Saturday, January 17, 2015

Typewriters: Life with Typewriters

It does not take long to become known as a “typewriter enthusiast.” A few Tweets, a photo or two, a couple of dozen typewriters in the basement, and you are branded as a technology fetishist
You bring your typewriters into your high-school classroom, and abruptly there is a list of names on the corkboard, each one representing a teen that you’re supposed to be finding a typewriter for. You have placed four this year, with seven to go. Five last year, including one with a Cyrillic keyboard.
Folks try out typers from my collection  at a spring 2014 event at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, N.H.

Photos by Dan Deering

You get up extra early in the morning to bang out a couple of pages before heading to work at six.
Tote a portable to a coffeeshop or a bar for a couple of hours of writing, and people keep stopping to talk to you about their own experiences with typewriters. “My mom had one of those,” or “I love that sound,” or “I had one, but I could never find a ribbon for it.” Sometimes they bring their kids over, too, and you feel obliged to let the little nippers try your machine out. The kids ask for one for Christmas, and you tell their parents where to find them.
Eventually you host a Type-In in your hometown. It’s well attended, and folks who missed it (or didn’t want to make the drive) contact you about hosting a similar event in their town. “If you do the legwork,” you say, “I’ll bring the machines.” Sometimes they call back.
You write a novel on your typewriter and discover what a great tool it is for pumping out a first draft. Immediately, you start planning a workshop for the nonprofit you volunteer for, hoping others will catch the typewriter bug. You make sure that you have a dozen solidly working typewriters to field at any one time. You acknowledge that this workshop, along with all the other writing classes you teach, is creating more competition out in the writing world. You do it anyway.
You start another novel and put the other one in the drawer to dry.
You craft a quick handout on the typing life, letting readers know how to find and test typewriters in the wild. Abruptly, your sources dry up, and it has been weeks since you made a thrift-shop score.
You start wishing you had learned to type properly, and consider taking a few months off from the writing to get up to speed. But there’s no time. The pages have to keep coming. You resign yourself to hunting and pecking for your natural life.

You surf the Internet looking for new typewriter resources and wish the people on the forums you already trawl would post a little faster. You start to wish someone out there would offer a typewriter repair course and start developing retirement plans that involve a Winnebago with attached workshop.
Your wife finds you indulging in “sexy talk” with pictures of typewriters that you find online. “Oooh, baby. Come up and see me some time,” she said you said. You can’t deny it. She makes you promise to keep the machines out of the bedroom.
There are three partially disassembled typewriters in your classroom, and you are okay with it.  There are actually four, and that you are a little ashamed of, especially since there is also one at your house … along with several that need repair waiting in the wings.
One day, you admit that there is no bottom to this. You have thirty-five typewriters, but you want more. You want all of them, even though you know you can only write on one at a time, and you can only fit about fifteen in your midlife-crisis Mini Cooper.
There is no bottom. Still, you leap.


  1. Love my typewriters, but not sure how best to service them and find parts. Any sources you feel like divulging?
    Also- I would love to be able to write my first drafts on one of my typewriters! Not sure if my carpel tunnel could handle it, but I would be game to try. Just need to get some new ribbons.

    1. Typewriters are supposed to be good for carpal tunnel. Parts ... well, you might want to keep an eye out for "parts" typewriters. I've put together some good machines out of dysfunctional twins and triplets. I've taught myself how to do some basic repairs, and I'm keen to know more. Still, there are some good fixer shops out there: Portsmouth Typewriter and Cambridge Typewriter (best bet). Ribbons can be had on Amazon and EBay, although you may find yourself respooling them.

  2. Well that sounds like a familiar tale.. :D

    Done leapt already, sirrah.

  3. At thirty-five units you're beyond "enthusiast," I'd say... well done. Enjoyed reading it.