Fox Factory Rebuilt

By the time of the First World War the existence of the rebuilt typewriter industry was not only fully established but undeniable.  The major typewriter manufacturers all realized this and reacted sooner or later.  Even the minor ones, such as the Fox Typewriter Company, realized this and got into the act.  We’ll look at two May, 1916 advertisements from the company (via Google Books) to show their efforts.

Fox Rebuilt Homiletic Review May 1916

The May 1916 issue of Homiletic Review carried the announcement that the Fox Typewriter Company was launching the factory rebuilding of its machines.  The ad made a very important point as well – according to the company’s claim, no other company could rebuild Fox typewriters.

Fox made it clear that “the same men who originally built the typewriter do this rebuilding” and that the quality was exactly the same as a new machine.  Another ad from the same time period (not shown) made it clear that from 40% to 50% of the machine was brand new when it emerged as a rebuilt machine.  An incredible three year guarantee was offered, and it’s also important to note the mail order time payment plan that most rebuilders were offering (and had for years.)  The price for the rebuilt No. 24 was $42.00.

The company also simultaneously began offering “slightly used” Fox machines.  Here is another ad from the same May 1916 Homiletic Review.

Fox Slightly Used Homiletic Review May 1916

These “slightly used” machines carried the same three year guarantee and were just slightly higher priced than the rebuilts, at $52.50.  As can be seen, time payments were also available.

The Fox Typewriter Company had changed hands in 1915, and it’s interesting to observe that after the buyout the company not only entered actively into the rebuilt typewriter business and the second hand business, but also very shortly launched a portable typewriter.  As we know today the expansion didn’t assure the company’s permanence, and it folded and liquidated in 1922.  But for now, we can certainly add the Fox Typewriter Company to the roster of original equipment manufacturers that also rebuilt machines.

For More Info:  History of the Fox Typewriter Co.

Slightly Used

It’s now time to introduce on this blog another angle of the typewriter business that was often linked (rightly or wrongly) to the rebuilt typewriter business – the sale of “slightly used” or “second-hand” typewriters.

Understanding the semantics here is vital to understanding this aspect of the business and some of the complaints against it.  To be concise, there were typewriters out there which became available for one reason or another (failure to pay on the part of a company, bankruptcy of a company, returns, or perhaps many other ways) after only having been used for a short time.  Some persons, dealers and even companies that shipped machines nationwide or internationally would deal in such machines as direct sale opportunities.

It’s important too to understand that some of the more upstanding companies early on were actually rebuilding machines and calling them “second hand” because this was felt to be the most honest label that the machines could be given since they had indeed been previously owned.  Still others performed only marginal work (“patching up”) to such machines and sold them, and some must have performed little or none.  Let’s take a look at an ad from the 1904-1905 time period (obtained from a batch of ads of this date range) to see an example.

Rockwell Barnes 1904 1905

The Rockwell-Barnes Company of Chicago was offering, through this advertisement, “Slightly Used Typewriters At Less Than Half Price.”  It’s important to spot the “$10 and up” in the upper left corner.  Also very important to catch is that the ad clearly stated that the machines offered were “in use only long enough to insure smooth running adjustment.”  The price range given was $10 to $55.

No attempt was made in this ad to assure the buyer that the machines had been returned to a brand new condition.  We can’t guess whether or not they were, but we know enough from the trade papers of the day that poor machines under the varied “second hand” or “used” or whatever labels had tarnished the entire business of pre-owned machine sales, whether fully and honestly rebuilt or not.

Because this business angle and proposition made no claim whatsoever toward the qualities expected (and later legally required) of rebuilt / refurbished / remanufactured machines it could avoid claims made against it in terms of quality as were faced by rebuilders, and could also operate cheaply.  For these reasons there were always sellers of such machines around, although often not for long.  In later blog posts we will see some actual mail order sales materials from various “second hand” and “slightly used” typewriter distributors and further examine the operations of those who chose to work under this semantic umbrella.

(Aside:  Typewriter historians should also note that somehow Rockwell-Barnes had obtained 2300 Sholes Visible machines that it was selling at $45.)

