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Rethinking the Franklin


Richard Dickerson conducted a survey in 1987 (Dickerson, 1987) that laid the foundation for the Franklin typewriter model naming convention used today. We would like to build upon his research to provide more accurate dates of manufacture for the different Franklin models. Namely, that manufacture of the Type III model started in 1894, not 1896 as Dickerson proposed, that manufacture of the Type IV model started in 1897, not 1899 as Dickerson proposed, and that the different model Types of the Franklin overlapped in production, as opposed to Dickerson's hypothesis that while models may have overlapped, the Types did not.


After taking a moment to marvel at the beauty of our newly arrived Franklin typewriter, we set about identifying the date of manufacture. There was no decal indicating the model number, which made it difficult to form an initial estimate. We noticed that "New Franklin" was written on a shield decal located on the paper plate, but "Franklin" was written in script on the front shield.

So we did what we do with every new typewriter and jotted down the serial number to review the date of manufacture and model number in Ted Munk's Typewriter Database (2019). While typically this is all we need since the site is pretty thorough, what we found instead was a puzzle. The serial number seemed to match the year 1898, but also seemed to coincide with the model that should be equipped with a front shield bearing "New Franklin" in Roman lettering. The paper plate matches the earlier of the two types with the motto "Perfection the Aim of Invention" as opposed to Benjamin Franklin's face, but this information alone made it difficult to identify whether what we had was Type IIIb or IVa without further digging.

So we decided to go to the original source to see if any other information in the article not mentioned in the database would help to clarify. It turned out the source was from the very first issue of the newsletter put out by the Early Typewriter Collectors' Association, ETCetera (Dickerson, 1987), and appeared to be the most thorough source available for dating Franklins. Mostly the article confirmed what we had already determined from the database: our machine must be a Type IVa since the front decal says "Franklin" in script and has a ribbon spool partially blocking the paper, the defining features of a Type IV, and has a paper table with a "New Franklin" shield without a picture of Benjamin Franklin, the distinguishing feature of the IVa. If it is a Type IVa, it must be a model 7 since it has 40 keys, as opposed to 42 found on the model 8.

The survey conducted for the purposes of the article provided the most interesting, and also the most puzzling, information. Survey data, combined with the author's estimate of number of typewriters produced, suggested that the Type IV started around serial number 10000, whereas our typewriter was only serial number 8444.

Furthermore, Martin Howard had sold a Franklin with the same face plate and paper table decal as ours showing serial 7746 (Howard, n.d.), an even lower Type IV serial number. This led to our conclusion that the Type IV must have started earlier than 10000.

Dickerson also asserts that, while two models of the same Type (e.g., models 7 and 8) were manufactured at the same time, each Type was manufactured in serial order without overlap. Our typewriter proves this can not be true: the two serial numbers listed for Model IIIb from his survey were 8394 and 8976. Since our model is a Type IVa, and the serial number falls between these two numbers, we have evidence that Types III and IV were manufactured at the same time. The sample set from the survey must have been too small to draw his initial conclusion.

Another new piece of information from the article pointed to the fact that our model was not like others from the survey. According to Dickerson, the model number is printed on the model 7 machines, and pictures online corroborate this information; however, our model showed no model number anywhere. Since numbers were printed on the Franklin starting with model 7, earlier machines having no model number, but by design our Franklin was clearly a model 7, it makes sense that it must have been an early model 7, before the company decided to make that change. Just in case, we searched again for any sign of a model number we may have missed, and instead found another interesting clue: the name and location of the company. Our machine listed "Franklin Typewriter Mf'g Co" in "New York, USA". Up until then we had only seen Franklin associated with Boston, MA.

The Franklin from Martin Howard's collection was listed as "Franklin Manufacturing Company, Boston" (Howard, n.d.): same name, different location. We explored the pictures on the Typewriter Database, and luckily came across a clear picture of the patent plate from Typewriter Hunter Maxim Suravegin (Suravegin, 2019). In that picture, you can see the location of the manufacturer as New York, USA, with the model number clearly written on the side of the plate, but the name of the company was "Franklin Typewriter Co.": same location, different name. We decided to turn to history to see if we could resolve some of these inconsistencies.

Patents for the Franklin typewriter were originally filed in 1889 and assigned in 1891 by Wellington Parker Kidder to the Tilton Manufacturing Company (patent on the left below) (Kidder, 1891). Tilton was also attributed to the Victor Index (patent on the right below) (Jacobs, 1889). At first we thought that maybe these were different Tilton Manufacturing Companies, but we found articles listing both the Victor Typewriter and the Franklin Typewriter Co as manufactured on and located at Purchase Street (Lockwood, 1891; American Typewriter Market, 1895; Purchase Street Fire, 1893).

