Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Behemoth Among Us: The Underwood Standard No. 3


I took a brief hiatus from ye grande ole interwebs in order to focus on some projects (namely, the Royal). However, Friday morning greeted me with a new resident at my doorstep:


Well, at least this is the box that arrived at my doorstep. I felt sorry for our mailman--a tiny man approaching seventy--dragging this out of the back of his van and depositing it upon my porch. I would have aided him if I were able, but I am recovering from recent knee surgery and am still using crutches, so there is no way I could have lifted it, let alone carried it.

And on the stoop it stayed until my husband arrived home from work. The postage would reveal why; at nearly a dollar a pound, the shipping price was a few cents shy of $59.00 (the ebay seller, treasures-4-fun, only charged me a bit over $44.00 for the shipping from Pennsylvania and did not ask for reimbursement when it turned out to be more than the estimate). The box dimensions are roughly 20"Lx14"Wx12"H. Here's an illustration of the sheer size of the thing:

This is not your momma's M-16 ammo can.

Oh wait, that may not be the best indication of size, either. How about this?

'Big' sister First on 'Little' sister Behemoth's shipping crate.

The Royal is a very average-sized typewriter, so this photo should be a better comparison. But, I digress. Not only were we impressed with the sheer size and weight of the crate, but we were impressed with its craftsmanship as well. The seller had taken a few extra days to send it, informing me that a crate was being constructed just for this enormous typewriter. We actually had to remove screws to take the lid off and get the typewriter out! Both of us commented on how much it resembled a foot locker, and since I have an affinity for boxes anyway, we decided to keep it. This is what we saw as soon as the screws were removed from the top of the crate:

Oops! We put her in backwards!

There was absolutely no wiggle room for this monstrosity in the crate. Just looking at it, I began to suspect the weight of the packing material itself couldn't be over three pounds, which left another fifty-two to be taken up by the sheer hulking mass of this typewriter. Never in my life had I layed eyes on a typewriter larger than many small engines [in person]. I allowed it to sit in its crate for a spell while I just wondered at the enormity of the organized mass of metal before me.

Behemoth, in all her pre-cleaning glory.

My husband was more excited to take this beast out of its box than I was, it seemed. And he finally did, not long after. We both gaped at it for a while, then tentatively tried out the keys. The seller had said in the description that this was a non-working typewriter, so I was expecting a condition similar to that of the Royal. However, we found that most of the keys moved. The platen is in desperate need of resurfacing, as there are large cracks in the rubber. Some of it even crumbled away in my hand. The shift and spacebar mechanisms do not work; the pulley for the advance was sitting in the box, stiff and frayed, so I suspect I'll have to get a new one. However, with a little WD-40 and some playing around, all but the 'L' key now move freely. I suspect that this will be an easier project than the Royal.

Keys and type bars.
Upon closer inspection during cleanup, I noticed that the keys looked as if they had had typewriter oil spilled on them a long while ago, as it darkened the paper beneath the glass keytops. We then turned it around to find the date; the last patent year it listed was 1923. And there, caked on the back of the machine was more ancient typewriter oil, like cosmoline on an old battle rifle. Given the size of the typewriter and its age, I wondered to myself what battles it had fought in the word-war; if it had been in a newspaper office, written pamphlets for military recruitment or struck out the praises of prohibition on its now-dead platen. It obviously had a story and oh, if those keys could talk!

'Caked on the back of the machine was ancient typewriter oil, like cosmoline on an old battle rifle'

The now-dead platen.

The graphics are still in good shape, we discovered after a quick clean-up, and everything that no longer works (spacebar and shift keys aside) have to do with the top of the machine. With a little love, I believe this will be a fully-functioning typewriter again. It would be interesting to typecast on, to be certain. The first thing we're going to tackle is that platen, and then we'll see where it takes us from there. I'm really looking forward to diving into this project...and have an equal amount of dread about disassembling the Royal.

Before I sign off I would like to take a moment to sing the seller's praises; the communication was fantastic and I feel they really went above and beyond the call of customer service. They had good, clear photos and a very accurate description and have been just wonderful to work with. It's very refreshing to work with such a great seller, and we will buy from them again!

Do not use fifty-plus pound typewriters as thrown weapons!

-Anna Strad.


  1. Oh, fortunate you! That looks a lot like the 20-inch model I acquired, not long ago. Mine was in terrible shape, but it was intended as a parts-donor for a 14-inch model that came from a family member. Something about being able to type on legal-sized paper, turned sideways, appeals to me.

    Anyway, platen-recovering is currently a hot topic in the Typosphere. So, you should have no problem with that repair, if the cost is not prohibitive.

    My Underwood #3 had a few typebars which were rusty. Not stuck, but a bit stiff. A squirt of WD-40 and a bit of gentle back-and-forth working was all it took to loosen everything up. Then, it was over to the corner convenience store for a high-pressure car wash. That got rid of all the dust and spider webs. Compressed air is handy for drying the mechanism off before a light application of sewing machine oil.

    Unlike the rest of my typewriters, the carriage on the Underwood is a flat, cloth strip. I replaced it with a carefully-chosen shoelace, and now it is a fully-functional machine.

