After having officially collected and regularly used manual typewriters for over a year, it was inexcusable that I had yet to attend a type-in. For those not [yet] a part of the realm of typospherians, a type-in is much like any other gathering of like-minded folks who meet, geek out, and share camaraderie over a common interest; in this case, it’s all about the love for manual typewriting.
When I came across the Kirkland Reporter’s article, “Kirkland man organizes third ‘Type-In’ event” (http://www.kirklandreporter.com/life/kirkland-man-organizes-third-type-in-event/), just a day before the event held on April 2, 2017, I knew I had to go. It was local and had yet to meet the organiser of the event, Cabot Guidry. In the year that I’ve been a part of the typospherian crowd, I’ve only met a few others with the same passion for these machines as I do, so I was eager to widen the circle.
Having heard about other type-in events around the country through letters and online messages from my rapidly-growing network of typospherian friends, I became aware of a variety of formats these events can be held in. One important element of them all was to be present in a public place to inspire, include, and engage people of all ages to sit at a typewriter—whether it be their first time or a revisit after a long absence away from these machines in our distracting, digital world. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this type-in event, but as my first, that’s what made going so exciting. However, as a seasoned typospherian, one thing I did know was that it would be sacrilege to arrive without a typewriter.
I spent the better part of the morning of the event hovering in deliberation over my current collection of twenty-eight machines to decide which one to take with me. Four are heavy, standard-sized machines, which I immediately decided would stay put considering their size. The other twenty-four are either portables or ultraportables—each size perfect for traveling. Portables are exactly that and perfect for travel since they usually come in their own cases. Ultraportables are much smaller and often thinner, like mechanical laptops of their day. I wanted to choose one that was both unique and elegant; one that I may not see among the others at the event. Ultimately, I chose my 1933 Royal Model P: a glossy black portable with round, glass-topped keys, and a crisp, snappy typing action Royals are famous for. I also considered the history behind this machine as being good for conversation. When I purchased this machine on eBay in June 2016, I learned from the seller that this typewriter once belonged to Ellen Platte, the wife of Richard Addison Ford who was one of three of President Gerald Ford’s half-brothers.
Cabot’s third occurrence of his event “TIK TIK TIK: Type-In Kirkland” was to be held at BookTree in Kirkland, Washington from 2:00 to 4:00pm. I gave my Royal Model P a good polishing before leaving so she was showroom quality for the event, packed a writing tablet, some KO-REC-TYPE tabs my grandmother gave me in case I made mistakes, and a square of rubber grip liner to place the typewriter on. I had letters on my desk to respond to, but I decided to write a freestyle letter to one correspondent friend of mine in the spirit of reportage.
Having announced my intent to attend in an online message to Cabot the day before the type-in, I was pleasantly surprised to find that both he and Mary Harris, one of the co-owners of BookTree, were expecting me as soon as I walked in with my typewriter case in hand. There was one last spot saved for me at a foldout table in the front of the store where three other typewriters were sitting: Cabot’s Underwood No. 5, an Underwood 4-Bank, and an Underwood Leader. In the windowsill sat an Olympia SM7 and a Royal Futura between propped hardcover books on display and small potted plants. It was a day of intermittent showers, so the light that came in through the window was a bright grey which became brilliantly yellow when the sun reached out between the clouds.
Before taking a seat, I immediately found myself immersed in shop talk about the machine I brought and the excitement I felt at being at my first-ever type-in. Cabot was just as enthusiastic about typewriters as I am and was clearly the best fit for organising a community type-in that anyone could enjoy and benefit from.
I arrived right before 2:00 to find that there were already people sitting at typewriters, clicking away at the machines in their own unique typing styles. To the right of my seat was a square foldout table with a sleek little Adler Tippa ultraportable that a gentleman brought, Cabot’s Smith-Corona Silent-Super, Smith-Corona Silent, and a Corona flattop. Toward the back of the store were smaller stations set up with two or three typewriters each. I enjoyed the fact that typewriters were set up all over rather than in one place so that the ambient sound of clicking and clacking carried throughout the store.
Once I got my Model P in place on the table, I sat down to start on my letter. Directly across the table was a boy using what looked like an Underwood 4-Bank or Universal with glass-topped keys and the trademark stencil-cut spool covers. To my left was an older gentleman using a relic of an Underwood No. 5 that sounded tedious to type on; the gentleman used a forceful staccato typing method with his index fingers supported by his thumbs. Cabot told me that this No. 5 had once been used as a prop before he came to own it which is why it looked like it had seen better days. Still, this No. 5 marched right along with the efforts of its typist.
As I worked on the first page of my letter on the tablet-sized paper, I looked around occasionally to find that the crowd was a mix of all ages. People came and went into, out of, and throughout the small venue, some taking photos (including of myself, which always makes me acutely aware of how my face looks while I concentrate, so I tried to appear neutral in my expression rather than too serious as I worked). Parents had their children try out and experience the various machines, some giving them little hints and pointers on what the various typewriter functions are. Surprisingly, many children made some insightful correlations between typewriter functions and computers.
