A rare right-to-left variation on the already-uncommon Erika model 9, this post war machine is among the last of the glass keyed machines, likely produced in the mid to late 50’s. With a Farsi / Persian layout, this machine was potentially made for the Iranian market.
The Times They Are a Changin
The years immediately following World War II were tumultuous for Germany . During the years following the war, Seidel & Naumann continued to produce many recognized prewar designs such as the 5, 6, M, & S, presumably from leftover parts. The first new models after the war would be the model 8 and 9, which still maintained the styling of the earlier designs.
On the front strap of the machine these later ones would read vorm. Seidel & Naumann VEB Dresden. By the time of the model 10, Erika’s would move completely to plastic keys and the curvier shells which are more recognizably post-war. Sporting a somewhat trapezoidal raised area around the type basket, these late Erika 8 & 9’s have a wonderfully distinctive style.
A Distinctive Layout
Easy as it would be to wax poetic about the Erika styling generally, we’re here to talk about a unique example of one. The model 90 is nearly identical to the model 9, but with a carriage that moves from right to left. The carriage return is still on the left side, requiring that you “pull” it to the left, a rather disconcerting experience if you are accustomed to a more traditional typewriter.
While some machines most certainly had right-handed return levers, this inverted direction allows for the model 90 to support both Hebrew and Farsi / Arabic. This particular one includes the additional characters from the Farsi or Persian alphabet, but does seem to include some accommodations that make it usable for an Arabic user.
Arabic & Farsi
Most people are able to recognize the cursive letters of the Arabic and Farsi alphabet, however many will simply generalize it to the Arabic language. While the letterforms are similar in appearance, their sounds and spellings are entirely distinct as they come from different language families. A comparison - if you were to translate the name Nora to a Cyrillic script, a transliteration might read Нора as the H and p characters do not sound the same, nor do they spell the same words.
Arabic and Farsi simply have more characters in common, with the Farsi alphabet containing four more characters. Since this machine has the additional Persian (Farsi) characters, I would suspect it was originally intended for Iranian or perhaps an Afghan customer, as these additional characters would have no use in Arabic.
When it arrived here it was in generally good shape - it had been kept by another collector, though it hadn’t been given all that much attention since. I’m a sucker for a polished, glossy machine, and a little time spent wiping down and polishing the ribbon cover revealed a gorgeous shine here. A couple flecked spots of whiteout came off with some IPA and didn’t seem to harm the paint here, but I’m being particularly delicate with the finish on this one.
This machine, like most worthwhile machines for these languages, is proportionally spaced. Some of the characters require different widths in order to get the correct position. This gives the user a great amount of control over how to connect the letters, however at times it can be a real task to remember your exact position when constructing a word.
Some day I’ll need to find another Erika 9 or perhaps an M to compare, however the type feel on this machine is smooth and elegant. The keypresses are extremely linear as there is a hinged joint that translates this motion, by comparison, most other typewriters will rotate around a distant pivot, causing the key to slide under your fingertip instead.
Perhaps the roughest aspect of this machine are the discolored key legends. I’ve briefly mulled the notion of replacing them, however they would likely need to be custom designed and cut, so for now this machine simply requires more light in order to see the faint uppercase forms in red. My Arabic is rusty, so it’s already slow going on this machine anyway. The eagle eyed among you may also have noticed the scratches on the paper table, those spots could probably use some waxing, but the light is being rather harsh on it nonetheless.
The ribbon cover on this one sports that distinctive S&N logo, again a reference to Seidel & Naumann, despite VEB manufacture. This and the glass keys would suggest an earlier manufacture, however there’s a wrench in this theory as the serial number is in the 1,6m range, which should actually put it in the post 1954 range (there is a serial gap between the model 9 and 10, from 1,3 - 1,7 million). Perhaps this was made in the late 50’s from parts, or perhaps it was a rebuilt machine with a later frame and slugs/ribbon cover from an earlier model? Either way, this is a gorgeous golden-era machine and likely one of the very last to roll off the line with these glass keys.
In cast lead type for letterpress, printers are able to add some overhang to their letters when a character has an especially curvy structure such as in a script font. On typewriters however, the slugs must be able to travel fully independent of one another without blocking each other's paths.
If you are familiar with the large E’s and C’s of the script fonts out there, you might have snuck a peak at the slugs - they manage to get these by giving these a slant, allowing these characters to have elegant descenders, despite using a standard width slug. Here we can see the slanted characters on a Tall Script / Script 75 Adler Tippa, the angle gives enough room for that big loop on these standard-with slugs.
Here we can some of letters which would be particularly troublesome in this regard, specifically the wider, looped characters such as ش or ض. In order to accommodate these, these characters wind up on the outer edges of the basket, where the characters begin to get some vertical separation, allowing some slugs to get an hourglass cut, almost “zippering” together with the last few slugs.
While most of us will have limited use for a machine in this language, it’s still a gorgeous sight to see, and well worth getting out of the case to use. This one is held in the case with some vertical posts which are slightly oversized for the grommets of the feet, giving it good grip on the bottom panel of the case, but still easily removable.
References & Links
Erika Serial numbers
Erika history by x over it