Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holiday Help

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

I, for one, had a great time seeing the family and eating all of those delicious things that I hadn't eaten since last year.

My grandmother came to visit from Springfield, a real occasion, since we're usually the ones traveling to dinner, not hosting.

She found a recipe for crab cakes and wanted a copy for her cookbook.

Of course I helped.

Royal KMM earns its keep.
I'm so glad I didn't get rid of her.

Power to the pen!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My First Day of Freedom With a Quiet-Riter

The keyboard was the only part that needed serious cleaning.
As I suspected, the carriage wasn't broken, just locked. 

This label is in great shape. I credit the locking system in the carry case, which hooks underneath the frame.

Phone number?

The only problem I couldn't immediately fix.

I wrote the typecast last night. This morning I went to the local hardware store. They were able to get me a screw. Turns out, the platen knob shaft uses a metric screw (4mm) and it uses a special Alan wrench, so I bought that too. While I was there, I nabbed some Gorilla Glue. The plastic knobs for the ribbon color selector and the ribbon reverse were prone to fall off, so I stuck them back on with a drop each.

All supplies, including tax: $4

The space bar was hitting the bottom of the carry case because I hadn't put the machine in correctly. It's a little tricky to get the hooks lined up, but once it's locked in, it's solid.

Keyboard after two treatments with Windex. Not perfect, but a great improvement.

All fixed up! No problems what so ever!

Although I've only typed two pages with this machine, I can tell we're going to get along just fine. The keys are perfect for my small, thin fingers. With my SM9, I'm always worried that I'll press two keys at once unless I use a perfect arched angle.

As for the touch control, I like the idea of only three settings with noticeable differences. With other machines you have a graded scale from 0-6 or no numbers at all. Whose touch is so sensitive that they can feel the difference between 1 and 2? I guess they're out there.

I'm very thankful that I was able to snatch this up when I had the chance (God blessed me with a wonderful mother). It's no wonder Remington sold these by the truckload! They're great machines! It's a keeper, and the commercial was right: I have an urge myself.

And speaking of things to keep, I received a letter from The Funny Times, a humor magazine I'd submitted to in September.

The Funny Times is old school! You have to submit via snail mail.
When I send them another batch of stories, I'll be sure to ask what typewriter they used for my envelope.

For those of you who don't write, let me explain this letter's significance.

When submitting fiction, you usually get one of four possible outcomes:

1) No
2) No, but good stuff.
3) We'll take it!
4) No reply

Since there are more people writing fiction and trying to get it published than ever before, most editors and agents do not take the time to write personal replies to rejected material. Form letters are common (and some editors will give no reply at all). In the old days, they were called "rejection slips" because, literally, all you'd get is a tiny piece of paper with one or two sentences.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King said that he had stacks and stacks of these on paper spikes all over his room as a teen. In my own experience, with most major companies and magazines going digital, printed rejections are as rare as hard copy submissions.

The letter above is an example of option #2. As you can see, the editor liked my stuff, but for whatever reason, wasn't able to find a place for in their most recent publication. However, the fact that she took the time to hand-write my name, sign it with her name, and add a nice compliment, shows that my work made an impression on her.

Perhaps, perhaps, I am that much closer to getting accepted? Only one way to find out.

So, not only was this a great encouragement, but I'm going to hold on to this little gem. It's a bit of historic typewriter interpretation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Review: The Sun Also Rises

When I was a boy, the only thing I knew about Hemingway was that he'd written a book called The Old Man and the Sea. Everyone in my class hated it, but I never got to read it. We were stuck on The Scarlet Letter year after year (it was a small school).

When I first started writing, I wasn't interested in "literary" fiction. I was all about fantasy tales and epic adventures. I didn't want to read about anything set in "the real world."

But as I've grown older, I've developed a lot of respect for writers who made their name with stories in the real world, because that's where I am now and it matters. I've read Mistborn, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, etc. But no matter where I went, no matter who I talked to, somebody kept mentioning that one, lyrical name.


I'd seen a few documentaries on his life and had a good idea about the basic concept of his most famous works. Short, snappy sentences. Macho image. After finishing The Fortunate Pilgrim, I went to the local used book store and grabbed the only Hemingway titles they had.

And since it's always a good idea to begin at the beginning, I started with The Sun Also Rises.

This review won't go into a lot of detail, since the book was a huge success and I'm only eighty-eight years late to the party.

