Saturday, January 21, 2012

Something Different: A Royal Portable in Chrome and Woodgrain

Today I have something pretty special to share with the Typosphere.  I've scoured the Interweb high and low with nary a trace to be found of this color scheme.  I've seen silver plated Coronas in a couple of places.  There is also the nearly mythical gold plated Royal of Ian Fleming fame.  I am aware of chromed Olivers designed for tropical duty.  The Typosphere is also populated with fine examples of aluminum body typewriters stripped and polished.

And I finally found a close cousin of this Royal Portable!  I should have checked Robert Messenger's Museum blog first given his vast and beautiful array of typewriters.   His machine appears to be a second generation Portable dressed head to toe in shiny chrome.  Gorgeous!

Before I get carried away, I invite any of you possessing a chrome and  wood grain Royal to step forward lest I totally embarrass myself.  I think this is a fairly unique machine.  Even if it is not, there will now be a digital record with plenty of photos.

Oooo.... shiny!

Here is the chrome and wood grain Royal Portable looking shiny and clean.  For the record, I don't smoke, but the lighter seemed to fit the scene.  So would a .38 Special and a tumbler full of Scotch on the rocks.
This Royal Portable came to me by way of ebay a couple of months ago.  I finally got around to cleaning it on a freak warm January day.  The seller was located in New Jersey and I was unable to get a back story on the machine.  It wasn't dirt cheap, but it cost just a smidge more than the average black machine of the era.  I was the only bidder.
This is a first generation Royal Portable as indicated by the exposed ribbon spools.  The chrome is high quality and in really great shape with only a few tiny rust pits.  Not bad after 83 years!
According to the Typewriter Serial Number Database, my Royal was manufactured in 1929.  Based on the overwhelming and toxic mold/mildew smell, it would appear that much of its life was spent in a basement.
Egregiously reflective chrome typewriter porn shot.
Under normal circumstances, I would not bathe a rare machine.  In this case I had no choice.  The chrome shell smelled toxic even after removing it for hand washing.  So into the sink the chassis went with a mixture of ionic and non-ionic surfactants.  I was reluctant to take this step after having a mixed outcome with the sans serif Everest K2.

I kept the keys above water for the immersion bath (2 wash + 2 rinse cycles).  The prior owner of long ago was rightly proud and appears to have displayed it prominently in a house full of cats.  Even after dry brushing, the wash water was beyond disgusting with fur, dirt, old oil and pencil and eraser shavings.

The one advantage to basement storage is that the rubber rollers are still flexible.  Excess humidity is good for something!

The case, I am reasonably sure, is beyond salvaging and will need to be burned.  It is in great condition, but the smell...oh, my!  Perhaps a friendly key chopper will have an extra case I can pick up on Etsy or Ebay.
I hand washed and waxed around the two decals on back.  After looking at many photos online, I was surprised to see little rhyme or reason to Royal decal placement.  Some machines have decals on front and some don't.

This is a generic Royal type face with markings identical to those on a Royal De Luxe from a decade later.  My lovely macro lens brings out the best and the worst.  I really need to hit the type slugs with mineral spirits.
Since I am unable to find evidence of the existence of similar Royal Portables, this one is something of a mystery to me.  We love the color combination (or lack thereof)!  Having grown up in the 70s in the back of a family Ford station wagon with peeling wood grain flapping in the wind, I am not normally a fan of that particular look.  However, the paint work is well done and quite durable as evidenced by my washing experience.
Yes, it is time for a photo overdose.  This machine looks great from just about any angle.

I wish manufacturers had not quit doing raised decoration on the paper tables.  The whitish smudge was already in the finish and didn't change with washing.  I have not yet decided which wax to try on the painted surfaces.
Please help solve the mystery of the chromed Royal.
Hooray!  The scanner is no longer on strike, so here is the type sample.

This machine types pretty well but it is loud and not well suited to late night typing.  The key feel is a bit heavier than the Triumph of the same era, but it should loosen up with a bit of exercise.

I look forward to your comments and speculations. 


  1. Dwayne, that turned out beautifully! I have a red one from 1928. Classic machine. And let me ask, how did you straighten the number 2 key? Did you do what I think you did? 'Cos I'm planning the same thing for my '46 Quiet DeLuxe.
    Congrats on a nice refurb.

  2. Engrossing. Amazing. Extraordinary find!

  3. Very beautiful machine and a job very well done! That typewriter is fantastic! I have never seen one like that, only all wood grain or colors. I hope my old Underwood turns out half as nice (as I won't soak the case, it is felt lined). I like the old typeface, it is clear and very nicely aligned.


