Typewriter

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Picture of a mechanical typewriter.
a LaVena Kay Kidd's rendition of a typewriter, from TREKism at Length #5
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Contents

A typewriter is a machine with keys that, when pressed, print letters or other characters onto a sheet of paper (or something comparable). The keys are each linked to individual pieces of cast metal type similar to those used in movable-type letterpress printing. When the operator (usually called the typist) presses a key, it strikes its piece of type against an ink-bearing ribbon, leaving ink on the paper in the form of the letter.

Initially, such machines were purely mechanical in action ("manual typewriter"). By the mid-twentieth century, electromechanical variants eased the typists' job ("electric typewriter"). By the end of the 1980s, however, typewriters were increasingly being displaced by word processors and personal computers.

In April 2011, the last typewriter factory in the world shut its doors and ceased production. [1]

The Birthplace of Fandom

dreams and possibilities and typewriters, from Grip #39, the artist is Kate Landis

Fandom began in the typewriter era.


"Never and always...the endless sessions at the typewriter"
"Touching and touched... the stencils and typewriter keys"
"Parted from me and-never parted....money and the typewriter"
"I await thee in the- appointed-place-the-duplicating and the deadline..."[2]


Access to the Machine

from Jundland Wastes #1, some fans at the control panel

Typewriters were sometimes a scarce commodity.

  • "Gripes this ish are the difficulty of finding (on a campus the size of MSU [Michigan State University]) a decent typewriter. Suffice it to say this issue was typed on two different manuals and two different electrics. I apologize for inconsistencies of ribbon darkness, clarity, or readability. In some cases, we're using the typewriter under stealthy conditions, and I couldn't get a fresh ribbon." [3]
  • "You may remember that I sent out a plea for donations to help pay for T'Kuhtian Press's IBM Selectric Typewriter. Well, the typewriter has arrived, an so have donations, and I am deeply touched. As as I promised, this is the the financial report such far: total cost (of the typewriter), $928.25. Total donations (thus far): $157.86. On April 5th, I sent in payments totaling $155.75 (and had previously made a down payment of $202.50)." [4]

Typewriter Memories

"Any Fan Writer -- 1975", typing up a story
To the IBM Corporation, which fouled up four days running, trying to deliver the typewriter -- then delivered two typewriters in two days. [5]
For the benefit of the person who saw fit to write it and complain about the poor quality of the typeface in the last issue...those typewriter keys do not need cleaning. If you know anything about mimeo, and it's obvious you don't, you would be aware of the fact that with very old manual typewriters, the combination of that small typeface and the applied pressure of the keys when you turn it up for stencilling causes letters like o's to be completely chopped out of the stencil. The typewriter doesn't need a cleaning, it needs a replacement. Despite the fact that we are a 3-typewriter family, not one has elite typeface on an electric machine. [6]
Examples of interchangeable balls for the IBM Selectric typewriter. Shown with €2 coin to indicate scale.
Click to read an example from a typewriter that went rabid... for an entire issue. From the editor of Berengaria #3: "I really must apologize for my hyperactive 'h.' I have had it fixed, but to no avail. I have threatened to use a 'j' instead, but can you image 'tje' for 'the,' and 'jello' for 'hello'?"'
Before the advent of word processors or home PCs and Macs, everything was a lot more work for the fanzine editors. All we had were our typewriters – in my case, first a manual portable, then a rented electric, followed by a rented IBM Selectric and, ultimately, my very own used IBM Selectric!... With a manual typewriter, the only ribbon available was made of nylon or cotton; it spun out and back on its spool several times before it began to wear out (i.e., the type got fainter and fainter). The improvement you got on an electric was that you could use carbon ribbons. These spun out only one time, so were costlier to use, but gave a crisp, clear black type that reproduced well by any printing method, but specifically offset. The crown jewel was the IBM Selectric, because not only did it use a carbon ribbon, but it had interchangeable balls – which gave you a choice of fonts, specifically and most importantly, script for your flashback scenes or italic for mental thoughts, or even just something you wanted to emphasize. You had a choice of about 6 or 8 "balls", or fonts, you could use. The most popular was Letter Gothic, a sans serif font that was very readable. There was, of course, the italic ball, or, if you preferred, the Script. There was one called Orator. It was also sans serif but it was a large type, used primarily when type was going to be reduced. And there were the old and common fonts like Courier and Elite. Having all these choices for type was a zine editor's wet dream, believe me! The little balls sat in their little boxes and you had to manually change them when you switched from say Letter Gothic to Italic type. A typist got real fast at changing them. [7]
I remember seeing a zine in the University of Iowa's fanzine collection with an editor's disclaimer explaining that during the reproduction process, she'd discovered that her typwriter key had struck the paper too lightly and the the letter 'v' appeared too faint to be seen. She and her collating party had to go through and add it by hand to every single word on every page in every issue of the 100 copies they'd made. And sure enough, written in black ball point pen, the letter 'v' had been meticulously transcribed."[8]
Gripes this ish are the difficulty of finding (on a campus the size of MSU [Michigan State University]) a decent typewriter. Suffice it to say this issue was typed on two different manuals and two different electrics. I apologize for inconsistencies of ribbon darkness, clarity, or readability. In some cases, we're using the typewriter under stealthy conditions, and I couldn't get a fresh ribbon."[9]
On Teusday (which the stupid typist has spelled wrong) ... The Star Trek cub (Cub?? I mean cLub, of course!)...[10]
"Email would have been handy! not to mention PCs - everything was written in longhand, then on typewriters, with three carbons. I sometimes marvel that our stories ever flowed or shone at all, given that in these days of WORD a first draft can be endlessly picked at it, changing a word here and there, polishing and editing and refining over and over - something just not possible in those days. Once you had typed it, it was done, no more fiddling, unless you wanted to Tip-Ex out the odd word here and there. I don't think those stories were any the worse for their crude manner of execution, and I'll always be glad I was there."[11]

