18 October 2019


Today's post brought a postcard from Gina: the picture is captioned "James Baldwin's writing room" and includes a portrait sketch, a drawing of his house in southern France, and a drawing of his Smith-Corona Coronamatic 2200; the text from Gina asks "Do you own a typewriter? Or is it only us GenXers (and beyond) that feel the need to fiddle with type & ribbon?" The card is from Bibliophile postcards, published by Chronicle Books.

What? She had to ask? How did she not know that I was the last cataloger at Cornell to still have a manual typewriter at his desk? There were those increasingly rare moments when you needed to, what, type an envelope? Get some exercise? When I left Cornell in 1989, they gave me the typewriter as a going-away present. (All of the others had long before been abandoned and/or replaced by electric typewriters.) Foolish me, I didn't keep it. My typewriter looked something like this and I think it was a Smith Corona. All of us catalogers had had a card platen as well as the smooth one. The head of the typing section always kept us current on replacing our ribbons and cleaning our type. Rubber erasers work well to clean the keys.

Long before that, when I was getting ready to go off to college in the mid 1960s, I bought myself an Olivetti Lettera 32 with script type. I did like it for its sleek design but kind of outgrew the script type so I traded it with my grandmother for her old Royal portable.
I used that Royal portable in college, grad school, and library school, and after. It stayed in storage at the family home when I moved from my two-bedroom apartment in Texas to a studio apartment in New York City in the mid 1990s. Now I'm back in Alfred and actually have used the Royal now and again. I even bought it a new black-and-red ribbon this year. Now I probably should try to get the back space key repaired. It's kind of annoying to grab the platen and move it back when I need to overtype. I guess I could try to type perfectly, a skill the modern world doesn't require.

Typewriters, especially manual ones, are having a renaissance in art making. Lots of people have used them in artist books or zines. The "Won't you be my neighbor" show closed at the Cohen Gallery at Alfred University a couple weeks ago. Sam Horowitz and I collaborated on a piece called "Time becomes us: theses concerning materials and persons." I used the Royal portable to type the title page of the booklet that was part of our work.

The big question now is whatever happened to the Olivetti. I haven't seen it for years. I did go look in the attic over the back shed, without success. Another work in the Cohen show seems to have used a manual typewriter with script type. Perhaps they know where the Olivetti is.


Gisizee said...

Loved reading this! Typewriters are suddenly everywhere. Except the Hermes I remember my Mom using in the 60s/70s. That and her Olivetti Lettera 32 have both sadly vanished. Gone to the afterworld of carbon paper and the intoxicating scent of the mimeograph machine.

Unknown said...

Hi Sherman, Here's our Hammond no. 1