Typewriter Adventures, Part 1

I got a typewriter! Finally! I found one at the flea market and jumped on it. It’s an Olympia Werke Ag. Model B12 in off-white, designed in Germany and made in Japan (don’t worry, I don’t really know what all that means either). This is one of those serendipity things that makes you wonder about magic and the universe and wishing on stars or something, because getting a typewriter had been in the back of my mind awhile but only recently (as in a couple weeks ago) did I actually write in a zine and put it to paper that I Want A Typewriter. And lo and behold, there it was! Staring at me between the vintage books and overpriced china!

…Of course, next time I’m going to be sure to wish for a working typewriter. I gave it a few clacks at the flea market and it seemed to work fine. The ink was pretty faded but I was pretty sure it was just the typewriter ribbon that needed re-inking.

Well, I was right and wrong on that. The ribbon certainly needed re-inking, which I did with a big bottle of stamp ink that I rescued from my mom’s house (pretty sure it’s been sitting there since 1998, but it still worked like a charm). But after a few clacks, the text faded again. Turns out the ribbon wasn’t advancing.

For those who are unfamiliar with typewriter mechanics, basically, there are two spools that the ink ribbon is wrapped around. When you hit a key, it smacks against the ink ribbon and leaves the key’s imprint on the page. What’s supposed to happen is that when you hit a key, the ink ribbon unspools a little from one of the spools and wraps a little around the other one. That way, when you hit the next key, you’re hitting a different part of the ink ribbon, so you get fresh(er) ink with each keystroke and you’re not wearing any holes in the ribbon. My ribbon wasn’t unspooling or wrapping.

Nine times outta ten, this is because the ink ribbon spools have been put in wrong. Every typewriter has a different direction that it’s supposed to spool (right to left or left to right), and sometimes there’s a switch on the typewriter that makes it spool in the opposite direction so that once you reach the end of the ribbon, you can make it spool the other way without having to take it out and flip it manually. So usually just swapping the ink ribbon spools will solve the problem.

Sadly, I’d oriented the ribbons every which-way and it’s still not advancing. So now I’ve officially got a Project on my hands! The mechanism that causes the spool to advance is basically composed of two big spools on opposite sides, and they’re connected by a little bar that holds the ribbon in place.

I popped the top and after a good while of slowly hitting the keys to see what actually goes on under there, I believe I’ve found the problem—the connecting bar is supposed to be moving back and forth with each keystroke, but it’s not moving at all.

This is where it’s a little hard to tell what’s causing the problem. The plastic spool holders cover up a lot of the underlying mechanism, so it’s not easy to see in there without unscrewing things and taking them off, which I’m somewhat hesitant to do. But I did see one thing that, with any luck, is the culprit! On the left side, there is a little spring across a gap in the metal bit that holds the bar. (Yes, yes, getting very technical here). On the right side… no such spring! If my guess is right, a spring is supposed to connect the metal bar holding the bit and this little latch that stops the spool from moving freely once you’ve hit a key. It would not surprise me if this is the problem, since springs are small, fragile pieces that rust and bend and snap and of all the parts in this hulking machine, a spring is probably the one that would get broken first.

My plan now is to get a couple springs and do a sort of guess-and-check to see where the spring is really supposed to attach to (whether it’s supposed to be exactly the same as the left side or attach to a different latch or something). Of course, if you’re a typewriter whiz, feel free to weigh in. I’m so determined to get this thing working; it’s a beautiful little machine, and I’d feel so damn proud if I could fix it!

Wish me luck!

Image from English Book-Plates, Ancient and Modern (1893). https://archive.org/details/englishbookplate00castrich