In April 2017 I bought my first typewriter: a classic Underwood 6 from 1936. It was actually advertised as an Underwood 5, which would have been even more classic, but I liked the machine and went for it.
Since then, I have accumulated a small collection of typewriters, ranging from the 1890s to the 1980s. I thought I would do a little write-up on some of those machines. 1
So I am starting with this same Underwood 6 from 1936, machine number 1 in my collection. I spent $100 on it via Craigslist (I would push for less today) but I don’t regret spending this much as the machine is really in great condition and it types really well.
In general, it is good to buy large “desktop” typewriters (standards, as they are called) locally, since shipping them is risky as sellers often don’t know how to pack them well. Many typewriters get damaged in transit this way.
This is a direct descendant of the mythical Underwood 5, the first truly modern typewriter which set the standard for how typewriters should look like for decades. Like the 5, it features an open frame: you can see the inside of the machine and there is only a panel in front. This is nice if you have an engineer’s mindset, but of course that means that the machine can gather dust more easily. It looks a little bit more modern than the 5, without the fancy decals of the early 5s, for example. But the decal on the paper table of the Underwood 6 is really beautiful, as are the green and black keys.
The machine is a carriage shift, which means that shifting to uppercase is more tiring than with newer machines: you have to lift the entire carriage up with your little fingers using the shift keys. It’s fine with a bit of practice. Other than that, typing on this machine feels pretty good to me, and I typed many pages on this machine.
Underwoods in general have a great design and are very robust, so it’s no wonder they sold millions of them in the end. It is easy to remove the carriage and to access the inside, 2 so they are good beginner machines if you want to clean in depth or tinker a bit. I love that the bell is visible on the side, and the 6’s tab system is quite nice.
I didn’t have to do much on this machine: a good cleaning, new rubber feet bought online, and a new ribbon (I was so excited to receive the ribbon I had ordered for the machine online!).
As for issues, the color selector is hard to adjust perfectly so that the red doesn’t bleed (this seems typical on Underwoods). The workaround consists in just using a black ribbon or the black part of a two-color ribbon on this machine. Also, the left margin is a little bit lazy, but it’s not a big problem. Finally, I would still like to bend back the seal on the left into shape.
Overall this is one of the favorite machines in my collection and I am really happy to have it.