    1. Haha, I had considered attempting to write up pamphlets on it once it's working again and seeing where that went! I must admit, being able to type on legal-sized paper whilst it is turned sideways appeals to me as well, if only for the sheer novelty of the act. Even though your 20" was ultimately a parts machine, I think parts going to restore an item passed down from a family member are parts well used.

      That is good information on the platen recovering! I'll have to go sniff around and see what I turn up. Cost is a bit prohibitive, but time is not for me at the moment, so I can throw some ideas at it (and some coins in the typewriter fund jar) and see what sticks. Thank you for that; I found the information I stumbled upon about rejuvenating ribbon incredibly useful, so I'm certain the platen-recovering posts will be helpful as well!

      WD-40 is a miracle oil-detergent-fluid-thing, is it not!? The middle row of keys on my Royal 5 are now completely free. The rest, however, are still a work in progress (as in, still stuck solid). I never considered putting a grimy typewriter in a high-pressure car wash. Would the water not get under the glass and damage the keytops? That may be a good option for the Royal; it's a real mess. I have considered the compressed air, just haven't picked any up yet. As for the sewing machine oil, my husband and I had this conversation just the other day: isn't sewing machine oil basically the same thing as typewriter oil, just cheaper and more available under the label of 'sewing machine oil'? I need to pick some up for my Remington. Everything moves freely, but it was sitting in a dusty location with its box open before we discovered it and brought it home. I suppose the compressed air would benefit that one as well.

      A shoelace? That's inventive! I'll have to take the belt with and go shoelace-shopping! I'm not certain I've ever seen one quite so flat and narrow as this belt, which also seems to have a zipper pull on one end, with little eyelets to keep it in place. It is rather odd-looking.

      Sorry to ask so many questions; I'm still very new to restoring typewriters, and am still not even fully familiar with all the terminology, though I am learning more every day!

      Thanks for all the great ideas! I think I need to go write myself a shopping list now!

  2. Wow --- that will be a fun project and it sure is an impressive piece.

    I don't recommend using WD-40, it has a tendency to gum up after a while. My favorite lubricant/penetrator is PB Blaster, available at auto shops.

    Rev. Munk has been keeping us up to date on developments in the platen-recovering business. Pretty soon it should be possible to send your platen out for a change of clothing.

    1. Thank you! I'm really excited to be working on this one; since it's more open, things are easier to work on than the Royal, so I'm not as wary of getting in there and messing with things.

      Does PB Blaster affect the paint? I've been using the WD as a temporary, break-crud-up instafix, really, and because I have it on hand. I'm in dire need of expanding my typewriter toolkit, so suggestions (and side-affects!) are welcome, and generally go on the shopping list. Is there something better to refresh old ribbons with than stamp pad or india ink and WD, then? I'd love to get the Remington typecasting by this time next week.

      Ahh, Rev. Munk's blog is one I haven't had a chance to get to on the Typosphere yet (there are so many!); I'll certainly have to go check it out!

      Thank you for the input and the info! It's very helpful! (And since the Remington is okay, other than the ribbon, it will not meet Mister Spraycan of WD-40.)

  3. Wow! now that is a typewriter! It can also be the guard dog since its so huge! certainly a sight to behold.
    good luck with the restoration and repair - excited to see how it turns out!

    1. You know, I believe 'Bertie' rivals my dog, a German Shepard/Border Collie mix in weight. She certainly makes the newest addition--a Royalite--seem flimsy!

      There is a local shop that refers to the manual typewriters as 'doorstops' because of their weight. Wonder what they'd think if they met the Behemoth?

      One day, I'd like to take her to a type-in...

    2. And thank you for the well wishes, by the way! After a platen refurb, knocking some of the rust off, new ribbon and new belt, I think she'll be ready to go! She already looks a lot better now that all the dust is gone. I really need something to cover her up with; I've been kicking around the idea of making 'typewriter cozies'.

  4. Wow, I just bought a 1943 Underwood Standard Blueprint Typewriter, (that I heard a rumor that it was one of a few [using "a few", loosely], made specially for the U.S. Army for typing on blueprints.) I don't know it the rumor is true or not, but still. I got it for only $40.

    1. Does your Blueprint typer have an extra row of keys jutting out from the frame? Another Typospherian had asked me if Behemoth had this extra row of keys, which she doesn't, as he had located one that does. It would be nice to know what they're for.

      $40 huh? Does it still work? That's a pretty good price!

  5. I have a typewriter very similar to this and in excellent condition (based on what I've seen in most photos online). The only difference is it is the 20 inch model as opposed to the 18 inch featured here. Could anybody speak to what it is worth...if you're still here a year later. :)

    1. I am indeed still here, despite my late response (my apologies!). Most collectors tend to shy away from the larger platen-bearing machines in the interest of space. And Underwoods are incredibly common, so even one in excellent shape isn't worth as much as, say, an Oliver or Hermes in similar condition.I would need photos to be aboe to give you an accurate estimate, but if you wanted one, you can email me at