Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Reveal: Rheinmetall Portable Ergonomic

One of the Holy Grails of typewriter design just fell into my lap by sheer, dumb luck. I happened to visit Etsy late on Labor Day evening and found a listing for this amazing bit of German engineering. The Rheinmetall ergonomic typewriter is rare enough that hardly any photos turn up in a Google search. I'm about to remedy that situation with typewriter porn overkill!

The seller listed a number of his father's possessions in a brand new Etsy store. Reportedly, it was used frequently. The general wear on the keys and drifts of eraser shavings inside bear that out. How it came to America is a mystery; however, most of the items for sale were from Germany in the early 1900s.

While well loved, it could have done with a tuneup at some point in its nearly 80 years of existence. The degraded feet had been semi-repaired with washers, but the machine still sat low which contributed to the ribbon feed not advancing. The reversing buttons on the sides were held in a neutral position by some tenacious, ancient tape. A loose spring kept the ribbon vibrator from working correctly and also contributed to the delinquency of the ribbon advance mechanism. It is amazing what difference one tiny spring can make!

And yes, the keyboard is as strange to work as you might imagine. It is also awesome with the thumbs doing the heavy lifting on the center button to lift the carriage. That is when I remember to use a thumb instead of hitting the "Y" with my pinky finger. As is typical with German machines, the "Y" and "Z" are reversed. It is a tricky beast, but worth the effort for the novelty factor and the neutral wrist position. That is, of course, the whole point of an ergonomic layout.

As for typing, it is light and snappy in that German way. It isn't as manic as an Olympia SM-3 or a Torpedo, but it is very pleasant now that the segment and mechanical systems are cleaned and lubed. I need to check under the hood again to see if the spring tensions vary to balance out the key lever arm lengths. Onwards to a type sample...

There are bits and pieces of information about Rheinmetall typewriters floating around the Internet. Robert Messenger recently posted one of the few photos I could find of the ergonomic at As with the Olivetti ICO, this machine looks particularly stunning in red. Be sure to check out the brief description of the machine and keyboard. Unfortunately I, despite my last name and pre- Ellis Island heritage, cannot read German.

Robert also blessed the Typosphere with his signature approach to journalistic treatment of all things typewriter. Read everything you ever wanted to know about Rheinmetall-Borsig at This wonderful ad comes from that post. The typewriter, an elegant and civilized device.

Here is a good general history of the Rheinmetall portable typewriter courtesy of Mr. Sommeregger. 

Unfortunately, the Rheinmetall page on the Machines of Loving Grace Portable Typewriter site delivered the dread 404 error message just now.

The machine uses many stock parts with the front end greatly customized. The shift and lock button are in the middle. The space bar is split with pads on either side. Mine has odd damage to the right pad. I can't imagine that it is wear. It appears intentional. The mask at the top and around the ribbon spools is plastic. The apron housing the Tab key is painted steel.

Another view of the keyboard:

The machine bears two serial numbers in multiple locations. The larger number appears to place manufacturing around 1935. I assume the smaller number, repeated on the chassis and carriage, is specific to the model.

The machine was loaded with eraser shavings and coated with the stubborn film so common with black typewriters of a certain age. Goop was highly effective in cleaning the paint. A quick pass over the decals did no harm.

Again, little information is available on this specific machine. As a limited production item, it must have been an expensive experiment. Market research in 1935 would not have been on par with today's big data driven approach. On the other hand, we've seen plenty of experiments come and go in modern capitalism as well. I picked up a fire sale Microsoft Surface RT and it is so far the most disappointing bit of tech I've owned since Windows Vista.

Of course, we at the House Full of Nerds are prone to our own tin-foil hat conspiracy theories. We've also been watching a lot of modern Doctor Who. I personally think our Toy Transformer went back in time and forcibly modified innocent portables to reflect its mutant image.

Well, that is one theory, anyway. Maybe it was the early heavy water experiments that tainted the factories. Or maybe, just maybe, it wasn't made in Germany after all. It was found on the Moon by the crew of Apollo 17. No wonder we've never gone back.

Thanks for reading and putting up with my flights of fancy! Stick around long enough and interesting things come out.

