Bulls in the typewriter shop

Filed under: Newsworthy, typewriters — olivander February 27, 2009 @ 9:59 am

Today’s Toronto Globe and Mail has an article about typewriter collecting. You may recognize a few names in it *coughcough*.

The focus of the piece is on Martin Howard, who is displaying a portion of his exquisite collection of pre-1900s typewriters at the Toronto airport. Fellow NaNoWriMo Typewriter Brigader John Payton is featured as well.

I think the article highlights an important distinction among collectors of vintage and antique typewriters. Martin Howard is one of the heavy-hitters in our field. He collects only the finest and rarest specimens and has an extremely narrow focus of the 20-year period of early typewriter development at the end of the 1800s. His museum-quality pieces literally get the white-glove treatment.

In contrast, the article describes how my toddler likes to whack the keys. My favorite machine is not a Williams or a Jewett or a Desnmore, but a dirt-common Corona. And although we discussed it over the phone, the article does not mention how I use my typewriters for typecasting, and only briefly describes Mr Payton writing with his own machines. A toddler should be allowed nowhere near Mr Howard’s collection.

In short, I tend not to collect machines that I am afraid to use. I will leave the ultra-rare, ultra-expensive typewriters to the Martin Howards of the world. As nice as it would look to be able to display my machines behind illuminated glass, they would also seem a bit isolated and sad. (I like Herman Price’s display: nicely arranged, yet accessable.)

One of the reasons that I started Machines of Loving Grace was to bring inclusion to the amateur collector, those of us who don’t seek out just the rare machines but who appreciate displaying–and yes, using–the common typewriters that many Serious Collectors will not give a second glance. We may not know the detailed history of our machines, but we know that we like how the keys feel beneath our fingers. We are the bulls in the typewriter shop, who love nothing more than to lay hands upon, disassemble, and tinker with typers. Got rust? Who cares, so long as it works? Chipped paint? Adds character.

This isn’t to say that I won’t pass up a good deal on a rare machine when it comes along. I have a pair of Caligraphs that will probably never be used, but they were free and I’d have been insane to refuse them. And I have a fairly good investment piece in the Keaton, though I can’t read the music it types. But when I’m at the writing desk? Gimme that Underwood.


Filed under: Errata, Typecast — olivander February 22, 2009 @ 9:41 am

The things: 1. Smith-Corona Sterling, 2. Underwood Standard Portable, 3. L.C. Smith #8, 4. Royal FP, 5. Tower Challenger, 6. Remie Scout, 7. Erika #5, 8. Royal Signet, 9. Erika #3 folding, 10. Oliver #9, 11. Montgomery Ward Escort 55, 12. Monarch Pioneer, 13. Underwood Noiseless Portable, 14. Olympia SM4, 15. Olivetti Studio 42, 16. Corona Four, 17. Remington Portable #1, 18. Corona Sterling, 19. Underwood #5, 20. Hermes 3000, 21. Woodstock #4, 22. Tower Chieftain II, 23. Adler Primus, 24. Voss DeLuxe, 25. Olympia SG-1

Occupation: Enabler

Filed under: Books — olivander February 16, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

A curious/squicky entry from the 1952 edition of 125 Ways to Make Money with Your Typewriter, by David Seltz.

Make-Believe Social Letters

The Plan
Writing “make-believe” letters to persons anxious to receive correspondence is a novel part-time occupation which is reaping substantial returns for an aggressive young man in Passaic, New Jersey.

How It Works
An aged couple, childless, wanted to receive “typical” letters from a “typical” child attending college; a spinster, denied romance throughout her life, requested “romantic” letters from a mythical lover; another woman desired letters that coached her on social and personal graces; still another person, unsuccessful in self-discipline, wanted letters reprimanding him in a fatherly tone. This correspondence filled certain voids in their lives. He typed the letters and sent them out at intervals, as requested. His customers were secured by placing an advertisement in his local newspaper announcing this unique service. He was surprised at the large number of requests for this “make-believe” correspondence.

Possible Profits
His rates are $3.00 a month, on the basis of a letter each week. With some 37 subscribers, he has been able to earn about $90 a month.

Happy 100th birthday

Filed under: Newsworthy — olivander February 13, 2009 @ 11:31 am

…to Clark Nova, born Clarence Novotny on this day in 1909 in Antioch, KS. At age sixteen, Clarence made his first silent motion picture, “The Underachiever”, for Flixio. It was Flixio’s Stakhanovite brothers who convinced him to change his name to the more leading-man-esque Clark Nova. He quickly moved into the romantic lead role in a series of mildly successful films–all but three of which have since been lost–and navigated the transition from silents to “talkies” better than many of his colleagues.

Although regularly deluged with mail from adoring female fans, Nova found less success in his personal life. Three marriages failed in rapid succession, and rumors that Nova was a “limp wrist” began to circulate in the entertainment tabloids despite the bevy of beautiful young women who came and went from his Beverly Hills home. “The girls circulated through that house like a faucet,” sniffed third wife Florence Vidor years later.

