The 1908 Bennett Junior

 

I have been wanting to get my hands on a Bennett typewriter for a while now.  They're often considered the world's smallest keyboard typewriter, and rightfully so.  The Bennett employs a full modified unilinear QWERTY keyboard, with a form factor half that of the Underwood 3 bank.  It is truly a typewriter that would fit in your coat pocket--I know, I tried.

I'm not a typewriter collector, I am a typewriter user.  Those of you who know me know that I enjoy using machines that would make most collectors cringe.  I'm a big fan of typing.  For a long time, I searched for the perfect ultra-portable typewriter, but none that I tried were excellent enough to type on to justify the weight and shoulder pain required to take them out and about.  The Bennett, though not great to type on, was certainly the smallest of the bunch.

This weekend I was able to get my hands on a Junior, specifically a second model Junior made between 1907 and 1910.  The first iteration of the Bennett typewriters designed and made by Charles Bennett.  They are ingenious machines, and one of several single-element typewriters that later redefined the typewriter industry with the creation of the IBM Selectric some 70 years later.

Bennett's first patent was granted to him in 1901, and details the typewriter almost exactly as it was produced, with the exception of a modified return spring system.  The most unique part of this machine, which is hard to label since there are so many unique features, is the keyboard.  Not only is the spacebar on top, and the keyboard unilinear, but as you press each key, the one below it also depresses.  Each key lever is coupled with the next two which allows you finger to more comfortably type on such tiny keytops with this deep a throw.  Each key is is held up with a small question-mark-shaped hair spring which helps the top keys remain upright as you depress the lower ones.

Each key interfaces with a notched rod on the bottom of the machine.  This rod moves in angular increments which are independent for either side of the keyboard.  These two halves denote which way the type head will rotate.  The motion is then translated to a radial rack that rotates the gear driving the type head.  On the other side of the driving gear is a straight rack that slides out and contacts the engaged type bar, stopping the rotation of the head at the proper moment.

the hair springs

coupled key levers

the base frame of the typewriter

The carriage of the machine is very simple.  It does not ride on ball bearings, but rather in a channel of folded sheet metal like some of the early tin plate toys.  The escapement is a simple push escapement like that of the Blickensderfer, but there is no indexing of the carriage.  It is free to move in either direction.

Serving the machine is easy.  The entire keyboard assembly lifts off with two thumb screws on either side, and the entire carriage slides off to the right by lifting the lever on the left up.  This lever controls the left margin for different indents, it also locks the carriage onto the machine.


My Junior was in very sorry shape when I first got it.  It was completely jammed, and missing several hairsprings.  There was also a large amount of surface rust, but the decal was in excellent shape.  Turns out the main problem was one of the racks that interfaces with the central type wheel gear.  The top straight rack which indexes the letters had been bent badly, and was causing the machine to bind up.  Once that was fixed (had to remove it from the machine) the rest cleaned up and worked readily.  I also disassembled and cleaned the rust out of the carriage, and fixed one of the aftermarket home-repair springs on the left side of the machine.

Filthy.  Removed the three retainer screws on the radial rack

fixing and cleaning the straight rack

all clean.  Note the push escapement pawl up top

The carriage wasn't the easiest to take apart in comparison to the rest of the machine.  The right knob comes off with the central screw exposing a fixed platen rod.  To remove the platen, you need to take out the four mounting screws that hold the carriage sides to the base slider.  The line scale and carriage rack also come off with two screws each.  That frees up to gently remove the platen from the spring paper tray which also holds two rubber-less steel feed rollers.  Simple, and decently effective.



After a nice clean and polish on all the parts, I reassembled it and made some very minor adjustments and tuning.  The left return spring was fabricated by a previous tech and rubbing along the bottom of the case.  I adjusted the hook at the end (formed a new one actually) and raised it up.  


As far as ink rollers go, this machine being a direct inking model, I used some rolled felt I sewed together.   That ended up working well for a time, but I later installed some calculator ink rollers.  These are a little bit too narrow, so I ended up having to stack one on top of the other.  Unfortunately, I only had a three pack of rollers.  For now it works well enough.

Overall the machine actually works quite well once you get everything in tune.  The alignment is more stable than the Blickensderfer, though you need to make sure the keys above the one you are pressing don't move down, I was having that issue a little bit, the springs needed to be worked with.

I wanted this machine as something to toss in a bag and go out and type with.  That being said, I do not like the idea of ink rollers.  I think they are inconsistent.  I'll be on the lookout for a nice condition Bennett with a ribbon system, and will either sell or trade my Junior when the opportunity arises.


Felt ink rollers

It's a very fun machine to use, though not many people do!  What a shame, sucks to type on but it has a lot of redeeming qualities.  Worth it.

felt sample

ink roller sample















Comments

  1. Oh, I imagine these were a blast when new. I hope someone manufactures a new version someday. (:

    ReplyDelete

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