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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.

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

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.

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.