Following his final divorce in 1944, drinking and no-shows became a problem. His violent, drunken outbursts on the set and generally boorish behavior cost him several roles and gave him a reputation among studio execs as an actor to avoid. To make ends meet, he turned to writing for radio dramas, occasionally taking small, often uncredited parts in them as well.

His last performance was on March 24, 1952, in a small role in the Lux Radio Theater production of “Come to the Stable” that in a twist of fate reunited him with “Underachiever” co-star Loretta Young.

On August 14, 1952, Clark Nova was found dead from a single gunshot in his Oceanside apartment. Although the scene appeared to be suicide, no fingerprints were found on the weapon–a .38 Smith & Wesson which also had its serial number filed off. A subsequent investigation found that Nova’s death had probably been a mob hit, most likely revenge for Nova’s highly public outings with a mistress of crime boss Nunzi Spadafora. Spadafora underling Leslie “Bugeye” Rizzoli was eventually indicted but never convicted for the crime. Rizolli went to the electric chair for an unrelated crime in 1959, leaving Clark Nova’s death a decades-long subject for aficionados of unsolved Hollywood murders.

In 1992, Nova’s diaries turned up in a briefcase full of documents at a yard sale in Santa Barbara. In entried tainted with dispair and self-loathing, they revealed a tormented soul, popular but unsuccessful with the ladies, who harbored repressed homosexual urges. His death came only weeks after an entry confessing a sexual encounter with a young man who mowed his lawn, leading many to speculate that his death had been a suicide after all.

Somewhat perversely, Clark Nova is remembered today mostly in the form of the literary allusion he inspired: the talking asshole bug-typewriter in William S. Burroughs’ novel “Naked Lunch”.

Home remodeling blues

Filed under: Errata — olivander February 12, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

So much for the awesome hardwood I had hoped was underneath the dining room carpet.

And in the hallway.

I shudder to think what we’re going to find when we eventually take up the dog-poop-brown carpet in the living room. Maybe it will be so horrifyingly retro that it will be fashionable again. That’s sort of the strategy I’m going for with the stairway carpet in the top photo.

PS: my cat is a camera whore.

You Need This: TV Stands

Filed under: Finds — olivander February 6, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

Spurred by both the need to downsize a bit and our sense of duty to stimulate the economy, we sold our massive old entertainment center and are in the market for a new TV stand. The old nightstand that the TV now sits on functions well enough, but is a bit topheavy (not a good thing with a toddler running around). So we went shopping for a new TV stand. However, we want something that fits with our midcentury sensibilities, not an easy thing in this mission/prairie/craftsman age. Here are a few interesting items we came across, though most are not in the running for cost reasons.

The Predicta

Oh, my gawd, check out this beauty! Telstar Electronics has a whole line of atomic-inspired, custom-built televisions. The only drawbacks (besides price) are that the screens are CRT tubes and not HD, and the largest is 24″. Still, this would look so very, very cool in your sunken den.

The Kurve

From England comes this beauty that’s just begging for you to run your hands along its suede finish. It’s not yet available, and I’m sure that by the time it is I still won’t be able to afford the overseas shipping.

The Audra

This is perfect if your tastes lean toward ’60s/’70s Danish modern. This is the one, in fact, that we had picked out, but it seems to have been discontinued, despite what Home Decorators’ web site says.

The Wharfside

Speaking of Danish modern, UK furniture makers Wharfside make this gorgeous stand with sliding tambourine doors. Downside: I have a slight problem with buying a TV stand that costs 3 times the television that’s going to be sitting on it.

The Swedx

Again, from Europe (maybe we ought to just move there). This all-wood television suite really wouldn’t fit in any way with our living room, but it’s pretty nifty, nonetheless.

The Atlas A4

Impressive, but, uh, we just unloaded a wall-sized unit, and I’m pretty sure our old plaster-and-lathe walls are not going to support that.

The Wilkerson

If you really want to go down Retro Road, and have the cash to spare, have Wilkerson Furnituremakers custom-craft this extremely throwback cabinet around your flat-panel. Hope you don’t have a TiVo box or anything like that.

I suspect that unless there is a drastic drop in the prices of these high-end products, my best bet will probably be to find an old turntable console at the thrift store, gut it, and convert it for living room AV use.

Desperate Man Blues

Filed under: AV Club, Diversions — olivander February 3, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

Here is an absolutely terrific documentary about music collector Joe Bussard. Over 50 years of trekking back roads and knocking on doors in search of records, Joe has amassed an amazing collection of over 25,000 78rpm recordings of early American music. Even more infectious than the great musical rarities in his collection is Joe’s own enthusiasm for the music he so obviously loves.

This is Part One. The 55-min documentary is available in its entirety for one week only at pitchfork.tv. You can also purchase the DVD at Dust-to-Digital.

Update: Oops. It looks like the video is already gone!