Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Interview on Red Transmissions Podcast

Thanks to Elizabeth Torres, aka Madam Neverstop, for a great interview on the Red Transmissions Podcast. Our conversation includes today’s typewriter movement, typewriter art and music, books on typewriters, where to find machines, and which models to begin with. Find it at https://reddoormagazine.com/podcast/ or on other podcast platforms.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

“Large Typewriters" sets a record

The William Kentridge artwork that I posted about recently went for well over the estimate of £350,000 - £550,000. It sold for £682,750 ($935,000)—a record for Kentridge's work. Here's the story. The photo gives us a sense of the dimensions of the aptly titled Large Typewriters (misspelled as Large Typerwriters in the story). The story also says that the piece was created using charcoal and pastel. Sounds fragile!

Does this mean that I can get half that much for my real, functional Blick Ninety that Robert Messenger kindly gave me?

Friday, March 12, 2021

From my correspondents

I've been getting lots of wonderful typewritten letters. Gradually, between revising my novel, doing administrative work, and teaching, I am getting around to answering them. 

I have mailed my personal replies to the authors of the letters excerpted below. I think these snippets will be appreciated by a broader audience.

From southern Mexico:

Yes! And we have to take some chances to build genuine connections. I hope this typist will try something that may sow the seeds of a local typewriter community ...

... like this one in Southern California:

My co-editors and I were very glad to read the following kind praise from a reader in British Columbia for last year's volume in the Cold Hard Type series. (We are currently reviewing submissions for this year's volume, Dead Keys.)

Finally, I thank this correspondent (also from Southern California) for sharing a great quotation that I hadn't seen before.

 I welcome more correspondence (see the "Write me a letter" link at the top of this blog).

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

$500,000 for a picture of two typewriters?

I like South African artist William Kentridge's depictions of typewriters. I even got permission to reproduce his piece "Undo Unsay Unremember"in my book (p. 259). So I don't mean to run him down. Still, I can't help looking askance at an auction that's coming up in two weeks. 

Bonhams estimates the value of Kentridge's Large Typewriters at £350,000 - £550,000

I like the piece, it shows Kentridge's love of typewriters, but ... really?

Bonhams describes the artwork as 

a dual image combining both the banal and the absurd, the real and the imagined. ...

The double quasi-identical image – differentiated only by the level of detail – is discreet in its symbolism; on one hand speaking to wider themes in the artist's work, while on the other referencing its own physicality. The typewriter is an object that turns words into something tangible on paper, and so it is perhaps no small wonder that it's an object that has such a special significance to a multi-disciplinary artist like Kentridge, whose work is imbued with a real sense of history." 

First of all, what's absurd about it? And what is imagined? The typewriters may look fantastic and bizarre to the layman, but those who know typewriter history know that we are looking at pretty realistic depictions of a real (though not banal) Jewett no. 2 and Blick 90.

The auction house says the typewriters are "differentiated only by the level of detail." Well, no. One is a six-bank understroke, the other is a three-bank frontstroke. The Jewett is much larger and heavier than the Blick, although of course we can't see this in the artwork. But the basic design differences, captured well by Kentridge, should not have gone unnoticed by an attentive eye.

I like the phrase "discreet in its symbolism." Translation: we have no idea why the artist depicted these typewriters!

I wish Bonhams and Kentridge great success in this auction. But if you happen to have half a million dollars, or half a million pounds, lying around, I think it might be more prudent to invest in four or five Malling-Hansen Writing Balls and a decorated Sholes & Glidden.

Monday, February 15, 2021

The continuing saga of the “Govrland"

Seen on eBay this morning:

Cool T-shirt, huh? Yes ... except that the typewriter looks so darn weird. What is that huge structure in front of the platen?

I know the answer, of course. This is yet another representation of a fake typewriter made in China, originally designed as a crude imitation of a Gourland. This silly thing has taken many forms over the years, even appearing as a tattoo on the skin of some hapless person who has obviously never used a real typewriter.

I'll take it as yet another sign of the enduring appeal of typewriters ... but I do wish artists would bother to do a little more research before they create yet another iteration of a phony.

PS: "Sincerily"?

Monday, February 8, 2021


Two neat typewriters from 1939 just dropped in my lap. 

This Remington was donated to WordPlay Cincy by a local woman. It had been in her brother-in-law's family for generations. She was glad to drop it off on my porch (social distancing!) and I promised her it would go to a good cause.

You might say it doesn't look like it was made in 1939, and you'd be right—it doesn't. That's because it was clearly refurbished in the 1950s, getting a modern tan (or gray, once I clean it?) wrinkle finish and a '50s Remington Rand logo. But here's what it originally must have looked like:

You can tell the early Remington no. 17s by the two little panels on top that flip up to provide ribbon access. All of these machines date from 1939. On later no. 17s, the whole top plate lifts off easily.

In case you're wondering, here's what the inside of the right flip-up panel says (it's just the same on the machine I just got).

As for my other recent acquisition, it turned on eBay a couple of days ago (with the typo "PortableTypewriter" in the title). It was a Buy It Now for under $100 (a pretty small fraction of its market value). It was in Ohio, so it got to me quickly. It came with a user's manual like this one, with the original owner's name typed on it. (An obituary tells me that he served in the South Pacific in WWII and lived to the age of 94.)

This beauty is fully functional. It just needs a little cleaning and new feet. I haven't added any typewriters to my personal collection for a while, so I'm tempted to keep this one side by side with my black and green Champions.

1939: horrible year for war and politics, good year for typewriters.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021


No deep thoughts here today—just delight at the results of an Instagram search.