Thursday, September 25, 2008

Typewriters We Have Loved, Part II

A lovely obituary for a typewriter repairman in this week's issue of The Economist.

ANYONE who had dealings with manual typewriters—the past tense, sadly, is necessary—knew that they were not mere machines. Eased heavily from the box, they would sit on the desk with an air of expectancy, like a concert grand once the lid is raised. On older models the keys, metal-rimmed with white inlay, invited the user to play forceful concertos on them, while the silvery type-bars rose and fell chittering and whispering from their beds. Such sounds once filled the offices of the world, and Martin Tytell’s life.

Everything about a manual was sensual and tactile, from the careful placing of paper round the platen (which might be plump and soft or hard and dry, and was, Mr Tytell said, a typewriter’s heart) to the clicking whirr of the winding knob, the slight high conferred by a new, wet, Mylar ribbon and the feeding of it, with inkier and inkier fingers, through the twin black guides by the spool. Typewriters asked for effort and energy. They repaid it, on a good day, with the triumphant repeated ping! of the carriage return and the blithe sweep of the lever that inched the paper upwards.

I also loved this graf:

When his shop closed in 2001, after 65 years of business, it held a stock of 2m pieces of type. Tilde “n”s alone took up a whole shelf. The writer Ian Frazier, visiting once to have his Olympia cured of a flagging “e”, was taken into a dark nest of metal cabinets by torchlight. There he was proudly shown a drawer of umlauts.

We talked about typewriter nostaglia in an earlier episode of "A Way with Words."

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