image of typeface on Underwood

Serial No. 1503312 : Manufactured 1921

image of an Underwood Number 5 typewriter

Every typewriter collector should own an Underwood Number 5 for two very good reasons:

First, it's an iconic example of a typewriter that's perfect for a novice. There are still quite a few old Underwoods around so they're not hard to find. The exposed parts make them easy to clean up. And they're usually very affordable, unless you have to pay shipping and handling costs. These old Underwoods typically weigh in at thirty-five pounds.

Second, every old Underwood you take home, even if only for spare parts, is an Underwood that's been saved from those jokers who cut the keys off to make arty bracelets out of them. True, this would be a good reason for taking any typewriter home with you, and no one typewriter is more worthy of saving than another. I only thought of it just now. Feel free to use it as justification for buying whichever typewriter purchase you're mulling over right now.

History of this machine

image of an Underwood Number 5 keyboard

This is the first typewriter I bought. Not the first old typewriter, or the first I bought for my collection, but the very first typewriter I could call my own. Before I owned this Underwood I banged out most of my typewritten papers on my Dad's Royal Quiet De Luxe, and later my parents bought me a spiffy electric Olivetti Praxis 48, but this Underwood was My First Typewriter.

Not coincidentally it's also the typewriter that tripped my collecting switch. I bought two more old typewriters within a year of bringing this Underwood home: I found a Smith Corona Silent and a Corona Number 3 in shops here and there. At this point in my life, though, my urge to collect stopped there. I only bought them and brought them home. I had no need for more than one typewriter, hardly ever used them, and didn't know a thing about them other than they looked really nifty.

Although I don't remember exactly where I bought my second and third old typewriter, I remember that I found this particular Underwood in a junk shop in Scandanavia, Wisconsin, when I was a junior or senior in high school. It was the kind of place that called itself an antique store, but everything in it looked as though it had been picked up from estate sales and was dumped in a jumble across unfinished pine shelves for the customers to pick through. The place didn't suffer from antique store prices, either. I paid all of ten bucks to take the Underwood home. That's my kind of antique store.

Cleaning it up

image of an Underwood Number 5 typewriter

Other than occasionally drawing in as much air as my lungs could hold and blowing hard into the gears and levers of its exposed innards, for about thirty years I never attempted to clean this old Underwood. It occurred to me once or twice, but I was daunted by the challenge of getting all those parts back where they belong after I'd tried to remove any of them, so I never did.

Which is a shame because all the parts are exposed and so many of them are plated in beautifully shiny chrome. It would be so much more appealing to the eye if it were cleaned up. So that's what I started to do the week before Christmas ...

... to be continued.


© 2009 Dave Okonski

image of Underwood trade mark

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