by Donna Mac Means
An article recently sent me down a nostalgic path. Thought you might enjoy taking a stroll with me.
It appears vintage typewriters are making
a comeback. "Type-ins" are being held at bars and bookstores with speed and accuracy contests - or just to type out an old fashioned snail mail personal letter (remember those?)
Now I'm a real fan of computer word processing. I can't imagine writing a novel without that fabulous cut and paste option - or the ability to search. I'm a real fan of "find and replace." But I understand the charm of vintage typewriters. I grew up with them, after all.
My mother was a secretary like many young women in the early 1940s. And like many of those women, she was asked to leave her position when she married. That skill though, to
read copy and process with the pounding of mechanical keys, never left. It must have been ingrained on the system like muscle memory. One never loses the ability to ride a bike or type on a keyboard, apparently.
One of my earliest memories is the sound of my mother hammering away on an old black Royal - a typewriter must like the one in that picture. My father, employed as a manager with
Paper, had made a detailed study of printing presses and put all that knowledge into a manuscript. After we kids had been sent up to bed, my mother would haul out the old black Royal and hammer away, translating my father's handwriting into printed pages. There's a rhythm in the keys striking paper, the ding of the warning bell when one has reached the right hand margin, and the glide of the carriage as it slides to the left. I would fall asleep to that reassuring music.
We had a manual machine where the press of each key, signified by a round disk with a letter inside - now the stuff of jewerly) enabled a metallic arm to strike the page with one letter. Sometimes, if the timing wasn't just right, two keys would jam and you'd have t0
physically separate them. Pushing those keys down required a certain kind of strength. The ribbons were messy and left black and red smudges on your fingers when you had to change the ribbon.
Much to my joy, my high school had electric typewriters. These were faster versions of my manual one back home that just allowed me to make mistakes that much faster. These versions still had the carriage you "threw" back right after the warning bell. Even now when forced to use a typewriter, I reach automatically for that carriage lever to send the carriage back. Fortunately, white-out had been invented, but lining the carriage back up to type over mistakes was difficult. My mother had insisted that I take that typing course as she believed every girl should know how to type - just in case she had to earn a living. A woman's employment options were limited, even in the 1970s.
One thing about those old machines - there was no distracting email. When you typed - you typed and you thought about what you were doing because correcting an error was a pain in the butt. Even with white-out one had to line up the carriage to place the replacement
stroke in precisely the same spot as the original error. Somewhere along the line I learned the trick of a vellum window envelope. You slip the envelope - the kind with glassine over the window - not these new cost efficient windowless models - between the paper and the striking rod. You typed the correction and could see if things lined up correctly. When you had it just right you could pull out the envelope and retype the correction. There you go - an
archaic trick of the trade.
I worked years later at Proctor and Gamble as a clerk, not a secretary. Still I was given my own typewriter to use. It was a Selectric. Those long skinny rods that struck the page with each letter had been replaced with a letter-encrusted golf ball! The carriage no longer moved, just the golf ball. When you'd reach the end of a line, you pushed a button to send the ball back to the beginning. I'm afraid that signaled the end to the magic. No swat in mid-air required. No orchestrated swing of the tiny rods. No need to strengthen the fingers for the work of pushing mechanical keys. Just a hyperactive metal ball that jumped sporatically across the page.
Now I type away on a laptop keyboard. It's relatively silent - except for the voices in my head...but that's another post. While preparing this post, I noticed that one can download an app to make the computer sound like an old typewriter. I wonder if they can do something to simulate the feel of throwing the carriage return...
How about you? Have you ever typed on an old manual typewriter? Do you have an old electric typewriter tucked away in a closet? I do. Any collectors? Type in your comments and we can all share in the nostalgia.