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!


  1. Something strange happens when one goes out and gets a typewriter and starts using it. It then calls out in the middle of the night while the typist sleeps and all the other typewriters start haunting the typist and he must go and gather more to save them from the keychoppers.

    You have a nice start with some very nice looking typewriters. I think if you read some of the early psots from the Typosphere most all of us started with just one because we wanted to type.

  2. I think we should add a postscript to the Second Amendment defending the right to bear typewriters. Then you'd feel OK about your collection! :)