I have always been one to lean towards all things retro and vintage, from big things like cars to small things like accessories and costume jewellery. When I came across photos of old timey things like the retro and/or vintage typewriters, I’ve not looked back since. I often croon and rave about typewriters to my then boyfriend (now husband) and how I’d do anything to get my grubby paws on one. Of course, that dream never materialised as the cost to buy and own one was rather expensive. Here in Malaysia, when foreign items are imported, the tax is quite high thus adding more ringgit to the original cost and it wasn’t worth it to spend so much on something that even I wasn’t sure I’d use it often enough.
Until my 30th birthday this 2016.
My husband knew how much I loved typewriters, the concept of it and the idea of using one. The only time I’ve ever seen a typewriter was at my uncle’s place in Johor Bahru and even then, I didn’t get round to using it. I’ve only seen him using it. Even then, he was blind so up until this very day, I still have no idea how he knows which key to press. I’m not sure why I like typewriters but I guess it’s the retro or vintage concept of it compared to a modern laptop or desktop computer. The “clack, clack, clack” noise it makes as you stab the keys can get on your nerves at first but you will eventually get used to it and once you do, you’ll never look back.
And so he bought me one. An Antares 280. Manufactured in 1988 (the same birth year as my sister so they’re as old as one another). Quite a sturdy one, rather big and clunky though but I love it nonetheless. It’d be better, of course, if it was smaller and lighter but ah, typewriters with those qualities are usually more expensive. In my opinion, that is.
What’s so great about a typewriter anyway? I’m sure the millennial generation and my cousins born in the Net Generation may not understand why we would go for traditional typewriters instead of the current and modern laptops.
WHAT TO DO WITH A TYPEWRITER
Believe it or not, this was the first question in my head when I brought my new (yet old because it had been restored by a young man as was his profession to do so) typewriter home. What should I do with it? What do I type with it? After all, I had a fully functioning and modern laptop at home! Well, there are many reasons why people choose to still use a typewriter ’til this very day, and here are some of the reasons why:
Aesthetics. The typewriter can be a source of art by unlocking an entirely different side of the noisy contraption and creating visuals out of the characters on the keyboard. It is the mechanics of and being able to feel the typewriter’s mechanisms that gives it a touch of mystery. The art that is created resembles a pen and/or ink drawing.
Diaries and/or Journals. Typewriters are a sophisticated alternative to keeping journals. Use loose-leafed pages for each day and plant your thoughts in them. File the pages away in a clear holder with pockets or use a hole-puncher and rings to hold them together. The world is your playground. I’d probably use mine for journalling.
Sustainability. Digital devices are churned out under questionable labour conditions, suck up energy and become hazardous e-waste within a few years. But typewriters will work for decades, maintained and powered only by your own hands. It’s an activity that won’t pollute. As for paper, you can reduce waste and use them as rough paper for your thoughts. The trees and earth will be forever grateful to you.
Durability. I’ll bet that you don’t own many things that were built before your birth and honestly, neither do I. But the high-quality typewriters of the 20th century were made to last. Just learn how to maintain them with some care and common sense. Ribbons are still readily available. If done right, you can use your typewriter for the rest of your life. Even your personalities will rub off on each other over the years.
Practicality. A typewriter was made to do one thing and that is to type. On a laptop, it’s easy to be tempted to check on something else when you get bored. You want to know what’s hot and what’s not on social media. A typewriter, however, invites you to sink into writing. There’s no turning back, no multitasking, charging ahead clear-sightedly and decisively.
Privacy. Anything we do digitally may be visible to hackers, corporations or governments. The world is looking over your shoulder. With a typewriter, you get full privacy; it doesn’t store your words and no one will read your typing except you unless you choose to share. It’s refreshing to know that your writings are truly your own.
Self-Reliance. Without the need for electricity, software updates or tiny microchips, your typewriter really belongs to you. It cultivates independence and lets you understand your own tools. You can even bring it with you to some isolated log cabin in the woods or in the middle of a snowstorm (with enough food and clothes) and you’d be able to survive. That is, until you start running out of paper…
CLEANING YOUR TYPEWRITER
Unless you are confident enough in cleaning your own typewriter, you can always get a professional or specialist in basic restoration of a typewriter. But if you decide to do the maintenance yourself, here are some of the things that you’ll need for a basic routine:
Cleaning Cloths. Find a piece of rag or a T-shirt that you don’t wear anymore and cut it up into squares of about 6 inches long on each side. These cloths will be used to wipe off dust and dirt from the typewriter and to clean your materials if needed.
Brushes. If you’re going to go all the way, you might as well invest in some brushes that are specifically made to clean typewriters. If you don’t have these, then a toothbrush or a paintbrush will do. These are used to easily get the dust and grime out of the mechanisms that are hard to reach, and with a solvent applied to the brush, you can easily clear out old oil and grease.
Alcohol or WD-40. These cleaners are great for clearing light rust, old oil, grease, dirt and grime, as well as doing a great job in shining the exterior metal parts when applied onto a cloth.
Vacuum. It’s probably not the best way or only way to clean a typewriter but some people do it anyway. What works is the extension arm of the vacuum can be held next to where you’re cleaning with the brush in order to suck up the dust.
Rem-Oil. This is by far the best oil in the market today that is used for oiling typewriters. However, do note that you can only oil a typewriter AFTER you have cleaned the mechanism. If still unsure, you can Google more about it.
SOME TYPEWRITER TRIVIA
- QWERTY Concept: Designed in 1873, this keyboard arrangement was to ensure the common letter pairs were placed as far apart as possible to reduce the chance of keys jamming up and raise typing speed.
- LENGTH of Words on Top: The longest common words that only required the top row of letters on a typewriter (and now the laptops and computer keyboards too) are ‘proprietor‘, ‘perpetuity‘, ‘repertoire‘ and ‘typewriter‘ itself.
- LONGEST Top-Row Word: However, the longest word that uses the top-row letters is ‘rupturewort’, a type of plant that is used to treat hernias.
- QWERTY-what?: The word ‘qwertyuiop‘ actually exists in the Oxford English Dictionary and it was the first word ever to be sent in an email (according to Urban Dictionary).
- ONE-ROW States: Peru is the only country whose name can be typed on the top row of a QWERTY keyboard and Alaska is the only one-row American state (its letters are found in the second (middle) row of the keyboard.
- NOSING Around: The Guinness World Record for typing a given 103-character text on a keyboard using only the nose was 46.30 seconds. (Say what?!)
- FIRST Typewritten Novel: According to Mark Twain, his book “Tom Sawyer” in 1876 was the first novel written on a typewriter.
I have since used my typewriter once last night and well, I must say it is very different (duh) from using the laptop. For one, I kind of have to stab the keys with a little more force as opposed to typing on a laptop’s keyboard. Secondly, the amount of typos and spelling errors I made had my inner Grammar Nazi screaming German profanities at myself. Last but definitely not the least, the margin kept running out of line. Oh well. Perhaps after awhile of using it, I’d eventually get used to it. I know I will. I just need time.
For those who have a typewriter and are still wary about using it, here’s a link (Typewriter Review) that might be able to help you. And it might just help me too!