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The Prototype folding typewriter

The machine shown here is the prototype of the Standard Folding Typewriter, made by its American inventor, Frank Rose, around 1904-5.  The prototype was thought to have been lost but was in fact stored away with Rose's personal effects after his early death around 1906.  It recently came up for auction and was re-discovered and correctly identified after some engineering detective work.  Although it superficially resembles the production machine shown on the previous page, the prototype is entirely hand-built and differs from the production machine in dozens of matters of detail. The label attached to the machine, probably written by Frank Rose, or his son George, contains the descriptions:

Model No. 2
Aluminum Machine
Ribbon Mechanism

This tells us firstly that the machine was the second prototype made (confirmed by the serial number 2 stamped by hand several times on the back) secondly, that it did not yet have an official name ("Rose Typewriter" or "Standard Folding") and was known simply as the Aluminum Machine and thirdly that it was probably made to test a ribbon transport mechanism.  

How do we know it’s a prototype? At first glance, the machine appears to resemble very closely an early type Standard Folding Typewriter as manufactured in 1908. However, closer inspection shows that the No 2 machine is different in several important respects. The first is that practically every part of it has been made by hand and bears the marks of hand manufacture, such as file marks and scriber marks. There are numerous errors in construction (such as holes drilled in the wrong place, or breaking through into channels where other parts should slide.) These errors have not been made good but simply left. An example of this can be seen with the main front plate, which is secured by means of one central screw either side. Underneath the plate, however, are four further tapped holes which it was originally intended should secure the front plate by two screws each side. The machine thus shows evidence of developing design, not the stability of design required for production. There are a few properly manufactured parts, such as the platen and the nickel plated key caps. It may be that these were simply taken from another machine, or were bought in as commodity parts from a component maker. A key feature of the prototype is that almost every working part is made from aluminium – steel hardly features at all. This design feature is taken to such lengths, in the effort to save weight, that aluminium is used for components that could not possibly be constructed from such a relatively soft metal. This is not simply engineering ignorance on Rose’s part – in 1903 aluminium was still a rare and precious metal, a novelty that had never been used for any serious industrial purpose. A complete list of differences between the prototype and later production versions would fill many pages. There are differences in dimensions (including the overall length and width) differences in material, differences in features provided and differences of engineering design.

The obvious differences between the prototype and later production versions are;

* The folding arms are fabricated out of aluminium rather than nickel plated steel.

* The ribbon spools are double-sided and fabricated out of brass rather than steel.

* The paper fingers are fabricated out of Brass rather than nickel plated spring steel.

* The space bar is fabricated out of painted wood, rather than aluminium and is shorter.

* There is no decal on the front, no company name engraved on the back and no 'proper' Serial Number punched or scratched anywhere, except that the single number 2 is hand punched a few times in various orientations on the back.

* There are no cast type slugs on the type bars.

* There is no shift lock mechanism.

* There are no rubber feet to stop the machine moving in use.

* The type bars are fixed by a single row of screws instead of a double row.

Many of the dimensions in the production version are different. For instance the platen is 8.75 inches against 8.5, the width increased from 7.25 to 7.375 and length from 7.375 to 7.5. The type levers in the production version are 0.1 inch thick while the frames are made from sheet aluminium 0.16 inches thick. In the prototype the frames are cut from 0.125 inch sheet and the type levers even thicker at 0.143. Many features are not available on the prototype, including 2-colour ribbon, cap/fig lock, line spacing, platen release, ribbon vibrator or pressure roller to aid paper feed. All are present on later production machines. There is also considerable refinement in engineering design that is not present in the prototype. For example, the ribbon bobbins are advanced by a sophisticated worm and gear wheel. In the prototype, there is a clumsy attempt to drive the ribbon bobbins directly from the escapement linkage by a large gear with many teeth.


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       Copyright Richard Milton © 2003-2009
          Last revised: 30 April 2006

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