Blah, blah, blah... not another Copyright notice! Oh, yeah. Here we go again: the content on this blog is Copyright DwayneF of Vintage Technology Obsessions unless otherwise specified. Please use the nice Google+ like and share features at the top of the page or contribute to the sharing economy of the web on the platform of your choice. Commercial use is strictly prohibited. You see that guy in black and silver up there? After traveling through time to 1935 and back, finding the other end of the Internet from here is a trivial exercise. Please, don't tempt him.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Typewriter Teasers: Reveal Coming Soon!

I've already posted a few teasers on my Google+ feed, but thought this might be of broader interest to the Typosphere. This machine is now almost ready for a proper photo session. It has been cleaned, lubed, adjusted and has a new ribbon in place and pads ready to install where the rotted, rubber feet once were.

It is a genuine rarity. How rare is it? Richard Polt doesn't own one. Until the reveal, here are a few teasers to whet your appetite.

This is a portable with a carriage that comes off in less than a minute. This a dead giveaway for the brand.

Every surface that matters is machined and the chrome is thick and beautiful. Very well made.
And now for the truly puzzling evidence: the serial numbers on various part of the machine don't match. Hmmm....  By the way, it is much cleaner than when these photos were taken. It was well loved and loaded with eraser shavings.

This is one of those situations where it paid off to be an insomniac. I checked Etsy as I was finally winding down late on Labor Day and hit the random jackpot.

Let the frenzied guessing begin! The answer, however, will not be revealed until the reveal. I'm cruel that way.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Evening on the Streets

This post is subtitled The Many Joys of Street Photography

Alleyway Buskers: Power and Light by an Old Pickup Truck

I've riffed before about my love of photography, cameras and vintage lenses. But once again, I will step upon my Blogger soapbox to proclaim my love of street photography. I shoot almost anything that moves and a few things that don't, but street is just a sublime experience.

Bright Lights and Halos
When wandering with my camera, it's like I am a raw nerve. I walk, I watch and I react. Much of the normal noise in my head just goes away as I do and be. It is the proverbial 'Zone' of hyper-focus. My wife can attest to the fact that I will often forget to eat or drink on my forays. I've gotten better about that.

Tales of a Lonely DJ
As with all things in life, some evenings are better than others. All of these images came from one extraordinarily fun and interesting First Friday art walks in the Kansas City Crossroads District. This was the last evening before the leaves turn and we contemplate the long, dark months of winter ahead. It was pleasantly hot, but the vibe was super mellow despite the huge crowds and the buskers and other street characters were out in force.

Ah, less talk, more photos.

 Music, music, music...

Old Time Music with Gallery

And here is the scene inside the gallery. The art is being observed.

Which ones are stuffed?

This is the scene across from the Leedy-Voulkos gallery; the current center of the Crossroads.

The Fae of the Wildwood specialize in mirth and merriment.

Really, she is the most mirthful of the bunch. I can't blame her for glaring a the camera.

Just Another Faerie

Actresses in Character
Random Factoid: The majority of these photos were taken with a Sony NEX-6 fitted with a '60s era, Thorium doped Pentax 50mm f1.4 lens. Yeah, this sucker is radioactive! With the addition of a Lens Turbo, it acts like a 54mm f1.2 lens. Very handy when there is little to no light. I enjoy the challenge of working with a manual focus lens.

The street outside the old Arts Incubator building gets turned into a massive party. Some schmuck in a car didn't quite figure that out and became stuck between a dance party and a board crew taking back the streets.

And here is the Leader of the Pack! Yes, that is a Big Wheel. Best not to ask.

On a perfect summer evening, I can even be entertained by human statue mimes. Really, they were awesome!

They were more creative than the average buskers. An excellent entertainment value!

Street photography is exhilarating and somewhat exhausting. The thrill of discovery keeps me moving, and moving and moving until the crowds start dying out and the last Lonely DJ loops some really lovely tunage. The next day, I get to remember how many hours I walked in search of the visual buzz. I hope I never actually get too old to enjoy evenings on the streets.

But enough of my musings - bring on the random slices of life... starting with machines gone wild!

And moments of total randomness...

With moments of normalcy - who doesn't love cold treats on a hot summer night?

I can never get enough of reflections. Layers are the best.

