The Classic Typewriter Page


The Williams is well known to serious collectors, and rightfully so. It is simply one of the most appealing writing machines ever made. Look how the gleaming typebars radiate out horizontally from both the front and the back of the platen, and see how they're supported by solid little columns plated in nickel. John Newton Williams had the eye of an architect.

The picture above shows the straight-keyboard Williams #1 of 1895. But its predecessor, the curved-keyboard #1 (1891), is even prettier. The keys arc around, following the curve of the typewriter's central frame. Despite the fact that according to the latest research the curved-keyboard #1 was on the market for 4 years, it is one of the rarest Williams models. Here's a front view of one equipped with a copy holder.

Here's my Williams #2 (1896). Can you spot the subtle differences between it and the straight-keyboard #1?

Give up? The clearest differences are the fact that on the #1 the front nameplate laps over the top of the machine, while on the #2 the nameplate stays on the front; and alignment is secured on the #1 by guides that stick up between the typebars, while on the #2 the type levers pass through a slotted plate for alignment -- a more inconspicuous arrangement.

Let's turn now to the mechanical ideas of John Newton Williams, the father of our machine. (Here he is, immortalized on an advertising medal of the 1890s.)

In designing his writing machine, Williams wanted to rectify a problem created by the most popular typewriters of the age, such as the Remington and Caligraph. These were "blind" writers, which typed on the bottom of the platen. The Williams is designed to type on the top of the platen, so that one's typing is immediately visible. Thus the company called its product "The Rightwriter." In order to achieve visible writing, Williams designed what is known as a "grasshopper mechanism." The typebar rests horizontally on an ink pad. The type lever pushes the typebar up, forward, and down onto the platen; then a spring makes the typebar "hop" back onto the pad. When the typist gets going, it looks like a gang of grasshoppers is attacking the page. Here's a diagram of the mechanism (from Duncan James' Old Typewriters).

Unfortunately, this arrangement means there isn't enough room for all the typebars in front of the platen -- some of them have to rest behind it. This makes the Williams very pretty, but it also means that once the paper has been typed on, it has to get out of the way of the rear typebars. So it goes down under the rear typebars, into a basket, just like the basket under the front typebars which holds the paper before it's typed on. The result is that although the Williams is a visible writer, only a line or two is actually visible at a time. However, it must be said that that line looks very nice: since the Williams prints from an ink pad rather than through a ribbon, it produces crisp, clean work.

The #1 and #2 have three banks of keys and a double, see-saw shift that moves the platen back for capitals and forward for figures. With the #4 (1900) and #6 (1904), Williams converted the typewriter to a four-bank, single-shift machine. These models look a bit more like what we consider a conventional typewriter, and are bulkier than the #1 and #2, which are lightweight machines. Here's my #4.

The Williams Typewriter Company, based in Derby, Connecticut, failed in 1909, but not before producing many delicious machines, including some unusual models I haven't mentioned yet: the #3, with an extra-long carriage, and the special telegrapher's model which typed only in capital letters -- thus making it possible to put all the typebars in the front, freeing up the rear of the machine. Here it is:

Amaze your friends and start writing with a Williams today!

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