|Recently, there has been an increased interest in typewriters which have been repaired, repainted and resold through various venues including the internet. These are distinctly different from machines purchased in "as found" condition, which incidentally is how the vast majority of machines are bought and sold.
A particular focus has been placed on machines which have been altered. By "altered" I mean machines that are not in their original color, or even in their original model configuration. This departure from "normal" rebuilding is fraudulent, to be sure, and requires a closer, more exacting description of what constitutes a legally rebuilt typewriter. "Legally rebuilt," you say? Yes, because a number of years ago the Federal Trade Commission made a series of rulings about this very subject. First, some background.
|In the early part of the 20th century, it had become obvious to all that the typewriter was a staple of the modern office. Very many companies were manufacturing typewriters of all prices, sizes and capacities, and the new "visible" machines were appearing in greater numbers. As new machines with new features came out, older machines were traded in or resold. This continued supply of new machines, and continued outflux of old machines coupled with the high price of the new machines led to a further market in rebuilt typewriters. The big manufacturers suddenly found themselves faced with companies that took in old machines, rebuilt and resold them at less than half the cost of new typewriters. Union Typewriter converted its American Writing Machine Company to being a rebuilder (see ad at left) and advertised its products very clearly as being rebuilt.|
|There were a number of companies that saw the great sales (and profit) potential in this situation, and which decided to sell rebuilt typewriters without telling the buying public that they had been rebuilt; the ads never mentioned it.
The most famous of these was Harry A. Smith. On the right, we see Thomas Fuertig's HARRY A. SMITH machine. Note the well done decal on the front frame: "Harry A. Smith Typewriter Co." However, this machine was not designed by, or originally manufactured by, Harry A. Smith. It's really a Victor No. 3, manufactured by the Victor Typewriter Company.
This type of product is then deceptive on two points; first, it is not labeled as being what it really is, and second, the advertising created for Smith's machines at the time didn't mention the fact that they were rebuilt either.
|Many purchasers of this kind of machine were understandably upset, later on; often these rebuilds were of lower quality than those rebuilt by the original makers and worse there was no local repair contractor available and no real provision for return of the machine to the seller for warranty coverage. You were essentially stuck with the machine once you got it. The low price, of course, attracted enough new buyers over time that even if older buyers didn't re-buy it didn't matter. There would be enough new purchases to keep going so long as no one spilled the beans. Several complaints and hearings from 1916-1920 started to shed some light.|
|Of course, somebody finally did spill the beans. The major typewriter manufacturers were, at the time, collectively a major part of the entire manufacturing and industrial complex of the United States (see Royal Typerwriter Company's massive Hartford, Connecticut plant at left.) Their voices were strong, their names frequently in the news; together, they were a definitive entity. This collective was exactly that which the Federal Trade Commission gathered in an open meeting in 1920. Representatives of the manufacturers gathered and gave information and testimony to the FTC, speaking as one group, concerning the physical and mechanical requirements of rebuilding typewriters and the requirements for advertising such machines.|
|What did the manufacturers say -- and what did the FTC find? Here is the text from the 1920 FTC Annual Report on this subject.
REBUILT TYPEWRITER INDUSTRY. The reputation gained for properly and thoroughly rebuilt typewriting machines yielding a comparatively high percentage of efficiency was found on investigation by the Commission to have induced widespread unfair deceptive practices.
To simultaneously correct the unfair practices complained of, the industry upon the invitation from the Commission assembled and, at its request, defined and denounced in open meeting those practices which in the judgement and experience of the industry were considered unfair methods of competition.
The term "Rebuilt" or "Remanufactured" was first defined substantially as follows: Machines in which all substantial parts have been removed, examined, cleaned and tested; defective parts replaced; type properly aligned; unnecessary lost motion eliminated; tarnished bluded and nickel parts reblued and renickeled; and the parts of which have been reassembled, inspected and adjusted by competent workmen.
The industry then defined and denounced the use of the following practices as unfair methods of competition:
A. The selling of rebuilt or remanufactured typewriters as new machines.
B. The selling as rebuilt or remanufactured typewriters machines which have been given only superficial repairs or such repairs as are necessary to enable a machine to be operated without being rebuilt or remanufactured as defined herein.
C. Guaranteeing of a machine by a dealer who is not a competent workman or who does not employ a skilled repair or serviceman, and who cannot keep the guaranteed machines in repair or furnish service in answer to a customer's complaint.
D. The guaranteeing of machines sold on mail order unless guaranty expressly provides that a local dealer shall make service repairs at the expense of the mail order dealer or provides for the return of the machine to the mail order dealer for guaranteed service repairs.
|Harry A. Smith had advertised the machine seen at right as "My Model No. 6 Visible" in circulars; it was later in such papers called "The Famous Genuine No. 6 Visible Writer." Problem? It was really a rebuilt Harris Visible No. 4, and judging by the fact that he said he had about a thousand of these machines and only one remains today (at right, Seaver Collection) they weren't well done. Smith knew what the FTC meant, and he made BIG changes soon after.|
|Smith immediately altered his long-running ads in Popular Mechanics to change the line "you cannot imagine the perfection of this typewriter" to "you cannot imagine the perfection of this reconstructed typewriter" or some such thing. Very soon, though, the ads totally changed to give a complete description of the machines and he changed over to rebuilding only L. C. Smith standard typewriters -- labeled clearly as L. C. Smith machines when he was done. Smith also tried to get into actually selling new machines. Some collectors think the ANNELL, seen at left, offered in magazines around 1922 was an attempt by Smith to sell machines actually built by Woodstock for the purpose. This venture failed.|
|Smith then bought the rights, and the tooling for the old Moyer / Blick Bar standard machine from Blickensderfer (ad at right showing this machine from Peter Weil) and tried to place it into production at a new factory in Indiana. This also failed.
Our point here is this: Smith knew (since in the earlier actions 1916 on he was cited personally several times) what the FTC and the manufacturers meant, and what the full interpretation of the 1920 indicated. He then compli?ed fully and halted all deceptive practices.
|My first page on REBUILT TYPEWRITERS gives a complete description of the different levels, or ranges of rebuilding that were found as produced by the major manufacturers themselves as well as by the various rebuilding companies and even dealers, complete with illlustrations and serves as the best (and until now ONLY) online reference for such machines. This page now adds to that information and with both in mind we can make a few hopefully rather obvious points:
1. The definition of "rebuilt" works both ways; in order for a machine to be labeled as rebuilt, certain things must happen AND if certain things are done to a machine it MUST be labeled as rebuilt.
2. Machines which are only partly fixed up cannot be labeled as rebuilt.
3. Although not specifically stated in the FTC action, we know that all relabeling of machines stopped following the FTC session in 1920 and then safely assume that a machine must be labeled as it was originally manufactured and sold, or at least cannot be labeled in a deceptive manner or in a manner intended to misrepresent or which in fact does misrepresent what the machine originally was built as. This logically follows the serial number of the machine, just as legal an identifier as the VIN CODE of an automobile.
4. Mixing and matching of parts to create whole machines does not constitute rebuilding in and of itself, but rather modification and if not specifically indicated then that practice is deceptive. Replacement of small parts is covered as "repair," for example, but the placement of a style of carriage on a machine which never originally carried such is, by way of example, deceptive unless that fact is indicated. Mixing and matching of parts is required for rebuilding if parts are replaced as needed and if this occurs the whole requirements of the FTC findings must be met for the machine to be called "rebuilt."