Monday, April 12, 2010

Before Reaching QWERTY

I remember my first typewriter. It was a mechanical with one of those old-style ribbons. I went with my dad to buy it from some guy who had it in his garage (we read his ad in the newspaper). I wanted to be a writer, you see, and owning a typewriter somehow confirmed in my mind that I really was one. I was only a child, but my juvenilia was waiting to be read by publishers everywhere if only I could get it in presentable form (well, I thought so at the time). I had previously tried submitting stories and books that were hand written, and when those came back rejected, I asked Dad for a typewriter, dreams of famous authorhood dancing in my head.

There were still places to buy new electric typewriters in those days, but that used one thrilled me when I got my hands and, particularly, my fingers, on it. I even learned to touch type on it, but typing skills didn't help sell my masterpieces. I wrote a short novel about cats but all it got was a form rejection slip when it came back like a boomerang in it's SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope).

There were still typewriter repair shops around then, and I recall going to one to buy a new ribbon, as the old one was only producing very faded letters. I knew then that success would be mine, as naturally it was unprofessional to submit manuscripts that looked so poor and were hard to read.

But somehow I still managed to collect an entire walls worth of rejection slips. Eventually I went back to composing my literary works in longhand until finally one day receiving a brand new electric typewriter from Sears. It even had a spellchecker! And no more white-out, it had a correction ribbon too! What amazing technology! I would soon be sitting back in my mansion collecting royalties and buying new cars by the gross. I would apply for liberated status and drive around town in my new Camaro, buying cigarettes and Playboy magazines (for some reason I equated adulthood with smokes and cheesecake).

My fantasy failed to materialize, even with stories and novels I wrote that were inspired by Ray Bradbury, Watership Down, and The Lord of the Rings making the publisher slush pile rounds.

I don't know what happened to those typewriters, guess they eventually were thrown out or given to Goodwill, but I wish I had the old mechanical now. It had a lot of youthful enthusiasm for the written word attached to its sticky keys.

The QWERTY keyboard setup is pretty familiar to us today, but before it became the standard for English-language keyboards there were plenty of other layouts that never quite caught on. Old typewriters often feature bizarre mechanisms and uncomfortable-looking keyboard configurations, but their divinely unique layouts are what makes them so fun to look at today.

Just Your Type: 11 Gorgeous Unique Antique Typewriters

1 comment:

  1. I taught myself to type when I decided to write professionally. My wife showed me how to place my fingers, and I determined to do touch typing from the outset. Thirty years later, she still looks at the keyboard.


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