Jun 28, 2017
Yes. You Read That Write. Typewriters.
Since the last typewriter was made in the UK in 2012, prices for the machines have continued to soar and a new generation of fans has sprung up. We chart the fall -- and rise again -- of the typewriter.
Since 1890, the manual typewriter has been enmeshed in popular culture. Ernest Hemingway used to write his books standing up in front of a Royal; Kerouac tapped out On the Road on a roll of paper. Who can imagine All the President’s Men without the background of clattering typewriters, against which its protagonists brought down a government?
In 2012, the last ever typewriter built in the UK rolled off the production line at Brother's North Wales factory, another victim of the digitized age. It went straight into London’s Science Museum as a memorial piece. But, it seems, there are plenty of people who think a museum is the last place the typewriter should be.
Of course there are the luddites -- women and men of an older generation who reject modern technology. But amongst a growing posse of fans, it’s the romance of the machine that appeals. Richard Clark is co-founder of Type, an East London boutique that sells and repairs vintage typewriters. Within the past years, business has grown and a new breed of shopper -- young, creative, plugged into modern life but seeking something else -- is coming in to check out the range.
“We get a wide variety of customers,” says Clark. “From the graphic designer to the poetry writer, from the collector to the student writing their dissertation, people are looking for the return to mechanical representation. Just as within music, film and photography, there’s a nostalgia for the analogue in print. It’s a reaction to a life spent staring at screens.”
Some like the directness of the typewriter. Since Nicholas Carr’s essay for The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” we’ve become more aware of how modern technology is changing the way we think. Writing on a computer can be a minuet of cut-and-paste; typewriters require a commitment to linear mental construction.
The author Will Self’s quote is now famous. “I've gone back to using a typewriter for the first draft. It forces you to think," he told Shortlist magazine in 2012. ”Instead of going, 'She wore a red dress. Wait, that's banal I'll make it purple or green...' you think, 'Right, what colour was her dress?’ It brings order back into your mind."
For the under-30s who have grown up with technology and rarely experienced analogue games, the typewriter offers a rare sensory interaction with words and language. “From the touch of the paper and the sound of the keys hitting the pattern to the smell of the oil and ink when a case is first opened, the mechanics of the machine engages all the senses,” says Clark. “It makes the typewriter an object of real beauty.”
Looking to make a new typewriter purchase? Check out these tips below.