The Romance Of The Keyboard

Reading & Writing

It weighed the same as a boiler, and the keys were always getting jammed. Threading a ribbon turned your hands black and red. Tippex and Snopake, scissors and glue were required for the simplest documents. I bloody hated the typewriter. I do not find them remotely romantic. And yet this was the first picture my partner ever bought…

And now it has gone. The last company making typewriters is ceasing manufacture. Mark Twain was the first author ever to submit a typed manuscript with ‘Life on the Mississippi’ in 1883, and the typewriter lasted damn near a century.

I lived through the Olivetti, the IBM Golfball, the Selectric and all those awful dot-matrix readout hybrid typing devices, and now I’m very happy at my laptop. So, farewell then, unlovely metal object. Good riddance, paper. Hurrah for the Mac!

13 comments on “The Romance Of The Keyboard”

  1. Vickie Farrar says:

    I had a lovely old Remington (passed down by my grandmother) which I feverishly pounded upon from approximately age 10 to 20, at one early point writing a little neighborhood newspaper for the half-dozen nearly homes (I don’t recall anyone reading it, but I sure had fun making it). I have no idea what happened to the Remington and, although I am in agreement with you about not wanting to actually use that sort of device currently, I wish I had the old thing even to simply use as decor. It kept me sane. Thanks for the grand trio of typewriter-related pictures…nice!

  2. Steve says:

    I don’t wax nostalgic very often; if and when I do, it’s certainly not about typewriters.
    I will say however that the only class I ever had in High School that has done me any good at all was…..typing. Who knew the QWERTY keyboard would still be alive 46 years later?

  3. J F Norris says:

    In the early 1980s when I was in college I hated the damed things. My model – an electric Olivetti – had an obscure ribbon that hardly any stationer carried. My father had to travel to Manhattan (we lived in Connecticut and I went to college in Pennsylvania) to find me replacement ribbons. After a while I just gave up and used to unwind and rewind the last of the ribbons over and over until the impressions faded to a barely discernible lighter shade of pale…gray. I was a terribly typist (still am) and I tell you I do not at all miss using Wite-out, Liquid Paper and that odd flaky typeover paper for the numerous corrections I needed to make. I second your exclamation with this: Viva la Mac!

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Absolutely. My husband has a photo of me typing an English Lit paper on his typewriter and only the fact that it is a photo hides the muttering of retyping, erasing, etc. We have a legal carriage model in the basement and I haven’t used it for ages. I’m having a flashback of turning 14″ paper sideways to create forms and, of course sideways on long Gestetner masters or even ditto masters. Urrrgh. I typed new book cards on a manual and the kids used to stand around my office to watch. I’m not sure where my mother’s 1914 Underwood went. She even sewed a cloth dust cover for it.

  5. Gretta says:

    We had a little Imperial, which my mother thinks was c1960. Its size belied the fact that you could easily do your back in or give yourself a hernia trying to lift it. Yes, jammed keys, ink stains, Tippex(although here it was called Twink…I kid ye not), along with sore fingers and forearms, and a headache from the noise. Then we progressed to an Olivetti.

    Sorry, Admin, but I miss that wee Imperial.

  6. Lun Esex says:

    Everybody seems to love to eulogise. Turns out Jeff Goldblum is still alive, and so is the typewriter:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/26/worlds-last-typewriter-factory-closes_n_853670.html

    UPDATE: Contrary to previous accounts, it seems that the typewriters are still rolling off of assembly lines. According to an interview Minyanville conducted with an employee at Swintec, a typewriter maker, the company is still making the devices.

    Minyanville writes,

    “However, as ubiquitous as iPads (and, to a lesser extent…, Xooms and PlayBooks) may be, the typewriter is ‘far from dead,’ Ed Michael, General Manager of Sales at Moonachie, NJ-based Swintec, tells us. And he adds [Godrej] and Boyce is far from the last company in the world making the machines. ‘We have manufacturers making typewriters for us in China, Japan, Indonesia,’ Michael says.”

    Meanwhile, the Elvis sightings continue…

  7. Sparro says:

    But without the typewriter, we would never have heard this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vuDMInQMYQ

    Can your Apple Mac compete in musical terms, Chris?

  8. Anne Fernie says:

    I well remember typing up a dissertation using three sheets of carbon paper. One error and you had to start the page afresh. When I tell students about this they look at me as though to say ‘HOW old are you????’ (it was only the mid/late 70s….)

  9. admin says:

    My God Sparro I haven’t heard that in donkey’s years – it was always on Children’s Favourites when I was a kid!

  10. Sparro says:

    Was Leroy Anderson’s “Typewriter’ actually scored for a typewriter; and if so, what was the favourite make of instrument? Remington, Underwood, or Olivetti?
    Moreover, did the Musician’s Union insist on a 150 wpm stenographer, or whatever, to play the typewriter solo?
    I think we need to be told; in carbon triplicate, preferably….

  11. Helen Martin says:

    I wonder how many young people would look at that record player and comment on the archaic technology, although vinyl is coming back, they say. I always loved that piece and Trumpeter’s Holiday and The Waltzing Cat. I always wondered about the typing, too. Was it actually words or just random letters, since all the keys would make the same sound.

  12. Steve says:

    I’m rather fond of “The Irish Washer Woman” for some bizarre reason. No washboard solo though.

  13. I did some writing for The News Quiz, and Leroy Anderson’s ‘The Typewriter’ is still its theme tune. So that tune was playing as the continuity announcer read my name, and finally convinced some of my family that writing jokes could be a proper job. Because it was on Radio 4.

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