This cross-stitch was a belated birthday gift from my mom, who said she used the color of my Olympia SM7 as inspiration. As I don’t have a display room or even nook for my typewriters, I’m not sure where to put it yet. But it’ll brighten up whichever wall it lands on.
Finally took some time to clean up this 1931 Remington Portable 3 with Mr. 2 Years Old, who understandably couldn’t keep his hands off of it. Aside from a faded ribbon, some dried chunks of rubber rattling around inside, and tons of dust bunnies (the compressed air can was a big hit), it’s working fine.
I got it over two years ago from my mother-in-law, who had gotten it for free from someone in her book club. It’s now the oldest typewriter in my collection by almost a decade.
Though it was made in the United States, the keyboard contains French diacritics, most notably the accent (`), cedilla (ç), circumflex (ˆ), and diaeresis (¨). The combination of the latter two on one typebar makes for a rather expressive key top:
The other notable feature (at least for my collection) is that the machine is attached to the base of the carrying case:
The rest of the case pops on and off fairly easily, and contains a little compartment presumably for storing supplies or secret dossiers.
Though I’m looking to slim down my collection, I think I’ll hold onto this one. It’s a fun typer and very solid for a portable. Vive la dactylographiée!
I just finished reading Cameron Blevins’ new book Paper Trails: The US Post and the Making of the American West, which I learned a lot from (see my full notes and quotes from the book below).
One thing that popped out to me was the role of women in the Post Office’s workforce. Women made up two-thirds of all Post Office employees by the end of the 1870s, with the Post Office itself accounting for 75% of all federal civilian employees at the time. This made it a vital source of work for women early in the movement for women’s suffrage.
Their chief work was within the Topographer’s Office, which produced maps of postal routes. The layout and drawing of the maps was done by men (it was actually called “gentlemen’s work”). But the “ladies’ work” of coloring the routes according to frequency of delivery was arguably just as if not more important, because it added the dimension of time to the otherwise inert graphics and kept the maps up to date and therefore useful.
This wasn’t easy given the constantly changing routes and limitations of paper. As Blevins put it: “These women were, in effect, trying to paint a still life while someone kept rearranging the fruit.”
All this was on my mind when I saw Richard Polt’s Instagram post for International Typewriter Day.
I’m not sure how much typewriters factored into the work of the female “colorists” given its graphical nature, but the people’s machine without a doubt contributed to the societal sea change happening concurrently as women marched first into offices and then, eventually, the voting booth.
Anyway, I recommend Paper Trails primarily for history nerds—specifically 19th century America. The academic writing is refreshingly accessible and peppered with illustrative graphs throughout. I’m happy to file it under my “technically first” series of books about how innovative technologies came into being.
Notes & Quotes
Sometimes it pays for people to know your hobby.
Last week, when I was actually working in the office for once, I arrived to find this on my desk:
No note, no idea who left it there. Maybe they found it in the library’s supply closest and remembered I was a typewriter guy.
Regardless, I’m letting it serve as my 2021 resolution to get back into my typewriters. They’ve been neglected for far too long.
First up, a 1931 Remington Portable 3 that needs some admiration and TLC…
I’m a little tardy on this, but I wanted to share what my wife got me for Father’s Day. After a great deal of secret preparations, she presented a one-of-a-kind Little Book of Typewriters for me and our son:
The first page includes a scan of something we got from Tom Hanks in reply to one of my letters to him. It’s his “Eleven Reasons to Use a Typewriter” pamphlet, signed and with an inscription saying “Chad — they are all true”:
Then she took pictures of our typewriters and laid them out with their names. Here’s a few:
It’s become one of 18 Month Old’s favorite books. He’s even started saying “Dora!” when he sees it. Though he has his own typewriter, I have a real Royal Royalite that’s beat up enough to allow a toddler to tap and pick at. One day he’ll graduate to more quality machines. Here’s to raising the next generation of typists! ~/:::/°
In the meantime, he and I have this incredibly thoughtful and useful book to enjoy. We’re lucky guys.
Here’s my advice for selling a typewriter: Don’t Google it before selling. Don’t see what it’s going for on eBay or Etsy. Especially if it’s a functional model of a popular and photogenic brand you’re just using for decoration and know nothing about. Just sell it to me at a ridiculously low price.
That is my advice for selling a typewriter.
OK, tongue-in-cheek aside—though by all means take it seriously—I was inspired to write this after my sister scouted an Olivetti Lettera 22 on Facebook Marketplace for $10. Surely it’s a junker, I thought. Nope. The sellers were moving and needed to clear out, stat, money be damned. She got it for $5.
Most people aren’t appraisers and can’t be expected to know the value of antiques. I’m sure I have donated or tossed things over the years I could have sold for a pretty penny. I’m just surprised when something as pretty and sleek as a blue Olivetti changes hands for nothing.
But hey, one man’s trash…
Putting on a type-in last year was a lot of fun, so I was happy to be asked by the Evanston Literary Festival to host one again. This year it was at my favorite secondhand bookstore in Evanston: Squeezebox Books & Music. Rather than setting the typewriters at a table together for a shared typing experience like a traditional type-in, I scattered them throughout the store. This fit the space better and gave people some privacy, while also encouraging them to browse the whole place.
Overall it was much more low-key and intimate than last year’s. (The pouring rain probably didn’t help the attendance.) But my main goal for any PDT (Public Display of Typewriters) is to make it fun and educational for novices. On that account it was a success. I got to show several kids and young people the basics, which I hope radicalized them into the Revolution.
My Smith-Corona Electra 12 set the tone near the entrance, impressing people with its style and snappiness:
With its futuristic curves and spaceship smoothness, my Hermes 3000 felt right at home among the outer space books:
My Olympia SM7 (of surprise acquisition fame) took advantage of the store’s typing table:
And my beloved Skyriter was kept company in the art books corner:
I also brought one to sell, another Skyriter my sister spotted online for $10:
It worked fine despite some scuffs and scratches, so I listed it for $80 hoping to get lucky. Squeezebox was kind enough to display it on their checkout counter. Towards the end of the type-in a young couple arrived toting a quirky, sticker-pummeled Sears portable and Remington Travel-Riter, not realizing the event wasn’t of the BYOTypewriter variety. But I was glad to talk shop with them, and even gladder when they bought the Skyriter. He uses typewriters for ASCII art and she’s an ESL instructor who likes to use them for class material, so it’ll be put to good use.
Finally, some snapshots from the day’s typings:
A lot of them were done by a pair of tween sisters who rotated through all the typing stations (hence the “weird dad” reference—perhaps they are Judge John Hodgman fans?):
The Electra 12: “It’s Electric!”
Among my blog’s available stats are search terms people used that brought them to my site. One recent search made me chuckle: “smith corona corsair not a proper typewriter”
This most likely brought them to my post Cursing the Corsair. Let me tell you, I’ve called my Corsair far worse things than “not proper”.
Spent one of our last pre-baby Sundays repairing a typewriter, watching Jeopardy, and enjoying the snow. This caseless Olympia SM4, owned by a friend of a friend, was rescued from their deceased relative’s basement. It’s in fine shape mechanically. Just needed its metal polished, body scrubbed, innards dusted, and ribbon replaced. Now is (almost) as good as new: