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:
I’m just gonna say it: Cookie Monster is the best Muppet in the Jim Henson Muppetverse. And not just because of his typewriter scene in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, which I watched last night. Though I cannot endorse his flagrant destruction of a perfectly good fake typewriter, his GIF-worthy reaction at the end of his scene with Gordon is golden.
Also, I just now discovered his parody of “Call Me Maybe”, maybe the best pop song of the last 10 years:
Once in a while I stop by a nearby antique rental shop that is stocked full with all kinds of vintage junk. And in its musty, cavernous basement, among the rotary phones, LPs, radios, and TVs, is a wall of typewriters. I already sifted through most of them awhile back: varying conditions and styles, some just needing a good cleaning and others more in-depth work, and all of them too expensive ($100+) to buy outright.
This time, expecting to find the usual suspects collecting dust, I turned the corner and saw, uncovered in the noir-ish lamplight, a gorgeous 1961 Olympia SM7:
It’s very similar to my other Olympia SM7, just with a different color scheme and a larger typeface. Since it didn’t have a price tag, I took a pic and, expecting the worst, asked the woman at checkout (who wasn’t the usual proprietor) what she wanted for it.
She wanted $30.
Did she not know how the other typewriters were priced? Was she just happy to sell anything? I knew enough not to ask. When the typewriter gods offer an unconditional gift, accept it and appreciate your good fortune.
But before I bought it, I wanted to do a customary typing test. As I reached into my backpack for scrap paper, I noticed a piece of printer paper in the case beneath the typewriter. Almost a page long, untitled and single-spaced, it was a window into the mind of someone freshly out of a dark time, struggling with some heavy regret.
Was it by the typewriter’s previous owner? A recent store browser? It could have been just a creative writing exercise, but it felt genuine to me.
So before making this typewriter my own, I feel duty-bound to honor this anonymous person’s story by presenting the unedited transcript here. Thanks for typing, whoever you are:
How is it that something so tiny can have so much power, can bring so much happiness yet destruction and deep sadness. What was once an ancient medicine has brought my life, and my body, to its knees. It has healed me none and taken everything from me including my morals and dignity, and on top of all that it stole any happiness that it once gave, which I now see was no more than a false prophet.
The bastard that I speak of has gone by many names and has taken on many names and has gone by many forms. The one that I am most familiar with is Heroin. Maybe you have heard his name before. Odds are you have as he has been creeping his way out of the jungles and mountains around and into our American cities, slowly but masterfully working his way into the outlying suburbs and even further into our countryside.
We are a nation plagued by opioid addiction and at this point no one, no family, has become immune to it. You see this is a problem that does not discriminate. It attacks our mothers, fathers, and children, it attacks the rich and the poor alike and it doesn’t stop until you are dead or until you jump out of the ring with him, making a conscious decision to “give up” because you will never win this fight. He wins every time, leaving you only one choice, to admit defeat and choose to live without him, which really is not giving up, but knowing that you are powerless over him because in the end there is only one choice and that is to choose a life without him, so I am told anyway.
This is all very new to me. It’s taken fifteen years for me to realize that heroin is not my friend, as I had once thought. All those times that I can remember him being there for me, all those times that he had helped me celebrate, all those times that he was there to comfort me, it was all a lie and the bastard was stealing from me the entire time. As I sit here now it seems as plain as day. It seems like the warnings of who I was becoming from all those on the sidelines were right. I’m sitting here a defeated man, pieces shattered far and wide, alone.
I hope in the end for this to be a tale of triumph, but knowing the outline in my head I don’t know how a story of destruction, sickness, and loss can come to have a happy ending. Maybe it could serve as a cautionary tale, maybe I will just serve me the purpose of getting some of these things off my chest and onto paper, maybe this is just another selfish expedition on my part. Whatever it is I believe that it belongs on these pages.
In the new Phish song “More” frontman for the band sings a few lines that go “half of what I say is lies, and it takes so much to keep up this disguise, I see a doorway through the haze and I’m trying to get it”. This verse has spoken to me, as it reminds me of who I’ve become, a look into the mirror if you will.
Since I don’t have a Hermes Baby, our now un-Disneyfied toy typewriter will have to do as a stand-in. Excited for when baby’s hands will be strong enough to type. Perhaps I should start typing close to the womb so he can get used to the sound, and then maybe the clacking will be soothing to him. A man can dream…
Thank you again for your proposal. The emoji subcommittee has reviewed it, and has decided to decline the addition of “typewriter”. The statistics do not seem to justify the addition. The “office” category of emoji is already well represented and of lower usage than many other emoji. The “keyboard” emoji is also very close to this. ( https://emojipedia.org/keyboard/ )
Alas, it is not to be. I thank Richard for fighting this battle on behalf of the Insurgency. But perhaps instead of seeking legitimacy from within the Paradigm, we should invent a lo-fi typewriter emoticon that anyone can deploy at will. A simple but powerful symbol for the Revolution, a la the Mockingjay or the Bat-signal. This would also better align with the Insurgency’s principles.
My first attempt: ‘[:::]
This is more of a from-above view, whereas Richard chimed in with a good one that is more of a side view: ~/:::/º
The degree symbol isn’t very common (the Mac shortcut is Alt-Shift-8), though it’s a secondary character within the zero on iPhone keyboards. The bullet point • could be another option as it’s also in the iPhone punctuation menu.
But these are starting points. How can we make it better?
I heard from a neighbor friend that an older gentleman in our community was having trouble with his new typewriter. His advancing dementia made using his computer difficult, so his family got him a Royal Scriptor II from Office Depot to allow him to still write messages.