The book tells the story of a group of expatriates roaming around Paris and Spain. They spend nearly every free moment drinking lots of liquor (and I do mean a lot) and bickering amongst themselves. 

Ok, that's only one way to read it.

The real story is about a group of friends who belong to the so-called "Lost Generation." I didn't know what the plot was before opening the book (though I was tempted to cheat), but by page fifty, I suspected something was going on under the surface. 

If I had read this as a kid, it wouldn't have made any sense. But being twenty-five, I've seen enough awkward conversations to recognize the signs. 

These people are restless, full of wanderlust, and running from something. Each one bitterly clings to a vision of reality that they can't have, whether it's a woman's love, the respect of men, or an understanding of how the world works. 

The Sun Also Rises didn't hit me as hard as it hit the people who lived through the Great War and were in the middle of the Roaring Twenties. One article I read claimed that the book could have only been written in 1925, the perfect interim of the interim war years. WWI was far enough in the past to merit reflection, but the Great Depression was still a ways off.

I finished the book in less than two days. Some of the foreign words were tough to work through, and after reading so many King novels, it wasn't easy having to pay attention so that I could get the maximum benefit. 

The novel is a classic example of Hemingway's infamous "iceberg" theory, keeping the meat of the story underneath the printed words (with very few exceptions). It's not till about page 150 when two of the men actually come to blows, so if you didn't pick up on the tension before hand, it comes out of nowhere.

I'm glad I finally snatched a copy and look forward to reading more of Hemingway's work. With luck, it'll help me improve my own stuff, though I'll probably never hold a candle flame to one of the greats.

Power to the pen!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pass the Salt!

Been on a kind of blogging blitz lately. Getting some material up before the Thanksgiving holiday. My news feed on Facebook rarely produces anything worth looking at, but today is the exception!

Digital technology can, if unchecked, lead to addictive behavior. I'm not a scientist, but I speak from experience when I tell you that all you've got to do is take a glance around your average American town to see how people are glued to their phones.

As a result, ever so often, I'll see a new link to an "etiquette" campaign designed to encourage people to be more respectful and get off the phone and interact with real people. Most of them just show how much time the average person spends on their smart phone (curious, since I'd wager that tablets and computers are just as bad).

But this video takes it to a whole new level.

Good 'ol Smith Corona. Makes me want to bang out a few pages on "The Chief" when I get home.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: The Fortunate Pilgrim

If you've never heard of this book, then don't be ashamed. After The Godfather became a best-seller and the movie with Marlon Brando became a cultural mega-hit, nobody remembered this book. It was Puzo's first, and it's very different from the writings that made him famous.

The story is about a family of Italian immigrants, the Corbos, living on Tenth Avenue in New York City. The novel itself begins in the year 1928. The family is controlled by Lucia Santa, a dominant mother who sailed over many years ago with her late-husband. She depends on her two eldest children, Larry and Octavia, for monetary support while their father, Lucia's second husband, is away.

Puzo's literary technique is great. He uses a cinematic approach to give us a brief glimpse of each character and the world they live in. It's wonderful for two reasons: it gives a portrait of the historical context and sets up the human drama nicely.

There's no real plot in this book. The story is about survival. Everything the Corbos do is about making it through another day, no matter what the world dishes out. And it dishes out plenty. The father, Frank, is abusive and cruel. He suffers a psychotic breakdown and is confined to an insane asylum where he later dies. On top of that, Lucia's kids are being corrupted by American values (so she thinks). Larry is a hard worker who brings the bread, but he's a carefree playboy that has multiple sexual relationships with women in the neighborhood (and it doesn't stop, even after he gets married). Octavia is critical of her mother's decisions and makes her jealous by being literate. Gino, another son, is defiant and fights authority whenever it tries to spoil his fun.

Puzo said that he considered Fortunate Pilgrim his greatest work. I haven't read The Godfather yet, but this novel was outstanding. The book instilled a new sense of wonder and respect for the thousands of people who came here and labored in a country where foreigners were despised and discriminated against. But they survived. Puzo is also very good with his descriptions of the city. New York in 1928 is a dirty, smelly, polluted, dangerous place. Railway engines cruise through the middle of town, and your only warning is some guy on a horse waving a red lantern. There's soot in the air and not enough heat in winter.

Iz nasty!

