The Columbia Music Typewriter was invented by Charles Spiro and patented on December 1, 1885. It was produced by the Columbia Music Typewriter Company. The size of the machine was 4.5 inches in length, 2 inches wide, and 2.5 inches in height. One source has the machine weighing 1/4 of a pound and another one gives the weight of 1/2 a pound.
This may have depended on whether or not the notating disk was attached to it as it was sold with three disks - one for notes, one for accidentals, and one for time signatures, key signatures and for making the bar lines. It probably came with an additional device to print the words in songs as noted in an advertisement that has survived, but these disks were probably sold separately.
An advertisement for the Columbia Music Typewriter
From the advertisement and the information that’s available, we can deduce on how the machine works. From the advertisement, the portable machine consists of a disk attached to a horizontal arm. The music symbols are located on the rim of the disk. The operator then places the machine on a piece of paper and presses down on the arm to produce the symbols. The music is printed parallel to the arm so it would be necessary to move the machine to stamp another symbol. What is not known is how the music is kept in line when printed or how the symbols were inked on the machine.
The advertisement provides more information. It reads as follows:
The Columbia Music Typewriter
The Only Machine of its Kind. It is a compact, simple, and durable machine, and writes music the exact equal of a printed sheet. Anyone can operate it without previous instruction, and provides much better results far more rapidly than a writer with a pen. It is one of the most important labor and time saving machines ever produced for the use of professional and amateur musicians. Children learning music with its assistance will acquire the art more rapidly and thoroughly than in the ordinary way. When desired, it can be adapted, by an additional device, to print the words of a song. It writes every kind of music, whether for orchestra or piano. It weighs a quarter of a pound. It is warranted to completely fill all the claims. Price of machine with case...$10.00 Type wheel for extra musical characters...$2.50 Write for descriptive pamphlet.
Application for patent was filed on June 12, 1885. The machine was patented on December 1, 1885 with patent number 331,337. A serial number was also present: 158,484.
The typewriter is adapted to be portable. All of the printing characters, selecting devices, inking and feeding mechanisms of the entire machine are mounted on a handle capable of being held or grasped by the operator when using the machine, and printing a selection of desired musical symbols by the same hand that holds or grasps the handle, while at the same time no part of the machine obstructs a clear view of the work accomplished by it.
How it Works
The handle A is grasped by the hand and the type wheel is rotated to bring a desired character to the lowest point in the periphery of the wheel. When the type wheel is rotated, the inking roller comes in contact with the printing characters and inks all the characters that pass through it. By applying downward pressure on the handle, the spring E2 yields, and the spindle at the printing end of the handle moves downward while the rod E, remains stationary. As a result, the printing character is brought into contact with the paper. A removal of the downward pressure permits the spring E2 to elevate the type wheel and to return the inker to its normal position. During the downward and upward movements of the type wheel the entire apparatus is rested upon bracket I.
Words could also be printed by either in verse-form or in line-form beneath the musical characters. A separate wheel could be mounted on the machine for that purpose. The typewriter could be placed on a base so that the base acted as a guide to insure straight-line work of the text. The patent states that the typewriter was not invented to be used with the special base but that it is a useful feature. The base was used with a modified version of the typewriter in that the type wheel is at a 90 degree angle with the handle. The main reason for using the base was to achieve uniform spacing.
A perspective of the Columbia Music Typewriter
A side elevation of the Columbia Music Typewriter
A detail in front elevation on an enlarged scale of the Columbia Music Typewriter
A modified form of the Columbia Music Typewriter mounted on a suitable base
An illustration of actual notes, lines, stems, bars and other musical symbols printed by the Columbia Music Typewriter
The type-wheel with musical characters of the Columbia Music Typewriter