“Much as I like owning a Rolls Royce, I could do without it. What I could not do without is a typewriter, a supply of yellow second sheets, and the time to put them to good use.” ~ John O’Hara
I have always loved typewriters. Even as a young girl, I would admire them in antique stores (and in some cases, museums), where my parents would find themselves enthralled with a wonderful table, a great print, or sometimes, a rare baseball card.
It’s not that my parents did not like antique typewriters at the time. I think they did, and I think they still do. But neither of them showed any outward interest or need to have one of their own. As I got older though, I went from admiration to the first unmistakable pangs of need. I found myself typing on the ones that would work (which was rare), admiring the delicate keys, and not minding that they were often in horrible disrepair and grungy. I loved them for their dust and grime, their sticky keys and wayward ribbons that the shop owners would inevitably squeeze on so that they can convince customers that yes, it still types beautifully!
Honestly, it is the sound that they make that I love most. The “clickety-clack” of the truly older models is like music to my ears. I imagined myself writing long letters on them, or writing stories. My daydreams never really went much beyond just that. I figured that I could never afford to purchase one those wonderfully quirky older antique typewriters. The price of them would vary (of those that I actually saw in antique stores all over) from a few hundred dollars to literally thousands. I filed my dream into the “someday” file of my brain. In the meantime, I would volunteer to fill in various older forms that required a typewriter at my parents’ tax & financial firm. Everyone else hated using the typewriter in the office. I loved it. Sure, those models were not antique, and the “clickety-clack” sound was significantly less apparent. I simply did not care… the modern models were close enough.
Fast forward about fifteen years…
I do not know what possessed me, but in the last few years, I decided to let my mom in on my love of typewriters. I asked her if she would mind keeping an eye out for one in her travels, as she tends to find herself in antique stores more often than I do. I gave her my parameters – I was looking for an early 1900’s model, shiny black. It did not need to be functional, but if it was, what a bonus that would be. Unfortunately, I did not have a huge budget for it, but I figured if anyone could stumble on what I was looking for, it would be my mom.
She proceeded to tell me all about a short piece that aired on CBS’ Sunday Morning program. It was all about this renaissance that typewriters seem to be experiencing right now, highlighting stories from New York to Arizona. It was less than ten minutes long, but to someone who loves typewriters, it was exciting to see. I was not alone!
In January of this year, she and one of my aunts found themselves in an antique store, and I finally got my call. My mom came through – she had found quite a beauty. It was a Woodstock model 5N, probably from the 1930’s or so. She emailed me a picture…and I about fainted. I loved it. The most unbelievable part of the whole thing was that I could actually afford it. I immediately sent her a message back: “YES!”. She purchased it and I made arrangements with her to pick it up the following day.
After I got it home and set it up, it was beautiful indeed. I typed on it and was surprised at how well it worked. I was so excited about my purchase that I immediately began telling any friend of mine who was willing to listen to me yammer on all about my new treasure. Even then, I knew that I would want one more…
There’s always a point in these stories about that “just one more” moment, right? No?
As lovely as the Woodstock is, and as much as I do love it, it is not exactly….portable. Not to mention that it is from the 1930s, there is a part of me that is a little afraid to use it too much. After seeing that Sunday Morning piece, I began checking occasionally for “type-ins” and realized that even if there were none to participate in; I would still like to have a more portable model that I could take…
I could take it to…
Okay well I did not get that far in my thought process. I just knew I wanted a more portable model to balance out what I knew would be a *very* small collection. So I began my search for a 1950s model. The maker did not matter to me. It just mattered that it would be functional. The bonus feature on this one would be whether or not it came in a neat color. Think I’m kidding about the color? Go ahead and Google “1950s typewriter” and you’ll get all sorts of pictures of typewriters in almost any color you could imagine.
