The Classic Typewriter Page

Hammond No. 2

A whole book could be written about Hammond typewriters. Strange though they may look to the twenty-first-century eye, their ingenious mechanism is one of the longest-lasting in typewriter history. The Hammond was one of the earliest typewriters to be produced commercially; the first model was introduced in the early 1880s (possibly as early as 1880, or as late as 1884). And machines with the Hammond mechanism continued to be produced until the 1970s! Along the way, various refinements were made: notably, the name was changed to Varityper in the 1920s and the machine was electrified in the 1930s.

The most important feature of all Hammonds and Varitypers is that they print from an interchangeable type shuttle: a C-shaped piece of hard rubber (on the Hammond) or metal (on the Varityper), which is held in a central "anvil." It is easy to change type shuttles, so a single typewriter can use conventional type (large or small), cursive type, non-Roman alphabets, or mathematical symbols. A wide variety of type styles was offered. On later machines, beginning with the Hammond Multiplex of 1915, the same machine could carry two type shuttles at once, and switching from one to the other took only a few seconds. The space between characters could also be adjusted. On most Varitypers, it was even possible to justify the right margin. Varitypers produced such fine work that they were used as "cold typesetting" devices, which prepared camera-ready copy for printing (Varitypers were not generally used for everyday typing). Only the personal computer made the Varityper obsolete.

Hammonds have a number of other interesting mechanical features. The type does not move against the paper; instead, the type shuttle swings into the correct position, and then a hammer in the back of the typewriter hits the paper against the ribbon and the type. This hammer always strikes with the same force. When the typist pushes the carriage to the right, she is rewinding a spring that both advances the carriage and activates the hammer, so it takes significantly more effort to return the carriage on a Hammond than on most other typewriters. There is no cylindrical, rubber-covered platen, as on typebar typewriters. A rubberized cloth strip runs between the hammer and the paper in order to improve the quality of the typing. The paper is fed between two rollers, and is stored in a wire basket. Most Hammonds were offered with a choice of a three-row, double-shift QWERTY keyboard, or a curved, two-row "Ideal" keyboard. The Hammond folding portable of 1923 has a unique way of making the typewriter compact: the keyboard folds up when not in use.

Rather than illustrating all the models of Hammonds, we are focusing on the No. 2. It was introduced in 1893 or 1895, and replaced by the No. 12 in 1905. The number "2" does not appear on the typewriter itself. The easiest way to identify a No. 2 is by the large metal tab in front of the anvil. This tab was used to push down the ribbon so that one could see what one had just typed. On the No. 12, this feature was replaced by a ribbon vibrator, which raised and lowered the ribbon with each keystroke. The No. 2 illustrated here includes a wide celluloid strip above the keyboard. When the typist was using a type shuttle with an unfamiliar alphabet or special symbols, she could clip a a keyboard chart onto this strip for easy reference.

There are many small variations among Hammond specimens, and I am not aware of any serial number records -- so the owner of a Hammond often has much to explore, and many mysteries to solve. What is common to all Hammonds is an unusually fine level of craftsmanship. All parts are well-designed and very durable. The No. 2 comes with a beautiful bentwood cover. Everything is beautifully finished, including the Hammond medallion to the left of the typewriter and the hooks that join the base to the cover.

Hammonds were never the most popular machines on the market, but they had many loyal users; so today, any collector can find a Hammond at a reasonable price with a little patience. The most common model is the Multiplex; the most valuable is the Ideal-keyboard #1, on which the mechanism is encased in polished wood.

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