A centenarian’s makeover

by | Oct 28, 2012 | Underwood, WordPlay | 24 comments

(click to enlarge)

(The typing isn’t as screwy as it looks here — I photographed the typing and the paper curled a bit, creating distortion.)


  1. L Casey

    Looks great! You are really making a difference here, Richard. Thanks for the update!

  2. maschinengeschrieben

    I don't see the typecast, but on the before/after-photo is the evidence of great work!

  3. Ton S.

    That's a great restoration, I'm sure the WordPlay folks will be thrilled!

  4. Ted

    An excellent classic for the young writers (:
    You're doing great works, man!

  5. Bill M

    Great work Richard. Could you imagine a computer or any modern gadget working 100 or more years after it was manufactured?

  6. Ping

    You've inspired me to get to work on an Underwood #4 (ca. 1915) which I found in a thrift store this summer. At present it looks like your 'before' picture. (By the way, what is the basic difference between the #4 and #5? Why is the #5 so much more sought-after? Looks very similar to my untrained eye).

  7. Richard P

    The only difference is that the #4 types 76 characters (38 character keys) and the #5 types 84 characters (42 character keys). The #5 is noticeably more common. Neither one is very "collectible" because they aren't rare, but the #5 has attained the status of a classic because so many were made for over 30 years that it became the paradigm of "typewriter." And compared to the #4, the extra characters can be nice to have, practically speaking.

    Happy restoring!

  8. Miguel Chávez

    Impressive! I really like these before/after photo comparisons, it really inspires us to look after the old typewriters in our care.

    … Maybe I'll try these tricks myself, if I get my hands on a certain L.C. Smith & Bros # 2…

  9. Fer Andrade

    Good work! The typewriter looks great.

  10. shordzi

    Thanks for the tricks!

  11. Anonymous

    Oh wow!

  12. Tom Furrier

    Great restore job on the No.5. Looks awesome, good for another hundred years. You know Richard, if this teaching thing doesn't work out, you could open up a repair shop.

  13. rn

    I was hoping you'd take this on. Looks great. These old Underwoods sure were built to last. — Rob

  14. Ryan Adney

    Richard, you must have elbow grease in drums. Drums! It looks wonderful! I know the kids at WordPlay will love it!

  15. Martin A. Rice, Jr.

    Of course a great job, Richard! My no. 5 that dates from 1915 has the same odd shift mechanism–the lock on the right with a release lever above. And, of course, many early machines had shifts only on the left for some odd reason, like the Olivers. My Van Zandt typing system for the Oliver 3 says to place the little finger of the left hand on the figure shift, shifting the now standard home row one key to the left, and to type the left hand capitals using two fingers, one to depress the shift, the other finger to depress the letter key. So, I guess typists had much stronger left hand finger muscles back then … ey?

  16. Anonymous

    That looks great! Man, I've been wanting an Underwood 5, but I have neither the funds nor the space in my studio.

  17. Cameron

    Wonderful restoration!

    Did you date your machine according to the tw-db site? They list serial numbers 360,000 for 1911 and 450,000 for 1912. Something that's always confused me: are the numbers "up to" or "starting with" on that site?

    My Underwood 5's serial number is 3806051, and I always thought it was made in 1911, too. But now I'm not so sure!

  18. Richard P

    Yes, I used tw-db. If you look at the first entry in the listings for a model it will usually say "up to" or "starting at," or provide a month to give some orientation. I'm assuming that 450000 is January 1912. This is confirmed by some records I have that Remington kept on their competitors.

    3806051 was made in 1930 according to the database (did you put in an extra digit by mistake?).

  19. Cameron

    Richard, I'm glad we're having this "conversation", even though it exposes my glaring mistake.

    I did write down the serial number correctly, so my machine must indeed have been made in 1930!

    I never imagined that this model design would remain constant all those years. The frame looks much more "1911-ish" than 1930 to me. But it must be one of those timeless designs that endured for decades.

    Well, now the wind is a bit taken out of my sails — I was so proud of having a typewriter made in 1911, and now it's not quite so old after all. I suppose that I'll have to add a pre-1920 typewriter to my already-huge-and-growing-by-the-day Wish List.

    I'm emailing you pics of my Underwood just to make sure. Thanks again for your clarification!


  20. Richard P

    PS: I see from an eBay auction that at least on the older #4's, one key shares the / and period characters, and you have to shift to get the period, which I would find annoying. Another key shares the comma and question mark. There's no zero, you have to use a capital O. And — this would be a big problem for us today — there is no @.

  21. Mark

    I figured it was just a matter of time… :)


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


typewriter revolutionary factory logo




Dept. of Philosophy
Xavier University
3800 Victory Pkwy.
Cincinnati, OH. 45207