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Catalog Brands

Long before Wal-Mart figured out how to sell products dirt-cheap by purchasing in bulk, there was Sears, Roebuck, & Co. They would buy large lots direct from the manufacturer and re-sell them at prices much lower than smaller retailers could. In some cases, as with the Conley Camera Co, Sears bought the company outright and became the sole distributor of those products.

In the beginning, Sears bought and resold typewriters directly. The Harris #4 you got from Sears was exactly the same Harris #4 you could buy from any other typewriter dealer. As other mail-order retailers came about, the business model shifted from simple re-selling to branding. The major retailers began to have products produced especially for them, carrying their own brand name instead of the manufacturer's. This was called rebadging, and the whole idea was brand loyalty. You could buy a Smith-Corona typewriter anywhere, but you could buy a Tower typewriter only from Sears. They were the exact same typewriter, but Sears wanted to engrain their brand into the public psyche wherever they could.

Sometimes, a manufacturer would make a variant typewriter special for the reseller, with certain features added or removed from their regular brand-name models. We'll see examples from Royal below.

Sometimes a typewriter was completely stripped of any brand name at all in order to make it less expensive. J.C. Penny and K-Mart tended to do that.

Part of the fun of typewriter collecting can be trying to determine a rebadged machine's true identity. Below, we'll look at a few re-named machines and try to identity their origins.

*NEW*: See here for a quick-reference guide to Smith-Corona portable serial number prefixes.

J.C. Penny electric
Serial # SV25509

As an example of how to identify a re-badged typewriter, we know that this "no-name" machine from J.C. Penny is actually a rebadged Smith-Corona due to the presence of a "Page Gage" and the uniquely-styled rabbit-ear paper support. To be precise, it's a Smith-Corona Electra C/T or XT.

K-Mart 300 DeLuxe 12
Serial # E7252545
Early 1980s

Although zero clues to its true identity are revealed in the manual or warrenty information, this is a rebadged Brother 750.

Montgomery Ward Escort 55
Serial # 6612193

Olivetti sold millions of its Barcelona-manufactured Lettera 32 typewriters in various shells under many different names. This colorful 1970s catalog offering is one of them.

Montgomery Ward Model 22
Serial # 344342-37

Montgomery Ward Model 22

Here's something obscure. The real name behind this Model 22 is the Antares Lisa 30. If you're thinking that it looks more like an Olivetti than an Antares, you'd be right. Antares and Olivetti seem to have had some sort of business relationship toward the end of Antares' life, but what it was remains unclear.

Penncrest Concord 10
Serial #s P5TE-105697 & P6SV-102086

Penncrest 5TE Concord 10

Penncrest was J.C. Penny's house brand, used on many household items. Concord was the model name used for their line of electric typewriters; almost all were made by Smith-Corona, with slight design changes.

The Concord shown above is a variant of Smith-Corona's "5TE" electric, billed as the world's first electric portable. The color and ribbon cover design are completely different from any other 5TE. In fact, I've never seen another example of a rebadged 5TE, and while I've seen many examples of the later Concord shown below, I've never seen another 5TE Concord.

I believe this version of the Concord is a rebadged Smith-Corona Coronet Electric.

On a side note, the 5TE, serial #P5TE-105697 is a good example of how tricky it can be to date machines manufactured for other distributors. Sometimes they were manufactured within the parent line's serial number sequence; sometimes they weren't. 105697 is a lower number than the 5TE line is known to have started with (132611). Furthermore, in their Aug 24, 1964 trademark filing for the Concord name, J.C. Penney states that the first use "in commerce" was April 10, 1964. Smith-Corona discontinued the 5TE in 1963. What appears to have happened is that Smith-Corona continued to manufacture the 5TE for resale beyond 1963, but reset the serial numbers. I am going to therefore tentatively date my 5TE Concord 10 to 1964.

Penncrest Caravelle 10
Serial # P6S-105567
Penncrest Caravelle 10

This rebadged Galaxie-class Smith-Corona bears traits of a couple different models. The keyboard and tab control layout closely resembles the mid-'60s Super-Sterling, but with the replaceable 1/! key, fluted platen knobs, and power spacer found on later Galaxies. The 6S serial number sequence within the proper Smith-Corona lines seems to only be used for Super-Sterlings. My presumption then is that that is the machine upon which the Caravelle is based.

Royal Dart
Serial # D4482374

Like the Royal Heritage below, the dart was a variant exclusive to Montgomery Ward. It is closely related to the Royalite/Ensign/Companion/Eldorado family, and mechanically identical, but is unique to all of them in that its ribbon cover is raised from the body and does not continue down the sides.

Royal Heritage
Serial # H-4402508

The Heritage was a slightly downgraded version of the Futura 800 sold only through Montgomery Ward. It differs mostly in that it lacks the 800's touch control, and has no pop-up paper supports.

Sears Citation 12
Serial # 5ASL-100266

Another rebadged Smith-Corona. The 5A serial number prefix implies that it was based upon the Sterling, and indeed, the keyboard bears more than a passing resemblance to the early '60s Sterling.

Tower Chieftain
Serial # 463058

Tower Chieftain

Lettera22 ad
Lettera 22 advertising poster

Most Sears Towers that you will come across are rebadged Smith-Coronas. However, a few Underwoods and Olivettis were also sold under the Tower brand. This Chieftain is an Olivetti Lettera 22 in disguise. The serial number and the conspicuous lack of Olivetti's signature red tab key tell us that this model is from its first year of production, 1950. There were three Chieftain incarnations (see below for a Chieftain II). This is the only Chieftain I have ever seen that was not a rebadged Smith-Corona Skyriter. To confuse matters more, a later, Mexican-made version of the Lettera 22 with white keys was sold as the Tower Courier.

Download the manual for this typewriter here.

Tower Challenger
Serial # 4CR12023

A rebadged Smith-Corona sold by Sears. Although S-C's Speedline body was officially discontinued after 1949, this is a carryover and mechanically is a Clipper with early 1950s keys.

Tower Chieftain II
Serial # 3YT113892

Like the Challenger above, the Chieftain is a rebadged Smith-Corona sold under Sears' Tower brand. The Chieftain is immediately recognizable as a Skyriter. I've also seen a later version with white keys with the name Tower Voyager.

Download the manual for this typewriter here.

Tower Chieftain III
Serial # 3YT175659

Tower Chieftain III

Sears Tutor
Serial # S6YT87635

Sears Tutor

Like the Tower above, the "6Y" in the serial number is a dead-giveaway that this plastic-bodied portable is built upon Smith-Corona's 5th-generation Skyriter chassis (or should that be 6th-generation Zephyr?). The 6Y series was the line's last gasp, all built by Smith-Corona's British subsidiary. A slew of nearly identical models were built upon this chassis, including the Skyriter, Cougar, Courier, Profile, Carnegie, and Zephyr II. The Tutor's angular ribbon cover is almost the only thing that separates it from its S-C-branded kin, and in my opinion because of it the Tutor is slightly more attractive than those others. It doesn't change the fact that this is one super-flimsy machine, only a few notches removed from a toy. It was a sad end for a long-lived and prestigious line.

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