Galbreath Typewriter Co.

Were it not for a cache of letters recently discovered, history might have forgotten the still-obscure Galbreath Typewriter Co. business – surely one of the smaller, regional operations but one which did advertise off and on for over a decade.

Galbreath Aug 1926 A

This August 1926 letter advises the recipient that two ranges of machines were advertised on the enclosed flyer (which we’ll see in a moment) – “cheap” machines, which for rebuilders were older variants of established makes or else obsolete sorts, and “late up to date machines” which were either still in production or at least very recent.  There’s no record which if any Mr. Mason ordered.

The letter above is signed by A. A. Galbreath, President of the Galbreath Typewriter Company.  This operation’s roots go back as far as 1913 when the mail-order Carnegie College, of Rogers, Ohio began to advertise rebuilt machines through its Typewriter Department.  Galbreath was President of this Carnegie College as well, which offered learn-by-mail courses in a wide variety of topics including but not limited to English, Engineering, Domestic Science, Poultry, Drawing, Real Estate and, probably unsurprisingly, “Type-writing.”

Asher A. Galbreath himself was born in Columbiana County Ohio in 1864, and among other things was at one time Mayor of the city of Rogers (from which the Carnegie College operated) and an Ohio Senator.  Eventually one or more of his sons became involved in the college and typewriter operations.

A 1917 ad for rebuilt typewriters in Progressive Teacher and Southwestern School Journal gives the curious address of “Everette Galbreath, Rogers Ohio.”  A 1918 ad has the orders sent to “Senator A. A. Galbreath, Carnegie College, Rogers Ohio.”  Sometime after this, certainly by December 1919 the name Galbreath Typewriter Company came into use.

Galbreath Aug 1926 B

Above and below, advertising flyer in 1926 Galbreath Typewriter Co. letter.

Galbreath Aug 1926 C

The advertisement for Galbreath shows the usual spread of prices for machines, but it should be noted that the actual prices for the machines are slightly higher than the norm even at this time, although not by any means extravagant.  There is clear evidence that Galbreath was rebuilding these machines it offered and not just distributing machines rebuilt by a larger national firm – the description of the company in its letterhead states “rebuilders, wholesalers and distributors.”  The factory was located in Rogers, while General Offices were in Columbus.

In this case Galbreath Typewriter Co. did not offer any “store front” services that we know of, and did not repair or service machines.  It appears as if Galbreath’s machines were mail order, just like the courses offered by the family run, affiliated college.  The parallel between this operation and Victor, which made new typewriters and which was for most of its life owned by International Correspondence Schools, is interesting.

Obsolete machines are often a focus of the bargain basement class of rebuilt machines, and in this case the old Royal No. 5, the Oliver No. 5, the full keyboard Smith Premier No. 10 (a front strike) and the Hammond No. 12 stand out.

Galbreath disappears from the record before the time of the Great Depression, and it’s safe to say so did many other operations we might never know about.  That said, we do have records and even brochures from a few other small operations throughout the years and you’ll see those all here on this site, eventually – so stay tuned for that.  For now however it’s enough that we can add another name to the pantheon of rebuilt typewriter companies, which at this late date is something of an event in itself.

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Still Standing

W. H. Young launched the Young Typewriter Company in Chicago in 1911 – a period in which several companies that would become significant rebuilders were launched.  According to a 1926 trade catalog issued by his company, Young had previously achieved success both as “an expert mechanic and a successful salesman.”

The company moved more than once in its lifetime, but its final factory location was 652-654 West Randolph Street, Chicago.  Here we see a photo of the factory in operation from the 1926 Young Process Remanufactured Typewriters trade catalog.

Young Typewriter 652 W Randolph

As with other plants of the day, the Young plant operated on the newer design wherein a single machine did not stay in one spot during its rebuilding by a single expert, but rather was broken down with parts traveling through the plant in streams to later be assembled by a bank of experts.  Below, we see an early phase of the rebuilding operation; a power washing machine was employed to completely clean sections of the machines, already disassembled; they were then dried after this by compressed air.  Although not advertised in the catalog, there is at least one Smith Premier No. 10 and at least one Oliver machine in the cleaning room seen here.

Young Power Washing Machine

We’ll be seeing a lot more of the Young plant and the machines it turned out in future installments; we’ll also meet Mr. Young himself.  What may be surprising is that the building that housed the Young Typewriter Company (which appears to have ended business during the Great Depression) is still standing today.  The photo below, from Google Maps, shows the Young building as the right-most of the two taller buildings at the center of the photo.