As it happens, I checked out the website of one of the typewriter sellers who appeared in the Sunday Morning piece, Brady & Kowalski, located in Brooklyn, NY. Thankfully, their prices had a nice range to them (mostly in the hundreds of dollars), and unless the typewriter was being sold as a prop for plays or movies, they were all in working condition. It didn’t take long before I stumbled on a beautiful 1954 Hermes Rocket typewriter…in mint green.
Just like the Woodstock, it was love at first sight. It was perfectly sized, not too heavy and it had a carrying case! After getting over the initial euphoria, I did have to think it though. I was a little more cautious to pull the trigger on the purchase, mostly because I am in California and they are three thousand miles away. Sure, I trusted that they were not scamming people. However, the prospect of buying a typewriter from so far away is no easy thing. Consider this: if something was not quite what I thought it would be, I’d be shipping an antique typewriter back to New York.
My hesitation was fleeting, and I bought the Hermes. Within a couple of weeks, it arrived at my office in California. I could hardly contain myself as I opened the box during the first break I had at work. Everything about it was just as I had hoped. The carrying case was in great condition and the typewriter…what a gem! I loved everything about it. I knew my “collection” was complete.
So here I am, still searching for “type-ins”, and writing letters on my typewriters.
The text here was originally written on a typewriter which the person then scanned in and placed on their blog. You can see the original post here.
I’m trying a little public typing in a noisy restaurant with an espresso machine. When the machine whines and the barista pounds on things I can type.
It got strangely quiet there. So I had to wait till we hit the road. The Tippa fits my makeshift rack! So I’m typing midway through a bike ride on Bicycle Sunday. A waterfront street in Seattle is closed to cars a few Sundays this summer so bikes can use it.
We left the Italian restaurant the score was 2-nil Spain.
I think I like using this machine, its nicer and the others that fit my rack, except for the y/z thing. With a new ribbon it should be practically perfect. I have forgotten to re-read Robert’s Tippa article for more info on this one within the sequence.
There is a knob on the side that is not mentioned in the book. I think it’s supposed to adjust touch or tension, but I can’t really feel a difference.
I’m going to break off here and continue later.
So to wrap up, we are back up the hill and almost to the car. Its been a successful bike typing outing. -Peter Baker
The First Typewriter
I began my collection about two months ago with my first purchase, a 1958 Tower President 12 with cursive type. My daughter instantly named hers Agnes Gooch, after a character in a 1958 Rosaline Russell film. If you’ve ever seen Auntie Mame you simply must. Immediately.
It took a month for one of my local typewriter shops to get her cleaned up and ready for work. The eBay seller ws a sweet man from Missouri and this typewriter had been his mother’s.
Mother’s Underwood No. 5 Standard Typewriter
I have my mother’s Underwood No. 5 Standard typewriter that I used when we were kids. I also used it to type my papers for high school and my College papers when I attended the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. I enjoyed typing on this typewriter even though I had used electrics in school just because it was fun. The patent date shows that it was made in 1914. The serial no. on it is 667372. My mother was born in 1915, so she must have acquired the typewriter in new used condition from a relative or some other source. She was a typist and bookkeeper before she married my Dad.
I can remember how pleased she was that I wanted to use her typewriter to type my College papers on — she went out and bought a new ribbon for it. I don’t know why, but I loved this big old Underwood. In recent years (2006) after many years of non-use, I decided it was time for me to have this Underwood No. 5 cleaned and refurbished, which is what I did. The decals are nearly all perfect on this typewriter that is now nearly 100 years old. It was at this time that I discovered by looking on e-bay that portable typewriters were also very common — and it fascinated me. Thus began my interest in collecting the portable typewriters. But it was my Mother’s nearly 100-year old Underwood No. 5 Standard typewriter that was my inspiration.
Hope you enjoyed the story and the pictures.
The Kindness of Strangers and the Laughter of Little Boys
In one of my first posts, I described the delight of reacquiring a manual typewriter. Since then I have enjoyed typing letters to various pen friends. Recently, I sent letters to my nephews which included a mention of how I was writing the notes on this machine called a typewriter. Their mother told me later that they had no idea what I was referring to! So I conceived of a plan to introduce them to the wonderfulness of the typosphere.
