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Sholes Visible restoration: getting started

by | Jul 12, 2012 | Sholes Visible | 15 comments

Here are a few moments in my initial exploration of my new Sholes Visible. (See overall photos of it in my previous entry.)

I’ve gotten my worktable ready, with the typewriter resting on my lazy susan and a fresh length of white paper to help me see tiny parts and tools:

A glimpse of mysterious and filthy parts, which I began to dust off with toothbrush, Q-tips, and a wire brush:

The serial number looks like it’s painted on. Very unusual. You can also see remnants of the gold-and-blue pinstripes typical of early typewriters. With fresh black paint and fresh pinstripes, a Sholes Visible is spectacular. (Check out Juan Ramón Gracia’s completely restored example.)

A pretty little plaque from the front of the typewriter. You can check out the patents here, here, and here. The first two are clearly for this typewriter and were filed by George B. Sholes on behalf of his deceased father, the famous Christopher Latham Sholes. The third, oddly, is for a guard to protect people from pinching their fingers in doors. — UPDATE: A resourceful reader has discovered that there’s an error on the plaque. The correct third patent number is 474,533, filed by Christopher’s son Frederick Sholes, in Frederick’s own name.

I wanted to understand how the machine is put together and get access to some interesting parts of the mechanism — in order to clean them, and in order to gawk at them. First I tried something easy, removing the ribbon cups.

More is coming off:

Naturally, it’s very important to keep track of all parts, including screws. (The best thing is to screw them back where they belong immediately, when possible.)

Here’s another part coming off, a thick cast-iron shelf. Under it there is the usual assortment of insect corpses.

Over a century ago, a worker scratched the serial number into the bottom of the cast iron shelf:

Now I know how Howard Carter felt when he discovered the tomb of King Tut. This is the magic mechanism! Completely different from any other typewriter, the Sholes Visible operates roughly as follows. Each horizontal rod forms a single piece with a projecting small rod and a typebar. When you depress a key, the rod slides toward the center, then pivots to swing the typebar to the platen. This motion is controlled by the guide plate which I’ve now removed.

This is the back of the guide plate. Made of copper (or brass?), it is a work of art in itself, reminiscent of some Frank Lloyd Wright creation.

When you wet and wipe the front of the guide plate, you can see not only that it’s pinstriped, but also that the diagonal areas have been treated with bluing.

I put everything back together before calling it a day. Slowly, tentatively, the dignity and beauty of this typewriter are emerging.

15 Comments

  1. Ton S.

    In its full glory, the Sholes Visible looks spectacular indeed!
    This is an exciting restoration project, I will look forward to your updates. Wish you every success, Richard.

    Reply
  2. Ton S.

    p.s.
    I have to say, the mechanism looks out of this world. Is there another typewriter of a similar make? And I do see how the copper back plate evinces Frank Lloyd Wright, very interesting.

    Reply
  3. Bill M

    That is one of the most interesting typewriters I have ever seen.

    Reply
  4. Richard P

    No other typewriter ever used this mechanism, to my knowledge. The Sholes seems to have been marketed unsuccessfully by more than one entity, however. Most are marked "A. D. Meiselbach Typewriter Co., Kenosha, Wis., USA," and have a nice Meiselbach emblem to the left of the "Sholes" on the paper table. (Meiselbach also built trucks.) But my machine doesn't have a trace of Meiselbach. The typewriter was also marketed by E. H. Stafford Mfg. Co. of Chicago, but their ad pictures a machine with Meiselbach decals.

    Reply
  5. notagain

    Fascinating, as I expected from the first picture. Those hexagonal shaped keytops look like the ones on my Oliver. Was that a stylistic choice or perhaps a certain subcontractor just did them that way?

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    What a beautiful machine. It must be very gratifying to work on it- discovery, rejuvenating, refurbishing. Isn't it strange the more we move into the future, the deeper we dig into the past.
    luckyramu@yahoo.com

    Reply
  7. michaeliany

    Richard – thanks for sharing!!! im going to zoom in on those pics to check out its innards more closely!

    Reply
  8. Ted

    That is a magnificent old fellow. I'm certain it will shine anew under your careful ministrations (:

    Reply
  9. L Casey

    So beautiful. I had never seen the guide plates up close and cleaned like that. Makes it that much more attractive. I cannot wait to see how it all pans out for you.

    Reply
  10. Scott K

    This is absolutely fascinating. I've never seen anything like it. You must be very, very proud. I'm curious to see how it works. Perhaps a short video in the future of the operation?

    Is that a fair amount of brass, or brass plating? Or just stained mild steel.

    I'm very intrigued.

    Reply
  11. schrijfmachine

    Very nice to follow the restauration of this weird machine! Hope you keep us posted.

    Reply
  12. Rob Bowker

    Ace! There's a Celtic harp look about the angular protuberance at the front and organ-like qualities. The inventiveness the designer must have applied is quite humbling.

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    I'm wondering if the short levers that extend through the front plate off the horizontal rod were purposely exposed? Was it common that the operator needed to unjam the typebars by moving these levers back to their home position? I can't imagine another reason that they would be out in the open.

    Very unusual machine. I love discovering how things work.

    Reply
  14. tr0x

    Very interesting mechanism, it would be interesting to see a video of the typebars in action, I've never seen a typewriter like this!

    Reply
  15. Richard P

    You may be right. The exposed levers do make it possible to unjam the machine easily.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Reply

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