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From My Window

Issue Date: June 21, 2017

Typewriters Are Back!

By Jane Thibodeau Martin


As I read the local Sunday paper today, I ran across an interesting headline in the business-financial section""typewriters garner new fans in digital age." Surely not, I thought " but the photo of a youngish woman at a "type-in" in New Mexico drew me into an interesting read.

The piece said those old electric, and even manual typewriters, have become popular with a group of enthusiasts. The typewriters were part of a "hip participative experience" at a pro-immigration demonstration, where participants type out a comment on their feelings or viewpoints. There are groups of typewriter enthusiasts who meet to exchange information on repair and maintenance parts for vintage machines, and avid typewriter collectors. And, of course, on-line forums for those who are enthusiasts, with well-thought out posts about a machine most of us thought was dead and gone.

It was not all that long ago that I worked to clean up my late father's small office, and looked at his ancient plain, black Underwood manual typewriter. "A good boat anchor," I thought, but our sentimental feelings overruled our brains, and the typewriter remains on the table where he last used it.

According to the article, old typewriters fly out of antique and thrift stores, and dedicated people hunt them at rummage sales and on-line. A typewriter repair shop cheers this sudden increase in business " like farriers who care for horses, an occupation that was very precarious and seeing steep declines in practitioners has suddenly gotten new life. And of course, you can check You Tube for videos on how to make common repairs yourself.

Perhaps this is another example of a rebellion against modern technology. When I am at work on my desktop, focusing on a column or a thank you letter, it is very irritating to get the "pings" or pop-ups alerting me to e-mails or facebook posts. Privacy on line is a constant concern, with no real way to be sure anything you e-mail, write or post is truly secure. But that good old fashioned typewriter is secure " my Dad's Underwood scrolled through a black ink ribbon, then reversed it and re-wrote back over the same ribbon numerous times. Pretty hard for someone to know what was written unless they had a copy of the document itself. And without carbon paper, typewriters generated one hard copy at a time. Not likely to haunt anyone for years, like an ill-advised on-line post can do.

Part of the typewriter charm, of course, is looking at the actual mechanism of a manual typewriter. It has all the same fascination as a primitive car or a radio with tubes in it. It's just not possible for the layman to know what's going on inside your desktop or I-pad, but you can surely watch a manual typewriter and understand how it is functioning.

My mother-in-law loved her typewriter. An ailment left her unable to use one arm, but she was a devoted correspondent, so she pecked out letters to her friends and family from the nursing home, one key at a time, on her typewriter. Once in a while we'd get a letter from her IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS AND SHE'D TELL MY HUSBAND SHE NEEDED HIS HELP GETTING THE CAPS LOCK OFF AGAIN. I smile at the very thought, and we enjoyed her letters, all capitals or not.

Electric typewriters became the new standard in around 1965 " I know that, because I learned to type on a manual typewriter, and was totally amazed when my high school got its first few electric ones in around 1972. The ease and speed of the electrified keyboards were a revelation, and I bid the manual typewriter a completely unsentimental goodbye. (Although, if you were mad about something, it was somewhat enjoyable to forcefully pound on each key as you wrote, since it took a decent amount of force to engage the printing action of a manual typewriter. A little physical release of your tension!)

For years, my daughter kept an old, rotary desk phone in her room as a plaything, and I still have that phone, which will someday become a toy for my granddaughter. Perhaps Dad's old Underwood will someday earn its keep again too".in the meantime, it reminds me of both my father and my childhood.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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