What caught our attention yet again was that the company listed on Franklin typewriters was not Tilton! We thought perhaps the company went through a name change, but that would mean that we could point to a year in which the change happened; that was not the case. Tilton was listed in the Patents in both 1889 and 1891, while "Franklin Typewriter Co., Boston, Mass." was listed in an article in 1890 (World's Fair Items, 1890). After a lot of digging, we uncovered an almost un-documented history of fires in the Purchase Street building in 1893, the articles of which cemented the fact that the company was known under both names at the same time. In this research, we found that different articles covering the same story listed both names of the company: Tilton (Last Night's Blaze, 1893) and Franklin: (Purchase Street Fire, 1893; Losses at Purchase Street Fire, 1893; A $15,000 Fire in Boston, 1893; Fire on Purchase Street, 1893).

From page 6 of The Boston Globe, January 12, 1893.

But why have two names for one company? Where did the name "Tilton" come from? Furthermore, why is Tilton listed in Portland, ME, but seems to do no business out of that state? Upon exploration of the various locations, it seemed that Tilton/ Franklin was located in multiple states at the same time. We found Franklin Typewriter Manufacturing listed in the 1893 Annual Report of the Treasurer of the State of Maine (1894), the same year as the fires in Boston. Franklin is listed as both a company from New York and a Maine corporation in the same article (Business Troubles, 1897). Tilton Manufacturing Company seems to have been in Pennsylvania at the same time as Boston given their listing on 274 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, in 1889 and 1892 (The Victor Typewriter, 1889; Crittenden & Helffrich, 1892), around the same years as the company is listed as residing in Maine and Boston. The "Victor" typewriter, which was attributed to Tilton, was apparently manufactured at the Sigourney Tool company out of Hartford, CT (Hartford's Industries, 1889). The following list is a short summary of the various locations in which Tilton/ Franklin were listed.

1889: Portland, ME; Philadelphia, PA; Hartford, CT

1890: Boston, MA

1891: Boston, MA

1892: Philadelphia, PA

1893: Portland, ME; Boston, MA

1894: New York, NY

1897: Portland, ME; New York, NY

This would be interesting for further exploration, especially to explore the connections between Tilton Manufacturing Co, Franklin Typewriter Co, and Victor Typewriter Co, but that line of exploration wasn't getting us closer to resolving the question of when our typewriter was manufactured.

Picture copied from

We decided to re-focus our efforts. The Purchase Street building that housed the Franklin Manufacturing Company experienced not one, but two fires in 1893: one in January (Purchase Street Fire, 1893; Losses at Purchase Street Fire, 1893) and one in November (A $15,000 Fire in Boston, 1893; Fire on Purchase Street, 1893). It seems they had had enough, because in June 1894, an advertisement appeared in Frank Harrison's Shorthand Weekly (1894, June) talking about the Franklin typewriter "now made in its new factory" in Brooklyn, New York (pg 8). At this time Franklin also contracted with a Connecticut agent, Miller & Martin, (Harrison, 1894, November) who advertised the "New Franklin" from New York as "not to be mistaken for the old Franklin" (pg 85). It makes sense that with the emphasis on the "superior" machines now built in New York, the company would somehow want to differentiate the new typewriters from the old, especially if some of the older stock from Boston was still being sold off. Given the move to New York, possibly resulting from the fires in Boston, and a new Connecticut agent emphasizing the "New Franklin", it would have been a good time to change the face of the typewriter from the logo "The Franklin" to "New Franklin", mimicking the ads. You may note in the picture of the 1894 ad that they continued to use pictures of the Type II Franklin, but if the newer machines were just coming off the manufacturing lines, they may not have had time to take pictures for the newer ads just yet.

The Tennessean (newspaper), December 9, 1895, page 8

Given these coincidences, we propose that manufacture of the Type III machine began in the New York plant in 1894, the same year that the company moved. This is two years earlier than Dickerson's proposed date of 1896. This earlier date is supported by 1895 advertisements showing already the new face plate with "New Franklin", the Type III machine. (Note that this ad is from December, but shows in newspapers as early as October.)

Coincidentally, Miller & Martin also suffered from a fire in 1894 with uninsured losses of $40,000. The newspaper reported that the majority of their stock of 1000 typewriters were damaged, which were deposited only the night before in the vault of the bank that burned (Typewriters Burned, 1894). At this point in the research we had to ask ourselves if there was something more behind the fires? It would be interesting to find out if those typewriters that burned were manufactured in Boston or New York.

Outside of advertisements for the Franklin Typewriter, newspapers are fairly quiet until 1897, when the Franklin Typewriter Manufacturing Company incorporated (New York Business

June 27, 1897: The Times (Philadelphia, PA), p. 3

Troubles, 1901; Petitions in Bankruptcy, 1902) and changed their name to the The Franklin Typewriter Company. (An article in March 1897 (Judgments) lists the company name as Franklin Typewriter Manufacturing Company, and when the new corporation was formed in April 1897, the name is listed as Franklin Typewriter Company (New Corporations, 1897)). This is significant since our typewriter has a face plate with "Franklin", a Type IV model, which, according to Dickerson, would have first been manufactured in 1899; however, the name listed on the base, Franklin Typewriter Manufacturing Company, matches the pre-April 1897 company name. If we are right, this change in the face plate would have come during another significant change in the company's history.

