The Romance of the Typewriter – A Writer’s Ode

typewriter love 1I cannot pass by one without pausing to admire it. If it’s within reach, I cannot resist touching it. I trace the retro curves and mechanical angles before finally letting my fingers settle reverently on the keys. Glass and lacquer, enamel and chrome, Bakelite and celluloid – the keys are the most irresistible part of these elegant machines.

The first commercially successful typewriter was the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer. E. Remington & Sons began production of this historic machine, which they dubbed the Remington No. 1,  in 1873 after striking an agreement with the patent holder. Though E. Remington & Sons produced a variety of items, including agricultural equipment and sewing machines, the company was perhaps best known for its rifles and other small arms. It’s odd to think of one company producing both firearms and typewriters. It makes me wonder which of those two products has had a bigger influence over the centuries.

typewriter love 2It wasn’t long before other manufacturers began producing their own typewriter models. Almost all of the successors to the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer featured the now-ubiquitous QWERTY keyboard, which was designed by Christopher Sholes in 1868. Today, typewriter collectors covet a wide variety of makes from iconic names like Underwood, Corona, Imperial, Royal, Hermes, Olivetti, and Olympia.

typewriter love 5A few years ago, my daughter paid twenty dollars for a working 1940s-era Smith-Corona (complete with carrying case) that she spotted at the Todd Farm flea market. Her typewriter is almost identical to the 1934 model that typewriter geek/aficionado Tom Hanks owns. Hanks’ Corona was featured in a series of short videos showing the actor/director tapping out missives in front of landmark sites in Atlanta, Chicago, Berlin, Paris, and London.

A typewriter, however, needn’t have traveled the world in the company of an illustrious Hollywood personage to lay claim to a certain mystique. There’s just something intrinsically fascinating about these relics from another age. First of all, they are undeniably beautiful. From the dark and slightly menacing Victorian-era, Jules Verne-esque machines to the jewel-toned specimens from the 1930s and 1940s in lustrous shades of olive green, bright coral, candy apple red, and even blushing pink, every typewriter has a style and personality all its own. Even the later corporate workhorse models like the IBM Selectric were available in colors ranging from cheerful tangerine to a more serious but still stylish cobalt blue.

typewriter love 3But, don’t be fooled. A typewriter’s beauty goes much deeper than its shiny carapace, polished type hammers, or glistening keys. A typewriter’s true allure lies in the less tangible elements of its nature. Like people, each typewriter has a unique story. Each machine has a mysterious and multi-faceted past that includes not only the physical aspects of its journey through the years, but also the trail of pages it produced.

When I look at a typewriter, I wonder not only where it came from and who owned it, but also what it was used for. What stories, letters, or other documents were produced by someone tapping away at its sturdy keys? Perhaps it had a simple purpose in an office or school churning out business correspondence or report cards. Maybe it spent time with politicians in Washington DC or with journalists in New York. Or maybe, just maybe, it belonged to a novelist or a playwright.

typewriter love 4I cannot deny that the digital word processors we use today are far more efficient than their typewriter ancestors, but they will never have anything like the same kind of character or charm. Our desktops and laptops may connect us with the world via the Internet and automatically correct spelling errors, but they lack the individuality and gravitas of the writing machines of days gone by.

There is nothing like the sound of an old-fashioned typewriter – the click-clack of the keys, the “bing” that sounds at the end of each line, and the satisfying zip of the carriage return. And there is nothing that feels as solid and real under your fingertips as a genuine, mechanical keyboard. Most importantly, no modern word processor can ever hope to compete with the romance of writing on an antique typewriter. There’s magic in those old keys. I can tell just by touching them.

typewriter love 6

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/or introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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35 thoughts on “The Romance of the Typewriter – A Writer’s Ode

    • There really is, isn’t there. I don’t know if it’s the design aesthetic, the mechanical nature of the machine, or just the nostalgia for days gone by, but they do tug at my heart. 😉

  1. It’s funny readin this, I first started out my typing days on manual typewriter, then developed my typing skills on an electric typewriter before the age of the PC arrived and here we are. I was tought the way to touch type and I use a mix of touch and randome typing that I know my teacher would sneer at. But this is the modern age and we have to change. I don;t know if you can still buy a proper typewriter, but I see the romance of it and appreciate the convience of modern technology for having come from these roots.
    Nice piece Jamie – I liked it! 🙂

    • I don’t think I could ever go back to typing on a typewriter. I am too addicted the the modern conveniences of my Apple Macbook and all my favorite software apps. Still … I have a feeling that having the “right” typewriter nearby might give me a little luck or inspiration or something else equally helpful to the creative process. 😉
      Thanks for being here!

      PS – Any typist would also sneer at my makeshift touch type method. But – hey – it works! 🙂

      • Touch typing dies with the typewriter I fear. Word processing no longer needs that.
        I want to go and buy and old typewrite now. Do you know why they invented the QWERTY keyboard?

