Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The old typewriter




This summer, a new toy came out of hibernation. The LB has been enthralled. This is a child who has his very own (used, child-safe, slow-as-molasses) MacBook. But the siren song of the old typewriter is impossible to resist. The loud clacking of the keyboard, the z-i-i-i-i-i-i-p-DING! of the carriage, the chance to unlock the case with a tiny key - it has been total delight for him.

The typewriter is a family heirloom. Like many things in our home, it came to us by way of my father-in-law's family. I know we're probably beginning to sound like a junk-repository for these people, but you should understand that my husband and children are "the last of the line," so to speak. My husband is the only living member in his generation and our children are the only members of theirs. Most people in the family did not have children. My husband's only sibling passed away as a teenager. So we are the young ones in the family and as a result, we have inherited a massive amount of things. This is mostly a good thing; I do so love interesting old stuff. And, unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to inherit many items from my own family, so it's all the better to receive theirs.

The typewriter was in my husband's grandfather's house for decades. We don't know exactly how old it is, but my father-in-law reports that he wrote his papers on it in high school and he graduated in 1963. I'm sure there must be some kind of typewriter historian who keeps records of these things but in a way, it's more fun not knowing exactly how old something is. I enjoy the mystery. I do know that many things were typed on this typewriter. I have recipe files, labeled containers and packages, captions placed inside photo albums and a lot of other examples. Grandpa died in 2009 at the age of 94 and the Bear and his father and uncle spent a few days cleaning out his tiny 1930's bungalow in San Diego, California. Grandpa built the house himself and lived there ever after. Many interesting items were brought back with them and we had lots of sorting to do. Lots of things were sold, donated or thrown away. The typewriter was one thing I really wanted to keep. I had a little typewriter when I was a child, a tiny blue Smith-Corona, and I would write "stories" on it for hours. Me, writing "stories" for hours, who could imagine such a thing? Crazy talk.

We've all taken turns typing on our new-to-us Underwood. It's just wonderful for typing on; the keys depress relatively gently, almost like the IBM electric typewriters I learned on when I was in high school. I love the look of the keys too, enameled to be shiny and smooth. The little case keys are interesting, I have to admit. And the cardboard key fob with Grandpa's handwritten label is pretty nice to have.


The ink ribbon is still surprisingly inky; it was faint at first and we looked into ordering a new one, but it was going to be pricy so we wound the ribbon around to a different section and it worked much better. For our limited typewriter needs, it's good enough. The LB has spent hours with the typewriter over the past few months; he puts it on the coffee table in the family room and props his feet up on the table's edge and hunches over to type. This kind of posture would never have flown in keyboarding class but I'm no stickler. Seeing him enjoying old technology so much, in an age when children are desperate for more advanced gadgetry all the time, makes me really happy. We often have him practice typing on Ye Olde MacBook, using a typing program, because we do think typing is a good skill to know. We also give him passages from books to type out. He likes doing some of this on the typewriter because of the noise but also because he thinks the typed words look "cool."


This one is from The Hobbit. We read it with him this summer and he loved it, so we chose passages from it for some of his typing assignments. You can see that the ribbon isn't perfect but it's not bad for playing with, and his typing isn't too bad either. Fun and learning have coalesced with the old typewriter.

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The LB and I are working on "summer homework" today. He has to create a school project called "The History of Me." This is open-ended, due next week and only assigned the other day, which is frustrating to me, but hey, we're flexible. Tired and annoyed, but oh so incredibly flexible. He opted to make a photo album about his life so I had photos printed, ranging from one day old to the present (only 25 of them, we're not creating an encyclopedia here). He's writing captions to tuck inside the photo sleeves (we're using a cheap little album I picked up in the drugstore). He's not really a demonstrative kid - though talkative, he keeps a very even, calm temper almost all the time. He does a lot of exclaiming at photos of himself as a baby! He is fascinated by the way that he was born with blue eyes which slowly turned the gray-green color they are now. He also likes the way he looked in a diaper and he marvels at the fact that he once had a "fat belly," so unlike his skinny physique today. You've changed, my boy. You're growing up.

