The Single Element

Trawl through newspaper advertising for electric and electronic typewriters in the years 1974 to 1979 and you’ll find many of the products released in that period were described as “single element typewriters”, the single element in question usually being a ball element.

It all depends, of course, on your definition of a typewriter and whether that definition includes typewriters that were just one component of much larger daisy wheel-driven systems such as the 1974 Xerox 800 Typing System, the 1976 A.B. Dick Magna I Word Processor, or the 1977 IBM 6240 Mag-Card Typewriter, etc.

In the modern era, IBM started the “single element” typewriter ball rolling, if you’ll pardon the pun, when it introduced the Selectric I in 1961. The first element balls to roll off the production line were so-called first generation balls like this one:

I’ve had a batch of these “rabbit-eared” IBM Selectric I & II elements for a while now, but never got around to updating my “Element” series of posts.

Of course, this is the element I should have started my “Element” series with. They’re described by Ted Munk (note link) as the original and the best elements to have (unless you own a Selectric III) on account of their simple yet durable design.

Oddly enough, the cap on another rabbit-eared element in the same batch is completely blank:

Not a trace of a number or typeface identifier. Is this a case of over-cleaning by a previous owner? Or could it be a special-purpose ball for typists with writers’ block?

Second generation ball elements lost their rabbit ears (and their magic) and gained a pair of chrome lever ends which, unlike the rabbit ears, are prone to break:

This “Remington” element ball (badly tarnished) was found lurking in the same batch of element balls and is also “second gen”:

There’s no difference between these and those with an IBM branding (apparently) and you can use them in a Selectric. Note though, how the cap is pitched rather than rounded:

“Third generation” IBM ball elements lost their chrome lever ends for black plastic lever ends – not so pretty perhaps, but more robust than the chrome lever ends of the “second generation”:

Which is music to my ears, since I own a batch of IBM (and Silver Reed) print wheels with the same caps and lever ends:

These print wheels were first manufactured by IBM for their 1977 IBM 6240 Mag-Card Typewriter.

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