1914 Underwood 5 #698118
Status: My Collection
Hunter: Mark Schrad (MLSchrad)
Created: 01-25-2021 at 08:59PM
Last Edit: 01-25-2021 at 09:00PM
This is an Underwood 5 typewriter, manufactured in Hartford, Connecticut just before the outbreak of the Great War in May, 1914. It was ordered for the G. (Gustaw) Gerlach company: the foremost purveyors of precision machinery to the entire Tsarist Empire. It was probably en route to Europe when World War I broke out that summer.
Back in 1845, eighteen year old Gustaw Gerlach emigrated from Berlin, in the German Empire, to Warsaw: the third-largest city in the Russian Empire. He worked at a factory manufacturing precision optics, before eventually taking over the factory and manufacturing wares bearing his name: high-end optics, watches, surveying equipment, manometers for measuring pressure, binoculars, and eventually typewriters. G. Gerlach watches are still highly sought after by horologists, I‚Äôm told.
Amid Russian industrialization, in 1882, Gerlach‚Äôs wares were allowed to be traded and advertised under the Romanov Coat of Arms. With the advent of the typewriter, Gerlach secured the rights to become the exclusive importer of Underwood typewriters to the Russian Empire, with offices in many cities, but primarily the Big 3: Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw. ‚ÄúThe Best American Writing Machine‚Äôs,‚ÄĚ the advertisements boast. ‚Äú–í—Ā–Ķ–ľi—Ä–Ĺ–į—Ź –Ņ–ĺ–Ī–Ķ–ī–į!‚ÄĚ: Victorious worldwide!
As it says on the front of the machine, The Gerlach (Old Russian: –ď–Ķ—Ä–Ľ—Ź—Ö—ä) branch in Moscow was at 12 Bolshaya Lubyanka, just blocks away from the building that‚Äôd later become the most notorious Soviet prison under Stalin. In St. Petersburg, Gerlach‚Äôs office was at 7 Nevsky Prospekt: the most desirable location on the city‚Äôs main thoroughfare, just a half block from the Winter Palace and the Admiralty. With proximity to power being at a premium, not just anyone could land such a coveted address!
The Great War and Revolutions brought the end of the Romanov Empire, and of course the Bolsheviks were no fans of private enterprise. In 1919, the Gerlachs sold the business in Warsaw to some cousins, who expanded further into airplane instruments and compasses. You can still find evidence of typewriters sold under the Gerlach name even after World War I, but they‚Äôre sold as the chief purveyors to Poland, and there‚Äôs no mention of offices in Moscow, Leningrad, or elsewhere in the new Soviet Union, for reasons that must be obvious.
So it is very cool to get my hands on a Gerlach. But wait! There‚Äôs more! If you look closely, you‚Äôll notice that the well-preserved decals on the machine are in pre-orthographic-reform Russian... but the keys are not. Of the very few Gerlachs that remain, almost all are made with a Russian/Cyrillic typeface (which requires more keys, making it a wide-frame Underwood 46 instead of the Underwood 5, with only 42 keys). This one is not. It is an Underwood 5, and the keyboard layout is QWERTY with Swedish accent keys, and ‚Äúomskiftare‚ÄĚ on the shift keys. I bought this from Tomasz ŇĽak in Poland, who said he found it in Norway. So it‚Äôs been around the world and now back again.
Purchased in November, 2020; arrived January, 2021.
Hunter: Mark Schrad (MLSchrad)
Status: Typewriter Hunter
Professor of Political Science and Director of Russian Area Studies at Villanova University. Writes about alcohol politics, Russia, and international law when not refurbishing old typewriters.
RESEARCH NOTE: When researching the Underwood 5 on a computer with lots of screen real estate, you may find that launching the Underwood Serial Number page and the Underwood 5 By Model/Year/Serial page in new browser windows can give you interesting perspectives on changes throughout the model series.