38 comments:

  1. Hi! Good to hear that LB is having fun with this family heirloom of yours. I volunteer at an 18th Century mansion house called Basildon Park and we have two 1950's/1960's typewriters there that anyone can "play" with. Children especially love them, and are amazed by them. I don't know if you are old enough to have done the whole carbon paper and white out (we called it Tippex) think, but when I take guided tours round and tell children about that they are stunned!

    Glad to know that LB is having fun with your typewriter, I hope it provides hours of fun for you all.

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  2. I inherited an old Remington typewriter like this one. I used to use it as a child but it didn't have any sentimental value as I was "forced" to type out menus for a family friend and if I made a mistake all hell broke loose. So I sold it at an auction. There was quite a bidding war even though it needed a lot of renovation. I was happy to get rid of it, and the new owner was happy to buy it. All's well that ends well.

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  3. Hi Jennifer,

    There's something so special about old, BLACK technical gadgets, isn't there?! Typewriters, phones, iron clocks, etc...they shine, even though they're outdated. Perhaps they are so vibrant still because they bring back sweet memories. So glad you are enjoying this beautiful model!

    Poppy

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  4. Lovely, lovely post. Such a special and beautiful typewriter and it looks as though the whole family is having lots of fun with it.
    Marianne x

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  5. Jennifer,

    That typewriter is beautiful. It's made me so nostalgic. I typed up all my essays and my dissertation on a second hand electric typewriter when I was at University. And I had one as a child too. They are quite collectable now. There's something so very tactile about it, and the smell of the ink too.

    Leanne xx

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  6. I have never used a 'proper' typewriter but my mum and dad did once own one similar to yours, in fact its probably still lurking in their attic somewhere.They do look lovely though and I like the clickety clack of the keys!

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  7. We had my grandfathers old typewriter growing up and I loved it :) I'm glad that your son enjoyed using yours!

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  8. What a sweet and evocative post. Interestingly, most of our heirlooms are from my husband's family as we were invited by his sister, the executor, to go through the house when they were moved into an assisted living facility - each of the kids selected things that they'd given them or something we wanted. We have 3 different sizes of cast iron frying pans from them and the big thing is his sister felt that we should have their antique china cabinet since Dayle is the only son here with their last name. What a neat boy you have. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  9. Oh wow Jennifer.
    Your typewriters amazing. I picked one up a few months ago still haven't got it working...but I think there lovely for decoration too.
    I like the exert from the hobbit x

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  10. What a wonderful post.
    Clare x
    http://summerhousebythesea.blogspot.co.uk/

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  11. Ah, such a nice post. That typewrite is amazing, fascinating to look at and use. Something to treasure forever. x

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  12. That is so cool! I love old things, and especially old typewriters!

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  13. Oh Jennifer I have so enjoyed reading the typewriter story - and still it is a popular piece of equipment to have around. There's nothing quite like that sound it gives as you tap those delightful keys! It's so wonderful for LB to be so 'into it'!
    A lovely story beautifully written, thank you for sharing it!
    Joy x

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  14. Oh that typewriter is beautiful! The keys are all there and the "z-i-i-i-i-i-i-p-DING!" must sound enchanting!

    As for homework, blech! Sounds like your son is enjoying it though.

    Have a great week!
    Jayne

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  15. What a beautiful typewriter! Wish I had an old one like that. I learned how to type on a manual back in 1975 when I was in jr high. I thought it was SO cool to "advance" to an IBM Selectric in high school. ;-) Glad your little guy is having fun with the typewriter!

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  16. Hi Jennifer,

    You must be feeling lucky when you discovered that you still have this treasure. I would! z-i-i-i-i-i-i-p-DING!

    Zoe

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  17. Oh it's gorgeous, I was taught to type on something similar at school, not that I'm old (well maybe a little bit) but the school typewriters were old. The teacher banged out a rhythm on the desk and our keys were covered so we learnt to touch type. It is a skill that has served me well .. Happy Days ~ Sarah x

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  18. How funny, I was using my typewriter yesterday too! Yours is much nicer than mine though xxx

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  19. Oh, lucky you! My dad had a typewriter like that, and I so wish we had saved it. I'm glad your son is having so much fun with it!