But the real stroke of writing brilliance is the focus on the day-to-day. That's the feel of this book. The novel takes place over the course of twenty years, but you don't know it until the end. Time has no place in the characters' thoughts. In fact, "1928" is the only number printed in the text. The only way you know about the Great Depression is when Gino finds a friend sobbing over his lost savings account. The only time you know it's 1941 is when Larry just happens to turn on the radio and hears about Pearl Harbor. For migrant workers, nothing else mattered except staying alive for just one more day. There was no point in looking too far ahead.

Another theme is the conflict of old traditions vs new, strange customs. None of the Italians mention Benito Mussolini, who took power in Rome in 1922. Whenever a character like Lucia Santa reminisces, her memories go back much farther to a time of robber barons, landlords, and a formal aristocracy. She has a hard time reconciling the fact that even though her kids aren't always proper, America offers them more opportunity than Italy could ever dream of.

As one character says to Larry, "America. It could make one believe in Jesus Christ."

Eventually, the family scrapes enough money together to move to Long Island. The title of the book is revealed in the last few pages. Lucia has lost two husbands and one son, and she's suffered a lot in her time. However, she's survived, and compared to others, she came out with minimal losses. She is indeed, a fortunate pilgrim.

This was a novel that I had to pay attention to each word, because Puzo doesn't use clear cut scene transitions. In fact, his narrator is omniscient, constantly zipping back and forth through people's heads and then panning way out to say, "And that's just how it was."

But that doesn't mean the novel was boring. Check it out for yourself.

Power to the pen!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Book Review: Chesapeake

Thinking about school so much for so long has put the hurt on my creative juices. I thought it'd be fun to do a few book reviews.

First up, Chesapeake by James A. Michener.

Question: what's the best way to hunt a congregation of ducks from a boat?

Answer: slavery is evil!

Don't get it? You will.

James Michener is one of my all-time favorite novelists, best known for what Wikipedia defines as "geographic historical fiction." In other words, Michener picks an area and shows all of the human and environmental factors that made it unique. He's best known for his debut novel Tales of the South Pacific, which got turned into a Broadway musical. While Centennial is often considered his best work (and my favorite of all his books thus far), it's been a while since I read it, so we're looking at the one I recently finished.

Michener always gave his works blatantly obvious titles. You know exactly what you're in for when you pick up the book. Or do you?

Chesapeake is the story of the Chesapeake Bay and the people from the surrounding states. The novel covers a large chunk of time, approximately 1530-1978. Being one of his family sagas, the reader comes to know people from the Choptank Indians, Quakers, farmers, African slaves, and sailors (including pirates!).

There are three families that drive most of the conflict in Chesapeake: The Steeds, Turlocks, and Paxmores.

The Steeds are the well-to-do plantation owners and represent the upper crust of society. They dominate affairs from their mansion on Devon Island for generations until the Civil War. In the aftermath, they fight to hold onto the memory of a bygone era.

The Turlocks are uncouth backwoodsmen who have a knack for survival. Masters of the sail, they hit the high seas to make a name for themselves and reap their fortunes. Their cunning and grit are their greatest assets. They hardly change from one generation to the next.

The Paxmores are Quakers, always defying the social norms. When they're not getting kicked out of Maryland for protesting the public punishment of women, they're helping runaway slaves get to Pennsylvania. They would rather suffer the contempt of all mankind than betray their convictions, but occasionally they take time to build really good ships (so long as you promise not to do anything immoral with it).

Like most of Michener's work, the book does not follow a single overarching plot. Each chapter, or "voyage," highlights the struggles of a particular generation. If you're well-read in American history, you'll see plenty of things on the horizon, but get a close look at them from a different perspective. And, like most of Michener's novels, you get to see some of America's legendary characters, like John Smith, George Washington, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. Even John James Audubon gets a shout-out (though he isn't named in the text).

The first half of the book is good. You learn about the Indians and how they dealt with the coming of the white man. If you don't know anything about Quakers, this book will teach you how they got started and some of their most important beliefs. You learn about the migration pattern of Canadian geese. You even get a chapter on how the Atlantic slave trade continued even after it was banned in Britain and America.

But the Quakers ended up being one of the things that almost ruined this book for me.

Michener's work is great because it shows how things changed. In the Chesapeake area, they didn't change as much, and that's fine. However, Michener puts an unusual amount of importance on the Quakers. Despite the fact that several of the characters go off to fight in the Civil War, we don't see them fighting. That part happens "off camera."

