The Adler Universal typewriter

by | Sep 7, 2015 | Adler | 21 comments

The text shown on my previous post was typed on an Adler Universal. The Philosophy Teacher gets the coveted über type geek award for figuring that out! Here’s some further information.

Several years ago I got obsessed with acquiring an Adler Universal. At fault were (a) my fantasy of The Perfect Typewriter, (b) Alan Seaver’s report on his white and gray Universal, and (c) Vintage Type’s photos of a gorgeous Universal finished in a sort of metallic tan. (Donald Lampert shows off his similar machine on The Typewriter Database.)

This model is common in Germany, but I wasn’t about to spend a lot of money shipping a QWERTZ behemoth over here. I wanted QWERTY, but Universals are not at all easy to find in the US.

At a West Virginia typewriter collectors’ meeting a couple of years ago, a certain generous typospherian presented me with a Universal that is similar to Alan’s (thanks, MP!). (Mine is #1328363 and Alan’s is #1336842. Both were made in 1961, according to TWDB.) It needed some work on the escapement (which, anecdotally, seems to be a bit finicky on these machines) but then it was functional. I was very pleased, but the experience of a Perfect Typewriter did not materialize, and the machine went onto a shelf.

More recently, I got a 1967 Triumph Matura that is essentially the same typewriter—with a different name, different styling, and aids for the blind.

Well, a few months ago, I spotted a metallic-finish Universal on eBay—a Buy It Now at a reasonable price. There was clearly some damage and discoloration to the paint, but it was that color I’d dreamed of, and the typeface was interesting … I couldn’t help myself. I clicked the button.

I recently got around to cleaning this typewriter, and I am very pleased. Is it Perfect? No, but it does have a very nice touch—quick and comfortable—and lots of nifty features. Let’s take a look.

The carriage comes off when you unscrew two side pins and do some jiggling.

The serial number is #1172288, made in 1957. (Many typewriters in my collection that get top marks from me in styling and quality turn out to have been made in 1956 or 1957.) The carriage also bears the mysterious numbers 3/1100 – 4689.

The machine was sold or serviced in Camden, New Jersey.

As it turns out, this machine has some features that my other Universal doesn’t. 
The numbered ring attached to the right platen knob can be turned to control how far the paper injector advances the paper. 
In the upper right corner of this photo you see, closer to you, the carriage release lever. Behind it is a lever that controls the right margin. Whereas my other Universal has a straightforward and conventional margin system, this one has a system where you move to the margin, depress the lever, move to the new margin location, and release the lever. It isn’t particularly efficient, and you can’t see where the margins are set unless you move the carriage and find out, but it’s neat anyway. 
These two features are not mentioned in the user’s manual that came with the machine. Apparently these features are found only on a deluxe version of the carriage.

My other Universal does have the two features shown below: a paper support and the lever on the left, which has a double function: clearing all tab stops, or preventing any tab stops from being set.
The left-pointing arrow on the decimal tabulator is a “skip key.” It will advance the carriage to the left as long as you hold it down, skipping over any tab stops you may have set. Very clever.
On the right below are the buttons that switch the machine from single to  d o u b l e  spacing. (The double spacing is unreliable on my machine so far.) 
And then there is the “ea” key. That stands for “each,” which might sometimes be useful in lists of prices but is redundant, I think, when you have @ (5 apples @ 25¢ = 5 apples, 25¢ ea). 

I know of no typewriter except the Adler Universal that regularly offers an “ea” key. In my typecast the other day, I took advantage of it. I suppose that’s how The Philosophy Teacher figured out what machine I used.
Here’s a complete typing sample.
Now, The Philosophy Teacher has discovered something very intriguing. I created the justification in the typecast above by typing and editing my text several times until I figured out how to align the right margin. You can see that I inserted some extra spaces to make this work. (If the Universal allowed for half-spacing, this could be done more elegantly.) In one line, I also omitted a space after a semicolon. But The Philosophy Teacher has found a reference to an Adler Universal with a “semi-automatic justification” device in the collections of London’s Science Museum (which I’m determined to visit when I return to London next summer): 
ADLER UNIVERSAL TYPEWRITER with semi-automatic justification and 15 inch platen, West German, early 1960’s, serial no.1310141, complete with operating instructions for the standard typewriter and the margin justification device

That serial number should date from 1960. How does the device work? We don’t know, but I think it would have to be something like the device used on the Varityper DSJ. You type a line once without actually making an impression on the paper, and the device either calculates how many spaces you need to add, or (as on the Varityper) automatically adjusts the size of the spaces between words to make the line come out right. Then you type the line again, this time leaving marks on paper. It’s a very clever, purely mechanical solution to a tough typing problem. And unless this version of the Universal is electrified, it is the only manual typewriter I know of that offers such a feature. 
Thus … the Quest for the Perfect Typewriter continues!


  1. Richard P

    Oh yeah, I remember your Universal typecast now.

    My guess is that the justifying device is very rare, and probably found only on German examples. Maybe it could be transferred to a US machine. Anyway, it's always good to have a typewriter fantasy to keep the hunt interesting!

  2. Bill M

    Best of luck in your quest.
    I love that typewriter. Adler machines are immensely under rated. I have a new one to add to my wish list.

