Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Pre-Typosphere Typewriter Collecting

KB Paradise V60 Mechanical Keyboard and Journal Book

While researching material for my latest "Agent 51" video, I came across a journal entry I'd written on October 28, 1998, the first entry in a new composition journal book. This had been written in mechanical pencil, and what I found worth sharing with you was that it included the subject of typewriters, and alluded to a revival of interest in manual typewriters as far back as 1998, well before the current era of blogging and what we have come to know as the Typosphere.

So, without further ado, here is the transcription of that article.


This opening entry in this, the second volume of my journal series, begins with me having purchased a manual typewriter.

I don't believe that I've ever seriously entertained any ambition of becoming a writer. The closest thing I've come to is when I was on a poety writing kick while in the Navy and afterward. Upon thinking about it, I recall that, because of the volume of work I produced, I gained a self-identity as "poet," which I reinforced by surrounding myself with creative people - artist types, if you will.

But to be a "real" writer - a composer of "prose" - I have never identified with. And not to take anything away from these pages, but this journal is definitely not aimed toward public consumption, although some of my thoughts in the previous journal concerning video, film and photographic images constitutes a good framework around which writings for public consumption could be built upon, or perhaps worked into the upcoming seminar.

(Note: the seminar mentioned was an upcoming Basement Films presentation I made on low-budget analog video production techniques. - Joe)

So, why the typewriter? Well, for starters, I used to have an old Royal manual, built like a tank, but I think I gave it away a few years ago, before I got married, maybe around the time that I bought the electric Smith-Corona. My friend Worden has used manuals for years, and recently picked up a mint little portable, light blue with a carrying case.

(Note: Worden passed away a few years ago, but he self-published many small books of stories and poems on portable manual typers. That blue machine of his I only later realized was perhaps nearly identical to my Brother-made Webster XL-747, also blue and with a carrying case; further reason why I value it so much. - Joe)

So I have a computer with the latest Microsoft Word and Word Perfect word processors; I have access at work to similar software. So why the manual typewriter? Well, I've always appreciated the look of manually typed print. Each letter has a unique imprint, and the pressure that the fingers give to each key modulates the quality of the typed character in a direct, analogous fashion. You can tell when a computer typist is trying to touch-type on a manual, for the letters which are on the far left and right ends of the keyboard, struck by the weakest ring and little fingers, show up on paper as noticeably lighter in tone.

Last week I roamed around town, and visited several typewriter places. The one on Menaul
(John Lewis's shop - Joe) had an interesting museum, including old calculating, tabulating and other office equipment, as well as an abacus collection.

I engaged into an interesting discussion with the proprietor, and we covered an interesting gamut of things. He finally showed me an Adler manual typewriter, not quite as compact as the Hermes Rocket but, according to him, built to last a long, long time. It was built in "Western Germany," and supposedly has a high grade of corrosion-resistant steel in the mechanism. He knocked off 35 dollars, but I threw in for trade an old adding machine which he dated at before 1925. The end result is a nice, durable, well-built typewriter, which should last for a long, long time (I hope).

He asked me if I had planned to write a book, as many UNM-types come in and look for old Smith-Coronas that resemble the one that Hemingway used. Kind of like photographers who buy Leicas because they hope that they will immediately become more like Cartier-Bresson or Winogrand.

I never thought that a typewriter could actually influence one's writing style until I noticed that in order to type successfully on a manual you have to jab at the keys. The requirement of the fingers is not an increased strength, just a quick jab or punch at each key. It's the speed of the jab, not the pressure of the finger against the key. My thought is that perhaps the quick-jab style of typing could change the tone of the writer's voice from mellow word processor-smooth-clicky-clack into an aggressive, angry street-smart voice, matter-of-fact and no-nonsense, a kind of sparring session with the machine, the result imprinted upon paper, artifacts left behind from the interaction of human mechanics with antiquated technology. As the finished image is affected by the uniqueness of the lens in use, so is the typewriter able to focus the writer's thought in a peculiar way.

Did you catch those hints? Keep in mind that this was in 1998, before Facebook, Twitter or YouTube; when AOL was the dominant Internet provider and laptop computers were bulky devices. And it was certainly before the time that we commonly recognize as the revival of interest in the manual typewriter, before the Typosphere was formally identified. Yet there it is, John Lewis the typewriter repairman telling me that, even back then, university students were interested in those machines as writing tools.

Notice too that I've already gained some understanding of how a person should interact with a typewriter, that it's more about the speed of one's fingers than the pressure applied to the keys. I was certainly a neophyte at that time, but yet I had some understanding.

There is this mysterious reference in the piece to a comparison between the Adler and a Hermes Rocket. I didn't think, until I read this today, that I even knew of the existence of Hermes Rockets. Had I been suddenly educated that day by my visit to John Lewis, already had some subtle yearning for those little portable machines? Perhaps; only a few years later I'd return to his shop and trade in the Adler for a Royal Mercury portable, which I have to this day.

I am also amused by the idea that in 1998 someone like me was roaming around town on the lookout for typewriters; the more things change, the more they stay the same, even then the typewriter bug had already bitten hard, apparently.

For me, this journal entry is a bit of personal history unearthed; but for you out there in the Typosphere this might serve as some source material for the prehistory of the typewriter revival that was yet to come. I'd like to hear from others of you, if you have any personal anecdote or story pertaining to your pre-Typospherian interaction with typewriters.

Post-Script: Transcribed via KB Paradise V60 mechanical keyboard into iPad 2 with iAWriter. Wow, was this fun to type. Very AlphaSmart-like. But with a much bigger screen - a touch screen. No, it's not a "real" typewriter (and I apologize to those of you who might have been put off by the last two blog articles that have been overly enthusiastic about mechanical computer keyboards and tablet devices), but a very pleasant, focused writing experience.

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Blogger Ted said...

heh, my pre-collecting days in the 90's weren't so thoughtful. I just bought typers because they were fun to write with, made great christmas gifts for my literary-minded friends, and invariably cost $5. Didn't even have any real grasp of the brand differences until discovering the Typosphere in '10. (:

Re: computer keyboards and Neos - I should note that if you've been tempted by the little USB-connected Bluetooth dongle made by Handheld Scientific as a way to give your Neo bluetooth connectivity, you might reconsider. I did try it out, and while the device works great with normal USB keyboards, it tends to lose characters and constantly loses sync when connected to a Neo.

11:20 AM  

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