652 w randolph chi google maps Young Typewriter

Direct Competition

As we have seen, rebuilt and second-hand typewriters were being sold over the period from the early 1890’s through the 1960’s at prices anywhere from roughly 3/4 the price of brand new standard machines all the way down, in some cases, to just over 1/10 the price.  That price incentive alone was a serious inducement to buy – but yet there were those who did not wish to buy what they still perceived as an old or used machine.  And they did have something to buy, too – because there were always brand-new machines available priced well below the industry average prices for high grade, new machines.  This adds yet another angle to our narrative on rebuilt typewriters, and it’s a significant one.

The brand new machines of this “new but less than full price” bracket were most frequently sold by mail order only (which held down overall costs) but a few examples were sold through major catalogues.  One of the best was the Harris Visible, sold for a number of years by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

HarrisSearsRoebuckBrochure2

The Harris was first sold at just $39.80 in 1912, but quickly moved up to $44.50; no matter which price though, this definitely was direct competition for rebuilt machines as the Harris was brand new, “shipped direct from the manufacturer” and had a strong warranty.

Perhaps the most significant fact for us today in terms of rebuilt machine history is that Sears was well aware that its machine was in direct competition against rebuilt machines; it proved this by including a long passage about rebuilt machines in its 1913-1914 trade catalog for the Harris.  That passage, while heavily biased against second hand and rebuilt typewriters does include many grains of truth and as such is a valuable contemporary official record for us to consider historically.   The italics are in the original.

• • • •  From the Harris Visible Typewriters trade catalog, page 23:

“A Few Words About Second Hand and ‘Rebuilt’ Typewriters

Before it was possible to secure an efficient new typewriter at a reasonable price, it may have been economy to purchase a second hand or ‘rebuilt’ machine.

But now that the Harris Visible Typewriter is offered at $44.50, we do not believe you will care to purchase any used machine.

The so-called ‘standard’ typewriters, selling for almost $100.00, are usually sold second hand for $25.00 to $60.00.  ‘Rebuilt’ machines net $30.00 to $75.00.  The price depends entirely on the length of service and the condition of the machine.

While it is much better to have any typewriter than none, it is still better to have a new machine than one that is second hand or ‘rebuilt.’

Really good typewriters are rarely traded in.  In nearly every case when a typewriter is traded in, its greatest usefulness has been pounded out.  If it were still efficient, it would not be traded; or if traded and really rebuilt, would command almost the price of a new machine.

Regarding ‘rebuilt’ typewriters – the name is misleading.  Very few are actually rebuilt and these sell for $50.00 to $75.00.  The others, which sell for $30.00 to $50.00 are old machines, which have been cleaned, polished and ‘tuned up a bit.’  Very few, if any, of the worn parts are replaced with new parts, and even such replacements do not add strength to the parts that remain and which are all more or less worn.

When considering the purchase of any second hand or ‘rebuilt’ machine, remember that you can secure a brand new Harris Visible Typewriter for $44.50.

If you are offered a used machine for even as low as $25.00, remember you can secure a new Harris of the latest type with up to date improvements for only $20.00 more.  And remember that the Harris is guaranteed and backed by Sears, Roebuck and Co., one of the largest merchandising institutions in the world.  You take no risk; you are guaranteed perfect satisfaction.

Surely, a feeling of confidence in the firm you buy from is worth considering.

Do not buy any second hand machine unless you know its entire history and are satisfied that it has not been unduly worn or abused.  It is possible to make temporary repairs in a worn out typewriter which will cause it to do fairly good work for a short time, but it will not last.

We have endeavored to convince you that there is no economy in paying more than our price for any new standard typewriter on the market.  How much less economical is it then to pay more than our price for a ‘rebuilt’ machine, or even a slightly used second hand machine!

Our price, $44.50, is a revelation in the typewriter industry.  The Harris is good enough for our use and good enough for anybody.  We venture to say that there isn’t $5.00 difference in manufacturing cost between the Harris and any of the most expensive typewriters made.  Yet there is a difference of about $50.00 in the price the purchaser is asked to pay.

Where does this difference come in?  What causes it?  You should answer this question before buying.

• • •

The passage above has a number of central themes which I have explored, and will continue to explore, identify and reference on this blog.  These themes – things such as trust in the seller, faith in the choice of age and quality versus price – are central to the proposition of both the off-price new machine business and, importantly to us, the rebuilt and second-hand business.  Look for much more on these themes in coming posts.