What we do get is chapter after chapter about the Quakers agitating against slavery and promoting equal rights. This wasn't a bad thing, at first. It helped establish the Paxmore family. I was captivated by the part about a group of slaves going north in a daring bid for freedom. It was a detailed account of the Underground Railroad. I enjoyed watching the Quakers debate with their neighbors (including the religious ones) about the Bible (being a Christian myself, I've wondered how so many of the faithful could tolerate and promote such wickedness).

But Michener thought he had to write about them in every section. So, from their arrival in the 1600s to 1978, there's a chapter going back to slavery and race relations. And these chapters are long, like 100 pages long!

There came a point when I said, "Ok, I get it! The Paxmores don't like slavery and are doing whatever they can to sabotage it. There has to be something else going on somewhere!"

After giving it some thought, the only explanation I can think of is that Michener was trying to communicate how slavery was the hot-button issue of all people pre-1861. No matter where you were, all politics eventually came back to slavery. It was in your face day in and day out. Characters in the book get sick and tired of talking about it. But when you've got 1000+ pages of narrative, does it really merit that much attention?

And speaking of 1,000 pages, I think that's one of Chesapeake's biggest weaknesses. The original publication in 1978 was cut by 300 pages to save binding costs, and the latter section was released as its own title, The Watermen.

Honestly, I didn't like it. Too much of the same. Racism. Duck hunting. Ship-building. Bleh.

Not only that, but Michener decided to introduce a whole new cast of characters in the last 100 pages.

At this point, I just threw up my hands and said "I. Don't. Care."

After 950+ pages of text, centuries of following these people, you can't fling a new bunch of characters and expect me, the reader, to care. You haven't established these people from their childhood. To me, they're not part of the families. They just appear. All of the original characters die "off screen." You're asking me to start over.

Several reviews on Amazon have compared Chesapeake to Centennial in terms of structure and flow. I think the latter book is superior in every way, and one reason is that the cast of characters is much much smaller. You don't need a legal pad to take notes on who people are and their relationship to one another. All of the natural and scientific stuff that Michener researched is carefully woven into a human story to show what it was like to be alive, and it works.

So, when a chapter of Watermen pulled me away from the human drama to talk about coastal erosion patterns, I did something I rarely do when reading a novel: I skipped.

Yes, I skipped to the very last chapter (four pages of text). To my surprise, the ending was pretty good. Devon Island is eroded to such a degree that is collapses and sinks into the bay, thus showing the great circle of life. Dust in the wind, that sort of thing. I think the novel would have worked better if Michener had tacked that onto the ending and cut the rest of Watermen.

If you've never read any of Michener's work, I wouldn't recommend Chesapeake. Start with something a bit shorter and work your way up.

Don't get me wrong, it's a great novel, but far from his best. After the Civil War, the story kind stalls and I found myself thinking, "Ok...and?"

My father is the person who originally got me reading Michener. Alaska was his favorite, so maybe I'll read that next.

Power to the pen!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Sun Also Rises. No, Really.

After sleeping on the issue and looking back at my previous post, I feel a little silly. I'd like to thank those of you who commented on it. 

What I think happened is this: from the spring of his year, I've been going about 100 miles per hour. If it wasn't school, it was a job or my two internships and a term paper. With my exams the only thing standing between me and graduation, I was able to slow down. Then, the waves I'd left behind crashed all over me. To make matters worse, I found an email I'd saved from my late grandfather, which brought back a torrent of emotion.

I'm still mulling the typewriter question, but I don't think I'll be selling quite as many as I previously stated. I really do like the KMM and should give the Underwood a fair chance once I can get it repaired. I tried typing on the Signet, but didn't care for the way it felt. 

To get my mind off these things, I went to the local used book store and finally got my hands on not one, but three Ernest Hemingway novels: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell To Arms, and Islands in the Stream. They did not have For Whom the Bell Tolls or The Old Man and the Sea. I also nabbed a copy of Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a 1st printing copy of the first Bond novel, Casino Royale.

I'm reading Hemingway now, after finishing Mario Puzo's The Fortunate Pilgrim. The book is a 1954 Scribner reprint, and once belonged to a "David Collette," as evidenced by the proliferation of stamps on the spin and inside covers.

Mr. Collette was apparently dissatisfied with the cover art, and decided to give the title a bit more literal significance.

I'm only fifty pages into the story, but I like Hemingway's style. I've read some of his shorts before, but this is my first novel. It's different that Puzo, who writes very literal and matter-of-factly in one scene and then wields a camera panning in and out of everyone's head in the next. 