Rebuilt Remingtons

As the first decade of the last century hit its midpoint, the giant Union Typewriter conglomerate was making moves to keep up with the times.  It created the wholly-owned Monarch Typewriter Company to introduce a visible writing machine (which appeared in 1904) and introduced visible machines of the other makes (Remington, Smith Premier and Yost) in 1908.  Right between these two events, in 1906, the company made another move relevant to our discussions here:  Union ended production of the well known Caligraph line of standard machines at the American Writing Machine Co. and converted that company (and its factory) into the rebuilding arm of Union.  American’s rebuilt machines were on the market by 1907.

Remington Jan 1915

The advertisement above is from a few years later — it appeared in Literary Digest for  January 9, 1915.  It advertises “Factory Rebuilt, Guaranteed” Remington No. 10 machines for $48.75, which was less than half the price of a brand-new Remington standard machine.  The purchaser simply had to send the coupon and a ‘deposit’ of $8.75, at which time the machine would be shipped.  The payments were $5.00 monthly until the balance was paid off.

The rebuilding process was described to the prospective customer as follows:

“All the bright parts are nickeled over copper; the black parts are enameled by the same process as was used originally in enameling the machine.  In reassembling (you understand, of course, that the machine has been entirely dismantled, cleaned, and inspected) every worn and defective part is discarded and new ones substituted.  A new printing cylinder is put in as well and new feed rolls, paper finger rolls, ribbon and other perishable parts.  An entire new keyboard is put on the machine and the striping and the lettering is all new.  Our rigid inspection system permits the passing of none but machines that stand every test.

The guarantee we give with the machines (viz., one year) is the same as is given by the original manufacturer when the machine is brand new, and as we have been in the business of building new machines and rebuilding used ones for over thirty years and are now the largest concern of the kind in the world, you will appreciate the fact that our guarantee is worth something.” 

To make sure the point gets across – the company was offering the No. 10 Remington at roughly half price, in brand new function and appearance and with exactly the same warranty / guarantee that the original machine had.  The sensibility of considering such machines on the part of any office manager would be practically undeniable.

AWMCo. (as the company’s name was often abbreviated back then) was by the time of this 1915 ad doing a very solid business.  The company not only had its original plant in New York engaged wholly in the affair, but also had in late 1911 announced that it would open a plant in Chicago and also open a plant in London, England.  (According to trade reports the machinery for the London plant was manufactured in the United States and shipped over.)  In January 1912 the company opened its plant in Chicago, to serve “Western regions” (think ‘West of the Mississippi’) and also opened a showroom at 437 Dearborn Street.  (The company already had a showroom in New York City.)

Of course, in addition to mail order sales like that described by the ad shown above, the company also sold to dealers and export-import firms.  Truly, the company had come into a place in the typewriter field it had not achieved when making new machines; factories in two major US cities and one overseas!  Rebuilt typewriters were the thing American Writing Machine Co. needed to expand, and although today collectors remember it for the Caligraph they should be just as fast to remember its widely sold and successful rebuilt typewriters.

Bargain Basement

Catalog unk early 1920s

The small catalog page reproduced above has no named source and no date, although we can guess the date at the early to mid-1920’s simply because of the appearance of the four bank Remington portable.  What is incredible are the prices being offered.

At this time the price of a brand new standard typewriter was generally in the $105-$120 bracket for the basic but full-featured models.  This ad presented some incredibly inexpensive machines – but look closely and you might see why.  Offered at just $15 was the completely obsolete Smith Premier No. 2, which entered production in 1896 and which had been out of production since 1914.  Another bargain was the No. 3 Oliver at just $17 – but again, this machine had been out of production for years (since 1907.)  The No. 9 Oliver was still in new OEM production and was offered at $26.

Already mentioned, but worth specifically pointing out is the fact that Remington portables were being factory rebuilt (as were Corona 3 portables, also shown on this catalog page.)  Most collectors will think “standard typewriter” when the factory rebuilding business comes up, but portables of popular makes, which could be had in large enough batches, were factory rebuilt and sold as well.  Certainly, this kind of ad broadens our perception today so long after the fact about what was being offered and when — and how long some machines remained in the ‘business cycle’ to be rebuilt and sold at bargain basement prices.

