The Demise of the (Type)Written Word

GeekMom Technology

DSCI0070Before the iPad, before the netbook, before the personal desktop computer, there was a time in which simple mechanical parts and push button technology aided us in producing the written word: I give you the typewriter.

In fact, this may be the last typewriter, or at least the last manual typewriter.* In April the last typewriter factory in the world, Godrej and Boyce, closed its production line after 60 years, with 500 pieces remaining. Having sustained itself in recent years on the diminishing Indian and Arabic markets, there was no longer a sustainable business in typewriters.

I would never go to a store expecting to find a typewriter but not too long ago I did go in search of one. Most aspiring writers have at some point sought, or yearned for, the comfort and solace of typewriter keys; providing a feeling of connection to past artists in a way that my handy little netbook just doesn’t. There is something about a typewriter, something comforting in the rhythmic sounds made by the machine as you type, it feels productive, it feels permanent. Maybe that’s what I seek, to see line after line produced on paper instead of existing as a picture on my screen. Certainly that is why I never took to the electric typewriter. Some of my best work has been done with the deliberate words punched onto paper by my typewriter, also most of my unseen work. These days we’re all about speed, and if I can’t email it from a device then it’s probably never going anywhere. Still, I’m drawn back to the machine and can be found click clacking away in the kitchen. A friend’s brother came over not long after I purchased my typewriter and asked what it was, he got the biggest kick out of typing on it. Old or classic?

Fear not! If you still want a typewriter, for its steampunk value or as a much needed writing tool, you can still find them out there.

  • If you want something aesthetically pleasing you can find vintage machines online at places like Etsy and eBay. They also have a wide variety of more functional machines.
  • You can find them at yard sales or rummage sales – mine (pictured above) cost $2 from a White Elephant and works beautifully, except that it has no #1 key but who really needs that!
  • Government offices and schools tend to have them in storage ad infinitum, so it’s worth a visit to see if they’ve got one or two (for spare parts even) that they would like to unload.
  • There are companies that refurbish typewriters, so you can in essence buy a “new” one even now. or will take you back to the eighties, sadly not at eighties prices.

And don’t worry about running out of ribbon, they still sell it at Staples!

*Electric typewriters are still in production.

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9 thoughts on “The Demise of the (Type)Written Word

  1. Most older typewrites don’t have a 1 key. You’re just supposed to use a lower case “l”.

    1. I did look into that, and all I could find was that electric typewriters are still being made as I mentioned in the post. I could find no reference on any reputable site to another manual typewriter manufacturer. The link you refer to doesn’t specify which but given everything else I’ve read, I would assume the inmates use electric typewriters.

  2. I have my Grandma’s old Smith Corona in my office in plain sight as inspiration. I used to type stories on after school as a girl. It was my first writing tool. Now I can’t live without my MacBook, but I’v never forgotten where I came from.

  3. This news makes me very sad. I loved typewriters with a passion as a little girl and always wanted one of my vey own. My husband bought me a gorgeous refurbished 1930’s Corona for Christmas this year. I love typing on it. As you said, it makes me feel connected to my writing predecessors.

  4. I was very happy when, as an office temp just starting out on my writing career, I managed to scrape up enough to buy my own IBM Selectric. (It had an automatic white-out ribbon!)

    But I was ecstatic when PCs became available and I could do word processing at home.

    And Mike is right about the “l.” At the office, I remember doing a search for a file number in a document on my PC and finding that one of the older secretaries had typed it in as “l” instead of a “1” …

  5. Typewriters also are a great percussion instrument. I’ve seen a few bands have someone play the typewriter for a song…(the ‘ding’ at certain phrases is particularly amusing) and then give away what was randomly written to an audience member.

    1. If I recall correctly, “Tom Tom Club” had a song with typewriter sound effects, way back when…

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