I've only been to Paris once, and I am not too acquainted with French culture. Some of the references will probably escape me, as they may have been common knowledge at the time.

A strange thing has happened. I'm finding myself drawn to the idea of writing a contemporary novel. I look back on what's happened in the last two years and I see something very wrong, something that needs to be examined. I won't be able to work on it full-time until after graduation, but the concept is starting to form. 

I've never been one for photography, but I'm glad I snapped this picture of my early Christmas gift.

I can't remember the last time we got this much snow so early in the winter. I'm used to temperate, or downright tropical Novembers. Snow doesn't come until February! And we got six inches! 

It was a beautiful sight indeed.

Power to the pen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Little Soul-Seraching

I've been having a heart-to-heart with myself.

It occurred to me last night that I have ten typewriters. While this pales in comparison to most of the seasoned collectors who read this blog, I'm starting to feel a bit cluttered.

When I made the switch to manual typewriters about a year and a half ago, I did it for one reason: to write. I hated using my laptop for fiction, something you can read about here. I was ecstatic when I completed a 96,000 word novel in October 2012 after only fifty days with my Remington Rand Model 1. But then I bought a second, and a third, and so on. Why? Because.

The same exact thing happened with my firearms collection. I wanted a rifle for hunting, a shotgun, and a pistol for home defense. Now I have a safe full of various makes and models, many of which haven't been fired in years. For some reason, I'm ok with having lots of guns. It's easier for me to justify it based on the gun-grabbing tendencies of our politicians and they have considerable economic value. I've never felt bad about having so many guns, since they're secured in one place. I'm content in my mechanical knowledge of these machines and most of the people I interact with are of impeccable character.

I think I'm facing the same conflict with my typewriters. The collector/enthusiast persona is slowly taking over the writer.

Back in the old days, most people, especially professional writers, would have one or two machines at the very most. Ten? Unheard of. It was beyond the average person's financial capacity and just redundant for those who could afford them.

Look at this list.

See what I mean?

The only one on the list who comes close to what I've got is William S. Burroughs, and he's a unique character in every way.

The problem is that I'm a writer and a historian with a good deal of appreciation for how things changed between the past and the present. I went from three firearms to about twenty over the last seven or eight years. They all represent various aspects of human advancement, whether its the artistic flare of Damascus Steel, changes in military doctrine and theory as showcased by larger magazine capacities, or simply a good tool.

And I think that's what's bothering me. I've got too many tools for the job.

Let me use an analogy.

I drive a 2002 Malibu. It's got over 140,000 miles on it and a big dent in the hood from where I hit a deer. The dent has gotten bigger with time, but the car has run better than any vehicle I know. The only part I've had to replace is the fuel pump. I never have to worry about it being stolen because it was a salvage title and 2002 Malibus are everywhere.

I've bonded with that machine. It's my first car and the only car I've ever owned.

It's my car. I don't plan to get rid of it until it's dead.

The only typewriter I can honestly say that about is my RR Model 1. After finishing that 96,000 word manuscript, I put it away because there were mechanical problems that had to be fixed. In the meantime, I learned how other typewriters felt.

Here's another analogy. In the Old West, most people preferred shotguns over rifles and pistols. Why? Because you could do anything with a shotgun. Need to hunt quail? Load birdshot. Got bandits raiding the ranch? Load some #00 buck. See a dear? Rifled slugs. It was reliable, and the ammunition was both cheap and plentiful.

Typewriters are the same way. Why do I need multiple machines that can, at their core, do the same exact thing and were built to last a lifetime?

Along with my car, something else I've bonded with is my Marlin 336. It was the first rifle I ever bought as a wee lad of eighteen, and I've taken lots of deer with it. It's my rifle.

There's a good reason why I haven't purchased a firearm in a long time: I enjoy using them more than I do collecting. I enjoy hunting, target practice, self-defense training, etc. more than I do going to a gun show and throwing something else in the safe. They're tools.

And that's how I feel about typewriters now.

Some of you are probably confused. "What's this guy on? Just last week he couldn't buy them fast enough!"

True, I still like having more than one typewriter. As Christopher Watkins said:

When you sit down to write a song at the piano, you're going to write differently than if you have a banjo in your lap. And if one instrument isn't bringing the magic and the muse, maybe another will. Typewriters are the same; they make me write in a different fashion, and also provide an alternate trigger for inspiration. 

