Monday, September 13, 2010

For the Love of Typewriters

My old Smith-Corona used as an art piece in my home office. My nephew, Will Mullany, gave me that photo of the UVA Rotunda for Christmas.
I thought I was alone in my love for old typewriters.

I was going to write a little memory post on these vintage machines, how vital they were to my days at the University of Virginia as I pounded out all of my English papers on them, or how it brought me joy and elation when I typed the perfect phrase or poem. I started collecting old Smith Corona’s recently just for the fun of it, and in the process found out I am not alone in my obsession with these lovely objects.

Along with the national trend towards recycling/re-purposing/renewing has come a fascination with vintage typewriters. Websites, blogs, Ebay, Etsy, and numerous history books and research papers are now easily accessible where you can learn everything from A-Z about the typewriter. Key in the search term “typewriter” on EBAY and 9,263 results come up. And that’s just Ebay.

Old, manual typewriters have character, sturdiness and a nostalgic appeal. There’s something about the sound of the keys clacking against paper, the ringing of the “return bell,” and even the delightful way the letters look and feel. No electricity is needed to enjoy this machine. Their simple yet elegant design is a bit deceiving as typewriters are truly an engineering marvel. They also conjure up memories of bygone days when the pace of life was slower and there was importance given to longevity and workmanship. Typewriters were designed to be work horses, surviving countless hitting of keys, and were easily maintained by the owner.

To grasp the value typewriters have on the American psyche, in 2009, Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy’s Olivetti Lettera 32 (the same design I used in college) was sold at Christie’s Auction for $265,500. Also, Jack Kerouac’s Hermes 3000 fetched $22,500., and in June of this year, John Updike’s Olympia electric 65C sold for $4,375 at auction. Granted, these are famous authors’ typewriters that hold cultural and nostalgic value, but a nice amount of money none the less.

Just for fun, take a road trip to Metropolis, Illinois, and visit the Superman Museum where you’ll find the famous Lois Lane typewriter that was used on the 60’s television series. Or watch the current and popular TV series, "Mad Men," where secretaries use a particular IBM Selectric on their office desks, much to the chagrin of typing purists who blogged that these typewriter designs were not actually used until much later in the 1960s.

Here in Virginia, there is the well-loved Charlottesville Office Machine Company, just blocks from UVA and in business for over 50 years that specializes in restoration of old typewriters and hard to find parts and ribbons. There are also similar shops located in Harrisonburg, Winchester and Roanoke.

The vintage typewriter has such a rich history and there is much to learn if you want to begin your own collection, so I have provided several fun places to start the process.

The Classic Typewriter Page
The Vintage Typewriter Shoppe

Typewriter Sales, Restoration, Repair in Virginia:
Charlottesville Office Machine Co: corner of 10th and West Main Streets, Charlottesville, VA, (434) 296-7419

MrTypeRite: Harrisonburg, VA (Shenandoah Valley). 540-574-0643, or toll free 1-866-236-8967

Old Town Business Machines Company: 127 North Braddock St., Winchester, VA. Phones (540) 665-0424

Roanoke Typewriter Sales, aka Commercial Office Equipment, Roanoke, Virginia. Owner: Glenn Moore. 540-342-6840

A fun blog post on decorating with typewriters:

My Texas Nest: Using typewriters as design elements in your home, like bookends!

Fabulous photos of all types of vintage typewriters

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