Bartleby’s Machines: Hermes Rocket/ Hermes Baby Typewriter Review

The day I received my Hermes Rocket in the mail, I opened it in the five minutes I had before my Medieval Romance class was set to begin. My professor, a lovely  woman in her mid 60’s with a German Shepard named Bodo constantly in tow, recognized the brand immediately, and then promptly corrected my pronunciation of the name. The “H”, it seems, is mostly silent, and that last “e” is soft . Think, “Ermes” instead of “Hermees”. However, the owner of one of the last typewriter repair shops in the North Eastern United States swears that it is pronounced “Hermees,” so I’m really not sure anymore. Whatever the case, this began my continuing love affair with my favorite Swiss-made portable typewriter.

The Hermes Rocket (or “Baby” depending on which variant you find), is the quintessential portable typewriter. That isn’t hyperbole either, this design was actually leased out to other typewriter manufacturers such as Brother, and there are examples of exceedingly similar machines made under countless brand names. As such, there is something universal and classic about the design. Think of the Hermes Rocket  like the “Apple Macbook” of typewriters. Just as today all laptops take inspiration from the Macbook design with very minimalist flat plastic or utilitarian aluminum cases and chiclet keyboards, the Hermes Rocket did for portable typewriter design. However, I would argue that nothing is quite the same as a Hermes. You can buy another manufacture’s machine, but like how only an Apple will run Mac OS X, so too will a Hermes only have that “Hermes touch,” right down to the press of the keys and soft green color. Its a sophisticated package in its use and aesthetic, and for me it is timeless.

What makes the Hermes Rocket the ultimate portable is its construction and utility. Unlike other portables, the Hermes really keeps things basic, yet makes intelligent design choices where it counts. It’s shallow depth and brilliant case design are its strongest features. It remains the only typewriter I own (with the exception of the East German-made Groma Kolibri) that can fit into a backpack along with a box of resume paper. This is due to the metal case enclosure, which snaps over the top of the machine and uses the bottom as the other half of the case instead of having a separate leather carrying case. It’s rock-solid, compact, and is the only typewriter that I routinely take outdoors. Just try not to annoy anyone sitting near you with your typing.

Hermes is able to achieve this portability at a few costs to convenience, and its up to you whether or not these are features necessary for your daily typing. Despite the amount of praise I lavish on the Rocket, I prefer my Olympia SM9 when I’m at home. The reason for this is mainly the action of the keys. While Hermes is the only company I would trust to make a satisfying key action in a typewriter of this size, it is limited by the length and weight of the typebars and the shallow travel of the keys. Its difficult to describe, but I always feel like the key travel bottoms out just as I’m ready to snap back my fingers. Larger machines are generally better-able to allow the keys to travel a little further down with the force exerted on them without bottoming out. This way, you work in tandem with the mechanism, rather than simply acting upon it. While Hermes keys universally have the perfect amount of resistance when your fingers hit the tops of those keys, the size of the Rocket simply prevents the satisfying snap of the keys the same way my SM9 can.

Other omissions that some might find troubling are the carriage shift mechanism (a factor of the thinness of the design), and the lack of any sort of tabulator mechanism. Also, unlike West German portables, the paper support is not spring loaded. To me this embodies the difference between Swiss utilitarian micro-focus in design and German over-engineering, but its a small detail I find amusing.

After writing this article, I am shocked by how much the Hermes Rocket seems to resemble to 2015 return of the Apple MacBook, with its butterfly key switches and diminutive processing power in the name of portability. The ethos of the Hermes Rocket emulates that same design philosophy, sacrificing extraneous features in the name or rock-solid build and ultimate portability: An experience that only Hermes can provide in its most refined form. So if you’re looking for a typewriter that could make it up the side of a mountain, and you’re willing to lug the extra ten pounds of kit with you for the ultimate adventure-correspondence experience, look no further than the Hermes Rocket: A humble writer’s machine for the bedroom desktop or a Swiss mountain retreat.

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