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08-12-2018 20:57:06  #1


Glass AND plastic key surfaces on my Underwood 5--original?

Just opened the box today, and starting dusting my poor, filthy, rusty, Goodwill-shipped baby off.  The serial number tells me she was made in 1916.  One of the first things an initial wipe-down showed, however, was that while the red-black ribbon selector keys and shift keys are glass (with a nice little "ting" when tapped with a screwdriver), all others are a thin plastic material over a thick paper-covered cardboard, and a number are in quite bad shape--plastic broken, cardboard gouged, etc.

The machine has clearly been refurbished/overhauled at some point in its working life, possibly more than once, and the patent numbers are painted over. The plastic surfaces of the keys were also restamped/recoated at some time, as the recoating has worn off in spots.

My question: did Underwood typically manufacture a mix of glass and plastic in the same machine, such as appears here?  That is, are the plastic keys as original as the glass, or are they likely to have been replaced during one of the refittings?

 

08-12-2018 21:15:15  #2


Re: Glass AND plastic key surfaces on my Underwood 5--original?

Typewriter keytops/legends were often replaced by typewriter shops back in the day, especially on heavily used standards. Even when typewriter keys look like the factory original style, they could be replacements. The styles and materials for replacement legends and key tops vary. Often you will see the letters and numbers replaced, but some of the control keys (tabs,shift, etc) left alone. Yours sound like they were replaced at some point. A 1916 Underwood standard would have left the factory with glass covered legends with white background.

 

08-12-2018 22:54:13  #3


Re: Glass AND plastic key surfaces on my Underwood 5--original?

So how do I tell whether they're really glass? I am working on a couple of Underwood 4s (from 1906 and 1911; amazing to think these machines are still around, and working!). I guess if the clear material were plastic, it might give a little bit to the touch? Both machines seem to be in original condition -- if they were refurbished, the decals and pinstriping were left alone.

 

09-12-2018 01:51:55  #4


Re: Glass AND plastic key surfaces on my Underwood 5--original?

SoucekFan wrote:

Typewriter keytops/legends were often replaced by typewriter shops back in the day, especially on heavily used standards. Even when typewriter keys look like the factory original style, they could be replacements. The styles and materials for replacement legends and key tops vary. Often you will see the letters and numbers replaced, but some of the control keys (tabs,shift, etc) left alone. Yours sound like they were replaced at some point. A 1916 Underwood standard would have left the factory with glass covered legends with white background.

Thanks very, very much!  The plastic/cardboard stuff is so damaged anyway that I'm thinking I'll probably rip it out and try to replace it with something that looks as original as possible.  I don't know if I can get the rings off without damaging them: if not, I may use legends with white background and cover them with clear flexible plastic circles, like what you'd find on a clear-plastic binder, that I can just push into the rings without disturbing much.  Of course, if I could figure out how to get the rings off intact, and back on again, I'd love to try replacing the covers with plexi-glass or even real glass.
 

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09-12-2018 02:03:35  #5


Re: Glass AND plastic key surfaces on my Underwood 5--original?

Fleetwing wrote:

So how do I tell whether they're really glass? I am working on a couple of Underwood 4s (from 1906 and 1911; amazing to think these machines are still around, and working!). I guess if the clear material were plastic, it might give a little bit to the touch? Both machines seem to be in original condition -- if they were refurbished, the decals and pinstriping were left alone.

If my machine is any indication, the contrast is pretty significant.  The glass is flat and smooth: the plastic is slightly rounded and lacks the same hardness.  But the real test is one you can hear. Take a pair of tweezers, or possibly a small screwdriver--actually, I think I was using tweezers when I did it--but tap the surface of a key just lightly.  If it's glass, you'll get a little "ting" from it, like the vibration from a tuning fork.  If plastic, nothing.
***
And to add generally, looking back at my original post, which perhaps sounds like a complaint about Goodwill.  It's true they sent a floppy oversized recycled box, with the top squashed in about two inches: but whoever did the actual packing inside that box deserves a medal.  It took me at least five minutes to dig the typewriter out of its layers of packing paper, bubble wrap and punched cardboard batting.  They had shoved packing material into every possible space where a moving part could get damaged. It was really a rather superb piece of work.

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09-12-2018 13:04:22  #6


Re: Glass AND plastic key surfaces on my Underwood 5--original?

Thanks for that, I'll try the tweezers method! And glad to hear Goodwill did a good packing job -- I think I'd never risk having a machine shipped to me.

 

09-12-2018 20:54:09  #7


Re: Glass AND plastic key surfaces on my Underwood 5--original?

Yeah, if you're not sure you hear the sound, try tapping a fork on the side of a real glass versus a plastic "glass."  It'll show the essential difference.

Unfortunately, shipping is the only viable option sometimes.  Where I live, several hours drive from any sizeable city, vintage typewriters are thin on the ground, and the few offered are generally greatly overpriced by people who imagine they've found a valuable antique.  When the cost of gas and driving time make acquisition even less affordable, and a machine pops up on Goodwill for $35 including shipping--ship happens....

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