World Typewriter Day - June 23rd

Posted on June 23, 2017 by Bruce Walker

By Robert Messenger
On June 23 a bunch of people who, like me, have nothing better to do with their time and money than to spend it on old typewriters, will be celebrating World Typewriter Day.
June 23 marks the anniversary of the day on which Christopher Latham Sholes was issued a patent for the first step toward the first practical typewriter. This machine went into production at E.Remington and Sons’ rifle and sewing machine factory at Ilion in New York in September 1873, and was inflicted upon an unsuspecting public in March 1874. So unsuspecting was the public that not one member of it – including Sholes himself - had the foggiest clue what it would be used for.
Mark Twain was one of the first people to fall for a sales pitch (and what a pitch it was!). But he soon wanted to swap his typewriter with William Dean Howells for a horse whip. He eventually traded the machine with Frank Bliss for a $12 saddle, worth one 10th of what he paid for it.
The idea for World Typewriter Day came not, obviously, from Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but from another (living, but lesser) American writer called Clemens, Mike Clemens of California.
A few years ago this Clemens led a loose-knit group of bloggers into what is called the typosphere. A typospherian is someone who “typecasts” – that is, they type their posts, usually on an aging manual portable, scan them, then download images of the typewritten material on to their blogs.
Typospherians are usually, away from their clanking keyboards, reasonably normal people. They include professors of philosophy and cultural archaeology, respectable school masters and even a newspaper columnist. But Clemens defines them as people who “collect, use, and otherwise obsess over typewriters and other ‘obsolete’ technologies, including, but not limited to, handwriting, pens and ink, paper mail and … knitting, chip-less combustion engines and related ephemera. Though typically reclusive, members of the typosphere can sometimes be found lurking around the fringes of rummage sales, swap meets, flea markets, and church fundraisers, hoping to find the one make, model, or colour typewriter that will finally complete their collection and bring them true happiness and satisfaction. None have managed this feat yet.” 
Clemens said there was a fear “otherwise productive members of society would be indoctrinated into the strange, cloistered world of the typewriter obsessive.”
These oddballs hold “type-ons” at which they “challenge one another in speed-typing contests, envy one another's typewriters and exchange their surplus machines in their futile quest for completion”.
After one of these “type-ins”, in Delaware, Mike Brown of Philadelphia emailed me to say it had been “just like a religious experience, or group sex. I'm not sure.”  Georg Sommeregger,  in Basle (the Swiss are into this sort of thing, too) told me, “I  think it definitely is a sort of church.”
Given the overwhelming majority of people are far too sane to get involved in such activities, I’ve seldom had the opportunity to attend a type-in. But to mark the first World Typewriter Day, those taking part videoed typing on their favourite machines, and the videos were collated on YouTube. One of those who put his hand up for the typing extravaganza was Giordana of the Boston Typewriter Orchestra (I swear, such a thing exists. One of its numbers is the QWERTY Waltz!).
I didn’t for one moment expect it to be a religious experience. Nonetheless, it is true that spiritualists once believed typewriters could be used to communicate with the dead.
One of the great typewriter inventors in history was George Washington Newton Yost, who had introduced Sholes’ machine to Remington, then created its first rival, the Caligraph. He went on to build an even more famous machine in his own name.
In 1895, the “spirit” of Yost is said to have used a Yost typewriter to write down the thoughts from the grave of American spiritualist Helene Petrova Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy.
Madame Blavatsky’s “text” (described as “furnishing strong, internal proofs of its apocryphal character”) was “obtained in independent typewriting on a Yost machine under the supervision of the spirit of its inventor …” This resulted in Posthumous Memoirs … Dictated from the Spirit-World under the Supervision of G.W.N.Yost, published by Joseph Marshall Wade, of Boston, in 1896.
     When Yost died, an obituary said, “Although a shrewd man of business, Mr Yost had a tendency in his nature which led him into abstract speculation and made of him a devoted Spiritualist. With a Chicago Spiritualist named Dr [Henry D.] Rogers, he formed a great friendship, believing that the doctor was able to communicate with the spirits of the dead and to record these conversations and interviews upon the typewriter. In spite of the conviction of his friends that Dr Rogers imposed upon him, Mr Yost maintained his intimacy with Dr Rogers …”
Rogers apparently had some sort of fixation with typewriters and typewriter inventors. After Yost died, the swindler married  Harriet E. Beach, the extremely wealthy widow of another great typewriter inventor, Alfred Ely Beach.
Mrs Beach, 67, had been a widow just 55 weeks. But she said she had been guided in her hasty decision by her dead husband, her dead parents and some dead other folk – presumably via a Beach typewriter!   There’s one born every minute.

