Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The First: Royal Standard No. 5


I suppose any obsession or addiction has something that sparks it; that first taste that reels one in and keeps us coming back for more. For me, that is my Royal Standard No. 5 typewriter which I have named 'First', as it will be the first of many.

It was a warm early-summer morning here in southern California and the day showed signs that it would become downright oppressive later on. We had gone to the local swap meet, looking for tackle for an upcoming fishing trip. We perused the different vendors, selling mainly uninteresting new wares as Latino pop blasted all around us. My interest had began to wane as we rounded the corner to the third row, and two vendors in, my husband stopped.

"Honey, look", he said.

He had just been talking about a green motorcycle helmet he had spotted among the miscellany of random items that the vendor was selling. I had seen it, and since something in this set of items had piqued his interest, I scanned the vendors' entire spread from the top down...and still didn't see it.

"What?" I asked.
"It's right there, in front of you!" He replied, a slight tone of excitement in his voice.

Finally, my eyes made it to the front row, the things closest to my feet. About two feet in front of and slightly to the left of me was this:

I gasped, shocked I hadn't seen it sooner.
"How could you miss that?" He asked.
"I was just wondering the same thing", I replied distractedly as I gazed at the antiquated piece of technology before me.

Before I knew what was happening, he had gotten the vendors' attention and was discussing price. The vendor said twenty-five dollars, and my husband looked at me, awaiting a decision.

"...It looks a little janky..." I said, a bit doubtfully. He asked the vendor if he would take twenty dollars, and he agreed, and my husband picked up the typewriter and handed it to me.

Just as I had been struck by its condition as it sat on the ground, so too was I surprised by the sheer weight of the thing. I had never handled an antique typewriter before, and I was immediately awestruck by the craftsmanship and engineering and smitten by its antiquated charm. As we continued about the swap meet, it began to generate interest. Vendors peered over their tables, some smirking, a few even engaging us in conversation.

"Is that a typewriter?" A mustachioed man in sunglasses asked.
"Yeah. We found it over that way."
"Daaaamn. It looks old; my grandma had one that looked like that!"

And again, by an older gentleman under a canopy:
"Hey, is that a typewriter you've got there?"
"Yes sir, it sure is!"
"That looks like a 1911. Where did you find it at?"
"Just a few rows over. Another vendor sold it to us."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"I don't know yet, but the longer I hold it, the more I think I want to restore it."

The curiosity that it generated made me that much more excited about our find. At first, I thought I could use it as an interesting photo prop, at the very least. The keys were all frozen, and I didn't really know if it would be good for anything besides photography fodder or a conversation piece. But as we toodled about the swap meet, I began thinking about how I could go about restoring it.

Typewriter badonkadonk?

I knew it was in rough shape from the beginning; the keys were pretty much frozen solid, the platen rolled with a heavy hand to the knob and all the guts were a rusty mess. So, I sprayed the insides pretty liberally with WD-40 (I know I know, please don't yell at me!) and let it sit. In the meantime, I turned to the magical all-seeing-eye that is the internet to see if it could conjure any information about this relic and how to restore it.

Say 'keys!'
Over the next several weeks, I became immersed in typewriters. I contacted Alan Seaver about the rust problem and he was very gracious. I began looking up other types of typewriters, which eventually led me to ebay, and the acquisition of Behemoth. I even began to have dreams about typewriters!

A glamour shot.
Yestereve, I decided to finally get this creature documented, before I did anything else to it. I also played around and got a few shots That I could use as my avatar and background. I had some fun, but I'm certain that's apparent.

Today, we decided to see if the WD-40 had done any good. It seems to have worked wonders: backspace now works, albeit sporadically, shift actually moves the platen again, and the platen is free and moves side to side, though it still sticks. It also advances the paper, if you hold down the lever and twist, because the spring is loose.

We did find some parts were broken on it: a spring on the back, the bell striker, an internal gear is stripped. And most of the keys are still frozen. But it is progress, and I believe there's still some life in this one-hundred-and-one-year-old machine after all. I believe that if I cannot find the parts, then I can manufacture them...or take them off another old appliance, such as a toaster (thanks sis for mentioning that one!).

However, if you fine folks of the Typosphere have any suggestions on how to go about repairing it, where to get parts, et cetera, I'm all ears! I am also on the lookout for an Oliver and a very old portable to add to my collection. ;-)

Why yes, that is a Mosin in the background.

What has this typewriter done to me!? I've gone mad for typewriters! Delightedly mad. 


Anna Strad.


  1. I have come to believe most Royal 5's are near destroyed. The one I bought was, anyway, and most I see are not all that better. Oh well. If I fix it, I fix it. If not, I am not much into Royals anyway, and it looks nice. I am sure you can get it working!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Ken! I too haven't seen an awful lot of Royal 5's in very good condition. It is my first antique typewriter, so I'm a little partial to it (for now)...but that's probably going to chance a bit when I finally get my grubby paws on that Oliver i want so badly. I've also decided that I want a Blickensderfer.

      ...I have a feeling this hobby is going to make (and keep) me really broke! That's okay; there are far worse things to waste money on that typewriters!

      What is your favorite machine, by the way? I'd love to know!

  2. Good luck with this project. These old Royals are tough. It may still be rusty after restoration, but it will have charm and typewriters found in the wild are always a bit special. Richard Messenger's blog has a great entry on the Royal 5 if you haven't found it already.

    An Oliver 9 is what got me started down the path of vintage typing technology. They are pretty common on ebay. As hard as it may be, wait for a relatively rust free one to come along. Of course having an Oliver 9 just makes me want a 3... and so on down the slippery slope.

    1. Thank you for the encouraging words, Dwayne! I'm fine with it if there's still some rust in the end; I think that a complete restoration in that sense would sort of detract from its character. I would love to get it back in working order, but I have nothing but time when it comes to working on this guy. It was certainly very thrilling to find one so randomly at a swap meet! I think the Royal will always be special to me. :)

      Haha, I've been watching ebay rather obsessively recently, searching for a nice Oliver. Problem is, I'm on the wrong side of broke right now, so all I'm really doing is torturing myself. But yes, the more 9's I see, the more I want to find a 3 as well! They're really beautiful machines.

      ...And the addiction grows...

    2. I forgot to mention that Robert Messenger's post about the Royal No. 5 was actually one of the first things I stumbled across during my research...and it just made me adore my Royal all the more! :) I love reading oz.Typewriter; it's one of my favorite blogs.

  3. And don't forget about spare parts from hair dryers! Many odd and/or small appliances are good for parts. At least I got something worthwhile from my gunsmithing course. I still think with some ingenuity you could manufacture some of the smaller parts yourself...if you know what they should look like and the dimensions. BTW, did you take all those photos?


    1. Oh, I haven't forgotten, I just haven't found a machine that would be a good candidate for that yet (a toaster or hair dryer, that is). I think the biggest problem I would have would be if they were missing vital components, which fortunately, none are. And I've already figured out an idea to salvage machines ravaged by keychoppers!

      Why yes, yes I did take all those photos, and a bunch that didn't actually make it onto the blog. I'm a major shutterbug. There's only two photos here I did not personally take: the advertisement picture of the Oliver typewriter, which I believe I found on oz.Typewriter, and the photo of the Remington. Darling got creative with that one and modified the flash. I think it turned out well, and I will be using the method for future photos.