Enter The Type-Writer

Edison’s Electric Pen would appear to have broken open the floodgates for “machine age” communications on paper. But even while Edison was putting the final touches on his writing instrument, others were hard at work creating a machine that would type – a machine that would change how we communicate well into the 21st century.

Needless to say, Crane benefitted greatly from the invention of the typewriter, but it wasn’t a matter of sitting and waiting for the orders to come in. The typewriter – and those who made and used them – would require different weights, finishes, sizing and a host of other characteristics to perform to emerging expectations.

From Crane’s archives, here are some of the pioneers who did business with Crane:

William Austin Burt of Michigan was the first to receive a patent for a “typographer” in 1829, signed by President Andrew Jackson. The patent gave him exclusive rights to his invention for 14 years.

Even though a neat-looking letter could be typed on Burt’s “typographer”, the basic goal to speed up correspondence was not realized, as his machine was very slow. There being no ready market for a very slow contraption, Burt lost interest in it and sold his rights to Cyrus Spalding a blacksmith from Hillsboro, New Hampshire, for $75 in 1830. He evidently didn’t have any luck marketing the machine either. The typographer was so far ahead of its time it found no takers. (Spalding’s son, Cyrus, would invent the Spalding Adding Machine in 1884, the precursor to the computer).

Typewriters must have been in the family blood, because 55 years later, in 1885, we find correspondence from “The Burt & Wood Type-Writing Company” of Detroit – Fred E. Burt, Vice-President.  Written by Lewis N. Wood – Sec’y and Treas. – the company was looking to pay cash for Crane’s Bond #18 or #21 in 30-inch rolls of 100 feet each.

In 1886, Crane received a letter seeking sample books for S.T. Smith, “Manufacturer of Carbon Papers, Type-Writer and Caligraph Ribbons,” New York City. One might think that Mr. Smith would have had something to do with the Smith-Corona typewriter that was to come many years later, but that is not the case. According to “Evolution of the Typewriter” by C.V. Oden, 1917:

 Mr. John T. Underwood, who had been connected for many years with the typewriter supply business, was thoroughly familiar with the requirements of the trade. He recognized fully the value of visible writing, as well as the many other excellent features employed in the machine, and as a result bought Mr. Wagner’s inventions and interests. Mr. Underwood associated with him Mr. D. W. Bergen, present treasurer of the Underwood Type- writer Company, and later Mr. S. T. Smith, General Manager of the company, which position he retained until his death in May, 1915.

In researching these 19th-century writing machines, arguably the most beautiful and the most admired by collectors is The Hammond Type Writer. “For every nation, for every tongue” was the slogan Hammond used to introduce the advantage of his machine over the competition: the use of different typefaces.

In 1886, Charles N. Hammond wrote to Crane: “I have been using your paper in this office for our Type Writer, and I find it far the best I can get.” There is no indication which Crane paper he was using, but from the sample submitted, it was an all-linen sheet of about 16 pounds to the ream.

The brilliance of Hammond’s designs stood the test of time through an adaptation called the Varityper. According to Typewriter Spotlights at Xavier University:

The Varityper (also known as the Vari-Typer or VariTyper) was a highly ingenious “word processor” of the pre-digital age. This machine could use over 300 different type styles and write in 55 languages; it could adjust the space between characters, and even produce right-justified copy. Even though the Varityper enjoyed a successful career of about 60 years, you may never have seen one, for the machine was not generally adopted as a standard typewriter. Instead, it found a niche as a “cold typesetting” or “office composing” machine: it was generally used to produce neat, camera-ready copy for offset printing, at a cost much lower than that of conventional printer’s methods.

The Varityper is based on one of the greatest early typewriters, the Hammond. James B. Hammond died in 1913 and willed his patents to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (an act of self-congratulation which, in my opinion, is justified!). The history of the Hammond after that point is a little obscure, but the Hammond Multiplex was produced until the mid-twenties, when the company was bought by the Frederick Hepburn Co. and renamed Varityper. This company failed in the Depression, and it was sold in 1933 to a partnership headed by Ralph C. Coxhead, a business machine salesman.

Varitypers in use at the Chicago Tribune in 1947.



Through various versions and owners, Varitypers remained in use well into the 1980’s, as anyone working in the composition room of a newspaper will verify.

