful contraptions. Does anyone disagree? Beside, the person that ditched my Olympia into the garden, before it got rescued. I am repairing it now. Check out my website.

  • I love typewriters, my father sold thousend of them in Greece as representative of Olympia and Adler(Royal). I saved some of them and spend my time to repair, clean and….dream! Thank you