And as an electric guitar is different from an acoustic steel-string guitar is different from a nylon-string classical guitar is different from a national steel resonator guitar; so does each individual typewriter differ. My Underwood is different from my Royal is different from my Remington is different from my Corona is different from my Hermes. And if one isn't giving me the juice, another might.

But for me, at this moment, I can't and shouldn't be buying more.

Allow me to elaborate. I'm eight days away from finishing graduate school. After I get my degree, I'll need to find a full-time job. Hopefully, I can break into the professional writing world at some point, but on top of graduation, I'm getting married in March. At this point, I can't honestly justify buying more machines just because I want them.

So, I'm giving very serious consideration to downsizing my collection. No, I'm not ditching everything in favor of my RR Model 1, but there are some that I can't hold on to any longer. I'm going to be evaluating each one on a set of criteria:

- Why did I buy this machine?

- Do I enjoy using it?

- Is it valuable and in good condition?

- Would I regret selling it?

With these points in mind, here is my entire collection and the pros and cons of each:

1) Remington Rand Model 1

This is the first typewriter I ever bought. I wanted something with glossy black paint. It had to be serviced, but now works wonderfully (except for the bell, which is so old it won't ring clearly). There are other typers that perform better and are more comfortable, but I doubt I'll ever part with this one.

2) Olympia SM9

Bought this to replace my Remington De Luxe Model 5. I wanted a workhorse. It's in great condition. Haven't fully adjusted to the keyboard. There's something about it I can't quiet describe. Probably won't sell, but I need time to fully evaluate.

3) Tower President

Fourth typewriter I bought while I was waiting to repair the RR 1 and not happy with my RR DL 5. It was also my first antiquing trip with Courtney. It's a SC Sterling ripoff. It performs well and feels good. The keyboard is such where I can literally "peck" and get good imprints, unlike the SM9. But the keys do not go straight down, they glide at an angle. It has a dealership sticker, which is always nice.

4) Underwood Touchmaster Five

Third machine I bought. Why? I was in a bad mood and wanted something, my first desktop. This typer has a rock hard platen and an "R" type slug that is crooked that results in misprinted characters. It tears through paper. I'm probably going to let this one go. These are not hard to find.

5) Royal KMM

Bought this because I couldn't use the Touchmaster. Had a dealership sticker from Sedalia, where my grandmother was born, but it got lost when I took it to be serviced and the repairman couldn't find it (the photo above is several months old). The sticker was one of the main reasons why I bought it. The carriage is a little too wide for my taste but I do like the glass keys and it types well.

6) Japanese "Royal"

I bought this in Jefferson City during my first internship. I wanted to write and I didn't have any of my other machines. I had to replace the feet and the bits that hold down the ribbon spool cover. It types ok, but not my favorite portable. Haven't used it for anything serious in a long time, but I do like the margin release doubling as a de-jamming key.

7) Royal QDL aka "Vincent"

Got this on my trip to visit Courtney in Dallas. It's in great condition and types well, but I didn't have a chance to put it through heavy use before leaving. She's written me letters, and I can see why the QDL was so successful. My only question is whether or not I'd prefer the glass tombstone keys or the traditional, circular ones. This one's probably a keeper.

8) Royal FP

A recent find for $5. Bigger than the KMM and the keys are noticeably heavier, even on the lightest setting. It has a standard width carriage, but I wonder how long I could use this before my hands wore out. It was more bang for my buck: no major repairs needed, just a little cleaning and a new ribbon. It looks better than the KMM (as in, no big scratches on the ribbon spool cover). It also has a dealership sticker, which is a big plus in my book. Gives it distinction. Need more time to evaluate, but it doesn't seem to have the darn escapement problem that infected Royal machines until the post-war era.

9) SC Skyriter

Another impulse buy, but $7.50 was a great price. The hilarity that ensued taught me a lot about patience and thinking things through before acting. I like the features this ultra-portable has, and once I get it back together, I'm going to test it thoroughly. If I like it, I'll keep it as my travel typer. It looks great, has paper supports behind the tray, and the carry case gives me plenty of room to store things (unlike the Nakajima). Won't have a full opinion until I get a feel for the keyboard.

