By Jeri Westerson
You know you’re old when you remember what it was like to type on a typewriter. Kids today. They just don’t know the trouble it was. Hammering away at those keys to ensure you’d made contact from ink ribbon to paper. Reaching the end of the line with a ting of the bell, and then flinging the carriage back for another go at the next line. Typing too far when you’ve really got going and the paper runs out only to end up typing on the roller. Changing ribbons. Using carbon paper. Do I miss it? Hell no. Typing a manuscript on a typewriter would never have been viable for me. I make too many mistakes. And it’s glorious to cut and paste without literally having to do it with scissors and Scotch tape.
But I do like the look of typewriters. I have a modest collection of them from the twenties, thirties, and forties. I look at typewriters like some collectors gravitate toward clocks. The mechanisms are far
more interesting than their actual purpose. The little bell signaling you’ve come to the end of the page. The way the ribbon moves. The keys themselves, like a tiny print shop at your finger tips. And remember, this is movable type at its best. Once you’ve typed onto paper, you can actually feel the impression of the letters because there were these little metal sculptures literally banged into the page. Altogether visceral. If you’d like to relive those wonderful days of yesteryear, you might want to pick up a copy of the book by Darren Wershler-Henry, “The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting.” He will tell you when typewriters were finally commercially developed (1830s seemed to be the time they were finally looking like a typewriter, though variations had been invented prior to that time.)
And did you know, for instance, that the only reason the keyboard is laid out as it is (even on our current PCs) was so that the most commonly used letters wouldn’t get the machine stuck (those of you old enough will remember having to reach into the open area in front of the paper and release the hopelessly tangled arms when we went too fast with too many fingers pushing too hard)?
And if collecting the whole typewriter isn’t your bag, you can always wear bits of it.
Today, typewriters remain an oddity of another era. A Forerunner of what we use all the time (as you are using now). Kids don't even take typing classes in school anymore. They simply learn by doing since grammar school. No more quick brown foxes jumping over lazy dogs. Type, delete, type again, and print. Thank God.
*The above photos are part of my own collection.