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“Griffelkasten” – box for writing tools

Office Supplies Posted on Tue, December 03, 2019 08:18PM

Probably every person who went to school in prewar Germany would have been familiar with a “Griffelkasten.” This was a wood box used by children and students to house their writing tools, initially slate pencils used on a slate board, and later, more typically, pencils, dip pen holders and nibs. Here are two that I have, both are what I would call the classic typical style with a sliding lid. The painted one is newer, maybe postwar; the dark wood one is probably over 100 years old. There were lots of variants of these and they remained in widespread use until the seventies. I have one that was a German souvenir from Poland in October 1939. I have found the Griffelkasten to be a very handy thing for my clerk impression field desk setups, for protecting my pencils and dip pens and keeping them where I can find them. To me it is evocative of the writing culture of that era, as well as being useful.

Sizes of “Dienststempel” service stamps

Original Paperwork Posted on Fri, September 27, 2019 11:27PM

If you compare the two different round “Dienststempel” service stamps used by paymasters on this page of this original Soldbuch, you will notice that they are two different sizes. The one on the top is neatly contained within the column and measures about 33 mm in diameter. The lower stamp is larger than the column and is about 35 mm. Sizes up to 37 mm are not unusual for these round stamps, they varied in size.

WWII German Typewriters with the SS Runic Key

Office Supplies, Schreibtisch Posted on Thu, September 26, 2019 08:22PM

During WWII, many German typewriters (and some typewriters made in other countries) were manufactured with a special key that types the runic emblem of the SS, a paramilitary organization that was a branch of the Nazi party.

These typewriters were manufactured by companies including Groma, Olympia, Torpedo, Triumph, Continental, Urania, and Seidel & Naumann, among others. Typewriters made by Remington in the USA, and by Olivetti in Italy, with German keyboards and intended for the German market, were also made with the SS runic key.

The German factories that made typewriters, generally speaking, made thousands of typewriters each year. These typewriters were available with a nearly infinite number of keyboard and type slug configurations. The SS rune was only one of a large number of special characters that were manufactured. Some Third Reich-era typewriters came from the factory with the SS runic key, but with others, this key may likely have been an option that could have been chosen when ordering. Any competent typewriter repairman in those years could easily have switched out type slugs and keytops. It is not at all uncommon to find special keys on typewriters where the keytop or typeslug do not match the others. They could have left the factory like that or been modified by a distributor, retail shop or a typewriter repairman.

Who used typewriters with the SS key during WWII? Typewriters with field-gray paint were likely intended for military use. The Olympia “Robust” model, which was made both with and without the SS key, came in a special wooden transit crate and was designed to be especially resistant to dust; these were undoubtedly intended for use in the field.

Most typewriters with the SS key are identical to other commercially available typewriters that were marketed to civilians. It’s possible that typewriters such as these were used by military and government offices. It’s also possible that these could simply have available for anyone to buy. Documentation about specifically who used these typewriters, or if their use was restricted in any way (other than wartime restrictions that applied to any kind of typewriter), has proven elusive. It is not true that all German typewriters in WWII had this key. One SS-keyed typewriter in my collection came from a man who said his father used it during his wartime service in a German Army munitions depot. Other typewriters that I have with this key, bear commercial type labels for typewriter dealers or distributors, something I would not expect for machines made exclusively for government or military contracts.

After the war, many typewriters with the SS key were modified. Some were “denazified” by grinding off the runic sybol on the type slug and removing it from the keytop. Others had the SS slugs and keytops completely removed and replaced with other characters that were more useful after 1945. Many unmodified examples have nevertheless survived, and WWII German typewriters with the SS key are not very rare to find today, though they often change hands for significant sums, as they are desirable collectibles.

If you have questions about a specific WWII typewriter with the SS key, please email me at

1938 Erika M Typewriter

Uncategorised Posted on Thu, August 22, 2019 10:32AM

I picked up this 1938 Erika M typewriter this week. I had brought it to a repairman to have the rubber on the platen and feed rollers replaced.

The Erika M typewriter is regarded by many typewriter collectors as the finest prewar portable typewriter ever made. No expense was spared in engineering this thing. The result was a machine that is easy to type on, extremely fast, with a very precise feeling. It has deluxe features like heavy nickel plated levers, “skeleton shift” (only the platen and paper tray move when shift is pressed, not the whole carriage) and a lever that adds spaces between the letters, for emphasis. I prefer typing on large, “standard” manual typewriters of the sort normally used at that time in offices. To me, the solid, sturdy feel of typing on a big typewriter cannot be beat. The Erika M feels like an attempt to replicate that experience in a portable format. They got pretty close. Any 1930s Erika typewriter is generally regarded as a quality object. But the M was the top of the line. “M” stood for “Meisterklasse.” It is a masterpiece.