June 3, 1898: Mattoon Gazette (Mattoon, IL), p. 3

We decided to explore a little further and found that every newspaper ad from 1897 had a picture of the Type III "New Franklin" make while those in 1898 exclusively showed pictures of the Type IV "Franklin" make. If the ads lagged one year behind manufacture, as appeared to be the case when switching to the Type III, this provided further evidence that the company initiated manufacture of the Type IV in 1897. We propose that the Type IV was first manufactured in 1897, not the originally assumed 1899. As a side note, Franklin released a new patent in 1897 (United States Patents), but that information did not seem material.

Back to the company history, it appears that Franklin Typewriter Company was struggling to pay off debts, as evidenced by multiple cases against them, including an 1897 "attachment" to a creditor on an outstanding debt from 1893 (Business Troubles, 1897). The Franklin Typewriter Company suffered involuntary bankruptcy in 1902 (Petitions in Bankruptcy, 1902; Bankruptcy Notices, 1902; Supreme Court of New York, 1904) and sold off its assets.

This gave the Victor Typewriter Company a chance to move right in. In 1907, an article on the company mentioned that work towards the move into the Franklin offices on 812 & 814 Greenwich Street, New York, from the Victor Boston offices had begun two years ago (Victor, 1907). Given the connections between Victor and Franklin in location, and having an early Victor Index sharing the same manufacturing company as the Franklin Typewriter, one can't help but wonder: was the Victor Typewriter Company a sister to or the same as the Franklin Typewriter Company, both stemming from Tilton Manufacturing Company? Did the two companies actually split when Franklin moved to New York, and when Franklin went bankrupt did they simply re-merge under the Victor name? Were these parallels between the Victor and the Franklin somehow related to three fires, sites across multiple states, and financial troubles? It appears there are still mysteries to solve, but perhaps another day.

For today, we are confident in our theories. While Richard Dickerson's survey and article provided the foundation for the Franklin typewriter model naming convention used today, here we have built upon that information to provide more accurate dates of manufacture for the different model Types. Namely, that manufacture of the Type III model started in 1894 when the company location moved from Boston to New York, that manufacture of the Type IV model started in 1897 when the company incorporated and changed their name from Franklin Typewriter Manufacturing Company to Franklin Typewriter Company, and that different Types of the Franklin overlapped in production, e.g., Serial 7746 was a Type IV, Serial 8394 a Type III, Serial 8444 a Type IV, and Serial 8976 a Type III.

If you have any information on your own Franklin typewriter that you would like to share, we would like to start collecting information to continue proving out our theories. Please send any information via the "Contact Us link" including pictures of, or information about: the serial number, the design of the face plate, the design of the paper plate, the name and location of the company written on the patent plate, whether or not a model number is written and what model number it is, the number of keys, and any other information you believe would help to show what model, Type, or year of manufacture is the typewriter.



Bankruptcy Notices (1902, October 7), The New York Times, 10. Retrieved from

Crittenden, J. P. & Helffrich, C. B. (1892). Philadelphia Securities: A Descriptive and Statistical Manual of the Corporations of the City of Philadelphia, vol. 3, p. 694, Burk & McFetridge: Philadelphia. Retrieved from

Dickerson, R. (1987, October 1). The Franklin Typewriters. ETCetera, 1(1), 2-5. Retrieved from

Harrison, F., Ed. (1894, June). Frank Harrison's Shorthand Magazine, 6, 1, 8. Retrieved from

Harrison, F., Ed. (1894, November). Frank Harrison's Shorthand Magazine, 6, 6, 85. Retrieved from

Hartford's Industries (1889, May 15), Hartford Courant, 8. Retrieved from

Howard, M. (n.d.). Franklin 7 Typewriter. Antique Typewriters: The Martin Howard Collection. Retrieved from

Jacobs, A. I. (1889, August 20). United States Patent No. 409,289. Retrieved from

Judgments (1897, March 26). The New York Times, 10. Retrieved from

Kidder, W. P. (1891, December 8). United States Patent No. 464,504. Retrieved from

Last Night's Blaze. (1893, January 12), The Boston Globe, 6. Retrieved from

Munk, T. (2019, August 8). The Typewriter Database. Retrieved from

New Corporations (1897, April 17), The New York Times, 8. Retrieved from

New York Business Troubles (1901, December 15), The (Philadelphia) Times, 16. Retrieved from

Suravegin, M. (2019, August 11). 1899 Franklin 7 #14822. The Typewriter Database. Retrieved from

Victor, The (1889, July 3), The (Philadelphia) Times, 3. Retrieved from


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