Friday, January 31, 2020

Wait, did you really say typewriters?

Why yes, yes I did say typewriters.

I first became fascinated by typewriters as a little kid, tapping away at my late grandfather's machine, a shiny black 1935 Corona Standard portable.  Of course, at the time I had no idea about any of those details, I just knew it was fun to see how tapping a lettered key made that letter appear on a piece of paper.  I even recall typing up things using carbon paper, to make multiple copies, but I can't for the life of me think of what a ten year old kid might need multiple copies of.  Then again, this was about the same time I discovered tape recorders, which lead to endless fun.  But that's for another day...

My grandfather's 1935 Corona Standard today

High school came along, and one of the electives many took was typing.  I'm not sure exactly why I signed up for it... I probably just thought it would be a good idea to be able to type properly, since I knew college papers and such were most often typewritten.  To put it in context, I graduated from high school in 1979, right on the cusp of the personal computer revolution, though we didn't know it at the time.  The typing class was actually quite helpful and fun, and the main reason I can actually touch type on computers or typewriters.  I'm pretty sure the machines we used were some Royal standard style typewriter, big hulking grey things that were built like tanks.

Once I got to college, as expected, I needed to type papers for my classes.  I'm not sure why, but I never had a machine of my own in college, but borrowed friends' when I needed them.  There seemed to be ready access to a typewriter whenever I needed it, anyway.  Most of the time I used manual portables, as I recall mostly Smith-Coronas in various pastel colors, but at least once I borrowed an electric and was amazed at the ease and speed with such a machine.  It seemed like magic at the time.  How was I to know their days were numbered?

The year I graduated college, Apple introduced the Macintosh, which many would say demystified computers and opened up a new technology to a lot of people.  Other people wouldn't be so enthusiastic in their appraisal of the Mac, but I have to admit, I've always been a fan, and am in fact writing this on a Mac Mini right now.  Anyway, by the time the Mac hit the market in 1984, the personal computer in various forms had been finding its way into homes and offices for nearly a decade.  That being said, when I was in college, a "computer science" course involved gigantic computers feeding a basement printer spewing out green bar paper, and I stayed the heck away from that.

Of course, like most of us, the day came when I embraced (well, not literally, that would be creepy) the personal computer, and bought my own Mac.  And from that day forward, it was my machine of choice for most writing aside from personal correspondence and journals, which I did by hand, in my shockingly illegible handwriting.  No, really, ask anyone who has tried to decipher something I've written by hand.  It's atrocious.  I'm the one kid in my family that never went to Catholic school, so maybe that's it.

Fast forward to sometime around 2010 or so - I don't recall exactly how it came about, but I got to asking my mom about her father's old Corona.  Maybe I'd seen a few in antique stores, or photos online.  Anyway, she told me where in the house it was, and I dug it out and looked it over.  It all seemed clean and functional, though a bit stiff from lack of use.  It even had a usable ribbon.  My mom had someone service it years back, and then it went into storage, so it really had very little use since the work.  Around the same time, a woman I was dating found her grandfather's '30s Underwood, and we had some fun re-discovering manual typing.

That was about it for a few years, the occasional tapping out of something or other, and looking idly at machines in antique shops and such.

Then I watched the documentary "California Typewriter", which features two writers whose work I really like, historian David McCullough, and the late Sam Shepard, both of whom talked about how and why they used typewriters for their writing.  Also in the film is Tom Hanks, who at the time had a collection of something like 250 typewriters, and talked very enthusiastically about them.  I even bought a book about them, by a guy named Richard Polt, featured in the film as well - The Typewriter Revolution, full of fascinating facts, photos, stories of how people use typewriters in the 21st century, and tips on buying and fixing machines. After seeing all the many types of machines from all the different eras, the bug bit me, and I started looking actively for typewriters.  I've now got a pretty good collection of my own going, and enjoy sitting down and typing out things like my thoughts of the day, the odd letter to friends or family, etc.  I've even started trying to get into the habit of typing up the notes I take on my walks on the C&O Canal so I can read them later (see above comment about my handwriting).

Here's a few photos of some of the machines I have.  I'll write more about them in more detail in time.  Hopefully some of you will find it interesting!

Olympia SF Deluxe, SF, and Splendid 66 ultraportables
Sears Tower Chieftain, made by Olivetti

1941 Corona Zephyr and Zephyr Deluxe ultraportables.

1956 Royal Quiet Deluxe




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