In Praise of Typewriters (What's That?)


Image from Christie's: Cormac McCarthy's Olivetti

Maybe a blogger shouldn't be extolling the virtues of a typewriter, but there is a lot to be said. Such as how environmental they are... Yes, they do use paper.... but that's it. They last forever; they are pretty simple and straightforward in their composition. There are few fiddly parts to be endlessly upgraded. The manual ones require physical prowess to make that satisfying return of the carriage. Some, like the Olivetti, have become design icons.

Not to mention that quite a few famous writers have made their reputations on their typewriters. And now several of them have just been sold in auction for some very pretty prices. Cormac McCarthy's Olivetti, the Lettera 32, went for $254,500.

There is history to these machines. McCarthy bought it at a pawn shop in Knoxville for $50 in 1958 and .typed everything on it until 2009. He said: "I typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not yet published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of fifty years..."


Image from flavorwire: Douglas Adams' Hermes Standard 8

For those followers of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, Douglas Adams' manual Hermes Standard 8 typewriter sold for $25,257.94. Oddly enough, the x key was particularly discoloured (is there a PhD thesis there somewhere...). To add veracity, there was an "End Apartheid" sticker on the side which definitely date it as late '70's.


Image from flavorwire: John Updike's Olympia plus stand

John Updike used an Olympia "electric 65c", bought in 1968. It was in his family until this June when they finally got rid of it. The last typewriter ribbon Updike used was still on it. Traces taken from it show the last things typed, including a letter to his secretary/typist saying that he would no longer need her services, because he had purchased a word processor. It went for $4,375. His daughter donated half the proceeds to the New York Public Library.


Image from flavorwire: Ian Fleming's Royal

Goldfingerrrrrrr....actually it was Casino Royale that was written on this gold-plated Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter by Ian Fleming. He commissioned it in 1952 to write the famous James Bond thriller. It is the all-time best seller, having been sold for a cool £56,250 to Pierce Brosnan.


Image from new york: Jack Kerouac's Hermes 3000

For all of you aging hipsters, here's one for the road: Jack Kerouac's typewriter at the time of his death. According to a receipt found in his papers, he apparently dropped this typewriter and brought it to be fixed for $22.83. It is still in working order.


Image from new york: Kerouac's Knapsack

And touchingly, here is his knapsack which he bought from a NYC U.S. Army surplus store in 1961. According to Kerouac's journal, "went to NY on the 12th of January...miraculously found brand new duckdown sleeping bag & new rucksack & bought em (Army Navy store) then went & met Allen [Ginsberg], [Robert] Donlin, & Timothy Leery [sic] & had the holy mushrooms ... wherein I not only understood everything but remembered everything & Allen was amazed..."

Tags: Artists | Books | Preservation

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