Three-Bank Typewriters

Many people might consider three-bank typewriters to be oddities from a time when typewriters were still relatively new inventions and new, improved designs were continually being experimented with.The truth is, three-bank typewriters were very popular. Integrating the third row of numbers and symbols into the three letter rows not only economized on moving parts, but created a smaller typing space for the typist's fingers to have to traverse. A modern typist used to the ubiquitous four-bank typewriter or computer keyboard might find the three-bank configuration slow and awkward at first, but with practise a skilled typist can type just as quickly if not faster than on a standard keyboard. This gallery is a tribute to those machines which found a following in the early decades of the 20th Century, only to die out after World War II.

Second possibly to only the Corona 3 (see below), the Oliver was one of the most successful three-bank typewriters ever made. Over a million of these tank-like beasts were sold between 1894 and 1928. After the Oliver Typewriter Company was sold to a British firm, the Oliver name was applied to rebranded Fortuna and Halda four-bank typewriters, though the familiar three-bank winged machine continued to be produced off and on through 1947. From the mid-1930s on, the Oliver name also appeared on rather standard four-bank portables which bore little relation to the original.

To get it out of the way at the start, this Harry A. Smith #6 is really a Harris Visible #4. I don't have a Harris, so this Harry will have to represent them.

The Harris (which also went by the names Rex and Demountable) found its way into many homes thanks to the original Home Shopping Network, the Sears catalog. Although not nearly as solid as the Oliver and having a rather harsh keyboard touch, the Harris is the only one of the group featured here to feature basket shift. All of the others move the carriage up and down, which can be quite tiring on the poor pinky finger that has to work the Fig key. Note, too, that this is the only machine of the group to offer a second, right-hand Fig key.

After an in-depth study of serial number sequences by Will Davis, It's now thought that this machine may have been one of 800 purchased by Sears for internal office use, as opposed to sale though its catalog.

This is the machine that rocketed Corona (later Smith-Corona) to fame. Though the Corona #3 was made from 1910-1941, it really got its beginning in 1907 as the Standard Folding. The Standard Typewriter Company changed its name to The Corona Typewriter Company in 1910 when the #3 hit the market. This little guy became popular among WWI field journalists for its light weight and compactness. One could even purchase a case that had tripod legs that unfolded to turn itself into an improvised desk.

Toward the end of its run, Corona 3s were offered in bright colors as Corona Specials.

Like the Corona, this Erika was also foldable. Some believe that there may have been some patent infringement on Seidel & Naumann's part. If there was, then Corona was less successful in shutting down the Erika than it was in its lawsuit against the folding Fox portable. The folding Erika was produced in slightly varying forms from 1910 to 1923.

On a personal note, this particular three-bank machine is very pleasant to type on, despite a few language-barrier obstacles. (The Z and Y keys are interchanged, with lowercase Y being the Fig shift of ß.)

The three-bank Underwood Standard Portable was produced for a decade beginning in 1919. This particular specimen is a 1929 model, one of the last made. By this time, Underwood was offering its portables in a handful of uniquely-patterned colors, including green, tan, and red. This may be the smallest typewriter I have ever handled, making even the Corona 3 seem a bit top-heavy by comparison.

I'm including this all-plastic Tom Thumb toy typewriter from the 1970s just to illustrate that the three-bank system was not some failed experimental layout exclusive to the early 20th century. Imagine teaching a child today to type on a three-bank keyboard before a four-bank! It would be sort of like learning to ride a unicycle before a bicycle. One wonders if they wouldn't be a better four-bank typist for it. Certainly, if one can become proficient on a three-bank keyboard, anything else would be easy.

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