Posted in Type-In, World Typewriter Day

Your Imperial typewriter options back in the late 50's

Posted on May 16, 2017 by Philip Chapman

We rather take it for granted that now we can use computer keyboards to type in different fonts and use different symbols with relative ease.But back in the past typewriter manufacturers often offered differing fonts , symbols and keyboard layouts to their machines to help drive sales at home and in export markets.

We recently came across a Imperial Typewriter Co leaflet showing the options you had when ordering an Imperial Good Companion No 5 in the late 1950's.Not only did you have a choice of 6 colours for your new typewriter ,but there where 3 case styles, and 6 font styles. Added to that there were options for foreign languages and special keyboards for authors or journalists, opticians, mathematicians, doctors and dentists.


New Year's Typewriters

Posted on January 01, 2017 by Philip Chapman

By Robert Messenger


In December 1899, the Blickensderfer Typewriter Company of Stamford, Connecticut, famously produced a full-age advertisement for Munsey’s Magazine which showed Father Time pulling back the millennium curtain to reveal the futuristic Blick 7 portable (with an automatic spacer) as being a gift from the 19th to the 20th Century.

The Blickensderfer company did indeed continue beyond that point to set standards in portable typewriter design – at least until 1917, when its founder, George Canfield Blickensderfer died, aged 66, and his organisation began to collapse. The Stamford Advocate said in its obituary, “Mr Blickensderfer's intense thought on his later inventions resulted in injury to his nervous system, which possibly hastened the end.”

Blickensderfer’s New Year’s theme of a new model typewriter being given by one personified year (an old man, sometimes carrying a scythe) to the next (usually a near-naked child) had been used previously – by Remington in 1897-98 and by Smith Premier in 1898-99.

Of the American typewriter manufacturers which proliferated in the late 19th Century, not all made it into the 20th. Some, such as Densmore and Yōst, had been gobbled by the trust, the Union Typewriter Company, and on January 27, 1903, Smith Premier resigned from the trust to be reformed a L.C. Smith & Brothers, later to merge with Corona. Remington and Underwood remained the major typewriter makers, and were joined at the head of the pack by Royal in 1904. Underwood was taken over by Olivetti in 1959. Royal, which re-emerged in the US more than a century later, in September 2004, is the only one of this “big four” to survive as a typewriter distributor (if not manufacturer) into the 21st Century – Smith-Corona is now a maker of thermal labels and ribbons used in warehouses for primarily barcode labels.

One Royal portable which was receiving a pounding around the New Year period in 1957 was the gold-plated machine owned by Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels (this typewriter was in 1993 won at auction by James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, who paid almost $100,000 for it).

Three days after Christmas 1956, Fleming used the Royal to write to his publisher, George Wren “Bob” Howard at Jonathan Cape, complaining that, while the typewriter was firing and he had a new ribbon and 200 pages of blank foolscap paper, Fleming’s own “vein of inventiveness is running extremely dry”. Fleming said he was finding it increasingly difficult to “work up enthusiasm for Bond and his unlikely adventures”. Fleming had written From Russia, With Love earlier in 1956, but was still going through revisions.

However, the gold-plated Royal continued to pump out good copy at Fleming’s Goldeneye estate in Jamaica, and in early 1957 Fleming completed Dr No (as well as a much lesser known non-fiction work, The Diamond Smugglers). Dr No was the first of Fleming’s Bond books to be turned into a film, the script for which Fleming worked on using a Triumph portable at Oracabessa.

Happily for Bond fans, the reception for For Russia, With Love had helped oil the grindstone for Fleming. He went on, in his own words, finding “new names and shapes for heroines, and new ways to chase and kill people”. And as he did so, his Royal gold-plated portable typewriter needed no oiling at all!

Posted in New Year's Typewriters

100 Years of Christmas Typewriters

Posted on December 10, 2016 by Philip Chapman

By Robert Messenger

 This Christmas will mark the 100th anniversary of the term “Christmas Typewriters” to sell small keyboard writing machines. The phrase was first used in the week before Christmas 1916 by the Judd Typewriter Exchange in Indianapolis in the US, and was applied to the Corona 3 folding portable typewriter – “complete in every detail” declared the Judd Exchange. During the next half century, “Christmas Typewriters” became a very widely seen and increasingly effective advertising line at this time of year, a clear indication that gifting a loved one a typewriter for Christmas was a hugely popular idea.

