The Classic Typewriter Page

The Fox typewriter, made in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of the most attractive and well-built classics, in both its understroke and its frontstroke forms.

The understroke Fox was patented in 1898 and came on the market shortly thereafter. It was invented primarily by Glenn J. Barrett, but named after William R. Fox, president of the company. The understroke Fox boasts an especially light touch and incorporates several clever design elements. The carriage can easily be removed, and it is easy to check one's work with a slight turn of the platen. An unusual feature is the "speed escapement." It can be set to advance the carriage either when a typebar returns to its resting position, or -- for fast and expert typists -- as soon as the typebar begins its journey to the platen. (Briton G.C. Mares writes in 1909 that the speed escapement "finds considerable favour in the land of its birth, although English typists may well be rejoiced at escaping this further strain.") Shifting is accomplished by moving the platen instead of the whole carriage.

The typewriter is beautiful, with a curvilinear Art Nouveau frame, green and gold pinstripes, and an attractive decal featuring a fox's head. There are several models of understroke Foxes, all similar. The No. 3 and No. 4 are most commonly found.

Frontstroke typewriters were already coming into fashion when the Fox company was founded, so it is no surprise that Fox introduced its own frontstroke in 1906. It preserves the graceful lines and pretty decals of the understroke, and adds a front plate with an attractive opening that reveals the typebars. This machine keeps several mechanical features of the understroke, such as the dual-speed escapement, and like the understroke, it features a light shift mechanism. The shift on the frontstroke lifts the type basket instead of the carriage (a good idea which many manufacturers did not adopt for another forty years). Another clever idea involves the ribbon: either a two-color or a one-color ribbon can be used, and if a one-color ribbon is used, the typewriter can be set to oscillate the ribbon so that every part of it is used (other typewriters would just use the top half, and let the bottom half go to waste). The machine also features sturdy typebar hangers which are designed to ensure permanent alignment. Due to the width of these hangers, there is not enough room to place all the typebars in a row, so they are ingeniously placed in two rows and are of correspondingly different lengths. The result, according to the company, is "the first visible writer that is just as durable as the non-visible machines."

The frontstroke Fox appeared as No. 23 and No. 24, differing in their number of keys. It was also made under the name "Rapid." Later specimens include a red backspace button on the right side of the frame, and a number of other minor improvements.

The success of the Corona folding portable must have inspired Fox to come out with its own portable in 1917. On the Fox Portable No. 1 and No. 2, both known by collectors as the "Baby Fox," the carriage folds down behind the body of the typewriter.

Corona did not miss the resemblance, and successfully sued Fox. The Baby Fox was withdrawn from the market and followed by the Sterling portable (1920), which looks similar to the Baby Fox but is boxier and has a non-folding carriage. Perhaps as a result of the litigation, the Fox Typewriter Company went out of business in 1921.

Fortunately for collectors, Foxes are not rare. The most unusual models are the portables. Office-size frontstroke Foxes are relatively plentiful and affordable, and can still serve as excellent, practical writing machines today.

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