Vintage Keys to Great Writing

One wonders what celebrated writers like Ernest Hemingway would make of the modern computer age. For those old enough to appreciate being allowed a glimpse into the world, albeit fictional, of thrilling investigative journalism in movies like Citizen Kane (1941), All the President’s Men (1976) or Killing Fields (1984), the clacking of a mechanical typewriter was essential to creating the atmosphere of that fictional, but highly functional newsroom where journalistic heroes could thrive. Movies depicting the life of Hemmingway himself relied on the rate at which typewriter keys were struck to denote either a lapse in, or a sudden burst of inspiration. For a large part of his career Hemmingway relied on the keys of a Royal mechanical typewriter to commit his enviably vivid imagination to paper.

Getting to be Royal

Although EB Hess had previously designed and made typewriters for his personal use, it was in 1904 that he started the Royal Typewriter Company. It would be a further 2 years before the first product bearing this brand became available to the public, appropriately named the Royal 1. This flatbed model, which resulted from numerous improvements to Hess’ earlier efforts, had been built with durability and reliability in mind. Although its 10kg weight allowed the Royal 1 only semi-portable status, the machine’s sturdiness, light keystrokes and acceleration rate did not disappoint and the logo, ‘Royal Typewriter Company New York USA’, which was emblazoned below the keyboard became synonymous with quality.

Growing up Royal

Six years after the Royal 1 was born the Royal 5, with a 4-row frontstrike keyboard made its appearance boasting a handsome portable leather case. Between 1911 and 1913 Royal stuck with this design, but in 1914 Royal forsook the flatbed design and produced its first ‘upright’ model, the Royal 10. This early vintage typewriter was distinguishable by the 2 bevelled glass panes on either side. The Royal brand was, however, lagging far behind its competitors with respect to typewriter portability. It was only in 1926 that it finally produced a fully portable typewriter, aptly named the Royal Portable. Clever marketing by the Royal president, GE Smith soon erased any gains by the competition. By securing the exclusive sponsorship to the first nationally broadcast and much anticipated boxing match between Dempsey and Tunney in 1926, Smith sent Royal Portable sales soaring to take the brand to the top spot in typewriter sales.

Royals Changing with the Times

The Royal Portable became the typewriter of choice for many celebrities including Bing Crosby, that 1920’s king of the crooners. The Royal brand was also eager to appeal to the masses and during the great depression of the early thirties when many companies were being crippled they produced a low cost portable that sold enough to keep the brand alive. It was known as the Royal Signet. As a vintage typewriter the Royal Signet certainly has appeal, but the Royal at the other end of the spectrum must be the most sought-after, or at the very least the most expensive.

Silence is Golden

Except for a break during WW11, the years between 1939 and 1948 saw Royal manufacture a new design of typewriter that it named the, Royal Quiet Deluxe. This is the model of choice for, not only Hemingway, but other famous writers like Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. Not only did Fleming create his characters using this mechanical typewriter, he is said to have splurged on the gold-plated version released in 1947. Although this was a limited edition, it was also the highlight of the Royal brand and is probably the most sought-after by collectors.

The Royal Summation

The Royal 10 was probably the most innovative typewriter on the market up to the age of the electric typewriter. The Royal Typewriter Company was eventually purchased by Litton in the 1970’s, which was in turn purchased by Olivetti. Computers may rule today’s communication channels, but it does so without that soundtrack that signals creativity in progress.