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This Week's Scuttlebutt




TYPEWRITER TALES

Typewriters have been a popular topic on the Sharing Ideas Open Forum. Not only have several people shared their reminisces about these old workhorses, but each week the website receives several hits from people searching for more information about typewriters.

I've taken the liberty of moving the "typewriter posts" from the Open Forum to Scuttlebutt so that all the posts could be kept together.

If you wish to share your memories about these machines, please feel free to post your own message on the Open Forum. Or, you can leave me e-mail and ask me to place the post for you. I will periodically transfer new posts about typewriters to this Scuttlebutt page.

Reminiscing About Typewriters

Originally posted on Sharing Ideas Open Forum by Anne Wallingford, March 28, 1999 at 02:55:30:

Just this past week, I heard from a friend who had been wrestling with a typewriter. (He had forms that needed to be typed.) His remark was along the lines of "Thank heavens to hear the soft click of the keyboard again."

That got me to thinking about typewriters. I'm sure some of you remember them!

As I was growing-up, I loved my typewriters. I can still remember the summer when I was in 8th grade, getting up at 6 a.m. and sitting at the kitchen table, teaching myself to type. I'd received a portable blue and cream Royal typewriter for my birthday that summer, and I loved typing. The act of thinking of words and then watching the words appear, as if by magic, on a clean white sheet of paper hooked me as a writer.

The typewriter also played a pivotal role in my becoming a freelancer. After being downsized from my full-time job, I was offered an opportunity to develop and write a series of fourteen science kits by the same firm that had downsized me. I was given ten months to complete the project.

For the entire ten months, I worked at the firm's manufacturing offices. I was given an old wooden desk, a swivel chair, a bookshelf, access to the manufacturing floor/equipment/personnel, and an old, olive green IBM Selectric.

My "office" was half of the old breakroom. The room was huge—fifteen feet long and at least twelve feet wide. This was an inner room with wood-paneled walls, linoleum tile flooring—and the coffee machine! One door opened to the plant, itself. The other door opened to a hallway leading to other offices.

The manufacturing plant worked ten-hour days, four days per week. So for ten hours a day, four days each week, I sat in that "office" and wrote. Or pretended to write! When the creative juices wouldn't flow, I'd walk around the plant, learning the steps to the manufacturing process, the different pieces of equipment, how to price a project, the pitfalls of designing a science kit, and how to pack boxes. There were days, though, when even this learning didn't help. Every so often, I would hit a dry spell. When that happened, I would sit and type nonsense for hours at a time just so the typewriter would be making noise. (I was thinking. But try to convince most managers that thinking equals working!)

I still vividly remember my worst case of writer's block. I knew there was a word that would say exactly what I wanted. It tickled the edges of my brain. I asked everyone but no one knew the word. It was awful! I literally couldn't do anything else; you could say I was temporarily mentally paralyzed. I can still see myself leaning back in the chair and throwing spitballs at the ceiling! And if you knew me, you'd know how absolutely absurd that was. I tried working around The Word to no avail.

Then, the quality control manager stepped into my "office" to ask me a question. I replied that I'd answer her question if she would answer mine first. I gave her the sentence and said, "Fill in the blank." She looked at me as though I were nuts, and gave me THE WORD. After completing the sentence, I typed fast and furiously. That particular book was written in record time. Strange, indeed, how the mind works!

Getting back to typewriters... by the time the project ended, I had formed a real attachment to that ugly green typewriter. I had written fourteen books, 100+ pages each, on that machine. I had to do initial formatting and layout the old-fashioned way with cut-and-paste. Pages would come back from the graphics department and I would retype them over and over again. When the ten months ended, and the last kit was finished, I asked the firm if I could buy the typewriter. I just couldn't leave it behind! The company didn't want the machine and just gave it to me.

The old, ugly typewriter continued as a workhorse for four more years, until I finally began using a computer. Even though the machine is now retired, it is carefully stored in the basement. If I had room, it would be in my office now.

I loved both of those typewriters and both typewriters played a major role in changing my life. I work with computers now. I have both a PC and a MAC and can't imagine writing or editing without their word processing and editing capabilities. But I don't love either of the computers. In fact, I often detest both of them! The computers are temperamental; they crash; I spend hours making them do one job. Lines scroll off to infinity, and frustrate me. Oh, I can't imagine working without the computers. But I'll never form an attachment to these machines the way I did with those old typewriters!

