This is a late Dactyle machine, s/n 13137. It was advertised on a French second-hand site, and the pictures struck me as somewhat peculiar, so I decided to buy the machine. France is a difficult area to pay people, because the Europe-wide and free system of bank transfers is for some reason mistrusted by many older french people, and they either insist on a cheque (it's been at least 20 years since I still wrote one here in Belgium) or Western Union, paypal or some other expensive service. Anyway, after long negotiations, it turned out that he wasn't willing to send the machine anywhere by mail, it would be pick-up only, and then it would be easy to pay cash. Luckily, the machine was located just below Geneva, and I have a good friend who lives in Lausanne, so I gave him a call, and he arranged to pick up and pay for the machine. The next time he came to Belgium, he brought the machine. I was lucky to see my hunch vindicated, because the machine is rather special.

It was very dirty and stiff, and had some mechanical problems as well, notably the main crank axle got bent at some point, which caused a very stiff spot in the rotation of the main crank. Trying to rectify this, I stupidly broke the cast iron crank support. Luckily, these things can be glued, but the machine is only suitable for very light use now, and should never be carried by the crank support to prevent very nasty surprises! Also the carriage lock is missing a spring steel wire, which I will still have to try and replace, but I had nothing suitable lying around for now.

I cleaned it up a little and before saying anything more, I will show you a few pictures: Dactyle  picture 1

Dactyle  picture 1

Dactyle  picture 1

Dactyle  picture 1

Dactyle  picture 1

The brass plate on the top confirms that the Dactyle range of machines was indeed made by the Château frères, a link which is obvious from comparing the looks of Château and Dactyle machines, but it is nice to finally see it confirmed in a single machine.

The plate reads:

"Machine à calculer "Dactyle""

Brevetée S.G.D.G.



125 Bould de Grenelle


Seg 30-04

(which is a phone number for one of the old Paris telephone exchanges, namely the centrale Ségur. The way of writing the phone number indicates that the machine dates from after 1929, when this became common practice.)

The building at that address appears to date from later.

What struck me as odd in the advertisement were ther proportions of the various parts on the base plate, like the lock plate and hinges, as well as the stamps in the top plate (the "Unis France" and "Bvté S.G.D.G." ones), and this was a hunch that paid off - when the machine arrived here, I put it next to another Dactyle (unfortunately I don't have one of the approximate same age and the same capacity, because that picture would be even nicer - but from this one you will also be able to see the point:

Dactyle  picture 1

It is a miniature machine, and faithfully miniaturised as well - even the comma sliders are miniature verions of the comma sliders in the full-size machine.

Clearly the Château brothers knew that their competitors were miniaturising their machines increasingly, and that these huge, cumbersome and heavy behemoths were rapidly falling out of favour, not only because they were less easy to lug around, but also because using about a quarter of the metal that would go into a large machine, made these miniatures a lot more affordable as well.

I have so far seen only one other small Dactyle or Château, and they are all among the highest serial numbers known. It has not been unearthed when the company went into liquidation, but advertisements exist until at least 1929. They may have gone under in the crisis at the beginning of the 1930's, and their miniatures have been unable to save them.

A little funny thing to end with - the previous owner has provided the machine with pink velvet feet ... original!

Dactyle  picture 1