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In Preparation for an Updated Typewriter Serial Number Database: Royal Portables

I’ve tossed around the idea of creating a new Typewriter Serial Number Database to address the deficiencies of TW-DB. I’ve asked around a bit and it appears that TW-DB is no longer being updated or maintained by its creator, although it remains the best and most complete serial number database on the web. Those of us who use it fairly regularly, however, know that there is quite a few gaps in the data (Smith-Corona portables from about 1962 to the 1970’s are absurdly common in people’s collections, yet there is zero data on them in TW-DB), and some of the info is just plain either wrong or possibly misinterpreted. If the original maintainer were still doing updates, these could be easily fixed, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Originally, I thought of creating an online game with a new serial number database and collection galleries and such, but that idea’s out the window just because of the complexity involved. Now I’m thinking “Keep It Simple, Stupid”, and just re-compiling the existing data into a relational database, fix what’s incorrect or re-jigger what’s confusing, and trying to fill the gaps. The “collection gallery” idea has morphed into just adding the ability to upload typewriter photos to each make/model/year category, so we can upload examples of that particular category’s machines as a visual aid to assist identification.

In preparation for this project, I’ve picked up many of the recommended reference works on typewriter history and identification to beef up my own admittedly limited knowledge of the subject, and now I’m identifying problem areas with TW-DB and coordinating alternate sources to see if these areas can be made more accurate. You folks in the Typosphere can be very helpful in this task. I’m certain some of you have even better sources than I do, and know better than I where TW-DB could use some correcting. I’ll be depending on your help quite heavily, if you’d like to assist. (:

As a start, there have been a couple of posts in the Typosphere on very early Royal Portables. Both posters took TW-DB’s list and dated their machines to the early ’30s, but were clearly not content with that assessment and were sure their machines seemed more like 1920’s-era models. See:

http://teeritz.blogspot.com/2011/09/typewriter-collection-no7-royal.html
and
http://manualentry.blogspot.com/2011/06/royal-portable.html

My own source, the late 60’s NOMDA line book that I scanned from Bill Wahl’s collection of ephemera, seemed to have better numbers, which put their machines in the late 1920’s. This *seems* more accurate, but it would be nice to verify against additional data, if anyone happens to have any.

Here’s what I have on Royal Portables:

late 60’s NOMDA Line Book, Royal Portables.

As you can see, this list is slightly confusing as well, with the first column showing serial numbers from 1926 to 1956, and a second column with a different set of serial numbers between 1932 and 1942. My interpretation of this list is that the P,OT,O,RA,AG,A,B,C,CG,RF,F and RC prefixes go with the first column, and the E,ES,J,JC,BJ,CD,U,D,UR and UB prefixes go with the second column. Teeritz and Notagain’s examples seem to confirm this interpretation, as does my own Royal QDL #A-1551587 which dates to 1948 on this list, but dates to 1947 according to TW-DB, which seems absurd given the body style – newly redesigned by Henry Dreyfuss in 1948.

Anyone have further data/confirmation or corrections to this interpretation? I’d like to lock down the Royal Portable fixes now while it’s fresh in people’s minds.

EDIT: Hey, check it out, Richard Polt happens to have a copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy of a Remington produced serial number list, which has some interesting notes on other manufacturer’s machines, such as Royal. He’s forwarded me the Royal section of his list, which, if you examine the 3rd page “Royal Portables” agrees pretty closely with the NOMDA list.

for comparison, here’s the list of Royal Portable serial numbers from Wilfred Beeching’s 1974 “Century of the Typewriter”.  His data is vague and doesn’t exactly match the NOMDA data, but it seems, well, somewhat close:

Royal Portables from Beeching’s 1974 “Century of the Typewriter”

Updated: June 29, 2014 — 6:08 pm

37 Comments

  1. Ted, this seems like a great project; almost wiki-esque. I think it would be a great to have a database with pictures! But what would you call it? I vote for DING: Dates I Know are Good.

  2. My time to help is limited, but I’m glad that you’re undertaking this. You might want to start small — just Royals — and see how it goes. I can tell you that if you start a project that requires wide participation by typewriter collectors, you will be frustrated. As with most groups, 1% are very active and 10% are occasionally active. The rest: crickets.

    Too bad that Dirk is no longer updating the database. I hope he’s OK. A huge amount of work went into it. Please copy his whole site if you can — I am not sure how to do this myself. Who knows when it will go offline.

