1918 - 1923
Garbell Typewriter Company, Inc.
Chicago, Il, U.S.
Max Garbell (1892 - 1952) had professional successes in his lifetime. Most of them involved adding machine designs for the Royal Typewriter Company and, before that, for the Victor Adding Machine Company. However, one could argue that his most enduring professional successes came posthumously as the results of two typewriter designs. One was the Venus (most commonly known as the Victor) and the other being the Garbell Portable on this page. By every metric these typewriters were commercial flops, but that's what makes them so desirable today. It is because of their lack of success that makes them hard to come by, that makes them a bit of a mystery and that allows Max to live on.
Here we'll examine the Garbell Portable, the first of Max's designs. Max filed his first patent for this typewriter in 1918 and it was awarded on June 3, 1919 (patent no.1,305,893). The patent paperwork notes that what differentiated the Garbell from other portable typewriters was its geared typbars, and that these spring-less, thrust-action typebars eliminated unnecessary friction while adding to the overall compactness of the machine. Max received at least five other patents for the Garbell in the next few years.
The Garbell Typewriter Company was incorporated in January of 1919. They began advertising almost immediately without actually having any typewriter yet available. A 1/2 page ad in Business Equipment Topics dating to December of 1919 proclaimed "Ready Shortly." At that time the company offices and factory were located at 1812-14 Ellen Street in Chicago. The image below is of the rear of that actual factory.
After a couple years on Ellen Street the Garbell Typewriter Company moved to a new location, 4309-37 West Lake Street, still in Chicago, in February of 1921. The company purchased an existing two story, 43,000 sq/ft factory for $210,000 after the previous occupant, the Collins Safety Razor Company, went bankrupt.
All of the known Garbells are No.3 models. Ads suggest the existence of No.1's but there is no evidence substantiating a No.2. Comparing known No.3's to old ads of No.1's we note that the decals were a different font and the word "The" was dropped. It also appears that the top plates for the two models were affixed differently. Furthermore, the No.1 had a paper bale above the platen to which the fingers were attached and its spacebar had a 3rd sub-lever present. The No.3 also had a larger index card holder above the ribbon vibrator. All of the old ads place the No.1 to the Ellen Street factory and the No.3's to West Lake Street.
All Garbells were constructed of pressed steel and retailed for $40. They were equipped with a 28-key, double-shift, three-row keyboard with a backspace. Ink was transferred via of a two-color ribbon mechanism. There was also a single-lever release mechanism that made interchanging carriages possible. The Garbell stood just 4" tall and weighed a mere 5-1/2 pounds. It's probably also fair to mention that, according to collectors that have handled a Garbell, it was of poor quality... but that doesn't make it any less desirable.
It's probably fair to assume that Max Garbell wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel with his typewriter. He'd witnessed what worked, what didn't and tried to improve upon it. Referring to his typewriter as "non-folding" and "non-collapsible" in ads was probably a swipe at the Corona No.3 and Fox No.1 portable typewriters. Drawing attention to the fact that the Garbell was a typebar portable that weighed just 5-1/2 pounds might have been a swipe at the original "Five Pound Secretary," the Blickensderfer No.6. A Help Wanted ad run by the company shows that even Max knew that, despite being gear-driven, his thrust-action typebars weren't wholly innovative. Note that he was looking for employees with experience specific to previously made thrust-action typewriters, like The Noiseless, Wellington and Empire.
Though everything seemed to be going Max's way, nothing actually was. Because there are so few surviving Garbells, we can assume that not many were sold. By 1923 the company had begun its bankruptcy process. In July of that year, O.D. Jennings & Company acquired the Garbell Typewriter Company. Jennings acquired the factory, tooling, machinery, patents, and all complete and incomplete typewriters. The Jennings company attempted to produce the Garbell themselves but without success.
At the risk of sounding Rumsfeldian, there will always be unknown unknowns, but also unknown knowns. One unknown known is how The Garbell Sales Corporation, which was incorporated in July of 1922 and located at 176 West Adams Street in Chicago, was affiliated with The Garbell Typewriter Company. Garbell Sales was tasked with selling typewriters, cash registers and other machines. Were the two affiliated? If so, how significantly other than by name.
Back to the No.1 model: I speculate that it gave Max a hard time mechanically which eventually forced him to find help. So, in 1920, before the company's relocation and before any No.3 ads were in circulation, a patent was applied for by someone other than Max. That patent (patent no.1,457,965) was issued on June 5, 1923, just one month before the Garbell company was liquidated, to Leo John Du Mais (1891 - 1957). It was specifically for "the means for guiding the type bars." It seems the gear-driven typbars, the very aspect of the Garbell typewriter that made it unique, may have also been its biggest hurdle. Given this evidence it's hard to believe that any No.1's, other than prototypes, were produced.
I would like to extend my most sincere gratitude to Derrick and Lee Garbell, descendants of Max Garbell, for being so generous with their photos, information, time and family history. There are more photos of the Garbell typewriter on the Derrick's family website here. The Garbell Portable a the bottom of this page belongs to Lee (lucky!).
Questions & comments are welcome. I would love a photo of the W. Lake St. factory. If you have a Garbell for sale then definitely contact me at Antikey.Chop@gmail.com