Field Report #1: Tan Tank

This series of “Field Reports” will detail rebuilt typewriters found in the wild and on collectors’ shelves, with details important to properly identifying and categorizing the machines.

Tan LC Smith A

The typewriter seen here is pretty clearly rebuilt; for starters, this machine was originally an L. C. Smith Silent standard machine, serial 1198309B 14.  As built this machine was black.  As we see the machine now, it carries two features that more or less point to its having been rebuilt in the 1950’s; the tan crinkle paint (originally it was smooth black enamel) and the green keytop covers.

What’s not so obvious about this machine is that it isn’t a factory rebuilt machine.  While the machine was very well disassembled and repainted, it’s clear in a few places that it was not totally, completely disassembled.  Factory machines (that is to say, machines rebuilt in a true factory setting whether the original maker’s or not) would have been totally disassembled down to the last part before repainting.

Further, the only decal on this machine on the front says SMITH, but the letter spacing on that decal isn’t what one would expect from a major rebuilding factory.

Tan LC Smith B

What we have here, then, is a pretty good and thorough dealer-rebuilt / professionally rebuilt machine.  Oddly, the dealer has even painted the key levers – but nowhere has any paint been applied that would interfere with any operation of the machine.  There are no decals anywhere other than the SMITH name on the front; only the serial number remains of the original labeling to designate the machine’s origin (which, it must be said, is not any sort of a mystery.)

The details may be subtle, and if this machine were seen in an auction it might be difficult for inexperienced collectors to tell that this wasn’t rebuilt in a factory setting.  Of course, in the years since the ending of factory rebuilding of machines, dealer level rebuilding has been all that’s available – and pretty high quality machines are usually the result, although often (as here) not with the absolutely minute attention to detail that the big rebuilders once gave.

The First Step

After any machine was received and properly filed by a major rebuilder, the first step in the actual rebuilding process was to tear the machine down.

Smith Typewriter Sales disassembly

Above, we see part of the disassembly area of the Smith Typewriter Sales Company in 1924.  Several technicians seated at a bench are in the process of tearing down machines; the technicians standing at the rear are brush cleaning parts, which appear to be the frames of the machines devoid of operative parts.

Right here, it should be made clear that the specific parts original to one machine – say, its particular type bars or key levers – didn’t follow that machine through the process, in large factory rebuilding operations such as this.  Instead, at the time the machines were torn down, badly worn or even broken parts were discarded right away.  New ones would be put into the pipeline as available and/or needed so that, obviously, complete machines again came out the back end of the process, but the working parts had thoroughly been mixed up by that time.

What this means is that the technicians disassembling the machines weren’t just “shredders” taking the machines apart; they were able to examine the parts removed well enough to know if they should continue in the pipeline or not.

New Type for Best Print

Shipman Ward type soldering

It’s obvious that no matter how good a typewriter might be – that is to say, no matter how good the design, the condition, the maintenance – it’s really no better than its printing.  No one wanted any correspondence coming out of an office to look sloppy, and bad or dirty type on a machine could easily lead to that appearance if allowed.

This is exactly why we see the 1924 image above; in the plant of the Shipman-Ward Manufacturing Company, we see founder E. W. S. Shipman inspecting the work of one of his craftsmen who is soldering new type onto the type bars of Underwood machines deep in the process of being completely rebuilt.  The technician has a torch in his right hand, supplied by lines visible on the wall (with cutoff valves); a type bar is being held in a fixture or jig on his bench while a new type slug is being applied.  More type bars are hanging on pegs at his station, on the wall board.  Shipman himself, having been in the industry for many years, truly knew that the print work of his machines was perhaps the final aspect a buyer could or would analyze and knew it had to be perfect.

Of course, such an operation wasn’t always due to damage; many rebuilders offered special keyboards (such as mathematical) or foreign language keyboards, and these might often have required the operation seen here (as well as the application of the appropriate ‘keyboard’, or set of keytop legends to match the type slugs.)

Bringing Them In

Smith Typewriter Sales receipt 1924

The incredible illustration above, showing a receiving room stacked from floor to nearly the ceiling with crated typewriters, comes to us from a trade catalog issued by the Smith Typewriter Sales Co. in 1924.

