Go old-style with a col­lectable type­writer

Cornwall Life - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rebecca MacNaughton

Most of us still use a ver­sion of one ev­ery day, to text a friend, type an email or even or­der our shop­ping. They’ve achieved some­thing of a cult sta­tus in re­cent years and are even revered by Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties: Tom Hanks has been an ar­dent col­lec­tor since 1979, with the ma­chines re­cently in­spir­ing his first short story an­thol­ogy, Un­com­mon Type.

De­spite early at­tempts from across the globe, the first com­mer­cial type­writer is widely viewed as an Amer­i­can in­ven­tion, cre­ated by Christo­pher Latham Sholes and his friends Car­los Glid­den and Sa­muel W Soule in Mil­wau­kee in 1868. Af­ter a suc­cess­ful patent, it at­tracted the at­ten­tion of two en­trepreneurs – James Dens­more and Ge­orge W. N. Yost – who even­tu­ally sold the plans to Rem­ing­ton in the early 1870s, kick­start­ing pro­duc­tion.

While the name Rem­ing­ton is syn­ony­mous with type­writ­ers to­day, in the 19th cen­tury they were bet­ter known as a man­u­fac­turer of sewing ma­chines. It doesn’t come as a sur­prise, then, that Rem­ing­ton’s first model – the Sc­holes and Glid­den type­writer – was rem­i­nis­cent of a very dif­fer­ent ma­chine, fea­tur­ing a dis­tinc­tive foot-pedal car­riage.

But as the first ex­am­ple of its kind, it in­cluded two cru­cial flaws: it could only print up­per­case let­ters – of­ten viewed as im­per­sonal to its re­cip­i­ents – and was a blind writer. This meant that once the keys had been punched, a typ­ist was un­able to see ex­actly what had made it onto the page.

De­spite th­ese flaws,

Rem­ing­ton’s first pro­to­type was still a mile­stone. It coined the term ‘type­writer’ and pro­duced the world’s very first QWERTY key­board, still used across the world to­day. While it may be hard to imag­ine that the gen­er­a­tions be­fore us could ever be with­out a key­board, a slug­gish econ­omy in the 1870s meant that the first type­writer en­tered into a very slow mar­ket. It wasn’t un­til the 1880s – in the midst of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion – that the ma­chine found its au­di­ence.

Since then, type­writer mod­els have de­vel­oped ex­ten­sively, en­com­pass­ing ev­ery­thing from the Rem­ing­ton 2 – an up­dated model on the orig­i­nal pro­to­type – to the elec­tric type­writer which, with built-in mem­ory, is still avail­able on the mar­ket to­day. Rem­ing­ton still re­mains among the most iconic brands, along with Royal, Corona and Olivetti, all of which can be found at reg­u­lar auc­tions.

But with a key­board so read­ily avail­able on our smart­phone, what drives the pop­u­lar­ity of this hum­ble ma­chine? Ac­cord­ing to Christie’s web­site, a type­writer can eas­ily be com­pared to a vin­tage car, with both of them shar­ing a mod­ern mis­sion to make the prac­ti­cal beau­ti­ful. Colour­ful, solid cas­ings com­bine with sym­met­ri­cal, stream­lined me­chan­ics, al­low­ing you to watch the ma­chine while it works.

Mod­els from all sorts of eras can still be bought to­day, and mod­ern ex­am­ples of the ma­chine are fre­quently spot­ted in char­ity shops and on live auc­tion sites. A num­ber of in­de­pen­dent busi­nesses have also been set up, restor­ing and sell­ing old ma­chines to a good work­ing or­der. Lon­don Type­writ­ers UK is one such ex­am­ple, sell­ing type­writ­ers from the 1900s – a rare Royal Stan­dard, listed for £400 – as well as more con­tem­po­rary mod­els, in­clud­ing a bright orange 1979 Sil­ver Reed, listed for £150.

The ma­chine’s age, man­u­fac­turer and work­a­bil­ity all help to de­cide value, but per­haps the most valu­able fac­tor is who the ma­chine might have be­longed to in a pre­vi­ous life. As a tool of the trade, type­writ­ers are syn­ony­mous with some of lit­er­a­ture’s most fa­mous au­thors. Ian Flem­ing’s gold-plated type­writer by Royal sold for an as­ton­ish­ing £55,750 at a Christie’s auc­tion in 1995. More re­cently, Jack Ker­ouac’s last type­writer, a pale-green Her­mes, went for $22,500 in 2010, and Cor­mac McCarthy’s Olivetti, ru­moured to have been orig­i­nally pur­chased for $50, was bought for $254,000.

With such high premi­ums, and a huge stake in our lit­er­ary his­tory, the click, clack, and ping has never sounded so good.

ABOVE: A typ­i­cal 1950s scene that is be­ing repli­cated in 21st cen­tury homes

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