Showing posts with label conspiracy theories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conspiracy theories. Show all posts

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.