Sunday, December 28, 2014

Getting a sneak peek

This is central San Anselmo, in Marin County, California, north of San Francisco.


I came here this morning to visit Doug Nichol, who is finishing a film about many dimensions of typewriters. As currently planned, it will culminate with the typewriter insurgency manifesto and the rise of the typewritten revolution.

I took my father's Smith-Corona Clipper to this coffeeshop where Doug filmed me doing some work on my book.

We also filmed some of the correspondence I've received from insurgents. On top is the latest communiqué, received just before I left Cincinnati. Thank you, Agent R.! Be steadfast!

In Doug Nichol's office, I was  impressed by this video-editing keyboard, as well as other great software and hardware ...

... especially this hardware.

Doug has become a true typewriter lover, user, and collector since he began the film. Here's a Standard Folding and a Lambert that he found in Paris.

The complexities of the film are laid out on this bulletin board. I got a peek at many scenes. There's a lot of good material, from the historical to the personal, from the hilarious to the sad to the mysterious. This is going to be one fantastic movie. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

A typospherian Disneyland?

I'm spending a few days in Orange County, California, enjoying Christmas with the in-laws. On this Boxing Day I took the opportunity to visit Ink & Bean, a "coffee saloon and wordshop" in downtown Anaheim, less than 3 miles from Disneyland, that was recommended by Keith Sharon in his "Mail Bonding" column. I had high hopes that this would be a Magic Kingdom for typewriter insurgents.

And indeed, the little coffeehouse features some magnificent old black office typewriters ...


... a flatbed Royal ...

... an Underwood Champion — but what's this?

"Please do not touch the Typewriters"!

It turns out that you can't, as I had imagined, simply pick up one of their writing machines and start pecking away. Furthermore, the barista told me that Keith is the only customer who's ever brought in his own typewriter.

So, a typospherian Disneyland it is not. The typewriters provide ambience, but don't get to produce any text.

It's a start, though. And this is certainly one place where you wouldn't get frowned upon for public typing, so it's still going to make it into my book as a typist-friendly locale.

Elsewhere in the shop we find more vintage atmosphere ...

... books dangle from the ceiling, unreadable ...

... but outside Ink & Bean, a newsstand invites you to partake of the pleasures of the printed word ...

... as does the Park & Read station, featuring a Little Free Library in a streamlined trailer.

And that's where I found myself sipping a rich cappuccino in the cool but sunny afternoon, and putting the finishing touches on my manuscript ...


... or more precisely, my annotated printout. It's true, typewriters are playing no role in this  phase of my book's production. I would have done some typing, but a machine didn't make it into my suitcase for this trip, and I had been counting on borrowing one from Ink & Bean. Oh, well!

Next stop: the San Francisco Bay Area, where I'll be meeting filmmaker Doug Nichol for a sneak peek of some of his typewriter movie and the filming of a few last scenes. This time I know that I'll be able to borrow a typewriter: Doug has dozens!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Public typewriter update

The public typewriter I set up in my office building is getting regular use. It's fun to go to the lounge in the morning and see what clever things have appeared on it. Try this in your workplace!


(I wrote the "scoop." The latest is that the story should appear at the end of this month.)

And one colleague has even provided some carbon paper:

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Case of the Scarlet Remington

Here's a glimpse of my desk at the moment. On the left is Thomas Sheehan's excellent new book, the first title in a series that I'm co-editing. On the right is the Remington Noiseless no. 7 that's been my companion for nearly 40 years.

Between them is a case that belongs to this Remington no. 3 I'm repairing for a customer of The Urban Legend Institute. The typewriter was made in November 1930.

Notice the oddity of this case:

In 20 years of typewriter collecting, I've never seen another one like it! Have you?

There is always something new to discover in the world of typewriters.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Congratulations to everyone who gave National Novel Writing Month a shot this year, and especially to those who made it to 50K.

I sat down at the KMC DeLuxe for a few sessions, but soon discovered that my time was too short and my heart wasn't in it. In case anyone would enjoy reading 4 single-spaced pages inspired by Gogol's Dead Souls, here you go.

Who can guess what's in Grushkin's bundle?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Underwood Electric: keyswapping

Gasp! Has Richard P become a keychopper??

No, not exactly—just a keyswapper. 

The machine on the right is a hopeless ca. 1930 Underwood portable parts machine. On the left is my Underwood Electric (click the "Underwood Electric" tag at the end of this post to see previous posts about it). The electric came with depressingly unattractive gray plastic keys, and part of my restoration/modification project is to give it classic keys with glass tops and chrome rings.

The classic Underwood keys fit snugly on this '50s electric. 

The underside of each is a "stem" that tapers down to a narrow slot that grips the key lever.

How tight does it grip? Extremely. But I developed a removal technique that works most of the time:

Grasp the lever tightly with one pliers, just under the key:

Then use another pliers to pry off the key. Don't grip the key, but simply use the pliers as leverage. I am using a pliers with a curved tip that is ideal for this purpose:

Does this always work? No. In some cases the key levers snapped before the keys popped off. Then it's very difficult to remove the keys. I managed to get two of the ones below separated from the lever stubs, but others will have to be taken to the physics shop on campus where I'll use a vise to grip the stubs while I pry off the keys (I hope). 

My hands are sore and I have uttered many four-letter words, but I think this will all be worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A thought from William James

The italic portion of this typecast comes from an Adler J4, a beautifully preserved machine that was donated to WordPlay by Judith of Dante's Wardrobe; it will soon go on sale. The roman portion comes from a Brother Opus 901, a great find for $5 at the thrift store a little while ago; it, too, will be benefiting WordPlay.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mr. Coulter's first-grade class writes a book

Here's a followup to the story about Brad Coulter's first-graders and their typewriters in Kirkland, Washington.

The class has now completed a book of typed creative writing. Brad says:

I've been gathering typewriters over the last year (all old manual typewriters and one electric), and I now have enough for each student. I've found sources for new ribbons and I've learned how to repair them. They range from 35 to 95 years in age and in general they work as well now as the day they were made.

Each week the kids are assigned a typewriter. For writing they have the option to type or to write in their journals. Most kids use the typewriters. The room sounds like an old newsroom with the kids clacking away. As you can see, they spell things the way they sound, and I've taught them that typing mistakes are part of the page, and they continue on. We don't start over, we don't mess with white-out, though sometimes we edit and re-type, but only occasionally. We have access to netbooks, but I've found that with primary age kids, the time it takes to log on, along with network issues, deleted files, mistakes in saving, printing, etc., generally make for trouble. The typing is immediate, tactile, all that. I've seen great improvement in their writing skills since September. I'd like to quantify this somehow. Of course it's not about the typewriters, it's about the writing, but I think I might be onto something.

Congratulations, kids and Mr. Coulter, and thanks for sharing!

You can download the book here.