Sunday’s safari

by | Jun 9, 2013 | safari, Varityper | 27 comments

This rather ordinary craigslist ad sent me on a safari today. While my daughter was at a 3-hour birthday party, I decided to hit the road to Miamisburg, figuring I would at least get a nice Sunday drive out of it.
Miamisburg is a town on the Great Miami River (Ohio, not Florida) which I’d never visited before. I avoided the Interstate and took Ohio Route 127, passing through Hamilton. This is a rather decrepit industrial town that got the bright idea in the ’80s of calling itself Hamilton! with an exclamation mark. It didn’t work.
Still, it has some beautiful spots. I discovered the Dayton Lane historic district, with gorgeous houses like these.

One block away from Dayton Lane there’s this:

I think these old factories have a decadent beauty of their own.

After Hamilton there was wide-open country road with almost no traffic—the kind of driving that lets me breathe free.

I passed through the metropolis of Gratis (pop. 881) and other villages I’d never visited before, finally reaching Miamisburg.

Well, the Royal was gone and there was not another open antique shop to be found.

The town is charming, though, and they have an excellent Masonic Temple. Yes, the sides really slant, forming the base of a very tall invisible obelisk.

My typewriter bone was still tingling. I figured I had just enough time to make it to the Ohio Valley Antique Mall, already featured in my February and April safaris. I zipped down Interstate 75 and  was soon in the mall.

Sure enough, many of the old typewriters had disappeared and there were some new ones, such as this wide-carriage Underwood for $42.50. Its serial number, 4654007-18, dates it at 1937.

Our next Underwood is S5575626-11, from 1942, for $38.

This Smith-Corona Galaxie Twelve from the late ’70s (?) was priced at $45.

Back to the Underwoods. This one, 11-6630507, was made in 1949 and cost $74.95.

A Royal Companion (no tab, no touch adjustment, no Magic Margin), S3281457 from 1956, price $39.

A typewriter for 59¢!

No, actually, it was tagged at $75. Its serial number, UB-98322, identifies it as a Varsity model and dates it at 1939.

Not a very interesting machine, aside from its shift key for a shop on “Mad. Ave.” in New York City. (I peeked on Google Street View; 624 Madison Avenue is a glassy postwar skyscraper that probably postdares the installation of this cute little ad.)

Here’s an item for only $6 — an empty Underwood case.

Well, I had 15 minutes left to get back to my daughter’s birthday party, just enough. It was time to leave.

I was heading for the exit when I was brought up short by this:

A Coxhead DSJ (Differential Spacing-Justifying) Varityper. I have never seen one in person before, and like Robert Messenger, I’ve been curious. $120? … Um …… I’ll take it!

The machine is now in my trunk, awaiting attention. The tag says it doesn’t work, but we’ll see about that, once I’ve thoroughly cleaned it. There’s a nice set of type shuttles in the drawer under the keyboard. I’m excited to dig into this device and educate myself. I currently have this ’30s Varityper in my collection, but the DSJ is a whole new level of complexity. Wish me luck!


  1. Ted

    Good luck! A fine project and a good looker. Is it electrified?

  2. L Casey

    What a great find! I hope it doesn't pose too many problems to get it working and clacking away. I can't wait to see a typecast with this machine and it's various type-shuttles.

    Good luck!

  3. Bill M

    I don't know which I like best…the fancy old houses or the Varityper! Congratulations on your find!

    I think I'd have taken the Varityper also as I know I could never afford one of those fine old houses even if one were for sale.

    I am looking forward to more posts on your DSJ.

  4. Miguel Chávez

    Now that's a machine I'd love to see in person! Congratulations, it looks like you have another very interesting project in hands. Hope you can make a detailed description of it, as a technologist (I really like that term!) I'm very curious to see the innards of that magnificent beast!

  5. Richard P

    I'll certainly be showing some innards. Whether I can explain them is another matter. A user's manual would be very helpful! (The paper shown in the photo just included an image of a user's manual, not the real thing.)