    I did not get to look at the shuttles on my Hammond yet to see it it has any shuttles with any attached together letters. It has a shuttle with very similar typeface though.

  3. The Philosophy Teacher

    OH, I cheated. On my blog post about Kubrick's Adlers you commented both that your Universal was technologically dazzling and that you would be featuring it in an upcoming post. From there the deduction was…elementary.

  4. Richard P

    Ah—you should have taken advantage of my forgetfulness to seize glory for yourself! Nevertheless, good sleuthing on the justification device.

  5. Anonymous

    I hadn't a clue! I like the look of those earlier Universals, more attractive than one I had.

  6. Don Lampert

    Great Richard, glad you found one!
    Yes, the escapements seem to be a weak spot with these Universals – my double spaced typing option is also not 100% reliable. I usually need to push the 2 button, then wiggle the carriage a bit side to side, as I type a key or two, before it clicks in. I'm not sure if some of that is age, or poor adjustment and lubrication, and how much is the original design and mechanics. It seems like the Alder engineers were asking these Universals to do alot.
    Didn't know about the Deluxe Carriage option – interesting! Of course you could choose from I believe three different carriage sizes.
    They aren't "perfect", but they sure get an "A" for effort and design.
    My paint finish is also a bit messed up, mostly on the front apron – looks as though the finish is susceptable to wear and moisture.
    Anyway, great find, and great posting!

  7. Will Davis

    How does this range compare with the black ADLER that we brought to Herman's a few years ago and which you tried out?

  8. Richard P

    Well, the key lever system is similar, though not identical, to the system you show in the diagrams in your post on the Adler Standard. It feels very good, I enjoy it. However, there was something about your Standard that just felt transcendent. Maybe it was the excitement of the moment! Anyway, it would be interesting to compare them side by side.

  9. rn

    When I bought my massive wide-carriage Universal the double-spaced typing option wasn't working at all. The button would click, but the typewriter either remained wedded to one-space-at-a-time or it wouldn't advance at all.

    It took almost six months of puzzlement and inaction until, as if in a dream, I figured out how to fix it. There's a metal finger that, depending on its position, allows the escapement to rotate one or two spaces. I gently bent that finger in the direction that made sense and, voila, the two-space option clicked into place and worked without a hitch. Perhaps after enough typing, the metal naturally gives a bit, which causes the hesitation you mention, Donald.

    Thanks for this post, Richard. My Universal types in large and small sans serif capital letters and you have inspired me to whisk the cover off (it came with a gigantic plastic dust cover) and give it a whirl as I'm banging away on my new book proposal.

    Rob in NYC

  10. Anonymous

    Hello, I've just got hold of an Adler Record and, in the course of looking for an online manual, may have come across something relevant to the justification device. Page 15 of this manual for the Adler Gabriele 10, 25, 35 (English, French, Dutch, Spanish) gives directions for using the spacebar as part of the process – http://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters/AdlerGabriele.pdf

  11. Anonymous

    I meant p14 of course :)

  12. Richard P

    Thanks. Yes, the technique they describe works well on any typewriter that has a half-spacing feature (either because the carriage advances half a space when you depress the space bar, or through some separate half-space key). However, the Adler justification device seems to have been a separate invention that provided a semi-automatic way of achieving an even right margin.

  13. Mark

    I am glad you got it working! I didn't think it would be too much work.

  14. dboeren

    I just acquired a 1958 Adler Special, it also has an "each" key on it. I'd like to see more detailed instructions on how to remove the carriage via the two pins you mentioned, in case the same technique applies to the Special.

  15. Richard P

    On the Universal, you just unscrew the two pins and wiggle the carriage while pulling upwards. But on the Special, which is a completely different machine, I don't think there is any easy way to remove the carriage. In fact, since the carriage rails are molded in a single piece with the body of the machine, it looks like an unusually difficult job. Don't try it unless you have to.

  16. Richard P

    Correction: the carriage of the Special can be removed without much trouble. (See page S.M. 100 of this service manual.)

  17. Chaplin Saint

    I have 2 of these now. I have a collection of 40+ machines. I can say, for just writing output and comfort, If I had to keep five machines, both would make the cut, and the other 3 would be my two Triumphs an the Model 18. I love this standard immensely.

  18. Kingfish3

    I've got a Universal from 1960, I believe–looks like the machine second from the top (cream ribbon cover).
    My question: I had an earlier version (56-57) that had fabulous action: light yet deliberate, solid. Like an a—h—e, I sold it. The newer beast is pretty darn stiff & is not in the same league as the earlier one. The first machine rivaled anything I've ever come across, & was quite a step above the several SG1s I've used.
    I've turned that unlabeled dial on the bottom of the Universal–it rotates a rod that runs horizontally towards the back. I've read Universal manuals that speak of the touch adjustment, but this does not have that.
    Any ideas on how to speed it up?
    Thanks much!

  19. Richard P

    Hmm. I don't know—different examples of the same model can often feel very different. One thing you should try is a thorough cleaning, using mineral spirits with a small amount of gun oil or sewing machine oil dissolved in them. It also sometimes helps to increase the carriage tension (wind the mainspring a bit).


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