Thursday, March 29, 2018

Secrets of a carbon ribbon

One of the great advantages of a typewriter is that, unlike the device on which you're reading this, it doesn't let people or robots halfway around the world steal your information.

But typewriters that use carbon ribbons, like my Olivetti Editor 2, do retain a record of what was written on them.

The used carbon ribbon can be read ...

... and I couldn't resist the temptation to investigate the old ribbon that came with my Editor. I discovered that this ribbon was used in Arkansas from 1986 to 2002, before sitting around another 16 years until I bought the typewriter for $8.99. The machine was used for business, religion, humor, and more.

Because of the motion of the ribbon and occasional corrections, reading this text is not as easy as just picking up a book. Let's see if you can do it. (Of course, I am not reproducing any personal identifying information.) I'll provide a hint for every snippet.

1. What a nurse!

2. She raps knuckles:

3. You can't go home again:

4. Hand over the mazuma, buster:

5. I really can save lives!

6. Kickin' 'em out:

7. Ever more angels in yellow vehicles:

8. You scratch my soul and I'll scratch yours:

9. Love's luncheon:

10. Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!

11. Swept off to Oz!

12. Pauline lessons:

13. Riddles of omnipotence:

14. Wardrobe malpractice:

15. Model behavior:

16. Loose lips:

17. Marked with a †

18. Preparing to be reunited:

19. Testing, testing:

Olivetti carbon ribbons are long, at least twice as long as ones for the IBM Selectric. This was quite a collection of information, and an intriguing glimpse into moments in the life of this typewriter and its former owners.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Decals and Puerto Rico

A couple of unrelated items:

1) Here's a 1927 Underwood no. 5 that came in for service to Urban Legend Typewriters. A common machine, with some flaws, but I rarely see Underwoods of this age with such nice paint and decals. This helps me imagine just how pretty a brand-new Underwood no. 5 would have been. (The bell works beautifully, too! Often they're feeble.)

2) A Puerto Rican correspondent tells me about one bright spot in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria:

"You can't imagine the number of people and businesses that resuscitated their old typewriters and cash registers. A local woman who repairs these machines (she inherited the business from her husband and father-in-law) told me that customers have come to her from all over the island."

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Update on the Urban Legend Institute

The Urban Legend Institute, the little shop that supports WordPlay Cincy, has been rechristened Urban Legend Typewriters, since typewriter sales and service constitute nearly all the shop's business. I'm proud to have raised tens of thousands of dollars for WordPlay over the last five years, and I keep learning as I take care of the machines that come in. (Most of the business is service, except at Christmas, when we sell lots of typewriters.)

I recently showed you a Cyrillic Royal P that came in for service. Here are a few more recent repairs.

Here's another Royal P that needed a good cleaning and two new keytops. This typewriter's keytops, which don't look original to me, have just a thin plastic coating over cardboard. The C and N had big pits chewed into them, and I replaced them with legends and thicker plastic tops from a 1930s Royal parts machine.

This Smith-Corona Silent-Super had its drawband tangled around its mainspring, and was spattered with ink and Wite-Out.

The owner of this 1929 Underwood portable found it in a dumpster! He had the platen recovered by J. J. Short but needed some help getting it back into the typewriter and fixing an issue with the ribbon advance. The ribbon covers on this machine were missing. What you see here are 3D-printed covers created by Pete Volz. As I predicted in my book, 3D printing is an increasingly useful source of typewriter parts. There is even a website,, that includes a few downloadable files.

Meanwhile, there has been an update to the exterior of the shop. There's a Shepard Fairey mural on the side of the building featuring Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi. Here's how it looked a few years ago.

After the mural was vandalized by a local graffiti "artist," Fairey recreated it, with slightly different imagery. More recently, with the news about Aung San Suu Kyi's indifference (at best) to the genocidal persecution of the Rohingya, someone altered her face to give this call for human rights an ironic new twist.

Heroes come and go. Typewriters endure.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

See you later, Instagram

I joined social media in order to promote The Typewriter Revolution. My reflections on this situation have previously been posted on this blog (here and here).

Pinterest, Vine, and Tumblr didn't do anything for me. Twitter was unpleasant and unrewarding, and I discontinued it a while ago. Instagram has been the most enjoyable experience by far, but that's part of the problem. Today I posted the following message.

I'm not deleting my Instagram account, and as I said, I may return to it occasionally to post something significant, but I need to stop using it on a regular basis.

This leaves Facebook as the only social medium where I'm actively promoting my book. I'll probably keep that page, but I'm going to feel less compelled to use it to share every little news item about typewriters. For me, the main use of Facebook is to participate in the typewriter collectors' groups, where the site's software is admittedly excellent for multiparty conversations. But I don't trust Facebook with my information, so I use a pseudonym and never post anything on my personal timeline.

As for blogging, as I suggested in my Instagram post, there's no doubt that the blogosphere has declined since the rise of social media, and that includes the typosphere. Interactions between authors and audience are not as efficient and quick on blogs as on Facebook or Instagram. Readers may have to make some effort to find posts and spend some time understanding them. That all flies in the face of the craving for quick and easy "hits" of information that the Internet is designed to deliver. But although my audience here is small and may be decreasing, I continue to enjoy typecasting, so for now, this blog will continue.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


This weekend I had the privilege of repairing this 1929 Royal P with Russian keyboard and red faux-crocodile paint. I thought you'd like to see it.

The label on the inside of the case says something about alcohol, probably warning users not to rub it on the paint. And this typewriter's original owner, who may have been a Bostonian, certainly took good care of it. Usually the paint on these Royals has been worn down on the corners, but this one is in great shape.