      • I don’t know the story of the QWERTY keyboard … I’ll have to do a little research. 🙂

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Angelique. 🙂 There are pieces of bygone eras that do inspire much nostalgia, and typewriters (along with handwritten letters in beautiful calligraphy script) are such an item.
      Nice to see you!

  2. I love typewriters as well. I found an old one at a flea market once. I spent the weekend cleaning it of dust and grime and figuring out how to make it work again. I love it. 🙂

    • That’s fabulous! We have several great flea markets in our neck of the woods, and you can almost always find a typewriter (or two!) nestled amongst the piles of old junk (I mean, treasure). I’m always tempted to bring them home, but I resist. Otherwise, my house would resemble a typewriter museum!

  3. Pingback: The Romance of the Typewriter – A Writer’s Ode — Live to Write – Write to Live – abostar

    • Thank you. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and that it brought back memories of your own (amazing!) typewriter encounter. 🙂

  4. Pingback: The Romance of the Typewriter | Glass Typewriter

  5. Jamie, you so nicely capture the allure here of the typewriter. I love the history of Remington & Sons–so intriguing, the business models of the past. I also love the durability of old stuff… Thanks, Neva.

    • Yes! There is something so appealing and even comforting about, as you put it, the “durability of old stuff.” They just don’t make ’em like they used to, right? As I said, I wouldn’t give up my modern technology for the world, but even the nicest modern computers have an element of being throwaway items – if not for lack of good construction, than because of their built-in obsolescence.
      Thanks for pointing that out. 🙂

  6. You touched a very emotional cord here. My mother kept up a vast correspondence, and I saw a variety of typewriters accompanying us along our ccountry-to-country moves. Your lovely post and pictures reminded me that her typewriters’ mysteriously attractive lines and the letters appearing as if by magic are what initially told me I wanted to write…

    • That’s so lovely, Bea. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful piece of your personal history and your inspiration to write. xo

  7. Jamie, I have just discovered that WordPress has mysteriously unfollowed you for me, a problem that has just been sorted 😊. Now, typewriters. I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, I do not share your fascination with them. I have often thought about writers from another time with a mixture of pity and wonder. Imagine writing a whole book on one of those things! How? I am constantly changing things around, copying and pasting etc. I love my white hp :). I wonder if it’s a bit like the difference between a film camera and a digital camera. I was reading a blog today about a man who went back to a film camera to help train his eye – he has to be careful using one of those things, because every photo costs money to develop, so it reminded him to pay more attention to the details of his craft. Perhaps it was like that?

    • Hello, dear Sara! I’ve missed you, and I’m so glad you’re back. (I noticed your absence, but figured you’ve just been so busy with all your adventures.)

      I think my fascination with typewriters is less about their functional capabilities (which, as you accurately point out are far below those of modern computers), and more with how they have become a symbol in my mind of all things writerly. I wouldn’t give up my MacBook for a whole room full of typewriters, but they are a sort of talisman. As Neva pointed out in a comment above, they have an admirable durability and weight … a “gravity,” if you will.

      Love your comparison to film cameras – such an interesting idea … how a constraint (materials costing too much) can improve craft. Hmmm … your comments always get me thinking!

      xo 🙂

      • Yes, I haven’t been involved in blogging at all, although out of all the blogs I read, yours was the one that I wanted to come back to, and your voice was the one that I missed the most! It is interesting what kind of objects become symbols for things in our minds. A man in the writers group I am a part of identified tweed jackets with elbow patches and a pipe, as part of his symbolism!

  8. Great post.

    On Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 10:17 PM, Live to Write – Write to Live wrote:

    > Suddenly Jamie (@suddenlyjamie) posted: “I cannot pass by one without > pausing to admire it. If it’s within reach, I cannot resist touching it. I > trace the retro curves and mechanical angles before finally letting my > fingers settle reverently on the keys. Glass and lacquer, enamel and > chrome, Bak” >

    • Though they may not be as efficient as modern technology, they are beautiful and somehow inspiring.

  9. I have 2 vintage typewriters in storage that I’ve been wanting to clean & display in my home office. I’m glad I’m not the only one who see beauty in these gleaming “relics.” I also love the nod to a bygone era, that the typewriters would bring to my office. You have inspired me to make this happen sooner rather than later–thanks so much for your wonderful post.

    • That’s so wonderful, Karen! I hope you get much joy from both the sprucing up of your “relics” and displaying them in your home and office. 🙂

  10. Love this piece! Whenever I see an antique typewriter, I want to linger over it a while. When I was a child, both my mother and grandmother owned Underwood typewriters and since my own fingers were so short, I marveled at their ability to use these machines. When I took a typing class in high school we worked on heavy IBMs but the keys were closer together. I currently own a sleek laptop, so observing the evolution of typewriters in my lifetime is impressive!

    • When I went to college, I packed the “modern” typewriter that my grandmother had bought me as a graduation gift. It had a tiny LCD screen that allowed me to see a few words I typed before they showed up on the page. It wasn’t nearly as magical as the antique typewriters from other eras, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for that “modern relic.”

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