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  20. I love hearing the history of this typewriter. Isn't the sound of the tapping keys amazing??? As always, stunning photos.

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  21. I love old typewriters you are so lucky to have one with so many memories and family history :-)x

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  22. Jennifer, I love the story of the typewriter, I imagine it was used for years before 1963. Love that your son is getting a kick of how he looked as a baby, little boys are so precious.
    Hugs to you,
    Meredith

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  23. Oh my word Jennifer - what a beauty!

    Nina x

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  24. I think your typewriter is quite a 'modern' one (as opposed to the bigger and heavier versions of the '40's and 50's) and you're not far off the mark with the date. I think too that you may have the ribbon threaded incorrectly. See those little slits in the metal bits at either side of where the key comes up to strike? You need to put the ribbon through them then the it won't jump around so much and give you a much clearer type. The 'shift lock' is for your capital letters (your brilliant boy has probably worked that out already!) and the 'tab' is for moving along the page (new paragraphs used to start with an indentation on the page - about 6 spaces) without having to press the space bar all the time. Also, the figures above the 'tab' key denote the spaces between your lines - just move the little button to which one you prefer.
    Something to be treasured, especially the adorable little key fob. Enjoy. x

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  25. i had a petite 990 when i was little and totally loved it :) x

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  26. I have a similar typewriter from my dad. I love the black glossy finish on it too :) Mine is hard to strike (either that or I'm getting weak fingers from my barely touching laptop!), but I actually learned to type on a manual typewriter in highschool (egads!!!). I loved this post with all its sentimentality ;) Isn't it nice when our kids are thrilled with the old-fashioned things? Wendy

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  27. Ok this is exciting!!!!!
    Id love to play on that for a few hours!!
    Totally cool find!!
    Tammyxx

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  28. I have an old typewriter myself that belonged to my father. I really love it and will treasure it always. I have many memories of him sitting at the table in the front room sorting out his paperwork and the smell of the typewriter today instantly brings me right back to those times.
    Rosie xx

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  29. What a great typewriter and story....they love them don't they! My girls like mine, not nearly so grand though! :) x

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  30. What a wonderful thing to inherit, a real beauty. I remember having my own typewriter when I was young, a small Brother model if I remember correctly. I used to love typing things out pretending I was a secretary. It certainly helped my typing skills, I can touch type now, though I've never had any proper typing lessons.

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  31. What a wonderful treasure, Jennifer! I would love to have an old typewrite like the one my grandmother had and I learned on. I would actually use it for a lot of my scrapbook journaling. It was so great that you could put in any size paper and type right where you needed it. So wonderful to hear that your kiddos are having fun with it.

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  32. Wow! I love this typewriter, we had a similar one in our house growing up. I am so impressed that your in laws kept it and it is still in such good condition. I loved the sounds a typewriter makes and the way the letters look on the page. I used to write my own stories too and then draw little illustrations on the bottom. I am not surprised that LB loves it so much, he is just like his mum! x

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  33. Your project sounds so wonderful, and I'm enchanted by that typewriter. I spent many happy hours pounding on one like it when I was young. Love the little keys with the tag attached. A real typewritten page is getting to be a lost treasure, isn't it?

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  34. What a great post! My youngest daughter was so sad when I told her that I could remember typing on my parents' typewriter, similar to the Underwood, but that they had gotten rid of it. She thinks the old typewriters are cool and that she would love to type on one even though she has accumulated all sorts of modern wonders... the latest being an iPad Mini :)
    Gracie xx

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  35. I loved this post! The memories were flooding back of the smell of the ribbon, the absolute pain of carbon paper in between the sheets if you needed copies, the light p's and q's because my little fingers were too small to give enough power to make them darker, and the ding of coming to the end of the line. I learned to touch type on a proper typewriter and my finger nails had to be non-existent! Soon after the keyboard came into play but I still miss the good old typewriter. I am currently trying to source one just to have one sitting in the study for nostalgia. Thanks for sharing the history of this beautiful one. xx

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  36. How fun! I was just telling my teens about the typewriter I had to use in high school right before we all switched to computers. I have wanted to find an old one for them to check out as well, yours looks wonderful, I love the look of old typewriters! :)

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