    My own contribution for now can be Remington’s official records on Royal serial numbers. They kept a binder with their own s.n.’s and those of competitors, and I have a photocopy. Who knows what their source was, but it’s another piece of the puzzle. I’m not sure I have your email address, so write me at polt@xavier.edu and I’ll send you the Remington stuff.

  3. Hooray for active data collection!

    Not to throw a wrench in KISS, but in your schema, be sure to allow for a “source” of the serial number data. This long after the machines are made, it’s not going to be clear which one is the definitive, correct list, and this is one thing that Dirk’s site does do: attribute where he got his numbers from.

    Jay Respler has Smith-Corona numbers, I think, though I’ve never seen him publish a list of them on the TYPEWRITERS group. He’s been able to put dates on those later-year machines that turn up so often domestically.

  4. This sounds like a worthwhile project. Keep me posted on help opportunities. Maybe we could have “DB-ins” (put-ins?) online together. The way body styles and labeling varied so much (Underwood-Olivetti/Olivetti Underwood for example), I’d love to see an image base as a secondary goal.

  5. I have used http://www.httrack.com/ to download sites in the past. It needs PC, not Mac.

  6. I love this, Ted, and bless you for undertaking what many of us do not have the technical know-how to pull off. I will be glad to help in any way I can; I hope I can be counted among the 1% of active typewriter collectors that Richard cites!

    Anyway, Dirk’s site is probably lacking in American typewriter information because those are not so common in Europe; when I have used it for dating European typewriters I have found the information sufficient. That said, it is great that you can start off by addressing the most need, which is for accurate records from American manufacturers. Then you can incorporate Dirk’s data for the Euro models and others and we should be well on our way.

    Good luck getting the Smith Corona information from Jay Respler and making it freely accessible… I think he is trying to sell copies and you would be eating his lunch, as it were…

    The image database would also be amazing if we could find a good site to host it. Shordzi has done excellent work on dating Hermes Babies on typewriters.ch, and that could be a good model going forward… it would take a long time to assemble the necessary information and pictures for other manufacturers/ models, but this is a good time to start, when many of us are online and engaged, and ready to help!

    1. “Good luck getting the Smith Corona information from Jay Respler and making it freely accessible… I think he is trying to sell copies and you would be eating his lunch, as it were… ”

      Huh? Is this a list he compiled himself, or one published by SCM that he happens to have a copy of, and wants to stay the sole supplier of? If that’s the case, and there are others holding needed data who feel the same, then I suspect we’re going to end up with yet another incomplete and inaccurate database. That would be depressing.

      If he just wants people to cover his time/cost of making a copy, and isn’t going to object to the data becoming part of a freely accessible database, then that’s different. That’s a question that should be cleared up, though. :|

      1. We had a discussion on this some time back on my blog: http://genevatypewriters.blogspot.com/2011/01/typecast-crowd-sourced-compendium-of.html

        To be fair, the only thing he said was that he was considering making and selling a CD with production records (Typewriters list, message #47923). It seems counter-intuitive that he would then agree to have one buyer disseminate the information contained therein for free, eating into his future sales. But you’d have to ask him.

        1. Ok, I’ve asked Mr. Respler in the portable forum (personal message) if he has a copy (CD or just a photocopy) he’d like to sell me, and if so, if he objects to the data being compiled into a web site like TW-DB. Fingers crossed that he answers “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second. (:

        2. Just got a reply from Jay Respler. It seems he got flooded by Hurricane Irene and is recovering from the complications thereof, which leaves him little time to copy his lists. He does say that it’s still a project he wants to do when he has time, He didn’t give any indication of his feeling about having the data compiled into a new TW-DB project, but did confirm that his lists are more complete accurate on certain brands than TW-DB.

          I guess we’ll see at some point in the future. (:

          So, I expect we can still improve quite a bit of the data with what we have access to now. Richard Polt’s Remington data is really amazingly detailed and seems to agree with the NOMDA lists I have pretty closely. That will likely be good enough to start. Smith-Corona data will remain a Holy Grail, though – unless an alternate source can be dug up.

