Typewriter Headquarters 1902, Part 1

TyHQ Envelope 1902

In June 1902, a Mr. C. T. Adams received by mail an extraordinary catalog and type sample set mailed to him by Typewriter Headquarters, of New York.  Examination of these materials will push the boundaries of known rebuilt typewriters for historians and collectors, and will be of interest to all typewriter enthusiasts.

Typewriter Headquarters was among the very first firms set up to offer rebuilt typewriters on a basis larger than just the occasional machine.  In 1892, “The National Stenographer” reported that Typewriter Headquarters in New York and an affiliated Typewriter Headquarters in Chicago would both be opened by firms partly owned by Enoch N. Miner, a teacher of shorthand who had set up his own school and initially sold rebuilt typewriters as a sort of adjunct.  Miner told “Frank Harrison’s Shorthand Weekly” later:

“I believe that I was the first regular dealer in second hand typewriters in the world, having started regularly dealing in second-hand machines in New York City, in the summer of 1883, during which summer I advertised instruments for sale and made a business of the undertaking in connection with my teaching, of which you then knew.”

Miner also launched what became the leading early trade paper on typewriters, “The Phonographic World,” in 1885.  In 1891 according to “The Shorthand Review,” Miner began to be accused of wild behavior and several physical assaults for which he was arrested at least twice, and rumors swirled in print that Typewriter Headquarters was actually owned by Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict (makers of the Remington typewriter.)  By the time our 1902 letter and materials were sent, Typewriter Headquarters was under the proprietorship of one Eli H. Eldredge.

TyHQ Catalog front

The small catalog mailed to Mr. Adams in 1902 states in part:

“We have every possible facility for rebuilding typewriters of every make to the very best advantage.  Our parts are obtained direct from the various typewriter companies (with none of whom we are antagonistic) and being made at the same factories where the machines themselves are made are as perfectly adjustable to the instruments as were the parts comprising the machines originally.  Our mechanics are, without exception, the most expert in their line, each having been educated at the factory of the machine he is now engaged with us in rebuilding.”

Further – “We deal in all makes of typewriters alike,” the catalog says, “making the same profit upon one that we do upon another.  It is immaterial to us what machine you buy.”

Let’s take a look through the catalog.  The pages of the catalog are valuable historically because they show and describe a number of models of early typewriter – information useful entirely by itself outside the sphere of rebuilding.  It must be noted though that EVERY typewriter being offered is rebuilt; prices for these machines are not stated on these pages rebuilt but rather the maker’s price for brand new machines only.  Actual prices of rebuilt machines were included on type sample slips that we’ll see shortly.

TyHQ Rem 2

The “samples” referred to here are the type sample slips shown later.

TyHQ Rem 3

The No. 3 Remington was similar to the No. 2 but had four more keys and wide carriage.

TyHQ Rem 5

In looking at these pages, sent out in 1902 it should be recalled that the No. 2 Remington appeared as early as 1878 (according to Typewriter Topics’ voluminous history) while the mentioned No. 6, said to be “recently placed upon the market,” first sold in summer 1894.

A novel and unique form of advertising the actual machines for sale was included in the mailing, which is a set of type sample strips.  It’s clear that machines were used to type samples on sheets of paper which were then cut into strips.  The prices for various Remingtons are seen below on the strips.  Note the significant savings over new retail.

TyHQ Remington Samples and Prices

Typewriter Headquarters of course advertised selling of all makes, and the range offered in the catalog and sample strips is fairly surprising.  The Caligraph page is next:

TyHQ Caligraph 2

Added into the mailing was the below “special offer” sheet advertising a batch of Caligraph machines that Typewriter Headquarters had obtained from one place:

TyHQ Caligraph insert

The sheet above requires some commentary.  First, while it is stated that “the entire stock of one of the largest Caligraph dealers in the United States” was bought, it should be emphasized that all the machines offered here are stated clearly to have been rebuilt.  Second, all models here are fairly well outdated; the old models were withdrawn and replaced by the New Century before the printing of this catalog (this occurred in 1898 according to Mares.)  In fact, the oldest offering on this page dates back to around the mid-1880’s time at which Typewriter Headquarters itself was launched.  It seems obvious then that all of these models had been trade-ins to the mentioned dealer, or else were rental machines sent out by the dealer, and probably in cases both.  The ability to purchase a standard typewriter, and in fact “The brand that won’t wear out,” as its makers advertised, for a mere $14 to $16 cannot be overstated in importance considering then-new machine prices over $90.

IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT:  Some surprising machines you’d never think were offered by a rebuilder, along with great illustrations.  Sign up for email alerts!

Wholesale Out West

Wholesale Store Front 1

Although The Wholesale Typewriter Co. is a name normally associated with the big Eastern cities of the U.S., a newly-acquired brochure dating to roughly the early 1920’s shows that the company had big Western aspirations.  Wholesale opened a rebuilding plant and a general office as well as a number of branch stores in Western cities, as seen here.

The company’s case for its machines was made well on the following leaves:

Wholesale Brochure Up to a Standard

Wholesale depicted a number of the “big makes” in the folder, such as L. C. Smith, Royal, Remington and Underwood.  All of these machines were shown, interestingly, compared with the then-current retail price for the machine being offered brand new.  One example is below.

Wholesale Remingtons

As stated in the prospectus portion of the flyer the discount was deep on certain variants; we see here the going price for the front strike Remington at $102.50 with the variant built through 1914 priced down at just $30 and the latest slotted segment variant priced at just about half retail of a brand-new example.

The company also showed a number of attractive storefronts in the brochure, which contained an interesting variety of machines that made good on the company’s claim to provide “all makes.”

Wholesale Portland

In the above view of the Portland, Oregon branch store we can see the usual Remington, Royal, Underwood and L. C. Smith but also a Smith Premier No. 10, a Noiseless Standard, an Oliver No. 9 and right at the front corner of the middle shelf an Underwood three bank portable.

Wholesale Portables

Above, a page from the brochure advertising brand new Underwood portables either cash or on credit but also, perhaps more interestingly, rebuilt.  As we see the company also offered rebuilt Corona and Remington portables, the Remington being about 80% the price of a new example.

The Seattle storefront view showed both an Underwood portable and a dealer poster depicting the Underwood portable on display, as seen below.  (Also, note again the presence of a Noiseless Standard and an Oliver.)

Wholesale Seattle

Although the information about the portables is of interest to historians, perhaps the greatest value of this flyer is its view of the grand storefronts of that long-ago day when even the rebuilt typewriter companies had their products on display.

A Remarkable Typewriter

HASmith6angled1

The typewriter above, a Smith Visible No. 6, is significant as a discovery in a number of ways – to historians, to collectors and in particular to those interested in the typewriter rebuilding industry and how it operated.  Explaining what we are looking at is necessary to show its significance, so a couple of short histories are required.

First, it’s obvious by this machine’s presence on this blog that it has been rebuilt.  The history of the design is as follows:  The machine was originally designed by DeWitt C. Harris for sale by Sears, Roebuck and Company as the Harris Visible.  The first model to actually reach the market was the No. 4, and in fact only a few variances ever occurred on this model for roughly ten years.

HarrisVisibleNo4tradecatcenterfold

(Above, Harris Visible No. 4 from Sears, Roebuck trade catalog circa 1913.)

The Harris proved to be a minor success in an already crowded industry and by the start of 1916 was selling independently from Sears as the Rex Visible; a new company, Rex Typewriter, was formed with new capital and carried forward.  Sears still sold the machine through about 1920, always labeled as the Harris Visible.  Sears advertised in 1913 that it had over 1000 Harris Visible machines in operation in its own gigantic Chicago offices.

The design became more or less obsolete over the years and by the start of the 1920’s the company set to work on a new, different four-bank machine called the Demountable.  It was in 1922 that Rex, itself essentially bankrupt, was sold at Sheriff’s auction.  The new buyers were, however, the old owners – and the company picked back up with the new name Demountable Typewriter Co. and began to market the wholly new machine.  Keep the year 1922 in mind – it’s important.

HARRY A. SMITH

Harry A Smith 1924

Harry A. Smith (seen above near the end of his life) entered the typewriter rebuilding business in 1911, forming his own company in Chicago under his own name to rebuild typewriters.  Smith knew how the business machine world worked, having been associated with the adding machine business for years.  Rebuilt typewriters were becoming a very hot topic, even if the profit for such a business was marginal.

Smith’s business took off quickly, and he sold machines across the United States and around the world.  Smith’s advertising was not unlike that of other firms of the day, and this got his company (and a number of others) in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission in 1917 when citations were issued for advertising of rebuilt typewriters without explicitly stating that they had been rebuilt.

