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Royal Portable - 1926

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Royal Portable 
Touch Control -1936

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Royal came later to the market than the other big manufacturers, Remington, Underwood and Smith-Corona but, ultimately, it was to outperform them all.  The company was founded in New York in 1906 by financier Thomas Fortune Ryan and perhaps the most prolific typewriter inventor of all, E. B. Hess. Hess secured more than 200 patents, notably the accelerating typebar, giving Royal its trade mark light touch.  But the key innovation of the first machines manufactured in a Brooklyn loft was the obvious desire to make the typewriter compact and easy to carry - unlike every other desk machine on the market.  The 1906 Royal 'Flatbed' had a low profile and was provided with a leather carrying case, as shown in the picture above.  The machine was far from a true portable, as it weighed some 22 pounds, but this was clearly Hess's goal.  In 1906, however, business buyers were not ready for such innovations and Flatbed  sales were disappointing.  When Royal moved to a larger factory in Hartford, typewriterConnecticut, Hess's first act was to design a new machine more in line with business customers' expectation - a desk machine that looked more like an Underwood or a Remington.  Perhaps it was because of this early rebuff that Royal did not launch its first portable until 1926 -- six years behind Remington, seven behind Underwood and almost two decades after Corona.  However, from the start its machines were extremely stylish and light to operate. And the company put into operation a global advertising and PR programme to persuade its desk machine customers to buy the new Royal Portable.  Royal's flamboyant president, George Ed Smith, decided that the most spectacular way of getting the new machines from the factory in Hartford to the nationwide network of 2,100 dealers set up to sell portables, was by air - then a revolutionary idea.  He bought a Ford Tri-motor plane and announced to his horrified factory staff that they were going to parachute the portable machines to dealers.  A total of 11,000  portables were parachuted all over America with nervous Royal engineers standing by in the drop zonestypewriter to unpackage the machines and make sure they still worked.  Amazingly, claimed the company, only half a dozen of the 11,000 machines were damaged -- through landing on their  corners -- thus achieving just the effect that Smith wanted to have on the buying public.  The Royal Portable was so tough it would stand anything.  Perhaps being late to market assisted the Royal design team for, with its 1926 Portable,  the designers had learned from their competitors to arrive at the basic format and design that would stay with portable typewriters  for the next fifty years. Almost every one of  the designers' decisions was confirmed  by the Underwood Four-Bank Portable  launched in the same year and looking uncannily similar.  One curious fact from a collector's standpoint is that this first Royal Portable ought to be a common machine yet it is actually rather rare  (only two or three a year come up on eBay). When they do appear, they can sell for very little (I bought the mint example shown here on eBay for 15) so it pays to keep your eyes open.  Only the rather square, boxy shape that Royal had always preferred marked out the Royal Portable as different.    After this extremely promising start in the portables market, Royal not only caught up with its rivals, but overook them all by the 1950s to become the world's largest typewriter manufacturer.typewriter  The Portable sold close to 1,400,000 machines between 1926 and 1947, outselling its early rivals. It was followed by a number of other designs including the Safari, Signet, Junior, UR, Model D, and several  Royalite and Royaluxe models as well as the little Diana machine recalled by many from the 1950s.  The Safari machine sold an amazing 1.5 million in the mid-1960s alone while the Royalite and Royaluxe models sold nearly 4 million between 1955 and 1966, making Royal by far the best-selling portable maker of all time.  The machine shown here is the Royal 'Touch Control' model of 1936, which enabled the typist to vary the resistance of the keys by sliding a lever in the centre above the keys.   One curious incidental fact about Royal is that the glossy black paint finish on its early portables has lasted better than that of any other maker and, in most cases, still looks as good as new today, misleading many inexperienced collectors into thinking either that they have stumbled on a mint machine or that the typewriter is much more modern than it really is -- an unexpected and belated tribute to the company's high manufacturing and quality standards. 

In 1954, Royal merged with the McBee Corporation and for the next 10 years traded as Royal McBee.  In 1964 the joint company was acquired by electronics giant Litton Industries, which also bought up Imperial Typewriters.  For several years in the 1960s, Royal and Imperial traded as a single organisation but eventually succumbed to competition from Far East producers and ceased manufacturing in 1968.

 

 

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