The Classic Typewriter Page

This article was written by Berthold Kerschbaumer
and translated by Richard Polt


Mignon 4

This machine often marks the beginning of a collector's passion, especially in Europe. Since the Mignon was on the market for almost 30 years in not insignificant numbers -- over 350,000 specimens were manufactured -- and since its unusual appearance makes it stand out, it can often be found at various flea markets at relatively good prices. Like many inventions, the Mignon was at first the godchild of a completely different idea: its manufacturer was the Allgemeine Electrizitäts Gesellschaft (AEG) of Berlin, on whose board of directors sat the creator and former director of the dynamo division of Siemens, Friedrich von Hefner-Alteneck. Since he had relevant experiences in the field of electric telegraphy, he was able to convince the board of directors to develop an electric typewriter in order to expand the company's product line. Under his direction, an electric keyboard typewriter for professional use was constructed, and six prototypes were manufactured.

Mignon 1 At the same time, in 1901-1902, a mechanical index typewriter for personal use, the Mignon, was developed on the basis of a patent by Louis Sell of Berlin (no. 149308 of December 22, 1901), and the first 50 machines were produced. The board of directors could not be persuaded that the electric machine was ready for the market, and saw real sales potential only for the Mignon.

Thus, the machine which had been conceived "only" as a secondary project was put into further production, and in 1903, the Union-Schreibmaschinen-Gesellschaft was founded as its special distributor. Until a few years ago, it was a matter of doubt whether this Model 1 of the Mignon, pictured here, had been produced at all, since only advertising illustrations were known. But in 1990 the first photos of the typewriter were published in HBW (Historische Bürowelt), and shortly thereafter a complete specimen finally turned up, in the Heimatmuseum of Erfurt, in the former East Germany.

ad In 1905 the improved Model 2 came on the market, probably at first with a red finish. Now the machine has a ribbon instead of an ink roller, and the space key and printing key are found to the right of the index. This basic arrangement was altered only slightly in subsequent models. The Mignon is an index typewriter whose rectangular index includes 84 characters in seven rows. The lowercase letters are arranged on the right, the capitals on the left, and special characters on the perimeter. The arrangement of the characters follows the order of their frequency, starting with the center of the index. When a type cylinder in a foreign language was used, the index could also be replaced, simply by lifting the old one out and inserting the new one. However, this advertisement from January 1908 shows an early version of the Model 2 in which the index was still screwed to the frame.

Mignon 2 red

The method of typing is described as follows in "Mechanik und kurze Geschichte der Schreibmaschine" by Karl Czerny: "With the left hand one grasps the handle of the indicator needle (m), which can easily be turned in every direction, and brings the tip of the needle, at the index (a), to the letter which is to be written. The type cylinder (g) is thereby turned and possibly pushed forward, until the letter reaches the point of impression. When the printing key (c) is depressed, the type cylinder descends, and by striking through the ribbon, prints the letter." The key (b) served as the space key.

In contrast to Model 2, in which the carriage was returned by holding down the space key and simultaneously pushing the carriage back, Model 3 is equipped with a carriage release and a line spacing lever on the right side of the carriage. The protective cover over the type cylinder mechanism is now metal, whereas in Model 2 it was made of papier mache.

Model 4 (1924), which is pictured at the top of this page, includes the innovation of a backspacer. An extra-wide carriage with a platen 42 cm long was available as a special accessory. There was also an aluminum version on which the base of the indicator needle could fold down, and there were export models with colored finishes.

Poster Type In 1933 the last model of the Mignon appeared, the Olympia Plurotype, which offered three separate options for spacing between characters, in order, for example, to make it possible to justify the right margin, or to write in poster type without the need to hit the space key after each letter. It is worth noting that for the poster-type style (in previous models as well) an index in the QWERTY arrangement was available.

Although the intended market for the Mignon was primarily the private user, several sources indicate that the machine was capable of typing up to 300 characters a minute. Until 1908 the Mignon was offered in a cardboard box, and later in a wooden or tin case.

In the USA, the Mignon was produced for a short time, starting in 1918, as the Yu Ess, and in France as the Stella, the Eclipse and (from 1921) the Heady. In 1936, the first Czech typewriter came on the market, the Tip-Tip, a design which shows great similarity to the Mignon but was nevertheless an independent development.

Finally, we offer a survey of Mignon serial numbers and years of manufacture, in order to facilitate the dating of the machine.

Serial no. up to Year Serial no. up to Year Serial no. up to Year Serial no. up to Year
100 1904 32000 1911 115000 1918 250000 1925/26
199/300 1905 40000 1912 125000 1919 275000 1926/27
1500 1906 50000 1913 140000 1920 312000 1928
3000 1907 52000 1914 150000 1921 325000 1929
10000 1908 70000 1915 170000 1922 355000 1930
15000 1909 80000 1916 185000 1923 360000 1931
23000 1910 90000 1917 200000 1924 363000 1932

Model 1 from 1904, Model 2 (200-40000) from 1905, Modell 3 (up to 185000) from 1913, Model 4 from 1924, Olympia Plurotype from 1933

Czerny, Karl, Mechanik und kurze Geschichte der Schreibmaschine, Vienna, 1932
Martin, Ernst, Die Schreibmaschine und ihre Entwicklungsgeschichte, 5th ed., Pappenheim, 1934
Rüscher, Ulrich, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, Hamburg, n.d.
Krumeich, Gerd, "Mignon Mod 1" gesichtet!, in Historische Bürowelt Nr. 26, Cologne, 1990
Buhr, Regina, Friedrich von Hefner-Alteneck - (K)ein Macher der Büromaschinengeschichte, in Von Menschen und Maschinen, ed. Deutschen Büromaschinen-Sammlerverein, Essen, 1993

Typewriter Spotlights

Main Menu