But what machine to use? As it happens I participate in an online group called The Portable Typewriter Forum. I posted a general inquiry: what machine did they think would be good for some rambunctious man-children to learn on? One gentleman with young children of his own offered me a Smith-Corona Clipper free for the shipping! The deal was sealed – and I sent him some jars of homemade jam along with the check!
Wish he could have been a fly on the wall when I brought out the typewriters one evening recently! Actually, I made the boys bring them out (the Clipper and a Royal Quiet Deluxe). They were SO wiggly anxious and excited to see what I was talking about.
They came out to the car and each carried a case into the house. (I wanted them to see how heavy they were even though people called them ‘portables.’) Then I had them open them up and asked if they could figure out how to get them out of their cases. With a few hints they found the release mechanisms. The Clipper proved to be a bit of a challenge with the release inside the lower edge of the ‘keyboard’ area.
Then we set them up on their dining room table and compared them. More wiggliness ensued – they wanted to use them NOW but had no idea how they worked. “Where’s the plug?” “What button erases stuff?” etc. When I said you had to roll in the paper (using two sheets to protect the platen), they expected the paper to roll in automatically and just sat looking at me holding the paper ready to go in. It took them awhile to get the idea that THEY had to make all the parts move. Boy1 ended up using the Quiet Deluxe while Boy2 and I worked the Clipper.
Most exciting finds:
The shift lock key! The idea that you could make ALL the letters “change” at the same time! No key for the number 1. They first tried the ‘i’ key. After a little more looking: “The L key!” They were so excited to have figured that out.
All the symbols on the top row of number keys. When I reminded them about the Shift Key, oh man, they were so excited to know it would let them print out those things as well!
Making an exclamation point using the apostrophe key and period key. The Back Space key was discovered then – they thought that was the most awesome thing!
After the initial introduction, Boy1 asked “Can I write a story now?” which he proceeded to do, two finger style for the rest of the evening, occasionally coming over to where Boy2 and I were using the Clipper to see what we were doing. Boy2, who just turned 6 and is still learning how to read, was more intrigued by the machinery and the sounds. The idea of the bell was he thought to be very cool! We had to lift the machine up so he could see it – and then he wanted me to type so he could see the bell actually work. Then we looked inside where the ribbon is. Boy2 is learning to play piano and thought the keystroke action SO cool.
Then Boy2 got a little bored until I said we should type a letter to his parents and HIDE it for them to find. So we typed up an exceedingly silly letter, made an envelope and stamp, typed the address. Now, where to hide it? They decided that under their Mom’s pillow was the best place, so we all trooped upstairs and did that, after much discussion about if Mom and Dad would find it or just ‘crunch it’ when they came to bed.
Back downstairs to the typers . . . Boy1 returned to writing his story, laughing at how he could “make the dragon’s words of magic” by typing the same letter over and over. Meanwhile, Boy2 and I started playing a game where we would take turns typing out strings of letters and then the other person had to “read it.” Reading involved making the sounds of the letters (preferably loudly and dramatically!) – so the stranger the combinations of letters and the longer the list of letters, the funnier the sounds. (Exclamation points had to be made with a shoulder-shrug-hands-lifted-up and a surprised face.) We did this for about 45 minutes laughing like crazy the whole time.
When it was time for bed, each boy put a typewriter back in its case. Then it was wash up time and upstairs for a reading performance of Boy1’s story (he’d typed a page and a half’s worth of a dragon and ‘hero dude’ adventure!). I followed up with a reading of Lion by William Pene Du Bois, a neat children’s book from the 1950s about an angel artist who ‘invents’ the first lion.
So all in all, it was a HUGE success! Thanks again, Dan @TypeClack, for making some wee boys (and their Auntie!) very happy!
VIA: Dante’s Warddrobe