Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Typewriter

Do you know which is the only word that can be typed using the first row of letters on the keyboard of a typewriter keyboard. It is TYPEWRITER.

Do you know where the word 'typewriting' came about? It was coined in 'Scientific American', a magazine.

Do you know who made the first typewriter? It was by a gun making company. (Fine pictures and nice write-up here!). I will not be surprised if the newer generation youngsters ask what a typewriter is... they know only the keyboard of their computers!

Do you know who invented the first modern typewriter? Christopher Sholes.

Before I write something about my own fancy for it, do look in here for some different models of the early period - 1870s - and see how they appeared like.

My grandfather, an advocate, had his office on "Rave Street" near Gandhi Square. It had been there since since the early part the 20th century and he had picked up his practice from his uncle, who had started that office, since 1925. It was in this office that I remember to have seen a typewriting machine for the first time. It was in the early 1960s.

That model was so similar to this one.

The one thing that fascinated me in his office was the typist who 'click-clacked' on the machine with some speed but with some pauses as he looked into the document beside him to decipher some words . Sometimes my grandfather would take me and others in the family with him to his office before a market errand together. He would attend to some work before he took us out. Going to his office was a great attraction and much looked forward to, because of the typewriter and also a big lens (to study documents) he kept in his draw.

Awestruck, I would stand beside that typist, neck jaunting forward in great curiosity. Some metal rod would come from inside and even before my eye could follow its movement, it had already struck a letter and disappeared back. I used to get amazed also how one line was typed out and shifted over the the next one using the lever of the cylinder carriage.

I got the first opportunity to take a close look on another day when the machine was lying idle. I saw the the elements closely that struck letters (it had reverse image of letters!) and tried to meddle with it slowly and to listen to the click-clack noise, which was my favourite, I started to press the keys one by one and got a scolding from my grandfather not to strike the keys without a paper on the cylinder. It was a small black machine that had the "Royal" logo printed on it in cream letters.

Gauging my keen interest, he asked his assistant to put up a paper in it for me to play with it and shouted "do not strike hard". It was such great fun to see the printing of letters in purple. They used a purple inked tape. Sometimes I would touch the ribbon to see what it is and got the finger-tips stained. This stain would not go off on any amount of rubbing! It had to be washed with soap. Later I came to know there were two spools to hold this ribbon and that it even came in different colours. The keys were round and had yellowish letters on black background with a tiny round glass cover with a slight concave depression to fit the finger feel, almost like in this picture I found on the net to show here:

Browsing the net for this blog I found that vintage typewriter keys are fashion too - in great demand as pendants!

Every time I got the opportunity to visit my grandfather's office, I would beg him to allow me to type. Sometimes my younger brother also wanted to do the same and I had to make way for this little fellow.

I can remember the calm and quiet of that office at times when the only sounds were from my striking the keys when there were no clients as my grandfather prepared some pronote or something and I could hear the hourly chime from the huge bell on the nearby 'clock tower'. I had a few more opportunities of long sessions like this later also.

I tried to imitate the speed of the typist at the office using my two index fingers but often they got caught in spaces between the keys. It was a funny feeling! But more often more than one key was pressed so that the letter strikers got caught and had to be carefully released back to their positions. It was fun nevertheless, but by then I had known that 'rough use' can spoil the machine. The typewriter belonged to my grandfather and the office.

In 1973-74, I had joined a typewriting institute - only because someone told to join and that I had wanted to do fast typing and not because of any career growth. They gave me, just like for all beginners, an old machine, a Remington Rand, something like this one:

After some months of attending the sessions and doing speed drills (at Keerthi Institute), I had not picked up accuracy or uniformity of strike force. I used to blame the machine because the keys were hard. (I used to hear that they adjust a screw to make the keys harder). Some others were given better machines but not me. The instructor always used to tell that I strike hard. Disgusted, I changed the institute and joined another (Ganesh Institute) nearby but faced the same problem there also. He never allowed me to a Halda brand machine which was smoother. I finally threw the towel without taking the exam as I saw no purpose to continue any further.

I do not know, had I been given better machines, my typing quality would probably have improved, much like my tennis game improved many years later, once I changed over to graphite racquet from the traditional wooden.

My grandfather died in 1976 and before his death, I had a few more opportunities at his office to try out the keyboard knowledge on that "Royal" machine and more than anything else, my enjoyment was utmost. So, after his death, we wanted the machine back along with a few other items including some beautiful furniture that were belongings of my grandfather's uncle and grandfather himself who had been the actual owners. The office was now under the hands of the 'junior'. But our requests fell on deaf ears, much to our surprise and displeasure! I had accompanied my elders to the office once to ask but I could not see "Royal" at all. So there went my hopes of getting it back, nor we got anything back from there. The dream of having the typewriter was stalled for about 20 years.

By this time, I was into the hobby of penfriendship and many letters were exchanged but with the old system of paper and pen. There was a great yearning for a typewriter. The dream was realized long later, in the mid 90s to be precise, when a colleague was moving out and was giving away his items. The moment I came to know there was a portable typewriter on sale, I grabbed it. He was kind enough to allow me to fix its price for which I took the help of the instructor at my first typing institute and paid accordingly. It was a Singer Scholastic which I still have, used sparingly or never in recent years. But when I took it out for this blog, it was working fine!

When it was most needed, it was not there. But when the need was waning off, it came. But it is okay!

I did not take any typing exams, to experience the terrifying sound of the machines in unison when all candidates began to strike the keys in the exam hall when the start bell rang, but the basic knowledge I got in attending the classes have kept me in good stead esp. in this computer era. In my early years in the job, I had the pleasure of watching 4-5 steno-colleagues compete with each other in speed @100 w.p.m. until the computer age affected the slow disappearance of the machines into oblivion.

There are now no instructors to check the errors and fail me in tests because with computer keyboard, we have this key:

.... and this is the one that also wears out faster!! :) With typewriters, the error stays (erasers and correcting fluids disallowed).

Knowledge of the keyboard is a must nowadays as there is growing awareness, exposure and availability of computers to almost all people. Some people say they are happy with their speed in using only the two index fingers but the traditional knowledge will be extremely handy, for which there are many online tools also like in this link.

There are hundreds of brand of typewriters, there are museums dedicated to these wonder machines - some to show here:

Do not miss the funny design of the machine in the centre here:

Typewriter art was popular some time ago, but I found this (pic below) simple but beautiful art on the Net which is more recent as the artist types. There have been more complicated designs and pictures made too:

My grandfather's cousin K.S.Nanjundaiah (marked in rectangle) was involved in a "Champion Metropolitan College of Commerce" in the early 1920s in Mysore, imparting typing knowledge. I know not the location of the building in these pictures but it goes to show that typewriting was an important element in those days.


1 comment:

YOSEE said...

Thats a heartwarming paean to the wonderful machine.
To a child's eye, it was truly magical to see the paper scrolling out with neatly printed words as grandfather went clackkety-clack on those buttons on stems ! Grandpa had that humongous Remington with purple ribbon. Later , father had Olivetti ( its still around and comes in handy in emergencies when the PC crashes or power shuts down)