10) Remington Quiet-Riter

God bless my poor mother. I was so tore up about leaving this one behind that she went back to The Shed on my behalf, at my request, to get it for me. The carriage is, more than likely not broken. Someone probably locked it in place before selling it and the most I'll have to do is clean it up a touch. I'm anxious to see how it feels. But again, why did I get this? A case of want, not need. I thanked her profusely and will pay her for the machine when I go home, but this thing had better be as good as they say or I'm flipping it.

If I had to get rid of some of them right now, it'd be:

- Royal KMM (carriage too wide, too hard to set margins for manuscript format)
- Japanese "Royal" (served its purpose)
- Touchmaster Five (needs repairs beyond my skill)

The President and the Quiet-Riter will be duking it out. The Skyriter will be competing for a place on its own merit, once assembled.

So, potentially, I'm looking at cutting my collection by at least a third. I'd like your input. There's a poll on the right side of the page where you can vote, or just leave a comment if you prefer a detailed response.

I hope I've explained myself in a good, non-crazy way. This won't change anything. I know I can't be the only person who's gone through this kind of thing. I still enjoy reading about these wonderful machines and perusing antique stores, but it's time to synch the purse strings.

Power to the pen!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Top Five Most Commonly Found Typewriters

I'm in a strange twilight period. I'll be done with all of my graduate work by November 25, but with finals imminent, I can't take off a lot of time to do much else besides study.

For those of you who are following my Skyriter escapade, I've got something in the works. I left the machine behind before coming back to Missouri so I wouldn't get distracted. I can fix that typewriter any day, but a Master's degree? I don't have to elaborate on which one is more important to me right now.

My last antiquing trip (which produced a gorgeous Royal FP) got me thinking about collectors and enthusiasts in the States who don't have access to a lot of foreign machines, at least, not in my neck of the woods. Sure, they're out there. I've come across an Erika portable from the 20s, a few late century Olivetti's here and there. But the ratio of American-made machines versus foreign competition is lopsided. This isn't a big deal to me, since I am primarily interested in functional typers with English keyboards, regardless of make or model.

When you're looking for typewriters in the USA, antique stores are the most likely places to find them. People are always cashing in their aunt/grandmother's old machines. Many times, they keys are jammed and they just sit there like a contortionist caught in the middle of his act without music because the last person who tried it out didn't know how to un-jam them.

So, I thought it'd be fun to throw together a list of the Top Five Most Commonly Found Typewriters. This only applies to my experience, which is very limited compared to many distinguished veterans in the Insurgency.

At one point in history, the Big Four (Royal, Underwood, Smith-Corona, and Remington-Rand) produced the vast majority of typewriters for the world market. That changed after World War II, but even in death they dominate the used market.

With that in mind, here are a few models I've seen over and over again. If you're new to the collecting/typing scene, you'll see these many many times.

1. Royal Quiet De Luxe-pattern

A ridiculously over-priced post-war example.

Whether it's a pre-war model with glass keys or a modern variant, the Royal QDL is arguably one of the most iconic and prolific portables every made. It's no secret that this particular line profited from its association with Ernest Hemingway. I use the word pattern because, let's face it, the QDL is very similar to a number of other machines. It doesn't matter if you buy an Arrow, Companion, Senior Companion (not sure what's special about that one, but they do exist), or Aristocrat, you're getting a reliable, time-tested tool.

The price depends on year of construction and model. I bought Vincent, my 1949 QDL, for $75. I recently saw one in Paducah, a post-war model, priced at $100! By and large, pre-war models are worth more, as the glass keys were replaced with plastic ones by 1950, and the machines went from dark black/grey/brown color schemes to a more vibrant selection.

2. Smith-Corona Sterling/Super Series

These have been called "Smith-Corona at their prime," by other bloggers. "The workhorses of the 1950s." Based on my experiences with my Tower President (a close copy of the Super Silent), I have to agree. Like the Royal QDL, I keep seeing these machines everywhere, and it's not that uncommon to find one ready to go out of the box with little more than a ribbon change. The Sterling series includes a variety of machines, like the Super Sterling, the Clipper, and the Super Silent. They come loaded with features and have an outstanding touch to boot! Prices are usually a bit lower for these, not being particularly rare or famous. I'd recommend one to a new user in a heartbeat.

3. Remington Quiet-Riter

I watched this video on Youtube and now I can't get away from Jamie and her friend, the man in the grey suit.