Rebuilt for Export

While it may not be obvious today, a major opportunity for the typewriter rebuilders lay in export sales.  The ‘overseas market’ allowed customers in other nations to buy the world-leading American makes at prices they could afford.  Many of the rebuilders did heavy export business for many years.

Dearborn Typ Export Office 1917

Here we see the Office of the Export Manager of the Dearborn Typewriter Company, located in the Rand McNally Building, Chicago in 1917.  The Export Manager, Mr. M. Ortiz Sr. is seated near the center of the photo.  While the original catalog is slightly damaged it is possible easily to make out the world map on the wall at the right of the photo.

The catalog’s front page includes the following interesting passages, which mention the overseas business:

“A Few Words Regarding Our House:

Our firm is one of the largest typewriter rebuilders in the United States, and surely the most important exporter in this country.  The fact that a machine has been rebuilt in our shop means that it is as good and efficient as when it left its original factory.  We take the machine, tear it down and replace all worn out parts with new ones.  In short, we build up a new machine, adjust it and make it as serviceable and good looking as brand new.  We put new rollers in these machines and when finished it is very difficult to distinguish them from brand new typewriters.

Our machines are examined and inspected three times before they leave our shops and for this reason we feel perfectly safe in fully guaranteeing them.

We have given particular attention to the reconstruction of typewriters for export and the fact that our business in this line has been, during 1915, 400% larger than that of the previous year, is a very good proof that we know how to serve our customers.”

The most significant reason for the company’s increase in exports was most probably the cutoff of German-made machines coming across the ocean due to the outbreak of war.  Whatever the cause though, Dearborn Typewriter was prepared to provide American makes (very likely re-keyed for other languages) at good prices right when they were needed the most.

Regal Rebuilt Royal

Regal Rebuilt Emblem

Collectors and enthusiasts today sometimes run across Royal standard machines bearing a decal like that seen above – usually on the rear of the machine.  The Regal name is never seen on anything but a Royal, and there’s a good reason for that:  Regal Typewriter Company was a part of Royal Typewriter Company (and its successor owners) for its entire existence.

In 1921, Royal Typewriter decided to split off its exchange typewriter department and formed the Regal Typewriter Company.  This company then factory rebuilt Royal standard machines for many years and sold them primarily to dealers.

Regal Blotter

Regal Typewriter Co. blotter, Will Davis collection

There is an old (and false) tale that none of the major typewriter manufacturers got into the rebuilding business because it would have hurt their sales – but as those who have been reading this blog since the beginning probably realize, the business was going to exist whether the big makers pretended it did or didn’t.  The only way to ensure getting a piece of the action was to get in directly — or, as in the case of Royal and Regal, indirectly but closely.

Regal also took the trades sent to Royal dealers but, if they weren’t Royals, it sold them to other rebuilders.  This sort of arrangement is what led major rebuilders to often make statements such as “we obtain our machines direct from the manufacturers.”  Yes, in many cases they did – but NOT from the original maker of  the machines!  To be perfectly clear, a rebuilder (such as Dearborn, or Young) might well obtain wholesale blocks of Underwood machines in the rough from Regal, but not Royals.

There is no evidence that Royal itself directly or indirectly engaged in rebuilding its own machines until the formation of Regal in 1922, although it’s certain that many rebuilt Royals were being offered by a wide number of rebuilders before that time.  It must be assumed that the exchanged machine department of Royal was simply selling trades wholesale prior to that time.

Regal Typewriter Company ceased to exist in 1975 when it was re-merged into the parent organization, which by that time was Litton Industries.  For the collector or actual typewriter user, though, you can be sure that a Regal rebuilt Royal is the ‘real thing’ in name and in fact.

Not Like the Original

The previous post on this blog pointed out the fact that early rebuilders tried very hard to make their products duplicative of the original factory product.  One rebuilder, though, on occasion, did not.  In fact, he went out of his way to eradicate the original name on machines altogether in some cases.  That rebuilder was Harry A. Smith, of Chicago.

HarryASmithNo4ad1916WDcollection

This 1916 ad for the “Smith Model Number 4” was highly deceptive in two very important ways.  First, the machine offered for sale was originally manufactured by the Victor Typewriter Company as its No. 2.  Just why Harry A. Smith chose to completely remove the original maker’s name from these (and some other) machines today remains a mystery.  Certainly, desiring to get his own company’s name into the trade must have played a part – but why this didn’t seem unscrupulous to the point of impossibility to Smith or his company is just perplexing.