  7. This sounds like a worthy project. How I ever came across tw-db, I’ll never know. I take it for what it is, using it as a starting point and then going on to Richard’s site, especially for Remington, Shannon Johnson for Corona corroborations and Will Davis has shed some light too. Keeping it simple (like tw-db) is very sensible, but some additional info where available would turn it from a look-up database to a thing of beauty and a place to linger – just like the aforementioned Schordzi’s site and MLG. The s/n and date are just starting points as we all know. Apart from original trade records and the occasional receipt/bill of sale, it is still going to be hard to verify some dates. Today Arizona, tomorrow… the WORLD!!!

  8. OK, now I actually READ your Beeching scan, I can see even more value in your quest! Thanks Ted.

    1. Yep, it seems that both TW-DB and Beeching are likely the most referred-to sources these days, but both are of questionable accuracy (certainly Beeching is more vague, and for having written his book in 1974, I find it curious that his lists all seem to end at 1971.)

      It’s clear that there is better data out there that should be preserved while it still exists. Just imagine if you owned a vintage DeSoto and didn’t have any way to accurately figure out what year it was made. That is basically the case for a sizeable swath of typewriters right now, and it’s doubly the case for post WW2 machines, which are getting a lot more popular lately.

  9. Bravo for this, Ted! Definitely a worthwhilke project that will benefit all of us.

  10. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to do this, Ted. Next time I’m at my typewriter repairer’s lair, I’ll ask him if he has any printed info regarding production years. You never know.

  11. felice iannone (ITALIA)

    in all this typewriters i not find my royal model that is ROYAL serial number P88-316702
    which is value of my typewriter? please contact me for photos!!!

  12. Great site with the most info I could find on Royals. I have a Royal Aristocrat serial number B-851072. If you are still working on this, let me know if you would like pictures. Otherwise, thanks for all the info here.

  13. I have a quiet deluxe portable with the magic margin and black , red and white (or correction) option serial number is A-1436553 one data base dates it to 1931 but that doesn’t seem right, it also has the crinkle finish.

    1. A-1436553 would be a Royal Quiet DeLuxe made in late 1947. Is it the rounded body style or squarish? (Royal switched to the Henry Dreyfus designed squarer body style with glass tombstone keys sometime between 1947 and 1948)

  14. This site has been more helpful than others I have been to, but I still have yet to find my Royal Portable listed on any database. I’d love to find out more about my machine! It’s number is P232382. If anyone has any information, I’d really appreciate it!

    1. P232382 is a 1931 Model P (:

  15. I have a Royal Portable with case. It is a model P and the number is P329735…I am not sure about the 7…but it says P329 (7?)35. Can you help me out. It is in good condition. It still works. The case is a little beat up but the typewriter itself is perfect. Can you tell me possibly what year it is? Thank you in advance for your help! Sue B.

  16. I have a Royal Aristocrat Portable Typewriter. It has a serial number B-1056711. Do you know what year it was made? It is in perfect condition. It still works, just needs a ribbon. Could you help me?

      1. Thank you so much for your help. Is there anyway to find out it’s value?

  17. I have a royal 10 with dual glass panels on each side. Serial # X427443. Can’t find X series on any database. Can you help identify and date?

    1. 1919. the “X” prefix probably just tells you something about the features.

      1. Wow, thank you. Probably not worth much, huh?

        1. What a machine is “worth” is not a question anyone can answer without examining the machine. In nearly all cases it will cost someone more to ship a machine somewhere than they will get for the machine itself, if that’s helpful.

  18. I have a Royal Quiet Deluxe Serial Number A-1370482 can you tell me the year of this typewriter?

  19. I’m also trying to find out the year of my Royal–I can’t find the exact serial number anywhere (or perhaps I just don’t know how to interpret the numbers). The number is 12-1140513. Any help would be appreciated!

    1. if it’s a standard-sized machine, probably 1930.

      1. Thanks for your help!

  20. Trying to determine the manufacture date of an Olympia Splendid 33. Serial #5-1240874. Pretty cool little machine. German version with QWERTZ keyboard. Thanks for your help.

  21. Hello everybody – This post from 2011 announces my intent to create a new Typewriter Database where you can look up the manufacture date of your typewriter. Now in 2014, this goal has been achieved. The Typewriter Database exists and you can go to it and look up your own serial number for your Olympia Splendid 33 now.

    It’s 1966, BTW (look under SF Portables on the Olympia page).

    That said, I think it’s time to cut off comments on this thread, because it seems to have devolved to people just asking me to look up serial numbers that they could easily look up themselves. (:

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