In Reply to: Reminiscing about typewriters

Response originally posted by Cass Peterson on March 29, 1999 at 05:38:53:

Oh, boy, did I love that post.

I still have my father's old Royal, an almost-as-ancient NCR, and the cheapy Brother portable I bought when I moved to Washington in 1979. I still use the portable to do the farm W-2s and type the addresses on envelopes (no printer I've ever owned could do that job very well without jamming).

I'd use the Royal or NCR, but new ribbons are not obtainable. The platen on the Royal (which is still operable if you know its idiosyncrasies) needs repair, and no one can repair it anymore except museum specialists.

But... I also still have my first PC, an ancient Tandy outfitted with a very small hard drive, upon which I play chess. And the Win3.1 machine I bought not all that long ago, which I play with occasionally because I can learn more on it without fearing for my livelihood.

And the new machine, all sleek and responsive, which will probably also become a resting place for my stray papers someday....

I still love that old Royal best.

C.

Typewriter Ribbons

Originally posted by Anne Wallingford on May 07, 1999 at 01:24:05:

My dad recently gave two old typewriters, a portable manual and a portable electric, to my nieces. Unfortunately, the typewriters needed ribbons. Fortunately, my sister was able to find ribbons at Office Max! So for those of you trying to find ribbons, maybe Office Max will have what you need.

Anne

In Reply to: Typewriter Ribbons

Response originally posted by Jan Jones on May 07, 1999 at 20:41:01:

Good grief! I didn't know anyone used typewriters anymore! Especially the younger set!

I actually have some cartridge ribbons in a drawer, but have no idea where the typewriter got to. I held out using the typewriter for a long time, as it was simpler to type addresses on envelopes than to use the computer, but the new printers make it so easy.

I wonder what will replace computers?

Jan


Response originally posted by Anne Wallingford

:: I held out using the typewriter for a long time as it was simpler to use it to type addresses on envelopes…

Jan, if I had room to put my typewriter in my office, it would be great. You still need a typewriter to complete various government tax forms, and I still think it would be easier to type the occasional label than to fuss with doing a single label on the computer.

:: I wonder what will replace computers?

That's a scary thought, isn't it? But undoubtedly, something will come along and replace computers. On the television news last night, Carol Marin had a story about legal files archived in downtown Chicago. There are legal records of every court case ever heard in Cook County. That's a lot of paper!

When Marin asked the Court Clerk whether the records were being put on microfiche, or scanned into computer files, she was told "no." The reason? Since the plans are to keep these records for many, many years to come and since technology changes so rapidly these days, old-fashioned paper files, properly preserved, are the best choice for long term recordkeeping. Interesting, eh?

Better find that old typewriter!

Anne

Speaking of Typewriters

Originally posted by Anne Wallingford on May 19, 1999 at 13:29:27:

I just received an interesting catalog in yesterday's mail. This wasn't a full-color catalog printed on glossy paper. No, this one was a black and white 96-page catalog, 6" x 8", with line drawings, printed on inexpensive rag paper.

Out of curiosity, I flipped through it—and towards the rear of the catalog, I spotted two items that I thought might appeal to visitors at this web site.

The first item was an original 1960s manual typewriter! (Sets of two ribbons were available separately.) I laughed when I read the catalog description: "... this durable, steel-case machine is built like a tank, with no electric parts to fail or malfunction..." The price? $185.00.

Why do I suspect that manual typewriters are coming back into vogue as a response to Y2K fears?

The second item was electronic: a record player that comes in a cherry cabinet with a hinged lid. My favorite line in the copy for this item says, "Dancers take note: the turntable is suspended to absorb vibrations without skipping. Volume and tone controls."

Anyone want to come to a sock hop?

Anne

More on Typewriters

Originally posted by Lynn on August 09, 1999 at 08:42:33:

This is in response to some of the earlier posts on typewriters, etc.

Sadly, perhaps to some, another typewriter merchant/repair shop has stopped "swimming against technology's tide." You can read about the demise of a NJ merchant's shop in The Record online at http://www.bergen.com/index/biz.htm and clicking on "The Typing Pool."

What you won't see is the photograph of hundreds of decades-old typewriters trashed in a heap, ready for the dump truck.

