Rheinmetall AG is a German automotive and arms manufacturer. In 1933, it acquired A. Borsig GmbH, which manufactured locomotives. The new company, oddly, also made typewriters, such as portable 216761 which was manufactured in 1938. Yes, there is a German typewriter serial number archive. I wasn’t surprised to discover this. 216761 was my mother’s typewriter. It has been a fixture of our household all of my life and now lives in my study at home.
Mum started vocational college in Berlin on 1st April 1939 and graduated on the 17th January 1941, certificated as competent in all aspects of a commercial secretary’s life. It’s not much of a stretch to surmise that 216761 was bought for her to take with her to college as part of her required equipment, the same way we send our kids off today with calculators, gel pens and highlighters.
216761, with its hard case and satisfying hard ‘clack’ as the hammers hit the paper when the keys are struck has a bit of mystery to it. On the upper row, the 3 key has an additional layer, a half-key glued on with the £ symbol on it. My admittedly shallow internet research into the inclusion of the £ symbol has yielded ambiguous results. We can say with some certainty that some wartime German typewriters had the £ as standard and some did not. What some wartime German typewriters had as standard was a special key/hammer combination that planted the typographic equivalent of Walter Heck’s double lighting bolt SS symbol. Where was this dreadful symbol? It was often on the 3 key. This discovery led me to have a look at the corresponding hammer on 216761 and, lo and behold, there has been a carefully applied metal overlay.
What lies beneath will never be revealed, but it seems vaguely possible that 216761 left the Rheinmetall-Borsig factory in 1938 fully specced with the 3/SS key in place. It might also have been some different, harmlessGermanic symbol not necessary in the world of British business. Who re-engineered the key and hammer, and when, we will now never know.
If you like fiction about this era, and how events in the past ripple through to the present, try my novel Pernkopf’s Atlas. You can find all the purchase links here.