Thursday, October 17, 2013


Catalog that arrived today offers an authentic  vintage electronic typewriter.  Good grief!  That’s what they call vintage?  Even from here I can see a correction key that automatically erases typos.  I’ll bet it even has a key for the numeral 1.  And I’ll bet one gets to the start of the next line by pressing a button.
     Let me tell you about vintage typewriters.  In 1939 I had to spend a year in the hospital flat on my back, not even allowed to sit up in bed to eat.  Daddy brought me a headphone radio but they made him take it back, “sorry, the rule is no radios on the wards.”  So his reaction was to buy me a portable typewriter, and to build a stand that would hold an open book over my pillow (heavy elastic straps).  The typewriter I got to see only once when he brought it on a visit, but what he left behind was a typing textbook.  I spent the next twelve months practicing on the bedspread – left hand a s d f g, cat fat rat.  When I finally came home, I could touch-type 60 words a minute.
     That Royal portable had no key for the numeral 1 – you used the lower-case L.  I could swear it didn’t have a zero either, with a capital O being used, but there does seem to be a zero here.  Faulty memory.  What does look exactly right, at any rate, is this heavy wooden case.  And the space bar, just waiting for a smart whack with the flat of the left hand.  Leroy Anderson got it right in his "Typewriter Song", though I can’t remember just where the bell came in – at the end of every line?  At the start of every new line?
     Having a typewriter was pretty classy in high school back in the 1940s – a few rich kids had fountain pens, but hardy anyone else had a typewriter.  When I got my first reporting job --at 18--the editor gave me a desk but I had to bring  my own machine -- new ones unavailable with the War on.  Maybe the editor hired me just because I had a typewriter.  And then when I enrolled in freshman journalism at Syracuse, we were told at the first class session that no handwritten work would be accepted.  Hard and fast rule, everything had to be typed.  You should have heard the protests!  Not to worry, we were told, --those who don't have typewriters (War still on) can use the typing lab on the first floor. And four years from now, you can't graduate with a degree in journalism unless you've passed the typing test (40 wpm.)
     What ever happened to that Royal?  I know just when I turned my back on it – 1960.  I was substitute teaching, came in for the high school business ed teacher and saw, in the typing room, that the whole left-hand row of desks had electric typewriters!  I'd never seen one before.  What a momentI’d just sold an article to McCall’s (remember McCalls?) about how our son Dov was born at home.  Biggest magazine check I’d ever received -- $500.  First things I bought with it were a typing desk, a whole ream of typing paper (long-time ambition -- you wouldn’t believe how expensive paper used to be) and – an electric portable.  Never looked back.
     These days I’m possessed by this strong urge to divest, getting rid of stuff right and left, and yet –
while I was searching for the right picture on Ebay, I found myself yearning to see that typewriter yet again, just to touch its keys.  I’ve started bidding on Ebay Royals.  My first one cost Daddy three weeks’ salary. Of course they're nowhere near the same dollars now, but the price seems to run about that same amount for these vintage machines.
Nobody on Ebay ever uses the words old or used.


  1. The bell came at the end of a line and told you to push the roller back to the left.

  2. I was reminded of the "substitute lowercase L for numeral 1" convention recently in working on the manuscript I just sent back to NYC. The author is a man I'd guess to be in his mid- to late 70s, and although he was pretty good about using 1 most of the time, every so often an l would creep in. In duty bound, I crept it right back out again, but it was a blast from the past.

  3. Reminds me of my mother's, from her college years. But I think it was a different brand. What could it have been?

  4. Well thanks. Now I have that damn Leroy Anderson melody stuck in my head, bells and all...

  5. You may call it a 'space bar', but it is a 'carriage return' lever, albeit it also rolls the paper up to the next line. The carriage disappeared with the Selectric, and the key became 'return', and now 'enter', on my computer keyboard.