I have to admit I'd never heard of this shop before reading about its close (though it's just in the next town over). If I had, I might have taken both my husband's and my manual portable Smith Coronas out of the attic for minor repair. I survived journalism school on mine. His went through college too; although when we met he was already using computers, working on an advanced degree in computer science. (Early on, he taught me how to make computer keypunch cards! Remember those?) Anyway, I would have loved to have one of our Smith Coronas in working order when my 15-year-old filled out job applications for the summer—his printing is atrocious.

Anyway, sorry to see all those typewriters scrapped—especially since some of you may have been looking for one.

Lynn

In Reply to: More on typewriters

Originally posted by Anne Wallingford on August 11, 1999 at 09:30:13:

Funny you should bring up the typewriter's demise, Lynn. Following is a summary of an article in the Sunday Chicago Tribune by Brian Boney, titled Typewriters Address Case for a Low-tech Comeback.

A secretary in the Student Life office at the Univ. of TX at Dallas uses a typewriter on the average of 20-30 minutes per day. She figures 10% of her work is done on the typewriter and involves completing forms, addressing envelopes, and making out labels. Students also come to the office to complete forms on the office typewriter.

According to Boney, the typewriter refuses "to go the way of the buggy whip or the vacuum tube." Manufacturers claim to be making fewer units but that the sales have stabilized over the past five years after a major drop in the early 1990s. "Users have discovered they just can't quite live without typewriters, even though many people born during the last two decades have never used one—or can even recognize one for that matter."

Dean Schulman, senior v.p. of Brother Industries Ltd. says about 1 million typewriters are still sold annually, mostly to small businesses and home offices. Schulman believes the low price of the typewriter, compared to computers, is one reason the typewriter has survived. Plus, some of the newest typewriters have disk drives, can send e-mail, and can print in color—all for about $300. Smith Corona's v.p. of sales, Vincent Abbatiello, says that typewriters in development will be even higher tech. "You could see function keys like you have on a computer...that would make printing labels a lot easier. ...you would just hit F@ instead of typing the whole thing out."

Schulman also notes that the millennium is causing an increase in typewriter sales.

--- An aside—when the writer notes that many younger people don't know how to use a typewriter, he is on target. One temp job that I do annually involves going in one day in January and typing out tax forms. No one at the firm knows how to use the typewriter! So they pay me good money to do a simple job. I like it.

Anne


Originally posted by Dick Johnson on November 10, 1999 at 11:20:03

Thought I'd pass this typewriter ribbon tidbit along. I have a page on the Web where I sell surplus typewriter and printer ribbons--mostly much older types, the spool-to-spool kind. Someone inquired about a ribbon for a Smith Corona Coronamatic. Since I knew nothing about that machine and had no idea what ribbon it takes, I tried to find it in office supply catalogs.

Couldn't find anything, so I started looking for a Smith Corona Web site. I found a site that is under construction at http://www.smithcorona.com.

Although they have no information online, they did have a form that could be filled out, which I did. In reply to my inquiry, I learned that they sell ribbons direct at retail, and their toll-free order numbers are:

Voice (800) 448-1018
Fax (800) 523-2881

Hope this helps people who are trying to keep their typewriters going.

Dick

Bringing Old Typewriters Back to Life

Originally posted by Anne Wallingford on October 04, 1999 at 17:44:45:

Summary of article by Rick Kogan, The Chicago Tribune Magazine
Sunday, Oct. 3, 1999

Steve Kazmier, owner of independent Business Machines, is, in his own words, "a dinosaur, one of the last of my breed."

Kazmier came to the US from Germany in 1950. His first job was in the repair department of the now closed International Typewriter Exchange. He's been working with typewriters ever since.

Kazmier opened his own shop, in 1990, on Lincoln Ave. just north of Irving Park Rd. in Chicago. However, the building was recently sold and Kazmier has relocated his shop to a storefront near Ashland Ave. and Montrose, also in Chicago.

Kazmier believes there is still a need for typewriters because "there are a lot of forms that need to be typed so that they can be read by computers."

Kazmier notes that young writers buy typewriters because they like the feel and the sound of the keys. Older model typewriters are frequently bought as art objects.

In Kazmier's opinion, the IBM Selectric was the best typewriter ever made but the romance of the typewriter goes to the older models.

Steve Kazmier can be contacted at:

Independent Business Machines
1623 W. Montrose
Chicago, IL 60640
773-248-5548

If he isn't there, his answering machine will take your message.


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