top of page

Mysteries of the Merritt

A clean, almost weightless box sat on the front porch waiting to be opened. Our Merritt had arrived from a responsive vendor on eBay. After removing it from the Styrofoam peanuts and cutting away the bubble wrap, we marveled at the Merritt's simplicity and beauty.

My husband immediately started mentally indexing the parts and mechanisms. He brought it to the indoor workshop and took it apart to start the refurbishing process (see before and after pictures above).

"Dear, I have a task for you!" This could only mean one thing - my husband had found himself a mystery part that even he could not figure out. After running through his research algorithms to discover exactly what something did, he came to a stopping point, not any better off than when he started. I was tasked with discovering what the little curvy metal lever on the back of the machine was.

Our Merritt is a later model (S/N: 8951), and the part did not appear to be on earlier models of the typewriter (compare S/N 5346 from the collection of Guillermo Fernando Boan (2017) on the Typewriter Database to S/N 8556 from the collection of F N (2016) on the Typewriter Database), nor did it appear to have replaced any parts (again, compare the two models to see that nothing appears to be missing on the later model), which meant it was an add-on not critical to the operation of the machine. That also meant the part was not listed in the two patents I found (Merritt, 1890; Merritt & Burnett, 1893). The closest thing I could find to an instruction manual was a blurry picture of operating instructions pasted to the inside of the lid, and that typewriter had a low serial number, 3305 (Robert collection, n.d.) meaning this piece wouldn't necessarily be indicated anyway. Moreover, there did not seem to be anyone who had posted a video of the use of this piece nor felt it was important enough to blog about. There was a video on the operation of the Merritt showing one that had this strange curved metal piece, but they did not touch that piece in the video (Type-Writer, 2014); this was more reason to believe it was not critical to the operation. It seems that several people have already laid out the history and major operating mechanisms of the Merritt nicely (Adams, 2014; Hedge, et al, n.d.; Robert collection, n.d.; Howard, 2018), but still no mention of the curvy pointy lever on the back.

So I asked my husband to put the typewriter back together momentarily so I could play with the piece. It moved up and down. Nothing was written on the circular piece at the end of the lever which, when pressed, made the tip move up and down. The piece swings in front of the platen, but does not seem to be connected to anything. It did not seem to be useful while the platen was in the down position, and was too pointy to be useful to lift anything. This little piece of metal may have been the equivalent to a human appendix, not useful and therefore unnecessary, but it was added to later models, not removed from earlier models, so clearly it was a feature, not useless.

In frustration and with a desire to solve this mystery, I tried to find operating instructions for a later model. Again the Typewriter Database came to the rescue when I realized that user F N (2016) had posted operating instructions! I squinted my eyes to read the barely legible instructions. "To Oil the Machine" - nothing will be there. "In Operating the Machine" - perhaps something there. I strained at every other word to no avail. As earlier research had already revealed, it was not critical to the operation. "To Print." "Capitals, Figures, and Character Keys", " To Space Between the Words", "To Start a New Line", " Keep the Machine Clean" . . . I struggled through each of these sections grasping at anything that might look like use for this mystery piece, all to no avail. And then, there it was . . . "Pointer". It had a point. A pointer would not be connected to anything else. This is a blind writer, which means the user must flip up the platen before he/she can read what he/she just typed; once flipped up, one might lose one's spot.

I got my husband: "Hey, does this thing look like it could be a pointer?" We peered at the typewriter, gently lifting the platen, and lifted the lever. The tip hit a spot that looked like it could be the last or next place a key would be typed. We let it go, typed a couple of keys, and lifted it again. "It has got to be that!" We read the instructions: "The key on the back lifts(?) the pointer which ___ the ____ on the paper the next letter will strike. To ___ the carriage ___ pointer will indicate ___ desired place, hold ____ ____ down with the ____ at the ____ ____ ____ ____ the ___ with the ____ _____, and ____ carriage as(?) desired." Close enough.

Finally, after about an hour or two of searching, the mystery was solved! I suppose we could have posted a question on a blog, or asked in the Typewriter Database itself, but what fun would that have been?

Now, if we could only figure out why it looks like there are 2 serial numbers . . .



Adams, M. (2014, September 6). A typewriter of Merritt. Retrieved from

Boan, G. F. (2017, April 30). From the Virtual Typewriter Collection of Guillermo Fernando Boan: 189X Merritt Type Writer. Retrieved from The Typewriter Database:

F N (2016, September 13). From the Virtual Typewriter Collection of F N: 189X Merritt Type Writer. Retrieved from The Typewriter Database:

Hedge, A., Levitt, M., Block, H., Braun, M., Brynjarsdóttir, H., Coren, A., Davidoff, K., Emil, C., & Rand, E. (n.d.). Typing in Tompkins. Retrieved from The History Center in Tompkins County:

Howard, M. (2018). Merritt. Retrieved from Antique Typewriters: The Martin Howard Collection:

Merritt, M. G. (1890, February 11). Letters Patent No. 421,183. New York, NY, USA: United States Patent Office. Retrieved from Google Patents:

Merritt, M. G. & Burnett, W. E. (1893, September 12). Letters Patent No. 505,059. United States: United States Patent Office. Retrieved from Google Patents:

Robert collection. (n.d.). The Merritt. Retrieved from The Virtual Typewriter Museum:

Type-Writer. (2014, September 6). 1890s Merritt Type Writer, demonstration of typing action. Retrieved from YouTube:


bottom of page