The Classic Typewriter Page
This article was written by Berthold Kerschbaumer
and translated by Richard Polt


The Kosmopolit is an index machine that can type 90 letters and symbols, which are carried in two rows on a rubber type plate. The machine was patented on July 1, 1887, by the sewing machine manufacturer Guhl & Harbeck of Hamburg, and it was introduced to the German market at the end of 1888. It is the successor of the Hammonia, which was produced starting in 1884 by the same company.
Patent Drawing
The writing mechanism is depicted in the patent drawing (Imperial German Patent #42124). The paper is inserted between two small rubber rollers under the type segment, and is advanced to the paper rest (b). The character to be typed is selected by moving the printing lever (d) to the corresponding position on the curved index above the lever. When the lever is depressed, it guides a pin to the type plate (l) underneath, which is then inked by a pad and makes the impression. A ratchet then advances the entire carriage (colored gray) along the rack (o) by the width of a character. The order of the types is alphabetical, in two rows of 45 characters each. The typist shifts from one row to the other simply by pulling or pushing the printing lever (d), which is mounted on the carriage and thus moves the type plate (l) as well. The lever on the left rear of the carriage serves as the space bar. The paper is advanced by the lever on the left front of the machine.

The writing can be seen only when the typist raises the carriage. With the carriage raised, you can see the richly decorated manufacturer's notice, which reads: "NEUE PATENTSCHREIBMASCHINE - KOSMOPOLIT - ALLEINIGE FABRIKANTEN - GUHL& HARBECK, HAMBURG" ("NEW PATENTED TYPEWRITER - KOSMOPOLIT - SOLE MANUFACTURERS - GUHL& HARBECK, HAMBURG"). In place of this notice, machines are also found with the inscription "J.C. Koch" and a picture of the factory.

The style of type can be changed simply by replacing the type plate. Six different type styles were provided free of charge with purchase of the machine. There were a total of 13 different type plates available, including three in the Cyrillic alphabet. The printed index could also be replaced (Hammonds had a similar arrangement).

The great similarity of the cast-iron base to the base of a sewing machine is not accidental, for the base was made in the company's own foundry. The Kosmopolit weighs 6.5 kg and measures 32 cm in length, 26 cm in width, and 11.5 cm in height.

The Kosmopolit found only a limited market, but where it was used, it was prized for its sturdiness and for its beautiful, clear typing. It was exported to several European countries, and according to Ernst Martin, it was still used for years after the turn of the century, especially in English insurance offices, to prepare "beautiful" documents. Manufacture must have stopped around 1902-1903, for the last advertisements for the Kosmopolit date from 1903.
The Kosmopolit was the last typewriter produced by Guhl & Harbeck; the company later produced one more notable item, the Jupiter pencil sharpener.

The machine pictured at the top of this page is probably serial number 4, for this number is stamped into it at various places, including beneath the type segment. I cannot be completely sure whether this is a serial number or just a part number. Other machines known to me carry the numbers 2 and 7. Maybe someone in our collectors' circle has further information about Kosmopolit serial numbers.

It's rather unlikely that you'll find a Kosmopolit in a flea market; this precious object can be seen only in museums, and a few collectors are happily privileged to call it their own. Aside from the low number of specimens produced, the shortage of iron after the Second World War also contributes to the rarity of the machine. A fellow collector told me that in the years immediately following the war, when he served as apprentice to a German office machine dealer, several Hammonias and Kosmopolits were lying in the warehouse for traded-in typewriters. He had to smash these machines with a sledgehammer, because the cast iron bases were sold to be melted down (a story sure to make every collector's heart bleed!).

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