Monday, October 3, 2011

The End

This is mostly likely the last post I'll put up on this site. You can still follow my various musings on The Red Electric or, if you live around here in Portland, The Hillsdale News.

My typewriter obsession began about five years ago. In a mad frenzy I acquired more than 50 of these wonderful old machines. A couple even dated back to the 19th Century.

In my enthusiasm, I put on displays of typewriters at three local colleges. The displays featured the same models that several famous authors used to write well-known books. After I'd install the displays, I'd stand at a distance and wait for throngs of students to crowd around.

It never happened. The typewriters barely drew a glance although a few teachers remarked on the displays. "I had one of those once," one old prof observed. Another said that he wrote his dissertation on an IBM Selectric like the one I had on display. He was impressed that Hunter Thompson had used the same model to write about Fear and Loathing.

So, after my displays flunked out on campuses, the typewriters stayed in my basement. I'd pull out a couple of the more interesting ones if a visitor showed so much as a glimmer of interest. The glimmer flickered out after the first three or four minutes of my basic typewriter dissertation.

On-line there's a pretty enthusiastic typewriter collecting community. They share advice about jammed keys, frayed ribbons and swap stories and occasionally typewriter.

A few months back the New York Times featured a story about young people getting interested in the machines. It didn't match my experience although I did heft a typewriter to an on-line organized "Meet up" group. Two of us showed up, had coffee and left never to meet again.

Mostly I became a neighborhood repository for unwanted and abandoned typewriters. "Hey, I hear you collect typewriters. I have this old one that belonged to my Mom. Are you interested?" I would follow a series of probing questions about model year, brand, condition etc. Silly me. In return I'd get: "Well, you know, it's just an old typewriter."

I'd take in a few of these orphans but then I started running out of space, so I'd donate the better ones to charity auctions until I pared back my collection to 45 or so. Selling them on-line had two drawbacks. One was the hassle of shipping them. The other was that jewelers were known to buy them to harvest their keys for bracelets. Kind of like poaching elephants for their tusks.

Then one day I noticed at Powell's Technical Bookstore downtown that someone had stashed some old typewriters and adding machines (I had three or four of those too) up on the tops of prominent book shelves. The clerk told me that the owner, Michael Powell, collected typewriters. I happen to have an ex-wife who knows Powell and through her I got a phone number and an introduction.

I figured that it was better that my typewriters be on display at Powell's than stashed away in my basement. On the phone Powell and I talked vaguely about compensation (book credit at the store) but I mostly wanted the reading public to see the assortment of Royals, Underwoods, Remingtons, Olivers, Hermes and Olympias (to name a few brands).

It took a while (Powell is mostly retired now and travels a lot) but finally, last month, a panel truck from Powell's backed into the driveway and the driver and I loaded up 40 typewriters, three adding machines and various typewriter paraphernalia.

I kept three typewriters back, just for old time's sake. They are shown here. The Olivetti Lettera 22 was the machine that got me started collecting in the first place. It as a nostalgia thing. I'd had one in the Peace Corps in Kenya 45 years ago. It was a balky little typer but I loved the way it looked. Very Italian. It is commonly found in teal. My tan one with its red shift key is pretty rare. Or at least I like to think so. Don't get me started....

There was no way I was going to let go of my folding Corona in its leather, velvet-lined traveling case. Besides, Agatha Christie and Ernie Pyle both hammered away on these little machines.

Finally, I kept an Underwood Universal mostly because I had two of them. I figured Powell's could get by on one. I particularly like the ribbon spool covers with their cut-out logos.

I also saved back my collection of ribbon tins. Some of them bear masterpieces of Art Deco graphics.

In the two weeks the typewriters have been gone, I haven't missed them. I figure they are in good hands At some point I'll call Michael Powell just to make sure, to see whether he's been to see them and whether he'd like me to tell him about what he has a treasure trove of typing history he has.

Oh, and I might ask about that credit at the bookstore.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Typewriter ads from 1892

A friend gave me a frail, tattered copy of Cosmopolitan magazine from the winter of 1892. He had saved it for me because of its typewriter ads.

The ads mark a time of intense competition, not just between typewriter brands but between fountain pens and typewriters and "calculating machines."

The advertising copy below for "The Ribbon Adder" seems to be targeting early adopters from the late 19th Century. The ad notes the Ribbon Adder's technological advantage over the "type-writer."

"Removing the mind of all strain, it in this respect as an invention outclasses the type-writer, which simply substitutes one physical process for another."

In other words, the Ribbon Adder can think for you, "removing the mind of all strain."

If only. . . .

Tucked into the dense advertising pages is an ad for an "Edison Mimeograph" manufactured by A.D. Dick. Co.

Just why ads for Parquet floors are nestled in with those for typewriters, pencils, pens and adding machines isn't clear.