Two packages and a love story from Germany

by | Apr 2, 2013 | Rheinmetall, Torpedo, Voss | 22 comments

After reading Robert Messenger’s post on his Brillant S, I put the model on my mental Want list. Lo and behold, almost immediately, one turned up on eBay. It wasn’t cheap, but it was a Buy It Now … and I did.

Of course I provided the usual packing instructions. Well, a couple of weeks later, look what shows up:

There was no protection at all around the typewriter case, so of course the typewriter did not survive. Both front corners and the right platen knob were broken. Some eBay sellers don’t have common sense (as Ted can testify). Fortunately I have received a full refund.

But here’s a happier tale.

Another machine I spotted on German eBay recently was a black Torpedo 20, a model I’d admired for a while. I decided to go for it, and won it for just €8.

This machine, in contrast to the Brillant, arrived very well packed, in a big box. But it might have survived even without any box, because the case for this machine—a work of art in itself—is bulletproof cast aluminum, and it holds the typewriter very securely.

Here is the machine itself. It has subtle, flowing lines that need to be appreciated from various angles.

The little red switches above the keyboard are for reversing the ribbon. Only one such switch would be needed, so this is a peculiar feature that shows someone’s obsession with symmetry.

Like many other Torpedo models, this one has a segment shift.

It types well and is well made, although the carriage return is not silent as on the later Torpedo 18 (the model that’s probably found most often in the US).

The serial number, 613108, dates the machine at 1952.

The paper table folds all the way over, revealing the margin stops attached to its lower edge. This arrangement makes it possible to bypass the margins in a system that is unique to this typewriter, in my experience: you pull the paper table slightly toward you.

Not only is this a beautiful typewriter, but it comes with a beautiful story. The seller recounted that her father was working as an engineer for a mining company, and decided to research the miner’s disease silicosis. He bought this typewriter in order to type a thesis on the topic. Her mother, who was working at the same lab, “finally consented to help him with his thesis and did some of the typing for him, and they fell in love.” They married in 1953. “Who knows whether they would have married without the assistance of this little Torpedo typewriter? My parents lived together in love for 45 years.”

I’m impressed with the elegant design of early ’50s German typewriters. Check out the nice lines on this East German Rheinmetall from 1952:

1952 was also the year when the famous Voss with a beefy aluminum body was introduced:

How could anyone resist falling in love in the presence of typewriters like this?


  1. deek

    Still trying to find a Torpedo on my own.

    Great stories!

  2. Ton S.

    Great post! Seeing that damaged Brilliant is painful, I guess sellers who lack common sense will be a continuing hazard for us.

    What a steal on that handsome Torpedo. And a bullet-proof case? Wow. That one was destined to arrive intact. And the back story is priceless! How does the typing feel compare with your black 1960 black Torpedo 18?

    Also, how long was shipment time? I'm getting antsy waiting for a shipment from Europe, it's almost been a month.

  3. Sheena

    Resist? Resistance is futile! I think I just added all of those to my wishlist…

  4. Duffy Moon

    That case is so full of WIN. And a beautiful typer, too!

  5. Richard P

    Shipment from Europe usually takes about two weeks, but there can be delays. I hope your package will arrive soon!

    The Torpedo 18 has a snappier and smoother feel (especially the carriage return), even though the basic mechanism is the same.

  6. Miguel Chávez

    Ouch. Sorry about the poor Brilliant. I just sent an Oliver L-12 via FedEx, but made sure it was wrapped in enough layers of foam, bubble wrap and film to add a good percentage to its original size. Then it was put in its case, and wrapped again in layers of foam, bubble wrap and film before being placed in the box and sealed. I hope my first export will arrive in good shape.

  7. Ted

    Owie! Such a sad end to a beautiful typewriter. I hope you can effect some repair on it so it at least types again. (:

    And, golly, that Torpedo is a freakin' tank! The love story that goes along with it makes it even more special. Every machine should have a history like that :D

  8. Scott K

    I just….just… Got my first Torpedo. I also have a machine on its way from Germany, and I'm hoping to not be in the same situation. Talk about sweet and salty. Gah!

  9. Bill M

    Very nice looking typewriters. I hope you can get things worked out with the Brilliant.

  10. Nick Bodemer

    Does the Brilliant still work? (From the picture, it looks like something that Super Glue could easily fix…)

  11. Richard P

    It's probably fixable. I put it disgustedly in the closet and will look at it when emotions cool.

  12. Dwayne F.

    The Torpedo is gorgeous. The model marking below the space bar reminds me of the Erika machines. The Germans produced some fine examples of industrial design in the '50s.

    Poor Brilliant! If all else fails, you could repurpose the top as a hood scoop.

  13. Ted

    wise, that. I know the shell of the Brilliant S is some kind of plastic, which gives you some options, unless they're so shattered that you're missing bits that fell off during the trip. Then I dunno, has anyone ever tried Bondo on a typewriter shell?

  14. rn

    Though I didn't specifically use Bondo, I have done auto body work on a typewriter shell. The beast in question was a lovely Hispano-Olivetti Lexicon 80 that got hurt through a combination of a neglectful seller and rough trade from USPS. The problem was that a large chunk of the housing at the front had sheared off and, given the weight of the machine, any repair had to have some serious structural integrity. I used formable steel, which I applied in 2 layers, to knit the housing back together, and then sanded for days with super-super fine black grit cloth to get the shape more-or-less right. I smoothed out some stress wrinkles with a plastic filler and sanded that with 0000 steel wool. Not perfect but it did rough justice.

    Rob N.

  15. Anonymous

    I don't get it. Why ship all these typewriters all around the globe when you know they'll brake? Isn't it a shame of a good typewriter? Is the need to have it, bigger than the need to preserve it? Even with instructions, people just seem to be plain stupid about it. Truly a shame…

    The Torpedo is beautiful, you pictures are amazing! How do you make these? Do you have a special typewriter photo studio in your home or something?

  16. Richard P

    Thanks. I just photograph the typewriters on some flexible white posterboard, preferably lit with a combination of indirect sunlight and artificial light. Then I use Photoshop as needed to erase any background other than the posterboard, and usually to lighten the image.

  17. farrukhwaleed

    They look more stylish to me than my keyboard..

  18. farrukhwaleed

    They look more stylish to me than my keyboard..

  19. Idahowens

    Where would one find the serial number on a Torpedo 15A, c. 1930s?

  20. Richard P

    I'm sorry, I do not know.


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