 And so the evening ends. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

 Musings on the archaic concept of Copyright: While the concept seems lost in this digital age, the content on this blog, unless stated otherwise, is Copyright Dwayne F. of Vintage Technology Obsessions. Please participate in our sharing culture. There is a handy Google +1 bar at the top of the page. My personal images and random musings also live on G+ at Me, on Google+

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Romance of the Skies - TWA Circa 1944

What was your last commercial aviation experience like? Was it in an Airtran plane that looked like it came out of a desert storage yard? That's what replaced the Midwest Express Kansas City to Washington National run. You know, the one that used to have hot chocolate chip cookies.

The one good thing I can say about air travel is that it has been democratized. Many people can afford a quick trip from Point A to Point B. Sure, the planes are cramped cattle cars; this is especially true for tall and large travelers. Can you believe that air travel used to be romantic?

Once upon a time, taking an airplane was an exotic experience and the DC-3 was the best thing in in the air. I came across a wonderful bit of ephemera that helps drive this home: a 1944 TWA promotional calendar.

Back in the glory days of unlimited, virgin pulpwood, promotional calendars were serious business for TWA. This is over two feet high.

1944 would have been a strange time for recreational and business aviation. World War II was still in full swing and the geopolitical map was being drawn and redrawn at a terrible and deadly pace. In the context of the war, TWA's World Air Map is interesting, indeed.

The workhorse for TWA in 1944 was the relatively new Douglas DC-3. With a quiet and pressurized cabin and flight attendants that catered to passenger's whims, it represented the best in travel experiences.


Oh, and the interesting locales you could fly to! Back in the day, these were still exotic and foreign places. There was no Twitter delivering instant news of what was happening on the ground or massive data cloud of photos and blogs about every statue and back alley. Heck, I remember back in the '80s a trip to Chicago was pretty special. Now it is a skip and a jump on a Southwest plane - that is provided they don't combine two flights to optimize profits. You didn't really need to make it to your destination in time for a meeting, did you? Mooo!!!!

And China? That was the place with the big wall and temples featured in the dead tree version of the National Geographic. By the way, reading an issue from the 1940s is a real treat. If kept from light and moisture, old National Geographic magazines are remarkably well preserved and full of graphic goodness.

Malaysia? You might as well have been flying to Shagri-La!

Of course, TWA could whisk you across the United States in style.

With so many routes to choose from...

And lest you forget there is a war going on, they will remind you of the other way DC-3s are used to move people.

Here is a little bit of a history lesson on cross-country travel in the prewar era:

"TWA was the third airline to put the new DST in service. They accepted the first eight in April, 1937. On June 1, 1937, they put their "Super Sky liner Sleeper" DSTs outfitted with eight berths up front and nine divan chairs in the rear, in service between New York and Los Angeles. TWA called this flight the "Sun Racer," although it never quite won the race. It chased the sun across the country, leaving New York at 8:30 a.m., and arriving in Los Angeles at 11:30 p.m. the same day."  Source:

I saved the best part for last.  Geopolitics is a delicate subject with many alliances shifting over time.  My favorite pages from this calendar represent countries we were once friendly with.  Iran, of course, is our sworn enemy today, but it was a tourist destination in 1944.

And then there is our on again, off again friend/frenemy and rival/mortal enemy, the Soviet Union.  It would seem to be a stressful place to visit in the midst of WWII.  But it is a large country and the fighting was most likely far away.  Just a few years later, the Cold War began in earnest.

I have been coveting a framed page advertising travel to the Soviet Union from a 1948 TWA calendar for over a year.  It appears this antique mall seller is resistant to discounts.  I was overjoyed to find an entire calendar elsewhere for next to nothing.  I hate to break it up, but I very much want these last pages framed and up on my office walls.

Decisions, decisions...

Thanks for joining me on this little voyage. Rest assured, this blog has not been abandoned. This article is proof that I can create multiple drafts and let them marinate for months on end before I decide to grab one and complete it. 

More random copyright things: All of the words and images, other than those sourced elsewhere, are mine. Use with attribution, but not for commercial purposes, you must. Please share the Blogger love. Use the handy Google+ sharing feature at the top of the frame. You can find me and a whole bunch of really awesome photo communities over in that ghost town of a Facebook competitor.