Because these typewriters are avidly sought after by typewriter collectors, it is hard to get one of these for less than $200. I paid a bit over $200 for this one, plus another $100 for shipping from Hungary. When I got it, the platen was hard as stone, and the feed rollers had developed big flat spots, making the machine unpleasant to use. I spent another $150 for new rubber. The machine types as if it were brand new, now. I will get a lot of use out of this. I do have some other 1930s German portables that are as pleasant and fun to type on as this Erika M. Torpedo and Triumph portables from that era are fast, precise typers.

Office supply illustrations from a Wehrmacht book on sign painting

Office Supplies Posted on Tue, August 13, 2019 09:44AM

My friend Richard Tietze has this original Wehrmacht instructional book on sign painting. There are some illustrations of writing stuff inside. The dip pen nibs shown are from Brause, Soennecken and Heintze & Blanckertz. The waterproof ink and paint is from Pelikan. 

Vintage Heintze & Blanckertz nibs can still be found. The Berlin factory was destroyed in WWII and after the war a new factory was built in Frankfurt am Main. The “Berlin” marked nibs are all from before 1945.

Where to get wood stamp handles?

Instructionals Posted on Tue, August 06, 2019 11:24AM

For stamps that I use at reenactments, I prefer to find old German wooden stamp handles, strip off the old rubber and re-use the handle. I search for “Holzstempel alt” or “Holzstempel Konvolut” on eBay. de.

Wood stamp handles in the old style are still made and available in Europe. Jackson Marking Products is a US source for handles in the proper style.

For stamps that I only use at home, I cut simple wooden blocks. I used to use a cheap back saw and plastic miter box from the hardware store. Now I use a band saw. I just cut up scrap wood.

Reproduction Label for Typewriter Oil Bottle

Office Supplies, Reproduction Paperwork Posted on Wed, July 24, 2019 09:40PM

I recently picked up this vintage German bottle of oil for bicycles, sewing machines and typewriters. It has a Bakelite cap and remnants of the old oil inside.

I made a reproduction of this label. Print it on newsprint or some other thin, off-white paper with a bit of texture.

Wehrmacht Schreibstube living history

Living History Posted on Wed, March 13, 2019 10:21PM

Photos from WWII reenactment events in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Ohio, USA, December 2018-March 2019.

Modern equivalents to WWII paper

Living History Posted on Sun, November 04, 2018 10:47PM

You can’t have a Schreibstube, without paper.

I collect many different types of wartime paper items including Feldpost letters, identity documents, passes, ration and personal kit item packaging and other ephemera from the war years. Paper used during the war came in a wide variety of textures, colors, and thicknesses but there are characteristics that I associate with wartime paper in general. Materials shortages necessitated the use of even things like potato stalks in German paper, it was different from most paper commonly used today. Most commercially available modern paper is made differently from what was used in the first half of the twentieth century, in general. Modern paper is brighter and smoother whereas wartime paper was often rougher, with a slightly mottled appearance. Of course there were exceptions to this, smooth paper did exist back then.

Having a Schreibstube necessitates

having a variety of different kinds of paper for different documents and purposes. I have found it very difficult to source exact modern equivalents for wartime paper, but I have been able to amass a lot of usable paper that looks close enough to fall generally within the very wide range of what was used. To reiterate, you are looking for paper that is not bright white, and that has some texture. One thing I do from time to time is go to an art supply store and look at sketch pads. There are a lot of different types of these pads available and many have usable paper. I will also look at stationery and try to find nice paper with subtle watermarks, or without watermarks, or various kinds of natural colored or off-white stock for specific projects.

One thing you can keep an eye out for is paper with a high recycled content that has not been bleached to bright white. Paper and envelopes in “Recyclinggrau” color, that may be available in Germany, look great.

If you look at pads of “kraft” paper, or colored “construction paper,” you may find usable stuff for making envelopes, small passes or ID documents, or other specific purposes. Here in the US, dollar stores often have sketch pads with thin newsprint type paper that is great.

Newsprint in general is very good to have and is widely available in pads. The issue with this is that it doesn’t stand up to fountain pen ink, which will bleed and feather. So newsprint alone is not suitable for all purposes.There is paper that is marketed today specifically for fountain pen use.

A lot of these pads of paper are 9” x 12” which is ideal as you can cut that down to the DIN A4 size that is and was standard in Germany.

Lastly, keep an eye out for actual vintage paper. In antique shops and thrift stores you can sometimes find old typewriter paper or old notebooks. Even small notebooks can yield great paper for typewritten Soldbuch inserts or other small documents. And old books may have blank end pages that can be utilized.

Shipping cost increase updates Posted on Tue, February 27, 2018 07:52PM

I started this site in 2010 and despite very many postage price increases by the US Postal Service, I kept the shipping prices the same over the years. Recently there was another big increase and I cannot continue to lose so much on shipping costs, I have been forced to raise my shipping rates for the first time ever. Shipping one stamp sheet or up to 2 rubber stamps with handles now costs $4 in the USA or $15 to Europe (an increase of $1). Shipping for multiple sheets or larger stamp orders will be more. I don’t think any other vendor will ship any parcel for less. “Free shipping” is just built into the price, of course. I remain committed to offering my products to other hobbyists as inexpensively as possible.

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