Collectors today will note that Harry A. Smith was known also for something else that has, until now, been considered “off” – that is, the rebranding of machines with his own name instead of that of the original maker of the typewriter.  This is exemplified by the photo below, showing two Victor typewriters.

HASmith4Victor3compared

On the right we see an original condition Victor Standard No. 3.  It sits on its original shipping crate.  On the left however is what was a Victor Standard No. 2,  but which has been rebuilt by Harry A. Smith and which is now labeled as a Smith Visible No. 4.  The name “Victor” has been chiseled off the side of the shipping crate on which the machine sits and Harry A. Smith stickers adorn the top of the crate.

Because early collectors 30 years ago or more began finding random and usually “off brand” machines relabled this way they assumed that Smith was buying up the stock of closed down companies.  This is clearly not the case, though because Victor kept right on in business for years after these machines seen above were sold.  The same phenomenon also exists with Harris / Rex machines as well.  What was probably happening instead was Smith was acquiring machines which the original makers didn’t want their names on, or acquiring machines which had been recalled, or else acquiring machines when a model was closed out and the original maker had a policy of not allowing rebuilt machines out with its original name on them.

Smith was entangled with the FTC in 1917, but after this his company continued to relabel machines with his own name off and on until 1922.  The last known model that Smith did this to was in fact the No. 6 you see at the top of this article.

HARRY A. SMITH No. 6 IN TWO VERSIONS

It is clear to us that Harry A. Smith sold relabeled Harris/Rex machines twice; once in 1917 and once in 1922.  The origins of these stocks of machines are quite different.

HASmith61917WeilMailerCut

The illustration above, courtesy Peter Weil, is taken from a mailer that Harry A. Smith sent out as a response to an “act now!” coupon from a magazine.  This 1917 flyer shows the first incarnation of the Harris/Rex as a Harry A. Smith No. 6.  These machines, which in other ads Smith said he had a thousand of, are most likely the machines out of Sears’ Chicago offices, rebuilt and resold to the public.

HASmith6ad1922complete

Above we see the 1922 ad in my collection for more or less the same machine, but several years later in a new offering.  Note that the company name change to “Smith Typewriter Sales” has occurred; this happened in 1920 when Smith sold the rebuilding business and attempted to take the Harry A. Smith Typewriter Co. into the manufacture of new typewriters.  That attempt failed in 1921, and eventually after some time Smith came back to his old company.

Smith Visible No. 6 and Observations

HASmithfrontview

The recently acquired example of Smith Visible No. 6 (serial 11067) is the earliest variant of Rex Visible No. 4, with the ribbon selector present as buttons or keys on the sides of the machine.  As stated clearly in the ad for the machine, the stock of this second known sale in 1922 consisted of samples from the Rex dealers around the country.  At this time, the company was in the midst of another self-reinvention as Demountable, and as such these machines were surplus to demands as there was no intention to continue manufacture of this design in the future.

HASmith6papertabledecal

It seems clear that the Federal Trade Commission never cited Smith or his companies for rebranding machines; the only offenses were essentially false advertising.  It stands to reason then that this practice, while unusual, was not considered illegal; knowing the story of this particular No. 6 helps fill us understand just what might have been happening each time Smith (chose to, was allowed to, was asked to) relabel machines with his own name.

HASmith6frontframe

Of further interest to collectors might be the fact that this Rex rebranding and a nearly simultaneous rebranding of another standard machine, the Stearns, in 1922 constitute the final examples of this practice for Smith’s company.  Following this the company began work exclusively as a rebuilder for L. C. Smith & Bros. and dropped all trade in any other brands of machine, although it did sell some brand new folding Coronas some time later.

HarrisVisible4SmithVisible6compared

Above:  Alpha and Omega, of sorts.  The very first manufactured variant of the Harris Visible, as used by Sears at its offices and as first offered in the Sears catalog in the Summer of 1912 is seen here at left.  Note the solid keytops not unlike those on an Oliver.  Just a decade later, after more than one bankruptcy and a name change, the final retail sale of this mechanical design occurred when Smith Typewriter Sales offered the remaining formerly-Rex-owned sales sample (and probably office) machines rebuilt at a discount price as the Smith Visible No. 6, at right.

For more information:

For a complete and detailed Harris / Rex / Demountable history click here.

For a complete Harry A. Smith history click here.