There is hope for civilization. The typewriter is staging a comeback, minor though it may be. All good things return. Computers can’t do everything!
Any gain in the popularity of typewriters warms my heart because I love typewriters. My big old Royal standard typewriter sits unused atop my bookcase. It has been with me at least a half-century, but its workings are jammed because little school kids, who regularly visit my office, ask, “What is that?” and poke the home row of keys “FDSA” and “JKL;” until they get all jammed up.
Nevertheless, my old Royal is a wonderful machine, reminding me of a recent Pepper and Salt cartoon in the Wall Street Journal of a salesman in a computer store, surrounded by electronic gadgets and customers who are awed by a typewriter in front of them. The glib-look salesman is making a pitch to sell the typewriter:
“It simultaneously processes and prints text and never crashes. There is a tactile sense, the power of your own finger producing each word on paper. Plus, a bell rings at the end of each line.”
Where this is headed is that I wondered how to get my beloved Royal running again. There are two listings in the phone book under “Typewriters.” One of the places is closed; the other is Merl’s in Milan, said to be the only local place that fixes and sells typewriters.
“Oh, yes, we repair and deal in typewriters,” said Wayne Mallette, a cheery voice on the phone at Merl’s. He said he had 15 reconditioned typewriters for sale — at $40 or $50 — at this moment. Merl’s sells three or four a week.
This was a surprise because I was about to moan to him about the demise of the typewriter.
“Oh, no, typewriters are coming back,” Mallette said. “There are some things that computers can’t do, for instance, like doing certain forms.”
Says Del Steiert, owner of the business, “We must have sold 20 new typewriters to Modern Woodmen in the last year or so, and that many to Blackhawk Bank and Trust.”
A new Japanese-made Nakajima typewriter can cost $460 to $600. One is advertised to make 80,000 spelling checks. Still, the new typewriters make clicking noises and have a bell that dings when you reach the end of the line. You put paper in them, too.
Now, you’re thinking that with a modicum of new interest in typewriters, your old Underwood is worth a fortune. It isn’t. You might even have trouble giving it away. I know, because I tried to give my mother-in-law’s old IBM Selectric to a church resale shop. They turned it down. You might get an old one for $4 or $5 at a resale store. It may or may not work.
Most people have turned to computers. But they can’t part with their old typewriters with ribbons that don’t like to automatically reverse. They think of their typewriters as old friends because many tapped out their personal lives and hopes on them. Their typewriters have been in the attic for years, storing forgotten memories.
“Some just can’t part with their old typewriters, even though they are a mess with sticking keys. I wouldn’t be surprised if we haven’t found mice nests,” says Mallette.
For some, collecting old typewriters — particularly portables — is a hobby. Julie Bechtel, publisher of the Quad-City Times, has four portables perched around her office. “But that is enough of them,” she says.
In our garage is my first-owned portable, a thin Smith-Corona. Along with two heavy barracks bags, I carried that portable and my cornet when I went into the service because I was certain that I would end up as a war correspondent like Andy Rooney with Stars and Stripes, or a musician in a service band.
I didn’t make either.
Contact Bill Wundram at (563) 383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.