It’s quickly obvious that every case contains an L. C. Smith & Bros. machine – the company had in recent times converted to handling only this make, after its original founder, Harry A. Smith, returned and took back control of the company.  In fact, Smith himself had (after a failed venture to construct brand new machines) first become an employee of L. C. Smith & Bros. directly in exchanged machines before re-acquiring control of his old firm.  This company had originally been the Harry A. Smith Typewriter Company, but that name was shifted to the “new typewriter” venture when that started; the rebuilt venture became “Smith Typewriter Sales.”

Smith Typewriter Sales Final Location

The building seen above — now, long gone — housed the final location for the company, which moved a number of times after its founding in 1911.  This building was at 360 East Grand Avenue, Chicago.  Descriptions of the facility lead to the conclusion that the typewriter company did not occupy all of this building.

Getting back to bringing in the machines, it should be noted that the trade catalog stated that the company bought “in large quantities, having bought as many as 4000 typewriters at one time.”  In previous years, before becoming associated with the Smith Bros.’ company (there was no relation between the Smith Brothers and Harry A. Smith, it must be said) Harry A. Smith advertised that he would buy machines “in lots from ten to one hundred,” and he seems to have acquired all manner of machines from all manner of sources.  No matter what the arrangement, the single time purchase of four thousand machines just helps to show the volume that was available in dealing in rebuilt typewriters.

All New Rubber

Shipman Ward new rubber

Here we see E. W. S. Shipman, founder of Shipman-Ward Manufacturing Company, inspecting the work being performed to put all new platen rubber and feed roller rubber into his company’s rebuilt Underwood typewriters.

The company had originally begun as Typewriter Emporium, but the early 1920’s saw a change in name to Shipman-Ward (along with new co-owners) and a move to rebuilding only Underwood machines.  Previously, the company had rebuilt all make and manner of machines; the trend generally in large rebuilders was to steadily reduce the variety of machines taken in.

The open windows of the plant – one of the largest, if not the largest typewriter rebuilding factories ever built – add to the atmosphere of the photo, as of course does the business and work clothing styles of the day.   Unlike some rebuilders’ facilities, this plant was large, roomy and well-lit.

A Wide Variety

Typewriter Emporium Cat Frt

Typewriter Emporium was founded in 1892 by E. W. S. Shipman, who prior to that time had worked as a typewriter salesman.  The catalog whose front cover you see here was published by his company immediately after the turn of the century.  We can infer this because none of the ‘modern’ visible machines of any make appears in this catalog except the Underwood; to be clear, all the Remington, Smith Premier and other makes in the catalog are upstrike or “blind writer” machines while the Monarch and L. C. Smith machines do not appear at all.  A date range of 1900 to 1904 or so thus seems sensible.

The company stated in the catalog that discounts from 45% to 75% off the original makers’ prices were available – this then means, more or less, that what had been $100 machines were being offered from $55 all the way down to $25.

Typewriter Emporium Cat Yost Jewett

What is interesting today is the huge variety of machines available through Typewriter Emporium as either “second hand” (which for this company, at this time, meant ‘thoroughly overhauled, inspected and tested’) or “slightly used” (as well as new, according to the piece.)  Not only are common makes such as Remington, Smith Premier and Underwood included but also, as can be seen above, Yost and Jewett.  In fact, the company’s catalog also featured Hammond, Oliver, Fay-Sho, Caligraph and Densmore machines.  Machines available but for which prices were only quoted upon request appear in the interesting spread shown below from the catalog.

Typewriter Emporium Cat Misc Machines

Starting at the top left and working our way around counter-clockwise (for those who can’t see the photo clearly enough) we see the following makes:  Chicago, Crandall, Blickensderfer, National, Franklin, Williams, Daugherty, Hartford, Duplex, Wellington, Granville Automatic, New Century, Hammond Ideal Key-Board, and Bar-Lock.

How would one decide which to pick?  The catalog gave some guidance:

“There are now so many makes of machines on the market that their prices and points of merit cover a wide range.  In this catalogue you will find that we fully illustrate the machines best known to the public, and give their important features, together with the cardinal points of advantage claimed for each of them.  With this information before you it is possible to reach your own conclusion as to which machine is best adapted to your special requirements.  If you find yourself in doubt upon any point presenting itself, we are always ready to help you with our opinion.”

None of the makes shown on the two-page spread above is normally considered as having been rebuilt at a factory and resold, but we now can assure you that some of these were.  What the catalog does is both offer an interesting look at the very early turn-of-the-century time in typewriters and push ever further the envelope of what machines could or should be considered as having been rebuilt when encountered by today’s enthusiasts.

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.