Index Typewriters


Index machines were so called because the operator used a guide, called an index, to pick the letter he wanted to type. Generally, once the desired letter was chosen, another action was necessary to type it. Yes, this was usually a slow and arduous process, but the cost of the index machine made it very appealing. In a time when a standard, or typebar, machine could run $100-$125, the index machines could be had for as little as $1, generally no more than $15-20! Click on the name of the index machine you'd like to take a look at and don't forget that our museum shows many more of these machines!


Niagara ca 1902 s/n 227. This little index machine was briefly produced by the Blickensderfer Typewriter Company and originally sold for $15! It was the only index machine that they made and even had the typeball and carriage of the regular Blick #5 typebar machine. Blickensderfer obviously had much better success with their typebar machine as there are only a handful of Niagaras known to exist.

New American #5 ca. early 1900s. - This super little machine has a very similar set-up to an Odell with a sliding type rod and roller inker. Current publishings place this machine at about 1890 but we believe it to be post 1900. Evidence? The application of the decoration on the corners of the base is similar to the later American Indexes of about 1900-1910. The index is of the same composition as the later Odells of post 1900. Also, the machines construction is similar to that of the Odell but with a lighter casting. Our theory? Since the overall mechanism of the New American is nearly identical to that of the later model Odells, could this have been a patent infringement in which case it was removed from the market quickly? Or, was this a failed attempt at taking the discontinued Odells' design and trying to make something new of it? The rarity of this machine supports both of these theories. This example has a French index.

Hall- Salem MA the Improved Model 1887 s/n 6456 - The type on the Hall was all arranged on a square rubber pad, which rubbed over an ink pad. It was the first index machine on the market, patented in 1881, though Salem was the 2nd mfg address- NY was the first. After Salem, it was made in Boston. This Hall is shown with trade catalog, oiler, key for lock and ink spreader.

Here's an odd Hall: ca 1885 s/n 6026* - This Hall appears to be a left-over from the NY manufacturing days, so signified by the engraved plate (vs the plaque on most Salem models) and the pinch lever 'carriage shift' which allows the user to return the print assembly to the beginning of a line. There's a closer view of the engraving at the bottom of the picture. As of the time this is written, there are only 3 examples of this type Hall in existance. Do you have one? Let us know!! Also shown on this model is an auxiliary index plate that pressure fit over the printing post, giving an easier-to-see indication of what character the user was selecting. With the machine are pictured an ink can, oil can, ink spreader, screwdriver, tool box, unopened rubber type plate and 2 ink pads. Hell, even the key is still in the lock! Curiously enough, this machine came with an instruction manual to the later Boston Hall. Maybe it was a trade-in that was re-sold in those times of waste-not want-not?

American Visible ca 1901 s/n 2969 - An interesting machine all together! Very cheaply made, it's no wonder not too many of them seem to have survived! The type was a rubber strip that ran in a lateral groove and was inked by pads. Pushing the left lever after selecting a character printed that character by pressing the type to the paper. The bar in front was for spacing. This appears to be the earlier of the two models produced in that it had a vertical dash beneath each character to align the proper pointer on the staggared index. To explain: note the indicator has 4 pointers. Since the index is staggared, only one point on the indicator will point directly to a character at any one time. The way to tell which one is to align a point to a dash under the desired character. Later machines still have these dashes, though the indicator is a single pointer, a thimble actually, that will only point to one letter at a time; period. It's thought that the only reason that these dashes would be there on these machines is that the company continued to print the same paper indexes even after changing/improving the index pointer- why make new index stamps? Waste-not, want-not! Unlike any of the others we've seen, this one has no patent information on it. It's pictured with the original box and instructions.

Odell #5 ca 1906 s/n none - Though fairly prolific through model #4, The Odell 5 was manufactured for a short time in an effort to regain interest in an otherwise fading index machine market. Behind the machine is the sliding-top box. You can see an Odell trade card here.

Merritt ca 1890 s/n 8769 - When the handle was moved to the desired letter, it also moved a liner rack of individual slugs of printer's type, brushing against ink rollers. When the knob was depressed for printing, it lifted the slug to the paper and printed on the bottom of the platen. In essence, this was a blind index machine as the platen had to be raised to view the printing! Click to see 2 different Merritt trade cards.

Virotyp ca 1914 s/n C6481 - This French machine had a system of type slugs arranged beneath a circular index which brushed against ink rollers as it was turned. When the desired letter was 'dialed' (one pointer was for caps, the other for small case), a button was pushed, moving the type slug to the platen. A very small machine (4 1/2 X 8 1/2" ), it was mostly marketed for WW1 use. One drawback/oddity is that it would only accept a piece of paper 5 1/2" wide!

Victor ca 1889 s/n 1987 - This was the original daisy wheel machine! Swinging the pointer to the desired letter rotated the wheel on which metal fingers held the type. When we bought this one, there was still a letter in it. It was a letter from a son to a father explaining that this was a Christmas gift. The letter was dated 12/24/1889! The inset shows the Victor with it's wood box. Click to see a Victor trade card or a picture of 50 Hartford St.; one of the addresses listed in one of the Victor ads as a dealer or distributor.

Mignon #4 ca 1924 s/n 290330 - The type on this one was mounted on a sleeve that rotated into place as the pointer was moved over the index plate. The bent-wood lid with key in lock can been seen behind it.

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