Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sholes Visible: native habitat

So did anyone actually buy and use this strange invention, the Sholes visible typewriter, a century ago? We have ads from dates such as 1901 and 1905, but of much greater interest is this 1910 photo of a Sholes Visible in its original habitat. For all I know, this could be the very same machine that I'm now restoring.

This photo is reproduced with permission from Peter Weil's vast and wonderful collection of typewriter-related images, ads, stationery, and other cultural breccia (tip o' the hat to Dwayne F. for that phrase). Peter writes a quarterly "Ephemera" column for ETCetera, and he's a professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware. His notes on the image show us what an anthropologist can do with a photograph:

Sholes Visible Typewriter #2 (1901); in the office of the shipping department of the W.R. McTurk Coal Company in the borough of Girardville (in Schuylkill County), Pennsylvania, in September 1910; subject is George W. Newton, a shipper who, perhaps with intended humor, is holding a rifle or shotgun; ironically, or maybe not, Girardville was called “Gun-Town” by locals; at that time, McTurk operated at least two mines in the area, about sixty miles northeast of Reading, PA; the mines were the Girard Bear Ridge and the Girard Mammoth; office is lighted by the shaded window in back behind the typewriter and the kerosene chandelier to the right; the Sholes Visible appears to be the second of the three models (carriage return lever but no decal, “Meiselbach” or otherwise) on the lower front of the frame, which also looks to be shaped differently than the same area of the frame on later examples; sitting on a desk that appears to be, at least in part, made out of a cotton spool thread cabinet; other office technology includes a stencil-based “mimeo” machine of indeterminate brand and a book press.

What else do you see in this photo?


  1. The Sholes looks so tiny in the photo. Maybe it is perspective or is it actually smaller than most standards?

    Back in 1901 there was a lot of fighting over mines between unions and the company or between rival companies. I don't know if PA was as bad as KY or WV, but it wouldn't be surprising if that gun saw a lot of pretty bloody action around the time the photo was taken up to the 30s.

  2. What a precious photo! Thanks for posting it.
    I never thought I'd ever catch a glimpse of the Sholes Visible in its natural habitat, which was exactly what I felt about the Coelacanth until National Geographic published never-before-seen photos and vids. ( :

  3. Nice picture! It would be nice to know if this was really your typewriter - but I guess it is impossible to find out without any clue about the former owner.

    About your question; I see a lot in the picture, but nothing that rings a bell or gets you any further.

  4. Nice picture.

    Reminds me of home. Home is only about an hour away from Girardville. The Reading Coal Company owned the mineral rights to much of the area. If the fellow in the picture was a mine owner or company man he needed the weapon. Between the coal and iron cops and the Molly Magires there were quite a few things blowing up and getting shot up. I think there are still tours of the Pottsville prison where John Lewis was held.

    Out of all the old coal breakers and abandoned factories we used to play in and around as kids I never noticed one typewriter. There were plenty of other interesting things, but no typewriters.

  5. OOPs I forgot the u in Maguires.

  6. Great photo! I have a sudden urge to dig around the Shorpy website.

    What else did I notice? There are many interesting details. While the gun is being used as a prop for one reason or another, he has a decent, relaxed marksman's stance and obviously knows how to handle it.

    Thanks for the shout out! The Cultural Breccia blog is under construction - like I needed another blog!

  7. Another oddity from times gone by: The garter holding up the socks can be seen below the trouser cuff.