Made in Japan
One of the most common typewriters on eBay is the Webster.1 Manufactured by Brother Industries in Japan, it was sold at a variety of discount chains, including Gibson’s, White Front and Save Co. (It is sometimes reported that this machine was sold by the Webster department store chain, but I’ve found no evidence of such a company.)2 Based on advertisements, the Webster was sold from the late 1960s through the 1970s, and more than one model of Brother typewriter bore that mark.
The Webster is neither unique nor rare, and Brother offered similar machines under different labels. Montgomery Ward sold the Signature; K-Mart the Deluxe; W.C. Grants the Bradford; S. S. Kresge & Company (K-Mart’s original parent company) the Wegefield; Eaton the Majestic; and Sears, well, the Sears. Brother-made machines were also sold under the Remington and Underwood labels, and under Brother’s own marks, including Webster, Wizard Truetype and Brother itself.
The reason for this variety is simple: most stores wanted their own label, either to thwart comparison shopping or simply to build brand recognition. It is not difficult to find one Brother model under several labels.
This confounding array of brands made detective work difficult in a 1989 mail bombing case. In 1990, federal investigators circulated advertisements, attempting to find someone who might have sold a Brother machine to the letter bomber:3
Law officers want to locate the people who sold the typewriters, which have certain peculiarities. The typewriters, manual or electric, have fabric ribbon. The brand involved are Brother, K mart (sic), Webster, Wizard, Sears, Wedgewood, Midland, T-V-B, Bradford, Coronado and Smith-Corona.4
Are not all of these the same machine?
To note, in 1991 Walter Moody was charged with the crime — see here — and then convicted — see here.
Selling the Brother
Depending on the model, the Webster sold from $25 to $70. Some even were advertised as “Brother Webster.” Why Brother created the this label is not entirely clear. My guess is that the company wanted a unique mark, and, if advertisements are any aid, the Webster was intended as an economy brand. Consumers could spend more money on the same machine, purchasing a Remington 333 instead!5
One retailer that sold the Webster was Gibson’s —
Writes blogger Marty Keenan, who worked at Gibson’s:
At the grand opening, they sold big tubes of Crest toothpaste for a nickel apiece. My Dad was crazy about Gibsons. He even had a nickname for the store: “Gibbies”. He would say, “Anybody wanna go to Gibbies?” We would jump at the chance. Dad explained to me once that a federal law at one time required retailers to sell items for the price dictated by the manufacturers. But the repeal of that law made Gibsons possible. I’ve been a lawyer for 27 years, and I still don’t know what law he was talking about. All I knew was I liked Gibsons.6
Another retailer was Save Co., but I couldn’t find information about this company accept that it was subsumed by Walmart.7
Yet another was White Front, noted for its distinctive arch —
NB: This is only a sampling. Not every newspaper has been digitally archived, nor does every advertisement appear in searches.
Which came first?
I have two Websters in my collection. One has a 50s dashboard faceplate, the other a metallic stick-on label. Based on what I’ve seen in advertisements, both for the Webster and other like models, the dashboard style is the original. Brother may have switched to the other style of label so that the machines could more easily be rebranded, but that is only a guess.
My “dashboard”-style Webster has a serial number of A5623351, which according to the typewriter database, dates the machine to 1965 (see my listing here). I’ll have to locate the other in storage to grab the serial number.
ああ姉妹、どこアートなた The Brother Typewriter Story, by Robert Messenger
Brother Portable Typewriters, by Will Davis (there is a version of this page with images, but I can’t locate the URL)
Mr. Martin on Brother
© 2014 – 2015, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.
- At the time of this writing, 15 were on auction at eBay. See here for active listings. [↩]
- Nor was the Webster connected to any dictionary of the same name. [↩]
- Star-News – Oct 5, 1990, Agents track typewriters linked to mail bombings. [↩]
- I’ve located Brother models under most of these brands, including Coronado (see photo here), which I previously did not know about. I haven’t located a Midland or a T-V-B. [↩]
- See this advertisement at X Over It. [↩]
- Memories of Gibsons Discount Center, by Marty Keenan. [↩]
- See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assets_owned_by_Walmart. [↩]
Wow, White Front looks really googie, especially with those cars parked in front of it.
These are good little typewriters and I can’t believe how cheap they were.
Indeed. I know there is a movement to preserve such buildings, but often that is challenging, especially if economics dictates otherwise.
And I second your view on the machines — they are amazing typewriters. Anyone looking to acquire a “vintage” machine would do well to buy one. I typed about 10,000 words of my (incomplete) Nano novel on my Remington 666.
The Wizard name was used by Western Auto department stores to sell various appliances, including typewriters. I have a 1972 Wizard Automatic, and it is an incredible machine!
Yes, I recall that now. I checked out your blog and found the machine (http://royaltypewriters.blogspot.com/2013/12/merry-christmas.html?q=wizard). Very nice. Does the instruction booklet include Western Auto’s logo?
It does not include the logo, but advertisements cite that it was made for Western Auto.
can someone help me find a typewriter ribbon for one of these Webster machines? mine has only this on the spool: DIAMETER 4mm 5/32″
am also wondering if you can ink the existing ribbon somehow. someone told me to use WD40 on it which I did but it didn’t last long.
A lot of the Websters, bought new, came with a new dictionary, hence the name.
What is the source for this information? Never have seen an advertisement mentioning this. Makes sense though.