Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hermes Baby Portable Red Typewriter (1940s)/ Before and After

I picked up this Hermes Baby in late June, during a day trip to Lausanne. It lingered, musty and neglected, in the corner of a thrift store. It smelled moldy, the result of 70-year-old felt. These '40s Hermes Babys are not uncommon in Switzerland, but I can never resist them when I do find one - they are so tiny!

This particular one, with red shift keys, was awfully endearing, so despite the eye-watering stench, I carried it home. I then proceeded to scrub it vigorously in an attempt to sanitize it - a misguided effort, it turns out, because the Hermes logo disappeared right into the soap suds. Ah, well. Live and learn. This drab casing was just begging for a makeover, though, and voila:

RED! Inspired by Richard's bright pink Olympia and Strikethru's pink Hermes Baby, I talked my husband into giving this a go and he obliged. I wanted to complement the red keys, and I think it turned out pretty well. We ended up using a whole can of glossy paint, and applied several coats directly onto the dark grey finish. It seems to have taken pretty well... but we're still leaving it out to "cure", just in case. The original crinkling is still visible, but it doesn't detract from the paint job at all.
Another angle from before:

And here is the same view (or close enough) from after:

We didn't paint over 100% of the grey: the paper table is still intact (didn't want to lose that ruler!), and the bottom and case are untouched. What we did paint is the main shell including hinged ribbon covers, and then the small back piece that covers the bell and margin stops. This means that we sacrificed the part that says Paillard SA, Made in Switzerland, etc... oh, well. When closed, the machine looks like this:

Then it is opened and... surprise! Fire-engine red. Gotta love it. 
This has the usual Swiss-French QWERTZ keyboard, and the typeface is pica, 10 characters per inch. Here is a sample I took before the paint job:

I should mention that all the scrubbing did little to diminish the musty smell, so I ended up stripping the bottom of the original wool felt, and replacing it with an entirely odorless synthetic lining that you can see below the keys in the first couple of pictures. It made a huge difference. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the padding in a darker color, so it stands out somewhat. I don't think it's too bad, though.

A view from the top:

How cute is this? It looks like a completely different typewriter. We left the screws unpainted deliberately. Here it is from the side:

I'm listing this in the For Sale category because heaven help me, I have three other metal Hermes Babys. And I slightly prefer the one with a smooth marbled gray finish to this one. Although that might turn up red, too, one of these days :-)

Anyone else who's been waiting to make over a dull typewriter... well, go right ahead. It's really heartening to transform these plain machines into showstoppers! I'm wondering which machine will be our next victim...


  1. It looks simply fabulous.

    What happened in the late '30s that made people want objects covered in crinkly gray paint? Was it simply the general terror and depression (economic and emotional) of those days?

  2. Very nice job! The red really works. One of these days I'm going to get brave enough to try this whole process, if I can find a suitable candidate. Typewriters in general are extremely thin on the ground here lately.

    I, too, have a typewriter with odor issues. Besides thorough cleaning and a good airing out of the case, I ended up putting some mint tea bags in with him, per a suggestion from mpclemens. For the most part, it worked well!

  3. I believe the thought was that the crinkly gray finish doesn't show fingerprints and doesn't clash with changing decor.
    I'm really jealous. I love my Hermes 3000 so I really want to try one of these babies.

  4. I found my Hermes Baby probably on the same auction site. I love it! Quick question though: Would you happen to know where I could find onion skin paper? I've asked around Zurich for "Luftpostpapier" but no one seems to know what I'm talking about. I did find some thin copy paper, but it's not what I'm looking for.

  5. Hello r tramble,

    I too have been looking pretty hard for onionskin paper in Switzerland, and it is proving impossible. The thrift stores turn up nothing, and obviously the stationery stores are not useful either. You're a step ahead of me in that you know what it's called in German! Should I ever find a stash, I shall be sure to let you know.

  6. @Adwoa: I'm considering ordering some from the UK. I'll let you know if I follow through. And oh, here's the link about my Hermes Baby: http://www.thenewmediadiva.com/2010/05/28/my-new-laptop/


  7. I got some from these guys in the US (I live in Philadelphia)
    not sure if they ship overseas...


    It's great... 500 sheets is about an inch thick... very tough and types well...
    --Mike McGettigan/trophy bikes philadelphia

    (Olympia SM 9, Hermes Rocket, Lettera 31)

  8. Mike - Thanks for the tip! I shall definitely look into the Paper Mill store. The paper sounds perfect. Many shops will ship small orders overseas, in any case it doesn't hurt to ask.


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