The second and much more problematic way in which the ad was deceptive was the fact that it never once mentioned that these superannuated machines were rebuilt by Smith’s company.  We will see in later posts what this practice got Smith and others.

Harry A Smith No 4 1916 ad WBD

Collectors have long prized Harry A. Smith branded machines because they are today somewhat hard to find – he cannot have made that many of them, in any model.  Also, Smith himself has been mentioned in a variety of the collector books published over the years (Rehr and Beeching to name two) so that there has been an awareness of his penchant for relabeling.  What is certain though is that the practice was not on the up and up, and that no other rebuilder ever dared rebrand a machine.

Victor No. 2 Wood Cut

Above, the Victor No. 2 as it originally appeared.  This machine was manufactured from 1909-1912.

For more information:  Click here for Will Davis’ history of the VICTOR.

Like the Original

The front of a small flyer published by the Pittsburgh Typewriter and Supply Company in about 1918 points out something many don’t realize today about rebuilt typewriters.

Pittsburgh Typ 1918 flyer

The guarantee made by this company includes the promise that each typewriter the company sells was not only rebuilt to run like new but “To Look Like New.”  It’s a fact that the rebuilders of the early years (say, before the 1930’s) worked extremely hard in most cases to ensure that the rebuilt machines looked exactly like they had originally looked when first manufactured.  That meant that the companies acquired the right decals, duplicated the pin-striping and paint, and duplicated the key top legends so that the rebuilt product couldn’t be distinguished except perhaps by an expert — and, maybe, not even then.

We’ll see much more evidence of this effort to duplicate in later posts (and reveal how that was all done) but for now, it’s important for today’s enthusiasts to realize that very many of the typewriters found, offered for sale, and displayed “surely in perfect original paint” are not nearly all “original paint” but in fact carefully reproduced, like-new finish applied by careful and thorough rebuilders.

Good for It

ReTyCo Letter Oct 1909

The letter you see reproduced above was sent by the Rebuilt Typewriter Company in October, 1909.  However, it wasn’t sent to the buyer of a typewriter – it was sent to a reference.

In the days of “typewriters by mail” usually the sellers would ask a buyer purchasing a machine on time payments to provide two or three ‘credit references’ along with the completed order blank and first payment.  This rare letter is proof that at least some of the time the companies did complete the credit check process and ask for assurance that the buyer was ‘good for it.’

Another interesting aspect of this letter, which bears at the top the name of the owner once known as “Grady the Typewriter Man” in the trade, is the variety of brands offered rebuilt at the top left.  Today, most people likely think of common front strike machines like Royal No. 10 and Underwood No. 5 as those offered rebuilt but we see here that in 1909 the Rebuilt Typewriter Company was listing “Smith Premier, Underwood, Remington, Densmore, Hammond, Oliver, Yost and others” as available.  As we will see in many later posts on this blog, the variety of surviving typewriters today that might have been factory rebuilt is far larger than most collectors or enthusiasts realize.

Bombay Bargain

Woodstock Bombay 1936 brochure

The above pamphlet advertised machines available from The Office Appliance Corporation in Bombay, India in September, 1936.  On the front we see a Woodstock standard machine – and on the inside we see some interesting information.

Woodstock prices Bombay 1936

We see from the above price list several interesting things.  First, the company offered for sale not only brand new Woodstock machines, but also rebuilt Woodstocks and Bijou (Erika) portables.  Second, the Woodstock machines are described as “Rebuilt at Woodstock Factory.”  Woodstock eventually got into the act of rebuilding its own machines, as did all the other big makes.  Third, the price of the rebuilt machines is, in the example of the normal carriage width (F cap or “fools cap”) only about 56% of that of the brand new machine and is exactly the same as the price of the Bijou model V portable.

The above price comparison makes it clear that not only were rebuilt standard typewriters competitive with brand-new standard machines, but that they were also competitive with portables if the buyer didn’t really want or need to move the machine around.  It’s also clear that the presence of rebuilt standards in a product line only increased the chance to make a sale, which is what really counts.