In 1884, W.M. Belcher Co. of Boston wrote on behalf of the American Writing Machine Co. seeking samples from Crane. At Antiquetyperwriters.com, we learn that:

 The Caligraph was the first typewriter to appear with the double keyboard arrangement with no character shift key. A Scientific American article (March 1886) about the Caligraph, presented the perceived advantage of the double keyboard by stating ‘Up to 1881, when the American Writing Machine Company introduced the Caligraph, double case writing machines were incomplete, being so constructed as to compel the operator to shift the carriage by a gratuitous stroke for capital letters and figures. The Caligraph prints each character in both capitals and small letters at a single finger stroke.’ Many other double keyboard typewriters would follow.

Even in its relative infancy, the typewriter had already given rise to new applications and spinoffs. In 1884 W.G. Chaffee, “Proprietor of Chaffee’s Phonographic Institute. Phonography, Caligraph and Type-Writing thoroughly taught and pupils prepared to fill situations such as Court Reporters, Amanuenses, Private Secretaries, etc.” wrote to Crane:


We are educating young ladies and gentlemen as Stenographers and Machine operators and furnishing businessmen such help. Do you not need a stenographer? Miss Bissell, one of our pupils, would like a position with you. She is bright and quick to learn, can take dictation at 100 words per minute, and transcribe the same on the Caligraph (which he sells for $80) and when not engaged in correspondence will be willing to do other office work. If you cannot employ a lady we can furnish you with a gentleman.

And speaking of stenographers, Crane received a query in July of 1884 from M.L. York, Stenographer, U.S. Commissioner and Examiner in Chancery (with business card attached):

In my line of business as a stenographer, I frequently have occasion to get up handsome pieces of work in type-writing: and being somewhat fastidious about the appearance of it, I have often failed to obtain paper to my fancy. I have lately seen one of your sample books; and it has pleased me so much that I venture to ask you to send me two copies of it. I desire two copies, that I may take one to pieces and test the different varieties of paper in my type-writer, and the other I wish to keep intact and mark upon its pages the result of my experiments.

York notes that he also serves as private secretary for “Mr. Bancroft, the historian.” He would have had to be a busy man. “Mr. Bancroft” was probably George Bancroft, author of the magisterial series:  History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent. For a further look at Bancroft’s contributions to the world, please visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bancroft

In 1892, a year after Bancroft’s death, York became the official stenographer for the State of New York. The Public Printer for the State of New York at the time was the firm of Charles Van Benthuysen & Sons. More on that later, but this would ensure that Mr. York would type on Crane papers for years to come.

When sorting through hundreds of pieces of correspondence, there’s always something that jumps out at you. In this case, it was the letterhead of the Remington Standard Typewriter. A bright red medallion surrounds a rendition of the Remington Machine, with the slogan: “To Save Time is to Lengthen Life”

Founded in 1816 in Ilion, N.Y., Remington began as a manufacturer of rifle barrels, later complete firearms and ammunition. (More about that later).

In 1867 Christopher Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel Lewis invented their own typewriter model, which allowed substantially faster typing, eclipsing the speed of handwriting. The patent was sold to the firm of Densmore and Yost, who made an agreement with E. Remington and Sons (who had recently diversified into the sewing machine business) to manufacture and commercialize the typewriter.

Production began in March of 1873, introducing the QWERTY keyboard. The next model included upper and lower case letters via a shift key.

Correspondence from Remington’s New Haven and Washington offices sought samples and supplies, with W. H Brown, writing from Connecticut in 1885: “Owing to my connection with the Type-Writer, I have many calls for paper, both from customers and others; and I desire to make my writing paper business a specialty, for I think I can build up a good trade in my territory…”

An 1886 letter from D.C. asked: “Will you send to us four reams of paper the size and quality of sample, double sheet, four reams of same size and quality, single sheets, and two reams of cap. size single sheet, same quality. This is to supply an order that we have from one of the departments; we trust therefore, you will give us usual discounts….”.

A note on the bottom of the letter indicates that the folks at Crane would give a 20% discount.

The New York office seemed less interested in growing their business than paying less for paper. “We have your bill of the 17th inst. (July 1886) for 15 reams of onion-skin paper. We were very surprised to note the discount you allowed us, as our competitors tell us they get 25% from you, and we know of no reason why we should be discriminated against. If we are not able to secure as advantageous terms from you as other people in the same line of business, we will of course feel very little interest in the disposal of your goods.”

After some digging in their competitors’ business, the New York Remington folks learned that S.T. Smith – later to join Underwood –  was receiving a 25% discount. No word on how all that worked out.


Remington sold the typewriter business in 1886 to the Standard Typewriter Manufacturing Company, along with the rights to use the name. Through name changes and mergers the company “Remington Rand” was born – makers of the early “Univac” computers – and electric shavers. That division was purchased in 1979 by none other than Victor “I  was so impressed, I bought the company” Kiam.


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