 Such marketing was aimed mostly at younger people and was concentrated on portables. In this regard, Smith-Corona remained a market leader, but many other brands - notably Underwood, Royal, Olivetti, Hermes and Torpedo - produced Christmas advertisements that were truly works of art. Some of the finest examples of these appeared as full-page, full-colour ads in such leading international publications as LIFE magazine.

       Typewriters remain an ideal Christmas gift to this day, especially for younger people keen to experience the unique feel of creating documents on an analogue, manual writing machine.

       It was an eight-year-old Pennsylvania schoolgirl who first asked Santa Claus for a typewriter for Christmas – and that was away back in 1900. Anna McMillan wrote to the North Pole via the Pittsburgh Press newspaper. The Press ran her letter under the headline:


“Dear Santa Claus

“Below is a little list of what I want for Christmas: Typewriter, white ruffled apron, story book, a doll, a watch, a box of candy, Christmas tree, typewriter desk, go-cart, piano, needle book and breastpin. Be sure and do not forget any of these things, and do not forget to fill the stocking which I am going to hang up. Your little friend.

“Annie F.McMillan”

       “Little” list indeed! But Santa’s little friend Annie had certainly started something, and the next Christmas a Philadelphia company called Spayd’s began to tap into this growing adolescent market. The trend moved to Thorp & Martin in Boston in 1905, then on to Detroit, and by 1907 nine-year-old Alfred Hudson was using his “Christmas typewriter” to promote the Humane Club’s “Kindness to Animals” cause in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Before World War I, many of the “Christmas typewriters” children used were small index machines such as the Simplex, which were very heavily advertised around Yuletide. From 1916, “Christmas typewriters” marketing extended to small, lightweight keyboard machines, such as the Corona and Underwood three-bank portables. An outstanding example was this 1922 Underwood advert:

Posted in Christmas Typewriters, Typewriter Christmas Adverts

Typewriters in the Outback

Posted on October 08, 2016 by Philip Chapman

Ernestine Hill’s much used Olivetti portable


By Robert Messenger


When the famous Australian journalist and author Ernestine Hill died at St Andrews Hospital in Brisbane on August 21, 1972, all she left behind was her Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter and a camera, along with six typed chapters of her incomplete magnum opus, Johnnie Wise-Cap.

Hill bought the Olivetti, the last of her many typewriters, in the early 1950s, during her ongoing wanderings around the Outback of Australia, which had started in 1931. She travelled in a caravan with her son Bob Hill, who was the unacknowledged child of Robert Cylde Packer, father of newspaper and television tycoon Sir Frank Packer. grandfather of Kerry and Clyde Packer and great-grandfather of James Packer.

In Coolgardie in Western Australia, Ernestine Hill was joined by another noted Australian writer, Katharine Susannah Prichard, who was still using her 1920s Remington Model 2 portable typewriter (now on display at the Fellowship of Writers in Western Australia). These two pioneering female authors might well have teased one another about the difference in age between their portables, but in each case their choices of writing machines had been impeccable. Although the two typewriters were 30 years apart, no better portables to take around the Outback of Australia have ever been made.

Hill had learned her typing skills early on. Already a published poet as a young teenager, in 1917 she attended the business college of typewriter importers Stott & Hoare's in Brisbane, having been coached by her widowed mother for a scholarship there. First in her year, she gained entrance to the public service, and in January 1918 was appointed a typiste in the library of the Department of Justice. In Sydney in early 1919 she entered the world of journalism under J. F. Archibald, of Archibald Prize fame, who was then literary editor of Smith's Weekly. She went on to write biographies of Daisy Bates and Matthew Flinders – the latter sold 60,000 copies.

Katharine Susannah Prichard noted that, while typing and smoking almost non-stop, Hill took “flies and red-backed spiders galore in her stride.” The huge novel Johnnie Wise-Cap, about the life of an albino Aborigine, was repeatedly reported as almost ready for publication. Hill said “the ideas come thick and fast. I can't sort them out. A forest is here, nearly in bloom”. But publisher Angus & Robertson eventually withdrew its financial support, and Hill never finished the massive work.

Undaunted, Hill kept on typing on her Olivetti, and in 1959 received a Commonwealth Literary Fund fellowship, which provided her with a small pension for life. She continued to travel, trying to settle in North Queensland, writing articles and dragging her Olivetti and trunks of notes with her. In 1970 she returned finally to Brisbane. Earlier this year a biography of Hill, Call of the Outback, was published.


Posted in Ernestine Hill, Olivetti Lettera 22, Typewriters in the Outback

1 2 3 8 Next »

Recent Articles