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Ode to Manual Typewriters

November 6, 2011 124 Comments

I love manual typewriters.  I adore the analog beauties for all the reasons contrary to digital word processing.  There exists a revered ceremony, slow mindfulness, and tactile alertness not possible on my iPad or laptop.  Dormant senses suddenly pique like when riding a bike.  I’m plastic and silicon free, baby.

The solid, metal construction stands sturdy, quietly waiting; yet beckoning the pondering poet-writer to pound away. I’m smitten each time I gaze at the beautiful mid-century construction of my 1948 Royal Quiet De Luxe.  It’s ready to go without a power cord or depleting battery.  Analog typewriters are splendid in their single purpose of mechanically transforming human thoughts into a shareable medium from the hard work of its writer.

It’s twelve pounds of writing purity.

The ceremony begins by sitting down in its own space, the special typewriter desk.  The blank piece of paper descends into the black cylinder, resting by the marked paper guide.  Turning the nob emits a wonderful ratcheting sound as the anticipation builds for that just-right margin layout.  Pushing back the paper lock secures the paper and waves the green light for my imagination to unleash.  I relish in slowing down and taking a longer time.

The sound of each typebar hitting the paper is the best!  It’s like a mini-stamp of assertion offset by the sweetly demurring ding at the end of line. That bell chime at each margin end is like a happy hum of a reward for crossing that vast blank paper.  Hitting each key focuses my mind on the letter, number, or symbol, which is about to compose the word that’s part of the grander concept, sentiment or imagery.  A different part of my brain works when using manual typewriters.  The physicality of using an analog typewriter connects me closer to the work.  Each keystroke is a commitment, which cannot be wiped away via pixels.  It’s magnificently manual.

Whoever designed the Roman typewriter typeface is a genius.  Each fat, stocky letter has its own “I’m Here!” presence, delineated by each letter’s equal spacing.  Reviewing the typed paper reveals how each letter has its own personality based on the ink pattern.  It’s no wonder that old school detective shows tie the crook back to the distinct typewriter he used to write the ransom note.  “Egads! That splotchy “a” clearly comes from his 1937 Remington Noiseless.”

Pushing the carriage return arm plays into the entire manual ceremony.  The lack of an erasing ability poses a challenge, quandary or game to the typist.   Using a modern electric typewriter with its eraser is more of an annoyance, which makes me just yearn for the efficient computer.

Imagining how novelists craft hundreds of pages on analog typewriters swells up new appreciation for their technical and creative skills. Check out Life magazine’s black and white gallery of famous writers and their trusty typewriters!

It’s amazing how one passion naturally leads us to discover other gems.  Alan Seaver’s Machines of Loving Grace offers the best site for over 10 typewriter brands, chock full of original manuals over his twenty year collection.  The Chicago-based Letter Writers Alliance has over 1,800 members dedicated to the lost art of letter writing with monthly writing socials.

Calling my local typewriter repairman revealed that he had other three service calls that day.  Are vintage typewriters another hipster trend?  Like all subcultures, a full spectrum of collectors co-exists.  What is actually more common are the raised eyebrows from people when I exult the virtues of manual typewriters.

I don’t need the $500 refurbished retro-cool or bevy of several typewriters. Appreciating the feeling and mechanics of analog typewriters is more of my type.