Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vintage vintage portables: Seidel & Naumann Erika 5 (1935)

Which is to say that the best way to prevent having second thoughts later is to make the purchase - providing it fits within my aesthetic, space and budget constraints - and think about passing it on later when I've had a few good hours with it. Speaking of which, there is a remorse-filled story about a recent missed opportunity that I have yet to narrate, but will soon. Till then, some clear pictures of the Erika 5:

If one thinks of the Olivetti Lettera 32 and others of that time as vintage portable typewriters, why, then this Erika 5 is a "vintage vintage" - predating the portable trend that swept through the '50s and '60s, but still working just as well as any of those and managing to look even more stately in the process, what with its glossy black finish and glass keys.

There is no carriage return lever, but a clever system of moving up a small lever accomplishes the line spacing function admirably. If I had to change one thing, it would be the exposed ribbon spools, as I like the streamlined look of ribbon covers. That said, it is a fairly simple matter to change these when they're worn out, so I guess there is that.

The decals and name badge are in very good shape, all things considered, and besides a few yellowed keys, the typewriter wears its age quite well. The typeface is a rather ordinary pica, but I find it charming nevertheless. I don't think there were very many options when this was manufactured; I once saw an italic-type Erika (maroon colored, too) on eBay Germany, but I'm sure it was a rather rare find.

Once in the matching wooden case, the Erika 5 is just about as high as the ultra-portable '40s and '50s Hermes Baby/Rocket, but it's about 1.5 times as wide. A perfectly acceptable size, if you ask me, given that the metal from which it is made appears to be significantly sturdier, and that is even before you consider the glass keys. Worth every inch of space it takes up! There aren't many typewriters you could say that about, really.


  1. Beautiful, really.

    I have an Erika 5 too, but in a different and presumably newer body style -- boxier, with the body coming right up to the tops of the ribbon spools so they are flush with the rest of the typewriter.

  2. If you like small and old, you'll love the Underwood 3 bank. It is a miraculous machine - almost pocket sized but a lot more "industrial"-looking than your stunning Erica.

    WV: dada. Surreal!

  3. A true gem, that Erika. Very snazzy.

    As for your interest in the Underwood 3-bank: it's a fascinating machine, but Underwood's engineers seem to have never considered that their teensy typers might ever need to be repaired. On mine, the 2nd shift key didn't lift the carriage high enough so the numbers and symbols would print. Just to get a clear view of the problem, I had to take almost the entire machine apart. I've had the pieces strewn around my office for months as I try to come up with the best fix.

  4. Thanks, everyone! I am very fortunate to have the Erika :-)

    @rn: I have reservations about typewriters which have three characters to a type slug, they will take some getting used to! A Remington Portable is higher on my wish list, and might be easier to find too, we'll see. I love the pop-up type bar mechanism! Adler also had some very interesting tiny portables in the '20s. Haven't unearthed anything intriguing yet at the flea markets, but I'm having fun looking!

    Hope you are able to get the Underwood back together soon... that sounds like quite an undertaking!

  5. I don't want to scare you away from the Underwoods. Three-bank portables have their charm--for instance, the early Erika folding machines and the Klein Adler, which featured a a thrust mechanism. As for the Rems, they're amazing. I have a Model 1 portable from 1923 that has all the appropriate accent keys for use in Europe. It's cute and satisfying to write with and I haven't even cleaned it yet. As an added attraction, the great Swiss/French modernist writer Blaise Cendrars used one.


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