While we tap away on personal computers today, there was a time when typewriters ruled the world. Certain makes and models in particular were real classics, and the Royal typewriter brand certainly fell into this category. Even today in the 21st century the Royal is regarded as one of the finest makes of typewriter ever created. Many famous writers relied on a Royal to help them create their works of art – Ernest Hemingway is just one of them.
The Royal typewriter company started life just over a century ago in 1904. The company was started by EB Hess, who had already made typewriters in various designs for his own use. Although the company was founded in 1904, it would be another two years before the very first Royal typewriter, aptly named the Royal 1, would be made available for the public to buy. The front of the typewriter below the keys bore the legend Royal Typewriter Company New York USA, with the number one depicted in each corner.
The idea behind the Royal 1 model was that it would be a reliable and sturdy machine that would last many years. The Royal 5 followed six years later and was notable for having a portable leather case included with it. It would be another fifteen years before the first true portable Royal would be created however, which would simply be called the Royal Portable. Apparently Bing Crosby was one of the most famous users of the Royal Portable back in the Twenties. This particular model was in production for some twenty years.
Before then one of the most notable of all the Royal typewriters was released – this was the Royal 10. This had a very different look to it than its predecessors, because it was an upright model. As such the keys were much lower than the bulk of the machine; the overall impression is one of a box shaped typewriter with the keys in a separate section attached to the front.
The Royal 10 marked an end in a way for the typewriter business. This was the model that incorporated many changes and advancements – essentially it had been perfected to the stage where nothing much more could be done. In fact the Royal 10 would be the last major step forward in the industry until electric typewriters finally took over many years later.
There are two glass panels on either side of the Royal 10 model, and this is indeed one of the best ways to identify one. The rear panel is smaller than the one to the front. The Royal brand name appears on the back of the typewriter as well as on the front, near the keys.
But even though the Royal 10 would signify the last major step forward for the industry for many years, the Royal Typewriter Company had several more models still waiting in the wings to be created. When the Depression hit America in the early Thirties, many businesses found themselves in trouble. But Royal came up with a typewriter that appealed to the times they found themselves in – the Royal Signet, a low cost model that was also portable. This no doubt kept the sales coming even in hard times.
There were also some more unusual Royal models that were made available over the years. Perhaps one of the most memorable was the Royal Quiet De Luxe Gold. The Quiet De Luxe was smaller than some of the earlier Royal machines – the Royal 10 in particular – and in 1947 a gold plated version was released. This was a highlight in the Royal range and it was only made available for a short length of time. It is said that James Bond creator Ian Fleming bought one; he certainly had a liking for Royal typewriters and used quite a few during his time as a writer. Marlon Brando was also said to have typed with a Royal De Luxe model, although he doesn’t seem to have had a gold one.
Even though the glory years of the Royal typewriter are long since gone, it still makes appearances in modern culture today. In the film ‘Misery’ (an adaptation released in 1990 of a novel by Stephen King) the main character is forced to write a new book for his number one fan on a Royal typewriter. The typewriter takes on a new guise towards the end of the film when he attacks his captor with it.
Other models made their ways onto the shelves over the years too – the Royal KHM made its debut in 1934 for example, and featured a cover for the typewriter ribbons in use. Noel Coward was known to have used one of these. Meanwhile if we fast forward to 1954 the Royal HH model was the first to feature touch control as part of the design.
You can still buy a Royal typewriter today, but it will be very different from the classic models of yesteryear. The company was bought out by Litton Industries in the Seventies; Litton was then in turn bought out by Olivetti. Nowadays the typewriters are known as Adler-Royal typewriters and they are all electronic in nature. While they are faster, quieter and probably more efficient, they don’t quite match up to the classic style and class of the original Royal typewriters. Indeed it would seem that many old style writers still hanker after the classic Royals of yesterday.