A Letter from Harry A. Smith

Harry A. Smith is, to historians, the best known single person associated with the field of rebuilt typewriters.  Earlier collectors have seen to that – their books almost always mentioned Smith or showed some of the machines his companies rebuilt and rebranded into his own name, and to collectors of that earlier era these machines became highly desirable.

HASmithfrontview

The Smith Visible No. 6 above is just one of a number of examples rebuilt and rebranded by Smith’s companies; originally a Rex Visible No. 4, the machine was sold by Smith Typewriter Sales in 1922 as that company’s No. 6 — a dubious numbering since various other completely different machines also went out the door carrying this number.

Smith himself has been well-documented on this writer’s blog articles over many years, and even sales materials from Smith’s companies have been obtained and continue to be shown here.  What is new and exciting is this – a letter from Smith himself.

Harry A Smith Letter 1920

The letter, clearly dictated by “HAS” (Harry A. Smith) and signed by him, is dated June 25, 1920 and seeks to make contact with a Robert E. Coleman, through the connection of the Peacock Coal Co., Pomeroy, Ohio.  It seems clear that Smith is trying to locate someone he had previously done business with and who may have stopped payment on a machine, although this letter quite professionally does not reveal Smith’s motive.

The letterhead itself will be of interest to collectors as it displays the emblem Smith created (or, had created) for his company and typewriters – a cut of a blacksmith at work in his shop.  (That image is seen on the No. 6 shown earlier and enlarged from the letterhead below.)

Smith letterhead 1920 1

The style of the centered name on the letterhead is also notable, and is seen here:

Smith Letterhead 1920 2

The style of lettering is similar to, but not identical to, that used for the name “Smith” on the Smith Visible No. 4 seen below, also in our collection here:

Harry A Smith No 4 Davis Collection

(The “Smith” usually used on Harry A. Smith paper tables appears to be a Smith Premier decal cut in half.  The companies were completely, totally unrelated.)

Historically this newly found 1920 letter presents a couple of questions.  The accepted historical date for Smith splitting up his companies is December 1919, with Harry A. Smith himself selling out his ownership of the rebuilt typewriter concern in April 1920.  This letter is clearly dated June, and presents for the first time the notion that Smith himself continued in the day to day operation of the rebuilt company – already or soon, by that date, to be renamed “Smith Typewriter Sales Co.”

Of course the previous assumes that Smith is looking for a buyer who has ceased payment on a machine; if the Coleman in question was concerned somehow with the other Smith (post-split) firm, which retained the original company name and which shifted to attempted construction of the Blick Bar after that design was purchased by Smith, then the letter is less curious – although we’d wonder why Smith could not find a concerned party in that case.

Regardless of Smith’s search for Coleman what matters is that we have an original letter dictated by Smith himself, and signed by Smith himself, giving us an object that brings us historically closer than ever to this well known industry personage.

Harry A Smith signature 1920

Click here for a history of Harry A. Smith and his companies.

Click here to see a Smith typewriter, ad, and a link to his grave marker.

Click here to see a late photo of Smith and read some ad material.

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.

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.

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.