By the time Remington introduced the Quiet-Riter, it was facing stiff competition from the likes of Royal, Olivetti, and just about everyone else. Ironic that the company which introduced the Sholes and Glidden would get elbowed by newcomers. But the Quiet-Riter was a best-seller, and so, you find them all over the place. I've been to every antique store in Cape Girardeau, MO and over half of them had one in stock.

I don't have any experience with these machines yet, but I've heard good things about them. You can find them in working condition for reasonable prices.

4. Underwood 5-pattern

The Model 5 Standard is one of the most reasily-recognized typewriters. Along with the Royal 10, it's made appearances in movies for over a century. I've seen a lot of Underwood 5s, but every Underwood standard after that was inspired by it. They kept the basic frame and design, but added a couple of tweaks as the decades passed.

Most of the derivatives I find don't even have a model name clearly visible. I seem to encounter more Underwood standards than Royals, Smiths, and even Remingtons. My Touchmaster Five is a direct descendent. The trademark feature is a margin bar that sits right up front, above the keyboard, instead of in the back near the paper tray.

Prices vary, but the original Model 5 is the most-coveted among collectors. I've seen many that looked good on the outside, but had broken draw bands or other problems I knew I wouldn't be able to fix.

5. Silver-Seiko/Nakajima

By the 1970s, most of the Big Four and other prominent typewriter companies had been bought out by the Japanese. A stream of models came into the USA bearing names like "Signet," which were a throwback to the original 1930s designs (but, as I recently came to find, the typewriter pictured is really copied from a Brother design.)

I put these two brands together because I'm not an expert at telling the difference. By all accounts, they're good machines. I still like my little Signet. They're the perfect economy typers, common enough to replace if something terrible happens, and reliable enough to crank out lots of paper.

So there you have it! Those are the five most common machines I see on my antiquing trips. If you'd like to nominate something to the list, feel free to leave a comment. I'm curious what others are finding out there!

I'd appreciate it if you keep me in mind over the next week and a half. Comprehensive finals are coming...

Power to the pen!

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Skyriter's the Limit...and I Ain't Off the Ground Yet

Saturday post! I'm going to be traveling Sunday, so I'm putting this up a day early for your enjoyment.

First, a cool video.

I don't know who these guys are, but they touched upon so many things in a short film without a word of dialogue. The comparison between typewriter and piano is beautifully done. I also appreciated how they hint at women's role in the office post-World War II. The typewriter gave them a skill by which they could claim a little independence, but they were dreaming of bigger things.

New business.

The only thing that I plan to replace.

This sealed the deal. I love dealership stickers!

It's because I didn't use a color photograph...

After visiting the doctor on Friday, Mother and I went to The Shed to spend some quality time. Saw a few pieces.

Studio 45 in perfect working order. $10

Remington Quiet Riter. Carriage is stuck for some reason. $9

Post-war QDL with a dealership sticker from Paducah! But no way was I gonna drop $100...

Against my intentions (and maybe my better judgement too) I came home with a 1961 Skyriter made in England.

For $7.95, I couldn't resist. I was thinking, "Hmm, fix it and flip it!" The only problems that I could see was a latch-less zipper on the case and a disconnected margin bar. Because of this, the bell didn't work properly.

So, with an online guide, I set to work.

Here's a list of what's wrong with it now:

- Space bar won't advance carriage
- Keys don't advance carriage
- Backspace kaput
- Shift kaput
- Type slugs do not make contact with platen because carriage is not properly seated
- Everything...

Ok, I did get the margin bar installed and the bell works. I was so proud of myself.

What I did not realize was how many things came undone while I was taking the frame off and removing the carriage.

Margin release bar screw.

Backspace screw. It is now stuck in place; won't screw in or out.
Not sure how I'm gonna fix this...

Left pivot screw, which you have to remove to remove carriage from the frame.

Right pivot screw.

Carriage after I "repaired" it.
In retrospect, I think I could have simply screwed the margin bar back onto the carriage without removing anything else. Since there are no specialized guides online, I just followed the first one I found.

So, after three hours and $7.95, I am now the proud owner of a 1961 Skyriter in pieces under my bed.

What I thought would be an easy first-time repair job turned into a disaster. The only silver lining at this  point is that nothing is truly broken, so I won't have to order parts. I'll just have to take the whole thing apart and try again.

A British typewriter that's in dire straights? I know the perfect name.


Help me...


The screw in question finally came out after much prying. The threads are stripped, so it'll have to be replaced. Hopefully, that's the only part I'll have to get.