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The Tower Saga Continues: Typewriters in Sears Catalogs – 1947 to 1966

I stumbled across a neat resource this morning while searching for data on Tower-branded Smith Corona typewriters; WishBookWeb is an exhaustive source for Christmas catalogs, mainly from Sears, but also for other mail-order companies. They don’t have *every* catalog, but they have enough for me to start my journey.

The journey starts in 1947, when Sears sold major typewriter brands like Underwood, Royal, Corona and Remington, but did not yet have the Tower-rebranded Smith-Coronas to offer:

Neat, but doesn’t help us much in the question of the Tower branding. So, I moved on to 1952, where I see the first mention of the Tower brand machines:

These 1952 Towers don't look much like Smith-Coronas to me, instead they look a lot like the Underwood Leader body style mated to a different ribbon cover. Were these first Towers actually Underwoods?

There’s a dearth of scanned catalogs between 1952 and 1956, so we are forced to jump ahead 4 years to the 1956 Wish Book to find the first Smith-Corona made Towers – Green keys, crinkle paint and the older non-chrome Tower logo, clearly coming off of the same assembly line as regular Smith-Coronas. Interestingly, the Tower Chieftain is a rebranded Olivetti Lettera 22. At this point Sears is still selling the other major brands, but is clearly pushing its own Tower brand much more seriously.

This page below from the “Toy Typewriters” section of the 1956 Sears Wish Book will interest Richard Polt – I recognize his “Baby Byron” right there in the upper right corner!

In 1958, the Sears Wishbook shows the Tower President still with the same older badging, but with brown keys:

Pretty President, but still haven't run into the Chrome atomic-style badging yet, and we're already to 1958!

So, the next year, 1959 is the first glimpse we get of the Atomic-style chrome Tower Badging:

Finally! The look we want, but something's wonky: That's not a true Super-5 body or Tab-set keys. They're way too angular!

The mystery deepens then. Between 1958 and 1959 Sears switched from the older Logo style to the Atomic style, but also switched from a true Super-5 body to an angular knockoff and a Galaxy-style rectangular rocker switch for Tab Set/Clear keys. Where are the Atomic-style true Super-5 bodies?

We jump ahead to 1962 where we suddenly find ourselves looking at machines that are clearly Galaxies in a different, angular shell, although the Tower Chieftain is still looking like the older-style Skyriter. Note the sweet “Attache Case” version of the Chieftain – I saw one of those last year on craigslist, but passed on it because of the rough condition.

By 1964 through 1968, the catalogs no longer show anything that looks like the ’50s Super-5’s, so I’m baffled. Were the atomic-style Towers only offered in 1959, or might I find the Towers I’m looking for in the 1960-61 catalogs that I haven’t yet gotten access to? The mysteries remain.

Updated: July 29, 2015 — 5:18 pm

17 Comments

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  1. That is interesting research, and I love seeing the prices.
    That Citation 88 has the same body as my Sears Cutlass (red with racing stripes and sans-serif type).
    And I’m with you on the issue of not finding an exact match. I’m sure Jay would say it was a transitional period, such as the couple of years where the Sterling resembled neither the Super 5 nor the Galaxie

  2. Valuable material! Yep, that is the Kamkap or mini-Byron toy typewriter, and it’s very helpful to be able to date it to 1956; I’ve updated my Byron blog post with a link to your post.

    I don’t recall seeing any of those Tower Underwoods.

    The price difference between a branded Smith-Corona and a Tower was considerable!

    1. Ahh, then you will be interested to know that the Kamkap also appears in the 1957 catalog and vanishes in 1958.

      And yes, the price difference is interesting. I wonder if they were actually making the plastic mainspring housings in the 1950’s and just putting them in the cheaper Towers while they put more expensive metal ones in the stock Smith-Coronas. Maybe in January I’ll hit up the Phoenix Public Library’s microfilm archives of Sears Catalogs. It would be more informative to have the whole set and the full products catalogs rather than just the cut-down Christmas Wishbooks to work from…

  3. Nice bit of research. Those old catalogs are fantastic. Thanks for sharing the link. Those are some wonderful old catalogs.