  6. Scott K

    Such beautiful locations. And I'm inclined to agree with you on the industrial landscape having a beauty all of its own.

    Enjoy that hulking electric! I'm looking forward to seeing the result.

    And those typers! Whoa!

  7. Elizabeth H.

    I always enjoy your trip reports. This was a fun one!

    That Varityper looks like something that'd belong on some sort of crazy steampunk submarine… I look forward to seeing more about it.

  8. John

    Richard, I wish you all the best with the Varityper….

  9. notagain

    I still have a usb conversion kit awaiting use. I'd totally use it on the varityper, since the switches are pre-installed, so to speak. Impressive list, if a bit pricey on most of them. So when a Royal lacks "Magic Margin" is it muggle-born?

  10. Richard P

    A USB Varityper could be a steampunk's dream!

    And I think you should register the name Muggle Margin®.

  11. Unknown

    I remember in Michigan how all the bigger towns had their street or ten of old abandoned or disused factories and warehouses. I always liked those areas.

    I wouldn't really know the first thing to do with a Varityper! I hear so little about them. How different are they to use from a typewriter? A cursory query didn't reveal you had posted about one in detail before.

  12. Ryan Adney

    Man, oh man that's some serious American steel. When you get it on the bench take lots and lots of pictures. Great find!

  13. Richard P

    Thanks to Miguel's tip and the kindness of an expert, I got a user's manual and more information is on its way. I will have to approach this machine intelligently and deliberately. I'm not sure I'll have time to do that before I have to travel later this summer, but sooner or later my discoveries will be shared on this blog.

    Meanwhile, here is some general information on Varitypers.

  14. Peter

    I seem to remember that the Varityper uses some sort of unique carbon ribbon, of the sort that Fred Woodworth has found difficult to find for his Varityper. Hope you can find a reliable supply for this wonderful machine.

  15. Richard P

    This one came with one such ribbon installed. I hear from an expert that some IBM ribbons can be adapted for use in it. We'll see! Thanks for your comment.

  16. Ton S.

    Great hunting trip; I've never been to Miamisburg, those Dayton Lane houses are beautiful. "Hamilton!" is hilarious!

    I find that Mad. Ave. Royal very interesting, I might have given it a second thought. But that Varityper is an incredible find, congratulations for snagging it. I can't wait to see it working. Your two Varitypers look like they had stepped out of Flash Gordon, incredible even just from the design perspective.

  17. Anonymous

    That looks very interesting. Congratz on the find!

  18. Miguel Chávez

    I just noticed that the older model looks very similar to the Hammond typewriter! Do these use the same type of print elements? Even the element holder reminds me a lot of the Hammond's.

  19. Robert Messenger

    What a fabulous find. Deep green with envy here. One day I'll get to use one … maybe in October?

  20. Richard P

    Yes, the Varitypers evolved directly from Hammonds.

  21. Richard P

    Varitypers use metal type shuttles, and the DSJ can use proportional type. Hammonds use type molded from hardened rubber (vulcanite). But otherwise, Hammond and Varityper shuttles are interchangeable, with the exception of shuttles for the Hammond no. 1, I believe.

  22. Steve Snow

    The thrill is as much in the chase as the capture. God I love the look of those Varitypers.

  23. Dwayne F.

    Count me in the jealous crowd. I'd love to dig around in the guts of the Varityper. But the whole robot look just steals the show!

  24. Anonymous

    How funny! I bought that "79 Cent" typewriter above! I Googled the serial number to find more about it, and I stumbled upon your post. Never did I expect to find my EXACT typewriter, as she lay, before I scooped her up. Really, really funny!!

    I originally Googled wondering where the #1 was. (I know you chuckled. What can I say—I'm a typewriter newbie! We all have to start somewhere!)

    – Renee

  25. Richard P

    How hilarious. Sometimes the Internet is a very small place. Enjoy your Royal!


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