Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Visiting the Perrier Typewriter Collection, Pt. 1

I have wanted to do a photo essay on Jacques Perrier's typewriter collection since I first visited in June last year, but during that visit I only took a cell phone camera. So, when Georg told me that he had scheduled an appointment to see the museum, I was eager to come along. In addition to typewriters, and a whole wall of Hermes machines, Perrier also has an impressive collection of ephemera, and the above picture is an excerpt from a large and brilliantly colored Hermes poster.
When we arrived for the visit on Saturday (a few minutes late after traipsing up Lausanne's infamous hills), Georg and I met and shook hands with Jacques. Mind you, I had already met him, taken the tour, written to him (both email and snail mail), and yet, his expression was inscrutable, so I couldn't quite be sure if he remembered. Ah, well.

The museum itself is located in a windowless room, one floor below the ground. It is a rather small space, as Perrier points out immediately to visitors: it is only able to house 1/4 of his collection, the rest of it (about 1000 machines in total) kept in storage until such a time as he is given a grant from the Lausanne government to relocate in a bigger space. He cited 300 square meters as his ideal.

Before each tour, as ceremoniously as a priest donning his robes, Perrier shrugs off his jacket and puts on a blue overcoat with the Hermes logo stitched on the chest pocket. A laminated name tag identifies him as "Guide Jacques". We were in for the full treatment! He started off by pointing out the oldest typewriters, including a Lambert (shown here), a Blickensderfer, Edelmann, and so on.

He demonstrated the typing action of several of the more unusual machines, including this British Oliver, a Bennett typewriter, a Yost 20, and a few Braille printers.

On this Postal typewriter, he pointed out the @ sign (on the letter D), the existence of which - so many years before the advent of email - surprises and delights museum visitors.

Most of the typewriters are in working condition, despite their age, having been fully restored. For the ones in which the rubber parts (mainly type pads) have cracked or otherwise deteriorated, Perrier has had special replacements made, which he showed us.

 Like this Universal Crandall No. 3, each typewriter bears a small name plate identifying the year of production and country of origin. Many of the oldest ones have been in the collection for decades: Perrier's father sold and collected typewriters, a business which he passed on to his son and which focuses today on selling and repairing printers, photocopiers, and other business equipment. 

I have always been curious about these enormous Continental standards, which show up from time to time on local auction sites. Perrier explained that the large telephone-looking dial was used in conjunction with a special numbered sheet to move between the lines in order to fill in accounting figures. He demonstrated with the sheet inserted in the machine, but with the caveat that it was not the original one (it was marked "Ruf").

Another of his accounting typewriters was this standard Ruf - a Hermes Ambassador in all but name (it is even labeled as such). This one uses the specially-labeled sheets he had also inserted in the Continental. 

Note the boxes of dip pen nibs on the left: Perrier would not admit to being a fountain pen enthusiast, but rather a collector of "everything that has to do with writing". This explained the occasional bottle of vintage fountain pen ink that I spotted in some of his display cabinets.

Perrier's current display can be grouped into four main categories: pre-1920s typewriters (Oliver, Crandall, Postal, Yost, etc.), foreign-language typewriters (Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Cyrillic, etc), Hermes typewriters (Baby, 2000, 3000, Ambassador, electric), and miscellaneous unusual typewriters (extra-large typeface, Demountable, Noiseless, accounting, and so on). 

The above Korean-language Smith Corona Sterling is part of the second group.

The keyboard of a Cyrillic folding Corona 3. 

Perrier is especially proud to have acquired this Hebrew-language Erika 10, manufactured in Germany in 1947 (can you guess why?).

Georg discovered the sister of his new Maritsa, a Mapuua 12 with Bulgarian letters.

A very unusual Hermes 2000, not only because of the Hindi keyboard, but also for the glass keys, which are never found on Hermes 2000s of this vintage. We pointed this out to Perrier, but he had owned this for so long that he seemed not to realize just how uncommon it was! He did concede that the keys could have been taken from a Hermes Standard 3 or 4.

An Arabic-language Hermes Standard 8. 

Well, this is plenty of pictures for one post! I shall save the rest for Part 2, in which we discover the Hermes section, explore the other unusual typewriters, and find out about Monsieur Perrier's extraordinarily generous gesture...

***All photos courtesy of the Perrier Typewriter Collection in Lausanne; photographed by Georg Sommeregger and myself.***


  1. Hi Adwoa, the Hermes 2000 has a Hindi keyboard.

  2. That's an amazing selection of machines! so many of them seem to be hanging off the edges of the shelves, though. does he display them like that or was that just so you could get a good picture?

  3. @Ruy: Thanks for that! (I owe you an email, I'm getting around to it - promise.) I'll edit the post to mention that it's a Hindi keyboard.

    @Ted: Funny you should bring that up; I didn't really notice! The display looks exactly the same as it did when I visited a year ago, so I think he keeps it like this all the time. Some of the typewriters (like the Mapuua pictured) have a small display table with an inbuilt lip, but the rest are slightly tilted like that partly because the shelves are rather narrow and also to offer a better view, as you said.

    In any case, there isn't much of an earthquake risk in Lausanne, so perhaps he's not too concerned...

  4. What a cool place! I can't wait to see the rest.

  5. Thanks for the virtual tour! Looking forward to the next installment. The Korean and Hindi typewriters are very cool. That Hermes poster is psychedelic!

    Do you know the story behind all the Hermes labeled Ruf? Some of them use a logo that looks quasi-socialist -- a hammer, or something.

