2013/12/18

China's first typewriters

Hi Typewriter fans from around the world!

My name is Shen Yi  沈祎. Friends call me Gerard. I'm a registered journalist based in Shanghai, China. In a span of 13 years, I've collected more than 60 typewriters, mostly from overseas. 

After viewing so many wonderful wonderful typewriter-related blogs and websites, I decided it is my time to contribute.  As English is not my first language, please forgive my grammar mistakes here and there. 

The aim of my blog is to add a China perspective on typewriter collection. 

Pictured below is a Flying Fish (Model PSQ) typewriter manufacturered in late-1979. Serial Number: 99700. It is definitely among the earliest production of Made-in-China typewriters. I bought it on taobao.com, China's ebay, for 200 renminbi, or approximately 33 US dollars . The seller, a general collector himself and dealer of vintage stuff, certainly have no idea of what's so special about this typewriter.

Officially named as Flying Fish Model PSQ, it is an imitator of a 1950s' model of Adler Tippa. China didn't have its own typewriter industry until late 1960s. The country totally relied on imports to meet its needs before that.  












According to Shanghai Archive, only 36 Flying Fish PSQ typewriters were made by the erstwhile Shanghai Mechanical Calculator Factory every year in early-mid 1970s. Then the number soared to 350,000 in late-1970s to early 1980s, coinciding with China's policies of opening-up and reform. The Chinese communists finally decided to abandon decades' of confrontational policies with the West and embraced global trade, being identified as a quick way to earn dollars and hence the need to build China's own typewriter industry.

Flying Fish PSQs were later re-branded as Hero typewriters. They were assigned to Shanghai No. 2 Typewriter Factory under planned/command economy.  Meanwhile, Flying Fish as a brand was assigned to Shanghai Typewriter Factory, which imitated a later basket-shift model of Adler Tippa.  I will write a separate post about it.  Understandably,  neither of these two typewriter factories exist today. 



Based on my  investigation, the above pictured, also branded as Flying Fish PSQ, is among the earliest batch of made-in-China typewriters, though they are mechanically 99% the same as the second and later models.  Most of these Flying Fish PSQs have Elite fonts (99 characters per line) as opposed to Pica (84 characters per line ) for almost every later made-in-China typewriters, which is boring! 

FYI,I purposefully use made-in-China to premodify western language typewriters to differentiate from Chinese-language typewriters that China also once made.  The latter is a world of different kind of typewriter. 

Believe it or not, these early batches of Flying Fish PSQs are almost as good as Adler Tippas originals . Compact, crispy and carriage shift, it proves to the world how good Chinese craftsmanship could be if the country gets serious about "putting quality first". As China also exported these typewriters to earn money from foreigners,the manufacturers didn't skimp on raw materials either, unlike the later models built in mid-1990s and early 2000s.  

There's no intellectual property infringement involved as Adler's patent protection had already expired at the time of production. At least I was so told. 

Upon arrival, there were some minor problems about the machine. These problems were fixed by Mr. Lu, a retired typewriter repaireman already in his early 80s and also my what Chinese would call a  "regardless of age difference " kind of friend. At 18, Mr. Lu was apprenticed to a village folk, who is a few years ahead of him, to learn how to repair typewriters . He told me that, when he first started his career, Underwood 5 had just been launched onto the Chinese market.   He didn't retire until 70s in 2001. Normally Chinese men retire at 60 and women 55. He explained it was because his skills were badly needed in late 1980s and early 1990s.  Many a time he lamented: I'm dying, then who can help you repair typewriters?  ahh....how sad!













  

17 comments:

  1. Welcome to the typosphere! I didn't know that B-spot was banned in China, and hope you will continue to have access. Thanks for the interesting history and insights. I love the Flying Fish logo.

    Your English is very good, by the way.

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    1. Thank you Richard and a Big Congratulations being my first follower and visitor! hehe

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  2. Welcome to the Typosphere, you're certainly the first typecaster we know of in mainland China! Thanks for the post on the early Flying Fish, I'm not sure if we know much at all about early Chinese typewriter manufacturing until around the 1990's, so your research is very interesting in that regard. (:

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    1. it's like a lost soldier finally find his troop! hehe...Thank you for your encouragement!

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  3. I'm very excited to see someone from China writing in the Typosphere. This is great
    ! I'm looking forward to some interesting posts.

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    1. definitely I will keep posting new pictures!

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  4. A fascinating essay. And what fun to find another journalist with the typewriter bug.

    You have friends here, Gerard. Please keep writing.

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    1. Thank you Travelling Type! I will keep writing!

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  5. The more cultural diversity the better! I'm quite new here myself. Welcome Gerard. :)

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  6. Shen Yi, welcome to the Typosphere! Finally, we have someone typecasting from China.. I really look forward to your post, I am adding you to my blog roll.

    Cheers!

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    1. thank you Ton for your encouraging words.

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  7. Hi Gerard, your posts are great fo far. Really informative.
    Now I want to buy a brand new typewriter. Looking for a fairly good one te write short notes on it. Which one would you buy from the following available?

    -Royal Epoch/Rover Carina 2
    -Kofa 100
    -Kofa 300
    -Kofa 626TAS

    I am leaning towards the Kofa 100 for its Tippa mechanism, but is carriage shift. Then the Epoch seems also very nice with segment shift, but may be less good than the Kofa mechanism. Don't know anuthing about the Kofa 300 and 626TAS though..
    Thanks!

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    1. Hi foo-Ho,

      Thanks for commenting. As far as I'm concerned, these Kofas made in mid-1990s and after are not good enough. As for Royal Epoch, sorry, I've never seen or tried one before.

      Merry Christmas and happy new year!

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    2. Hi Machopolitan,

      Thanks for you advice. I am thinking about buying a Royal Epoch and then compare it to a Olympia Carina 1. There are only Carina 1's found here sadly enough. Haven't seen a Carina 2 here yet. Don't you think the Carina 1 and Carina 2 are the same machine?
      I've contact with Betty from Weilv. She is by the way (if you also want an Epoch, the factory is in Shanghai) willing to sell individual typewriters. Really nice, but the shipping to Holland is already $150 with Fedex. You know another cheaper courier perhaps?

      圣诞快乐!

      林富豪上

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    3. hey, Fuhao, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

      International shipping is, without exception, expensive. If you are living in Europe, I think DHL is the best option. I always use DHL for machines shipped in from Germany. It takes around a month and is trans-shipped many times in between, which I don't care.

      Why you insist on buying one from China? Trust me, my asian brother, you will regret your decision right after you open the box. You'd better buy a 1970s machine made in Europe from a local dealer.

      But if you are interested in a special character typewriter,maybe Weilv could help. I know they produce math symbol keyboard typewriters.

      BTW, do you have a contact number of Betty from Weilv? Thank you

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    4. http://writingball.blogspot.com/2013/03/typewriter-review-royal-scrittore-ii.html

      I've just did a bit of research on the internet, and found this ROVER REVIEW written by Richard Polt so that you can have a better idea of how does the Rovers, Royals actually type. :-)

      I just called Betty, you know what? she's a total b**ch.

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