Typewriters will never fade for fans _ even those who don't quite know how they work

  • Article by: MEG JONES , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • Updated: July 1, 2013 - 12:05 AM

MILWAUKEE — Long consigned to the dust heap of no-longer-useful devices, typewriters are surprisingly hip again.

Some may argue they never were hip, but the quaint, archaic tools of writers, journalists and secretarial pools apparently are now cool, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/17wXBDy).

The current typewriter renaissance is fueled by the nostalgia of older folks who actually used them and by younger people fascinated by the clacking, bell-ringing machines as if they were archaeological artifacts.

Members of the typewriterati gather for type-ins across the country, bringing their typewriters to a tavern, library or bookstore to hang out, talk typewriters and compete in speed typing contests.

Prices for old typewriters have shot up as more folks snap them up at garage sales, flea markets, eBay and Goodwill stores.

Some use them to type messages, which they scan with their smart phones and post to their Tumblr accounts.

What in the name of Christopher Latham Sholes is going on?

"I think it's partly a reaction to modern technology. People want to feel their words," said Judith Jablonski, who has 25 typewriters at her Milwaukee home that she uses to type letters and create artwork. "As an artist, I feel these machines matter to how I make my words."

They were the original laptops, at least the portable ones. No power source or Wi-Fi needed, millions were manufactured and lived out their mechanical lives harnessing words flowing from their users' brains — from Hemingway's novels and World War II journalists' front-line dispatches to love notes, Dear John letters and business correspondence.

While computers are great for connecting people, finding information, playing games and watching videos, typewriters only do one thing: type.

"The computer in many ways is an enemy of writing," said Michael McGettigan, a Philadelphia bicycle store owner who runs phillytyper.com and organized the first type-in two years ago.

"You might write, but you can also watch a kitten taking a bath in a teacup or a guy hurting himself on a skateboard, or you might think, 'Hey, I need an inflatable pair of sneakers or I need to fight a guy in a battle for fake coins,'" McGettigan said.

So in contrast, the typewriter seems like a faithful object — all it can do is help someone put their words on paper. It also works nicely as a paperweight.

And it's private.

"The number of NSA or CIA agents or Chinese hackers trying to break into the letter I wrote on my typewriter and threw into a mailbox is probably zero," McGettigan said.

Sure, iPads and iPhones may be the Olivettis and Smith-Coronas of the 21st century, but there are still plenty of people, whose ranks are growing, who love typewriters. Some buy them to decorate their homes, some set them up at wedding receptions for guests to type in retro guestbooks, and steampunk fans buy them because they're into vintage metal machines.

And there are typospherians like Jablonski, who picked up much of her collection from Goodwill stores. Aside from the $80 she forked over for a 1931 portable Underwood she found in a Wausau antique store, she hasn't paid more than 50 bucks for her typewriters, with some costing only $5. She's currently looking for an Oliver 5, not because she needs another typewriter — she doesn't — but because she thinks that particular black and chrome machine is beautiful.

Each of Jablonski's typewriters has its own personality: certain keys that stick or type lighter than others, varying amounts of pressure required to pound out letters and different mechanics to perform functions like shifting. She often thinks of the people who used them and the words that were tapped out on the keys.

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