  6. PS: Love the video on the Perrier Museum web site! Everyone should check it out.

  7. Ruf was a Swiss company founded by Alfons Ruf, who built up the business from 1917 on but then died young in 1931. His company, however, lived on, today's Ruf Gruppe is still in business ("information technology"). Ruf was in the book keeping business and adapted typewriters to fit the book keeping "System Ruf" invented by them (in German "Konto originale Durchschreibebuchhaltung", which makes for a great German sausage word). As far as I know, all Hermes models were adapted, but I think I also saw a Ruf converted from another brand. As to the hammer, I am not sure what are the origins of this logo. Could it be just a symbol for work and industry?

  8. What an amazing place! Thanks for the write-up and photos. Just in case you aren't aware, the 'Mapuua' logotype is Cyrillic. Phonetically translating as 'Maritsa, the second 'u' has a tail which means it is a 'ts' sound. Never would have guessed 35 years ago that my Russian studies would come in so handy!

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  10. Hmmmm..... a German-made typewriter for writing Hebrew and Yiddish, albeit made in 1947.

    On top of that, the carriage mechanism goes the western way (the return lever should be on the right).

  11. @ Adwoa: you are welcome! Thanks for the wonderful report on the visit! I'll look forward to read that e-mail.

    @ Rob: You're right. That logo is actually rendered in Italic cursive letters, i.e. Марица, which is a bit different from the normal, non cursive form Марица.

    P.S.: Upon a closer examination of the photo depicting that nice folding Corona 3 with Russian keyboard, I noticed an interesting quirk: the machine must date from pre-revolutionary times (or from immediately afterwards), as it still has a key for the letter “Yat” i.e. ѣ, which was merged into “Ye”, the Cyrillic “e”.

  12. @ Adwoa and Speculator: modern Hebrew was in use in Palestine under the British Mandate well before the declaration of independence on May 1948, so on that regard there's nothing unusual about that Erika 10. I've seen other machines with Hebrew keyboards and a return lever on the left - Robert Messenger has one Triumph with such an arrangement on his site (from Richard Amery):
    Just scroll down: the machine is the fourth from top.

  13. @Ruy: Well, I think Perrier's point - that Speculator has also caught on to - is that he found it unusual for a typewriter manufactured in Germany (albeit East Germany) so soon after World War II to have a Hebrew keyboard, considering what the war meant for Jewish people...

    Also, the Corona would date from 1914 at the earliest, about seven years after the Revolution, so perhaps that explains the inclusion of the "discontinued" letter.

    @Speculator - I didn't try out the Erika 10 in particular, but I don't think the carriage return lever on the left means that it moved in the conventional western way. Note that the Arabic Hermes Standard 9 is assembled similarly. In fact, it would be unusual for the return lever to be on the right, considering all the examples of Arabic typewriters I have either seen in person or looked at online (Richard wrote a comparison post with pictures some time ago on Writing Ball). What is not evident at a glance is that the levers are mounted in reverse, as it were, so that the paper is shifted downward, not upward, and the carriage really does move from left to right. It takes some getting used to, of course!

  14. Adwoa: I also thought along the same lines as Mr. Perrier and Speculator regarding the Erika with Hebrew keyboard, but I guess the Jewish folk that ordered that typewriter from the GDR were pragmatic and thinking into the future, busy as they were, fighting for the creation of the modern state of Israel against overwhelming odds. If you think that ordering German-made typewriters seems strange, things are even stranger regarding firearms as the first rifles issued in the young state of Israel, to people in the settlements and shortly afterwards to the armed forces were... Mausers of the Kar98K version, virtually identical to the rifles built in German factories (and German-run facilities in occupied Czechoslovakia) for the Heer and the Waffen SS during World War II... The symbolism associated to the regulation rifle of the German armed forces is far stronger and "evil" than anything conveyed by a humble typewriter and yet this did not prevent Israel from purchasing such guns (some even assembled from wartime parts' stocks with original acceptance marks displaying the swastika). The point is that Czechoslovakia and a few other Eastern Bloc nations were willing to sell weapons to Israel in the first years after the war (they also inherited manufacturing facilities that could churn out German specification weapons at short notice). The deal was good for both parties, as the former needed hard currency to bolster their economies and Israel desperately needed weapons and all sort of manufactured goods necessary for a modern state. Israel also bought Mausers from FN, in Belgium, from 1951 onwards when the flow of weapons from Czechoslovakia started to dwindle (some of the Czech-supplied rifles were built by the same company that also came to produce the Consul typewriters).

    Still on the Corona with "Tsarist" keyboard, it might actually predate the revolutions of 1917, either the February one, and the more widely known that took place in Petrograd on October, led by the Bolsheviks, that put an end to the provisional government formed after February. The spelling reform came afterwards, in 1918, but it took still a few years for it to get fully implemented. The letters "i", "yer" and "yat" started to be omited from printed texts - and typewriter keyboards - in the chaotic years of the Russian Civil War.

    P.S. Sorry for the lenghty post!

  15. Yuval Rabinovich ( 20, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    The "Postal typewriter" (with the D/@) key is a Blickensderfer. George Blickensderfer invented a pioneering mechanism (imitated decades later by IBM in their "Selectric" typewriters). The layout of this specific machine is a regular QWERTY, a layout which Mr. Blickensderfer considered inefficient but made these machines because of the popular demand. The original Blickensderfer typewriters had a DHIATENSOR layout at the bottom row.

    The Hebrew Erika 10 cannot be from 1947. The top left key is (אג'/ל"י) which indicates the official Israeli currency from 1960 to 1980.

  16. Hello.
    I am working in Korea to repair and restore the old Hangul typewriter.
    I'm glad you have a Korean typewriter.
    Column 2 The 3rd button is turned upside down.


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