  4. I just purchased a Tower that looks like the one from the christmas flyer above in 1952. I’m trying to find out more information on it as its a gift to my 13 year old daughter. The model number is 608.10 – curious to know if you’ve discovered any other info on the Towers. My daughter wanted a record player last year and this year a typewriter and pearl earrings (I’m thinking she’s a 75 year old lady trapped in at 13 year old). She’s a budding writer and the typewriter is the only she’s asking for this year. I had an old Sears Constellation with a broken H key so I picked this tower up because it looks a little more vintage and seems to work. Good buy or not? I only paid $40 so I’m wondering how much to spend cleaning it up.

    1. Not much new info, but $40 isn’t bad for one of these. If it’s working ok then you can probably clean it up yourself with a damp rag and mild dish soap & water, and a can of compressed air. Light sewing machine oil and q-tips for the mechanical bits.

      More serious repairs beyond your skill might require a trip to a typewriter repair guy, if there’s one near you – here’s a list of all the known repair shops:
      http://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters/tw-repair.html

      Usually it’s not too expensive to get a typewriter cleaned up by a pro. They’re usually wizened old fellows who love what they do. Maybe $30-$75 depending on how much work it takes.

  5. Thanks for the great info!! I have the Citation 88 from 1962, so it’s fun to see the ad, and find the exact year and price. Thanks for the good sleuthing!

  6. I can’t believe I missed this post from you! I’ve been looking for the right original Underwood Tower Tabulator for years now, but have never found one in good enough condition with the right price.

    Now I’m wanting one of those atomic style Towers…especially if I can find it with Executive or Presidential. :D

  7. Hi. Just fishing for some info. I acquired today a Tower typewriter, and the only picture of it I can find anywhere online is the one in the Sears 1952 Christmas Catalog. The only thing I can find on the machine that might be a serial number is K 50431 . I found none on Ebay or Etsy, etc. That’s including looking at the completed listings. The handle on the case has “Underwood” on it. Is this model rare? I’m thinking about putting it on Ebay tonight, so I want to have the opening bid represent its value. Any info you might offer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Dan

  8. Hello, I just bought a Tower typewriter in a case for $30. Seems to work great. Model: 603.1
    I do not see a ribbon on it. I’m trying to find out any information I can own it and I would really like to find out how to go about getting a ribbon replacement for it. Are replacement ribbons common for it or rare? Any info or instruction would be greatly appreciated. (Also, i’m assuming the case that it is in is the original case. )
    Thanks!

  9. Tower update:
    I think I just found the serial number.
    I flipped over the typewriter and found this number : K59308
    I also found the following number when I lifted up the front cover. It was only left: 12656.
    Also I just realized it has one of the original metal spools with some of the old black ribbon ! I still would like any info I can get on this model. Anything would help

    1. Any standard typewriter ribbon will work, but be sure to use your old spools (re-wind the new ribbon onto your old spools). I’ve used common ribbons for calculators, cash registers and typewriters, and as long as the are the right width (length doesn’t matter), they’ll work. Pay attention to whether your machine needs grommets on the ends of the ribbons to actuate the ribbon reverse and add them if needed (you can get tiny grommets and a tool to install them at any craft store).

      As far as the actual machine itself, I don’t know what a “603.1” is, so can’t tell you much. I’d have to see a photo to tell who originally made it and about when.

  10. Fun article! Thanks for the info on Sears Catalog :) Who knew?

  11. I got a tower brand new in a case never used and the Manuel says printed in 1968 I don’t know how much its worth

  12. You would find Atomic Super-5 Towers in the full catalog (instead of the Christmas catalog) These include the Tower Tabulator.

  13. Hello. I’m looking for more information on a Tower Tabulator I have. The serial number is 5 CT447056T. I looked through the pages shown and didn’t find anything like the one I have. Any information would be appreciated. Thank you.

  14. I have a tower constellation typewriter and I don’t know much of anything but it came from sears and I’m looking for information as well as where to find ribbon and a manual I think it might be from the 60s or 70s any help if you can would be awesome.

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