    That is just a fabulous machine, and no, I've never seen one exactly like it. I think Herman Price has one that's all chromed, and possibly one that is green and chrome.

    You did a fabulous job of cleaning and photographing, and I hope it's stink-free now.

    I highly recommend Renaissance Wax.

  5. The wood-grain and chrome combo is just stunning, never seen this before. And you found this on ebay?! I think there are still treasure to be had online, for those who have the patience and drive to look.

    Thanks for sharing this, I am a huge fan of wood-grain!

  6. Thanks all for the comments! Confession: I knew this machine would trigger bouts of envy ;-)

    teeritz: I did nothing mechanical to the machine other than apply lube after cleaning and swap out the ribbon. I'm looking forward to seeing photos of your red machine. These aren't streamlined or particularly smooth, but they have classic lines that I like very much.

    Bill: Cleaning the wood grain paint was the scariest part of the project. Try hand washing with a small, soft cloth. Pay attention to the detergent you use. Some of them are fairly alkaline; a property that works best for grease. I also stay away from the citric based cleaners on old paint. A dilution of the Greenworks dishwashing detergent has served me well when I don't need heavy duty degreasing. It is formulated with modern surfactants that rinse clean. Can you tell I work in the formulated products industry?

    Richard: Thanks for the photos! I don't know if it is Firefox or ebay, but I have not been able to copy images from ebay auctions. The QDL looks amazing in full chrome!

    And yes, my machine is now 99% stink free. There are only a couple of non-metal parts since they skimped on sound proofing back in the day. Cleaning was actually pretty easy. It helps that it came from an era when machines were built to last.

    I dream lo-tech: Yes, this was an ebay find. I expected it to end up in a bidding war. The description and photos were pretty decent. I put in a safety bid and was surprised to pick it up for a decent price.

    Every once in awhile I take a chance on something cheap and poorly described. I have an Alpina (marketed as Avona, except with the "a" broken off) in the garage that will need some work. Considering the last Alpina I saw went for $300, I was willing to take a chance on this former basement dweller.

    I end up looking at a lot of Royals, Hermes and Olympias since they appear to have the highest probability of interesting typefaces.

    By the way, I love your day-to-day typewriter. it is a classic in its own right.

    1. These days in order to copy most images from eBay auctions you have to take a screen shot.

      I remember seeing that "AVON"! Enjoy.

    2. The "Avon" Alpina project will be interesting. It is fairly grubby, but the mechanical parts are rust free. It took a drop at one time or another and the front fascia is bent just enough to keep the space bar from depressing. I think it will come together fine.

      Given the broken trim and body work to be done, I will most likely give this one a custom paint job when it warms up. Metallic red should look nice with cream. I know Alpinas are scarce, but this hardly a mint example.

      I'm glad you already had an Alpina so I was able to get one to play with!

  7. What a unique and amazing typewriter! Great buy.

    I could just visualize a guy wearing a tweed jacket and smoking a pipe while typing on this baby.

  8. This machine reminds me of a photo our family has of my Dad with an old car. Don't know the model, but its sides had what must have been real wood panels. And I appreciate the "formulated products" info! I have two machines that need surface cleaning and was unsure what kid of soap would do the job without marring the surface.

    1. I've seen a few of the real wood trimmed cars at shows. The classic "Woodie" wagon didn't have metal underneath. The doors were built more like a boat. There is a decent Wikipedia entry on woodie cars with nice photos.

      The first word in cleaning is "always test". It pays to start with a small test area and work up. Good luck!

  9. I found a later model woodgrained Royam portable (where the spools are covered). Unfortunately, the wood finish has scratches and is crazed in many spots.

    Can you recommend anyway I can repair/restore the finish?

  10. Whoops, just wanted to add, no chrome on my model.

  11. What wax did you end up using and how did it turn out?

    Love the typewriter!

  12. I actually found a typewriter very similar to this at a yard sale. It's essentially the same except mine's teal where the woodgrain is on this.

  13. Whoa, Dwayne--this is gorgeous. :) is it possible to paint-strip an all wood-toned Royal to get this same effect? Or would the metal underneath have to be chromed? Thanks!

    1. Hi! Sorry it took me awhile to see your comment. The chrome machines are an anomaly. A standard machine would be plain steel under paint.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  14. Darn. This is a real beauty. Well, time to watch eBay like a hawk. :) Thanks so much!


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