Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, December 11, 2008

typewriting

There's a nice post by Sarah Hatter at the 37signals blog about the lovely design of an old Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter. This reminds me of my early typewriting history. My first typewriter, which I bought at a used typewriter shop, was a huge, heavy, ugly, early-model IBM Selectric — it looked pretty much like this. Every keystroke made a deafening racket, like a gunshot, and once, when I had thoughtlessly put a portable TV on the desk next to it, I hit the return key and the returning platen smashed into the back of the TV, knocking a hole in the case, breaking the CRT, and sending the already-ruined machine crashing to the floor.

So, risking a hernia, I packed up the Selectric and took it back to the shop and traded it in for one of these. What a beautiful machine. Everything I wrote from my senior year in high school through my last class in graduate school I wrote on that Smith-Corona. Its distinctive typeface became as much a part of my identity as a writer as my own handwriting, maybe more so. I could never throw it away or sell it — it’s still in its original case in my basement. As soon as I get back home I’m going to take it out and pet it for a while.

But once I started work on a dissertation the dear old Smith-Corona was no longer practical, so I bought one of these, thereby trading in one kind of beauty for another. It was a pretty good trade.