Some of the parents there were my age or slightly older, so I wondered what their exposure to typewriters was when they were growing up. Before our first family computer, I remember my mother’s black, electric Brother typewriter which intrigued me as a child, as did most things with buttons. I remember playing on it and finding the automation of its functions a little daunting, but I still found satisfaction in seeing a reaction from the typewriter for every action I made. I also remember my first manual typewriter that I bought for something like a quarter or fifty cents from a neighbour’s garage sale. Remembering vaguely what it looked like supplemented with my current typewriter knowledge, the jowly standard must have been a 1950s Remington. Unfortunately, I wasn’t equipped with the knowledge and experience needed to get it back up and running, so after a disappointing experience trying to get it to work the way I wanted, my parents suggested I give it back. It wouldn’t be until 2012 that I’d buy another manual typewriter, but in mint condition: a black 1945 Smith-Corona Clipper, which I still have.
By 3:00, the store felt like it had reached full capacity. There were quite a few observers mingling over the tables, chatting either with the typists or with one another. Every typewriter in the store was clicking and clacking away with fervent use. In the middle of the table where I sat was a pile of a variety of stationary, so occasionally people would reach over to pick out a sheet of decorative paper that they favoured. The children seemed to like reaching directly across my arms to get the paper they liked. Now and then I would take a moment to watch all the different typing styles people would have when they approached a typewriter: more traditional, school-taught styles with fingers of both hands properly and evenly placed over the banks of keys to the ever-amusing hunt-and-peck. There was also a woman who briefly sat across from me while she held her child in her left arm while typing and moving the carriage with her right hand.
In addition to typing my letter, I jumped in to help others with information about collecting, typewriter repair and maintenance, how to source ribbon, and ways to acquire typewriters when I heard questions arise on these topics. One gentleman named Douglas who sat across from me at one point in the day had some questions about where to get ribbon, so I told him spools can be purchased on eBay and Amazon, but if he intended to be a prolific typist on the two machines he told me he had at home, I suggested he order a reel from Baco Ribbon & Supply (contact information at the end of this article).
Baco Ribbon & Supply is a wholesale company known by word-of-mouth among many typospherians who order entire reels of ribbon as a more economical option for sourcing ribbon rather than continually buying spool sets that cost upwards of $6. From my own experience, I purchased a reel of all-black, half-inch ribbon at a length of 660 yards for $45 in March 2016 and, as of this writing, still have a three-inch radius of ribbon left on the reel. Baco also offers the red-black ribbon for those who wish to have the option to type red text in addition to black. The only catch with ordering a reel is that one would need to become comfortable with re-spooling ribbon themselves which is not a terribly difficult task, but will require latex gloves.
For those interested in getting a typewriter of their very own, places I’ve had great success finding the typewriters in my fleet are local Craigslist ads, eBay, OfferUp, and of course, a plethora of antique shops that are either local or ones I’ve visited while traveling. While browsing typewriter ads online can be a fun way to ‘window shop’ for these machines, what I love most about antique shops is ‘the hunt’ for typewriters and having the ability to test them out on my own when I do find them. (As a note, it’s courteous to ask the shopkeeper for permission to test typewriters you find in their inventory before helping yourself to them.) The hunt in the wild for typewriters is one of the great thrills I get as a typospherian, prowling about with a detective’s eye until I see that familiar sight of the intricate array of typewriter keys. Some antique shops keep their typewriters in one designated place, but the best ones—especially those organised with vendor booths—have them scattered about so you can enjoy the adventure of finding them on your own.
The best part about being a first-timer to a type-in was that I didn’t know what to expect. As I was driving there, I imagined it being a large table full of typospherians working at their own machines while the public came and went after watching us compose our prose, poetry, or letters. In fact, this type-in was just the opposite. I spent a great deal of time working at my own typewriter, but most of the attendees were using the variety of typewriters brought my Cabot. The Adler Tippa that one gentleman brought was made available for others to use, so once I finished my letter, I made my Royal Model P available for others to use as well.
Having been so accustomed to using my typewriters at home, it was a strange feeling leaving one of my prized typewriters out for just anyone to use. Being a solitary typist within the confines of home sort of develops a protective instinct over these machines that so much personal time is spent with; typewriters become your literary comrades over time. I was unsure about having others use my machine, but I realised that the spirit of the type-in is to allow others to try out different typewriters with the hope that they are inspired, feel included, and become engaged in the excitement of using them. The whole point of holding type-ins in public venues is to attract curiosity and impart our passion for these machines onto others so that more might appreciate these machines again.
As soon as I got up from working on my Model P, I stood near the entrance of the bookstore so I could see who might take interest in it. One gentleman came to use it right away, followed by another, then a lady who took great prolonged interest in typing on it. I found myself pleased with all the different reactions to the Model P. I took pride in the fact that it delighted people. Eventually, Douglas and Cabot would also take a seat at the Model P to try it out.
In all, the type-in camaraderie was wonderful and the shared fascination endearing. It gave me great hope to see people of all ages take interest in these machines. If this one event was any measure to predict by, typewriters will continue to grow in popularity for their simple and timeless purpose: to type words on paper. The tactile experience is unmatched and one where the typist can enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their thoughts materialising on paper with ink and metal. Most notably, these machines will outlast their digital device successors with a novelty that will never die; typewriters are for all generations.
Baco Ribbon & Supply
2230 Mason Lane
Ballwin, MO 63021
(Note: As of this writing, BRS does not have a website or catalogue. They can take orders by phone or e-mail.)