Let alone that electronic typewriters are not my thing, that the Scriptor was $300 was damn near offensive to me. I told my friend I’d be happy to help diagnose the problem, but also that I’d be just as happy to donate one of my typewriters. This would allow them to get their money back, avoid plugs and cables, and type on something that was made when people knew how to make typewriters.
My Royal Futura 800 seemed like a good option. I was considering selling it, but since I got it for free I thought it would be better to pay it forward. Like Andy’s toys in Toy Story, I think typewriters just want to be used. All the better by someone who will appreciate that use.
My colleague texted me a picture of a curvaceous mid-century Royal standard with no model name and with unknown functionality. Her mother was looking to get rid of it. I told her I’d probably just clean it up and resell it. That was fine with her, and the price of free was fine with me.
A mystery typewriter! Very exciting. When I popped open her trunk and lifted it towards my car, I suddenly remembered why I don’t collect standards. It was beastly, as cumbersome as a Selectric and longer than it was wide.
Without a clue as to the model name, I consulted the trusty Typewriter Database and found a photo of a very similar machine. It was the photo filename that told me this typewriter’s name, not, deceivingly, what I thought was the serial number but was actually some other parts number in front of the typebars.
Bow down to the Royal Empress:
Long will this gargantuan typewriter live! I could use it as a safe. The serial #MCP-11-8013175 (the P indicates pica font) would place it in 1964 or 1965. I’m not sure which since the other serials in that range seem to be a bit jumbled. It looks gray in the picture, but it’s more of a gray-green-beige mixture. Perfect for a bland office or, as indicated by a sticker on the back, hospital:
My preference is for portables, and not only because of storage limitations. But I can definitely see the appeal of standards like this one. If you don’t collect and just want a reliable desk typer, this Empress could rule over your writing spot until the next millennium. I’ll still be selling it, but I’m happy for whoever is made happy by it next.
Awhile back a patron donated a grey Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe typewriter to my library. She didn’t know why it wasn’t working but didn’t want to spend the time and effort to figure it out.
Little did she know she brought it to one of the few libraries in the area where someone actually cared and could do something about it.
But without a space of its own (or its cover/case), it sat atop a cabinet gathering dust until recently, when we thought we might use it in conjunction with National Poetry Month.
A quick inspection revealed the ribbon wasn’t advancing and the keys would get jammed on the way to the paper. I fixed the jamming easily enough, but needed to do some take-home surgery to properly diagnose the ribbon issue.
Once I got a closer look, I noticed one of the left ribbon spool pawls was out of alignment. This meant the ribbon wouldn’t advance with typing to provide constantly fresh ink. I gently bent it back into place and tried to tighten its binding screw so it would grab the teeth of the ratchet wheel as it should.
Typewriter screws can be pretty stubborn sometimes, especially if they haven’t moved in decades. This particular screw was quite intransigent, so in an effort to compel it into motion I leaned into the screwdriver to give it some extra oomph.
As soon as I did that, the little L-shaped metal arm the pawls were screwed into (not sure of its technical name) bent downward about 45 degrees.
I was so close! Once I’d finished that screw the problem would have been solved and I could go on with my life. Alas, not only did this mistake mean I had to figure out how to bend a small 50-year-old metal arm back into place without breaking it, but I also had to remove the Corsair’s plastic body casing to do so. Which I was really trying to avoid.
Once the paroxysm of profanity passed, I quickly realized I had two options. I could give up and consign a mediocre typewriter to live the rest of its days as an Instagram prop. Or I could persevere until I fixed it.
Ultimately I chose a third way: I indulged in self-pity and gnashing of teeth for a few moments, then took Door #2.
I did successfully remove the shell, which exposed the whole ribbon spool mechanism from the side. Even then I struggled to get enough leverage within the cramped quarters of a typewriter’s innards to bend the arm back up. But I just kept at it and kept at it. Once I decided to endure, I had no other choice.
Eventually I found a tool with the right shape to lever the arm back into place no worse for wear. Back on the planned path after this sudden detour, I restored the remaining parts and screws, wedged the shell back into place, and nodded in satisfaction.
Previous typewriter repairs I’ve done produced similar do-or-die moments. Each time I chose to keep on (except one, a Consul Who Must Not Be Named), the repairs ended successfully. No amount of whining, swearing, procrastinating, or doomsaying made that possible. Only stubborn persistence.
The Evanston Literary Festival graciously facilitated me hosting a type-in at the Bookends & Beginnings bookstore yesterday. I was there with my typewriters for about two and a half hours and had about 20-30 people sit down to type during that time.
It was a good mix of people old enough to be familiar with typewriters and young enough to know nothing about them. It was fun to get them started with the basics and then watch their inner lightbulbs grow brighter with every ding of the margin bell.
A collector stopped by and we talked repair and favorite machines. A college student was so enamored with the machines and typing experience that he talked of getting his own. A girl of about 7 or 8 sat down at the Skyriter and started in like she owned it; I learned her family had a typewriter at home so she was a well-practiced typist already!
I brought speed typing tests and writing prompts, but since most of the participants were so new to typewriters I figured it was best to keep things informal and low-pressure. Learning how to make an exclamation point and the number 1 were reward enough for most of them I think.
Overall I’m very happy about the turnout and enthusiasm. Besides selling a few typewriter books for the bookstore, it brought disparate people together in a shared public experience. I’d love to do it again, and find different ways to do public typing and meet more Typospherians in the area.
The bookstore had their own Remington Quiet-Riter, which they said hadn’t been working since they got it. I quickly realized the ribbon selector was set to stencil. The vibrator was still a little sluggish, but it typed fine:
Always interesting to see what people write when trying a typewriter for the first time:
One quiet and serious thirtysomething walked in, sat down, and started typing without a word. He was there for a while, pausing occasionally to ponder his next type. When he left I went over and snapped what he wrote: