Typing it forward

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.

Life Typewriters


My wife and I did a deep-clean over a long holiday weekend. After having some friends over, we realized how much of our place needed attention. I’m sure our guests noticed nothing awry during their overnight stay. The guts were the issue—the stuff only we knew was there, that sat wedged in a closet or stashed on a shelf months ago, when we didn’t know what else to do with it.

Jenny wanted to conquer the kitchen cupboards, the guest room closet, and the guest room itself. Amidst helping her with this, doing laundry, and sweeping, I resolved to clean a typewriter.

Since the beginning of the month, when my latent desire for these beautiful writing machines made itself known, I have accumulated eight typewriters: five Smith-Coronas, two Royals, a Brother-brand Kmart 100, an IBM Selectric from my grandma, and a Rover 5000 that’s cheap plastic but gets the job done. All have unique acquisition stories, designs, temperaments, and needs, both mechanical and cosmetic. To Jenny’s mild chagrin, they sit scattered around the apartment front room, clogging space on our only table and lounging on the couch or writing desk in various states of assembly.

Jenny has indulged my new typewriter phase, even taken pleasure in it, not only because she wants me to be happy, but also because it has in a short amount of time reminded me the value of things—of good and beautiful things. Until I got married, I had few things and liked it that way. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy living situations in my early adulthood that came with furniture and other essentials provided, whether it was in a campus dorm room (undergraduate and graduate) or a fully furnished room in an apartment or household. Save a chair or two in college, I’ve never had to even buy furniture, or anything bigger than a suitcase. My guitar and record player were, for a long time, my heftiest and most valuable possessions—and the record player my dad picked up off the curb.

The process of getting rid of things is not especially difficult for me. For my wife, who has many possessions despite being a very low-maintenance woman, it’s a different story. She has found great value in thanking her items as she places them in The Box, a la The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

The quilt handmade years ago that has been sitting in a drawer unused for years: thank you for the warmth when I needed it.

The aqua blue vase that once held beautiful flowers but has sat beneath the kitchen sink: thank you for sustaining life when it needed it.

The artistic calendar we admired month by month last year but now has served its purpose: thank you for sprucing up time. May someone pillage you for your art and give you new life.

The Royal Futura 800 was up first because it needed the most care, having sat in my parents’ basement storage for nigh on a decade. I was pleased to find, once I got inside, that it was mechanically sound; the keys steadily struck the ribbon’s still-alive ink and returned line after line of black type. Its exterior, too, was in fine form, still shiny and without noticeable blemishes thanks to the protection its orange wooden case had provided. But its innards desperately needed a cleanse, the cat hair and dried padding crumbs and dust having accumulated over decades in its architecture.

I wiped, swabbed, and air-blasted everything I could inside the Futura, just as Jenny was gutting the guest closet. Typebars wiped down, old wrapping paper recycled; detritus beneath the basket shift eradicated, surplus knitting yarn boxed for donation. All things breathing again from the same domesticated air. Every nook and cranny reachable was being acknowledged and accounted for. The apartment and the Royal had, I think, grown weary of their burdens. They too were ready for the new year.

Our two-day marathon purge found its gentle resolution Sunday night, the alley dumpster fuller than before. The Futura reconstituted, its tiny screws holding it snugly together for the long haul, no one will know what had happened to it, how far it had come while staying put. They’ll just see a typewriter sitting in a room, in an apartment that also looks just fine, just as it did before. But we know better.

Etc. Typewriters Writing

Typewriter Files: 1959 Royal Futura 800

I don’t remember how long ago this 1959 Royal Futura 800 typewriter came into my possession, but I know it sat in my old room at my parents’ place for about a decade before, in my recent typewriter mania, I eagerly reclaimed it for examination, restoration, and loving use.

As outwardly there wasn’t much wrong with it, the Before shot I took looks quite similar to the After:


The body is undamaged and mostly quite shiny all the way around. Mechanically it’s sound too, typing smoothly and with no apparent malfunctions. Its insides, however, were filthy: cat hair, dried padding dust, and the detritus of decades had accumulated on its oiled architecture. Initially I was ill-equipped for the thorough clean job it needed, but after a quick trip to Walgreens my supply cache was filled with Q-tips, cotton wiping pads, a compressed air can for spraying out hard-to-reach areas, and a pen light for peering into the innards.

Pre-cleaning serial number.

Piece by piece I went along and wiped down what I could, making sure not to disturb any of the mechanisms. The very middle section, wedged between the escapement and the carriage, was a tough get. Without taking the whole machine apart — a process I feared that, past a certain point, I wouldn’t be able to recover from — I couldn’t touch every piece that needed cleaning, but with the compressed air can and some swabs I got to damn near everything I could. Since nothing was obstructing the machinations I figured I’d leave good-enough alone.

The most difficult parts to clean were the glue remnants from the padding pieces, on the removable side pieces and inside the ribbon cover (which pops out when you push the red Royal logo in front):


The aged padding crumbled off at the slightest touch (unfortunately falling into the body), but the hardened glue remained recalcitrant, even after a few rounds of goo remover and scraping. I could have kept at it but wanted to move on, so I just made sure the pieces were otherwise clean.

As this was my first major typewriter clean-up project, I learned a lot. Though each typewriter make and model will present its own challenges, the biggest mistake I made with the Futura will apply to every typewriter I work on. I realized only after it was too late that I didn’t make note of which screws went where. During disassembly I thought “The black ones go here” and “the short silver ones go here”; but a day later, after I’d spent so much time and energy inside the thing, as I was bringing the body pieces together I realized my error. Oh crap, where do these go? Trial and error got me the rest of the way and all systems returned to order eventually, but I was very happy when it finally reconstituted and typed without a hitch.

The low-grade panic I felt did inspire my first lesson: Document. Right after the Futura was restored back to health, I put a bunch of loose leaf paper into a three-ring binder, wrote Royal Futura 800 atop the first page, and took notes on everything I’d done and seen: initial impressions and observations, notable blemishes and potential problem spots, its serial number, and suggestions for further repairs and cleaning. As I’d be moving on to other typewriters, I didn’t want to start mixing up what I did on which machine and which required which maintenance. I’ll do a typeface sample on each of the notes pages, too, so I can compare them at a glance.


The Futura came with an orange wooden case lined with a golden metal trim, but it was missing its handle, making it a cumbersome carry. Someone in the Typewriter Facebook group mentioned using a belt as a replacement, so I got a thin leather belt (that unfortunately doesn’t match very well, but it was free, so I have that going for me) and wound it around the remaining metal loops. Works great.

Finally, using the Typewriter Database I narrowed down the manufacture date of the machine to 1959, based on its serial number. I then uploaded it as my first gallery on my Typewriter Database page. Still need to add a few more photos and a typeface specimen, but for now I’ll enjoy notching my first typewriter before quickly moving on to the next.

Until next type…

The Idea Owl approves.