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Monday, September 21, 2009

Review - Underwood Noiseless Desktop 1930

Friday I picked up an Underwood Noiseless desktop typewriter for the astounding low price of $2 at an estate sale. It was dirty and not stored in the best of conditions, but it seemed fully functional and completely intact. There are only two things wrong with it that I could spot at the time. The platen was rather hard and the paper bail rollers are beginning to deteriorate.

I gleefully took the machine home and cleaned it up. This is my first noiseless so I took a little extra time to explore.

First impression. This is an imposing looking machine. It stands quite tall on my desk and the wide carriage lends to it an almost intimidating air. It has celluloid topped, ringed keys which I like. You always know when your fingers are centered on those. It has a standard QWERTY keyboard layout and like many older machines it uses the lower case "L" for the numeral one. It has manual set tab stops on the carriage. But they are readily accessible on a rail at the top of the carriage. Some machines I have seen make you turn the machine around or flip up a panel to get to the tab stops. This is a heavy machine so I'm glad that spinning it around everytime I want to change the tab stops is not necessary.

Actual typing. I like using desktop machines, they can take a pounding when writing angry letters, but usually have a light enough touch for casual use. There is no touch control on this machine, but there is an adjustment dial that moves the carriage slightly front to back to allow a darker impression through carbons. This is a necessity on the thrust action machines like the Noiseless. The typeslug just does not strike the platen as hard as a standard machine. The hard platen does not seem to be as much of an issue on the Noiseless for that very reason. I think it could go another twenty or so years as it is. This is a carriage shifted machine and the wide carriage does make for a heavy shift key, but it does have a shift lock on either side.

Noiseless is a relative term. The typeslug striking the platen does not make as much noise as a standard machine, but the machine is by no means silent.

I love watching the action of this machine while typing. Due to the shorter throw of the Noiseless typebars and the tighter arc of the arrangement the typebars each serve double duty. There are a total for four characters on each type bar. Two slugs with two characters each. Except the "Q" and the "@" key which are selfish bastards and insist on having their own typebars on opposite ends. The arrangement of the keys means that all the upper and lower typeslugs will almost always be typed by the same fingers so this will eliminate possible clashes, say if you were to strike both keys on that typebar at the same time. For example the "X" and the "E" share a typebar so when typeing "text" first the upper half hits the platen, then the lower half.
As far as ease of use it is about on par with other Underwood desktops of the time.

I have shot a 29 second video of the noiseless action with the top cover off.