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Early Office Museum

Antique Index Typewriters

MBHT_Victor_typewriter_used_by_traveler.jpg (297920 bytes)
Victor Typewriter used by a man on a train (MBHT)

Images credited to MBHT are courtesy of the Museum of Business History and Technology

1885 Hall Type Writer ad OM.JPG (48907 bytes)
Hall Typewriter No.1, 1885 ad

1886_Hall_Typewriter_ad_40_OM.JPG (29257 bytes)
Hall Typewriter
1886 ad.  The Hall could print on both sheets and  rolls of paper. This illustration shows a roll of paper.

1881 1886 Hall Boston OM.jpg (40162 bytes)
Hall Typewriter, No. 3 (Boston), c. 1890

1880s Four Typewriter Ads OM.JPG (80140 bytes)
Typewriter ads, 1890

Sun_typewriter_index_z.JPG (27815 bytes)
Sun Typewriter, introduced 
c. 1885

1889_Kosmopolit_adx.JPG (104864 bytes)
Kosmopolit Typewriter, 
1889 ad

MBHT_1891_Pearl_typewriter_letter.jpg (171577 bytes)
Pearl Typewriter, 1891 letterhead (MBHT)

1891_Pearl_index_typewriter_invented_by_Theodore_W._Searing.jpg (152638 bytes)
Pearl Typewriter, patented 1891

MBHT_Odell_Type_Writer_Single_case_c._1890.jpg (134846 bytes)

MBHT_Odell_Type_Writer_Double_case_c._1890.jpg (139685 bytes)
Odell Single Case and Double Case Typewriters, c. 1890 (MBHT)

Odell_No._4_typewriter.jpg (80044 bytes)
Odell Typewriter No. 4

Kruse_index_typewriter_1.jpg (56239 bytes)
Kruse Typewriter

World Typewriter OM.jpg (42379 bytes)
World Typewriter, late model, double-case

1887 Pocket Type Writer OM.JPG (12185 bytes)
Pocket Typewriter, 1887

MBHT_1910_Taurus_typewriter.jpg (96505 bytes)
Taurus Typewriter, 1910 (MBHT)

1914_Virotyp_a1.jpg (64405 bytes)
Virotyp Typewriter, 1914

Virotyp Pocket Typewriter ad OM.JPG (22542 bytes)
Virotyp, Paris, 1914

Mignon Typewriter OM.JPG (41610 bytes)
Mignon Typewriter, 1904

MBHT_Mignon_2_typewriter_image.jpg (197056 bytes)
Mignon Typewriter Model 2, ad (MBHT)

Mignon_Type_Cylinders_OM.JPG (10004 bytes)
Mignon type sleeves

Index typewriters do not have keyboards. Generally, one hand operates a pointer that selects a letter from an index while the other hand depresses a lever that moves the type to the paper. 

The first practical index typewriters, the American Hall Type Writer (1881) and the German Hammonia Typewriter, were introduced in the early 1880s, several years after the first keyboard typewriter. Index typewriters were much cheaper than keyboard typewriters during the 1880s and 1890s, and advertisements for index typewriters stressed this fact. Index typewriters generally sold for $10-$20, although the Hall was $40. (See advertisement to the left and table below.)  In 1895 the Champion Typewriter Co. advertised that over 9,000 Champions were in use in the U.S.

1881_Hall_typewriter_40.jpg (71997 bytes) The Hall Typewriter won an award in 1881.  

Relatively inexpensive new keyboard machines declined in price from $60 to $70 for the Caligraph No. 1 throughout the 1880s to $50 for the Crandall during the early 1890s, $35 for the Blickensderfer No. 5 and Chicago during the late 1890s and early 1900s, and $25 for the Commercial Visible and Postal beginning in 1903. Also, a large supply of used and rebuilt keyboard machines became available.  As the prices of the cheapest keyboard machines fell, the demand for index machines dropped. Eventually, the only index typewriters left on the U.S. market were cheap toys (e.g., the Simplex Typewriter). Serious index typewriters (e.g., the Mignon Typewriter) sold for decades longer in Europe.

Original US Prices of Index Typewriters
Single-case = caps only
Double-case = upper and lower case letters
Year Price
Universal 1882 $1.50
Hall (Salem in 1888) 1883-88
unknown but later
Herrington 1886 $5
Columbia 1886
c. 1890
$15 & $30
Sun 1886-90 $12
Ingersoll 1886
World, single-case (sc)
No. 1 Japanned, pine box, sc
No. 2 Japanned, leather-covered box, sc
No. 3 Nickeled, walnut-covered box, sc
Odell 1 (single-case)
Odell 1 &/or 2 Single-case
Odell 2 Double-case
Odell No. 4
Crown 1888-90 $20
Morris 1889-90 $15
Victor 1889-92 $15
Merritt 1889-93 $15
American No. 1
American No. 1
American No. 2
American No. 2
American No. 2
American No. 2
1897, 1900-02
$7.95 (Sears)
No. 2
No. 1 (toy)
No. 2 (toy)
No. 2 (toy)
No. 3 (toy)
No. 5 (toy)
1895, 1897
Dollar 1891 $1
Edland 1892 $5
Champion 1895 $15
Little Giant (toy) 1897 $1
Index Visible 1900 $25
Practical No. 3 1902 $3.55 (Sears)
Little Gem (toy) 1902 $0.75 (Sears)
Coffman's Pocket 1902
1903, 1905 (Beach), 1909 (Mares)
$3.90 (Sears)
1902 (Rehr)
$8.95 (Sears)
Virotyp 1914 (Bliven) $5
American Toy 1915 $0.85

The other characteristic of index typewriters emphasized in advertisements was the fact that they were small, light, and portable, and hence suitable for being carried on trips and used in locations such as railway cars. The Hall Type Writer weighed 7 lb., the Victor Typewriter 5.25 lb., and the Sun Typewriter and Morris Typewriter each 4.5 lb.

Ad showing World Typewriter used by a man on a train, a man at a desk with other office equipment, and a woman and boy at parlor tables

A major downside of index typewriters was that they were slower than keyboard machines. The American/Globe "with practice will yield thirty or forty words per minute." (Mares, p. 245) As a result, index machines were not suitable for offices where a significant amount of typing was done. Some of the cheapest index models, such as the later Simplex Typewriter models illustrated in the advertisement to the right, were sold at least in significant part for use by children.

The arrangement of the letters on the index may be along a straight or curved line (Merritt, Victor), in a circle (Pocket, Virotyp), in a rectangle (Hall, Mignon), on a pseudo-keyboard (American Visible), or in any of a number of other patterns. The type is usually arranged on a single-element, which may be a wheel (Victor, Crown), sleeve (Mignon), shuttle (American), semi-circular element (World), straight bar (Odell), or rectangular plate (Hall, Morris).  Some machines had mechanisms for direct inking of the type (for example, the Odell has a small ink roller) while others used inked ribbons.

An 1892 advertisement stated, "Merritt Typewriter, An Educator for the Home and School....Indispensable to storekeepers having limited correspondence." The Merritt was unique in using individual printer's type pieces. In the photo at the bottom right, the type pieces are stored in a line in a channel (see yellow dot). A knob (blue dot) is moved along the index (red dot) to select a letter. When the knob is pressed down, the selected type piece is lifted through a small rectangular opening (green dot) and pressed against the paper.

An 1887 advertisement for the World Typewriter stated that 20,000 had been sold, a figure that is difficult to believe in light of the fact that the machine was introduced in 1887.  An 1889 ad claimed 50,000 had been sold, and an 1892 ad claimed 100,000 were in use.  In 1891, Odell Type Writer claimed that 50,000 of its machine were in use. In light of the fact that the machine was introduced in 1889 and faced many competitors, that number is implausibly high. In any case, in 1904 Odell claimed only that "over 30,000 in use."  In 1895, Champion claimed that it had sold over 8,000 of its machines in the U.S.  American claimed that it sold 15,600 machines during 1896.

The Mignon Typewriter, a German product, was "the very best index machine that was ever made," according to Darryl Rehr (1997, p. 88). A skilled user was able to type quickly.  Rehr reports that 380,000 were made from 1904 to 1932.

1884_1886_Columbia_jg.jpg (57149 bytes)
Columbia Typewriter No. 2, advertised 1887

MBHT_Victor_typewriter_c._1889.jpg (176660 bytes)
Victor Typewriter, c. 1889 ad (MBHT)

1889_Victor_jg.jpg (64190 bytes)
Victor Typewriter, 1890

Peoples_jg.jpg (78972 bytes)
Peoples Typewriter, 1891
Columbia, Victor, and Peoples photos courtesy of Jim Gehring

1893_Champion_typewriter.jpg (105142 bytes)
Champion Typewriter, 1893

1891_Ingersoll_Typewriter_ad.jpg (100111 bytes)
Ingersoll Typewriter, 1891 ad.  This  machine looks like a toy but was advertised in business publications.

American_No._2_top_x_OM.jpg (42159 bytes)
American Typewriter No. 2, 1895

1903_Coffman_Typewriter_adv_OM.jpg (202298 bytes)
Coffman Typewriter, 1903 ad
























1907 Simplex Ad OM.jpg (57635 bytes)
Simplex Typewriter ad for children, 1907

Hall_Boston_index.jpg (121631 bytes)
Hall No. 3 (Boston) Index

1890_Merritt_typewriter_adv.jpg (228360 bytes)
Merritt Typewriter, 1890 ad (MBHT)

Merritt wil OM.JPG (40118 bytes)
Merritt Typewriter, carriage down

1890_Merritt_carriage_up_OM.JPG (67235 bytes)
Merritt Typewriter, carriage up

American_Visible_Index_Typewriter_1.jpg (89625 bytes)
American Visible Typewriter, American Typewriter Co., New York, NY, early 1900s

1904_Dart_Marking_Machine_moving_typewriter_OM.jpg (48146 bytes)
Dart Marking Machine: "A Movable Typewriter for Addressing Shipping Cases," Patented 1899, Advertised 1902-04

Special Purpose Index Printing Machines

MBHT_1927_Namograph_adv.jpg (126395 bytes)
Namograph Fountain Pen Lettering Machine, 1927 ad (MBHT)

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