Naming the Beast

Many zine creators named their typewriters, then word processors, and later, computers.

"Calliopa," the first typewriter from Nome

Some examples:

  • "This is Maya, the club's new typewriter... The typewriter is a Smith-Corona Cartridge 12 and has been named in honor of our favorite Psychon because of its special feature--changeable ribbon cartridges. Maya would not have been possible without the generous contributions of our members to the typewriter fund which amounted to enough to cover the initial deposit. Only ten more payments to go, and she's ours!"[12]
  • The editor's typewriter for S and H was named "Bart."
  • The editor's typewriter for Hanky Panky was named "Freddie."
Nome's dueling typewriters: Left: Monster, Right: Calliope from Nome #4
  • The editors of Nome had "dueling typewriters" named "Calliopa" and "Monster"
  • the editor of STAG dubbed her new word processor: "Worf"

Typewriters in Canon

Even after the typewriter was replaced with the computer in daily life, typewriters played notable parts in the canon of several fandoms.

  • Doctor Who - the Eleventh Doctor's version of the TARDIS included a typewriter as part of the control console.[13] It was used in several episodes.[14]
  • Fringe - characters from the parallel universe visiting the primary universe communicated with their superiors using a quantum entangled typewriter in multiple episodes.[15]

Typewriters in Fanworks

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

References

  1. "Last Typewriter Factory in the World Shuts Its Doors," by Nicholas Jackson, dated April 25, 2011. WebCite.
  2. from the editorial of Never and Always with Lighter Shades
  3. From the editor of Warped Space #14
  4. From the editor of Warped Space #24
  5. editor's dedication for Quartet Plus One
  6. from the editor of Implosion #6)
  7. http://njpax.livejournal.com/3562.html#cutid1 Reminisce With Me -- Producing a Fanzine in the Before Times
  8. personal recollection from Mrs. Potato Head, 18 January 2011
  9. from the editor of Warped Space #14
  10. a newsletter's typist struggles in STAG #10
  11. Sebastian writing about the early days of the Pros circuit, dated October 20, 2009; WebCite.
  12. from the Space: 1999 newsletter Command Center (1978)
  13. See "Sixth Version" in the Control Room page and "The Eleventh Doctor's Console" in The Doctor's TARDIS page at the Doctor Who wiki. (Accessed 1 May 2011)
  14. See, for example, The Eleventh Hour episode entry and the Vincent and the Doctor episode entry at the Doctor Who wiki. (Accessed 1 May 2011)
  15. See the entry on the typewriter at Fringepedia. (Accessed 1 May 2011)
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