Welcome to my nerd blog.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Darling B has leveled a challenge: She believes that, if I were to tell anybody how many typewriters I own, I would get an eye-roll from practically everyone.

Well, here is a group shot of every typewriter I own:

that's a lot of typewriters! Or is it?

On the far left: A Smith-Corona Silent, one of the first typewriters I bought from a roadside antique store in a small town back in the 80's. More than that, I can't remember. A beautiful machine, I hardly ever use it because the platen's too hard and slippery to hold paper. The day I get it fixed, I'll sit down and write my first novel on it.

In the left column, top to bottom: A Smith-Corona Skyriter. I developed an affection for these cute little machines when my son bought one and let me try it out. You really do have to call them "cute." They're not fully-functional typewriters but they're small enough to tuck into a backpack or overnight bag so, if you learned to write on a keyboard and you're an anachrophile for typewriters (there's got to be a word for that, but I haven't found it yet), you really have to take one of these to the coffee shop to annoy all the laptop users. One day I'd like to corner the market on Skyriters, paint them in bright colors and sell them as the novelty items they ought to be.

Below the Skyriter, an Underwood No. 5. Another of the classic cast-iron desk top typewriters, this is the very first typewriter I bought for fun. I don't use it much any longer because you have to be in pretty good shape to bang out even two or three pages of copy on a machine like this, and I just don't have the muscle tone for it. It's a machine for a young man full of piss and vinegar. Also a good machine to use if you're very angry; you can mash the keys as hard as you want, you're not going to break it.

Below the Underwood, a Smith-Corona Sterling, a five-dollar garage-sale find. A good portable. Was my favorite writing machine until I bought an Olivetti.

Below the Sterling, a Japy I picked up at an auction only because it types in a Cyrillic font. Barely functional, this one's another project for a long winter weekend.

On the work bench in front of the Japy, a Corona No. 3. Another one of the buys I made when I was going through my first typewriter-hoarding phase back in the 80s. Bought it because it looks very old and because it's one of the first portable typewriters. Already very small, it becomes positively tiny when you fold the carriage down over the keyboard and close it up in its own little hatbox.

In the center column: a Royal Quiet de Luxe. I don't collect Royals as a practice, but this is the same model my Dad wrote on. I got an itch one weekend, searched e-bay for a reasonably-priced offering and had this one on my work bench about a week later. Took about a week to de-gunk and un-fungify. Still needs a little tender loving care but is already one of the most useful typers I own.

Below the Royal, a pile of junk. Sort of spoiled the shot. Sorry about that.

Below the pile of junk, an IBM Selectric II. Found this in a Goodwill shop priced at three dollars. My hoarding instinct kicked in and I found myself carrying it out the door before the full import of what I was doing struck me. Selectrics are so well-built and produce such high-quality text that they're still in use in some offices and sell for hundreds of dollars. Getting a buyer to pay the extortionately high cost of sending a fifty-pound typewriter through the mail or via FedEx is a bit of a problem, though.

On the work bench in front of the Selectric, another Smith-Corona Skyriter. This one's a little older than the other one and writes in a pica font. And I'm going to paint it navy blue. Just because.

In the right column: an LC Smith No. 8. A classic cast-iron desktop, this is the first typewriter I dared to take apart. When I bought it from a thrift shop it was filthy and barely functional. I cleaned it up enough to make it presentable but it's still barely functional and will probably remain so until I take it apart a couple more times. That'll have to wait for a long weekend in winter, though.

Below the LC Smith, a Remington Quiet-Riter. Impulse buy at a thrift store. Pieces missing, but a good working typer. A very noisy machine. Not that I mind, but the name is more than a little ironic.

On the bench in front of the Remington, a Smith-Corona Sterling. I bought this by accident while I was trying to figure out how to use the Goodwill on-line auction web site. No, really. Cost me five bucks plus postage.

Front and center on the work bench, an Olivetti Studio 44, my favorite machine in the harem. Also a thrift store impulse buy, this is the best-built machine I've ever seen. The action is smooth and it has a beautiful pica font. The backspace key didn't work but I fixed that by slipping a washer under the hook that pulls the carriage back. (That's why it's still naked.) The return lever is broke and I still haven't figured out how to fix that, but I still use this machine more than any other.

So, did you roll your eyes? You can be honest with me.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Smith Corona Skyriter

There was a package waiting on the front stoop yesterday evening.

“That looks too big to be the thing I ordered,” My Darling B said when she spotted it as we pulled into the driveway. “Did you order something?”


Looking sideways at me she asked, “Is it a typewriter?”

Pause. “Maybe.”

Rolling her eyes, she got out of the car.

It was an impulse buy, as all my typewriter purchases are. I couldn’t help it. After Tim brought me his Skyriter for repairs and I took it for a test drive, I started searching teh intarwebs for one just like his. Turns out they’re outrageously expensive on e-bay but I found one on Goodwill’s auction site for just five bucks, although somebody jacked the price up to ten bucks before the auction ended.

It’s going to need quite a bit of attention. It’s got enough hair in it to make an anatomically correct mouse, and there’s a bit of rust to buff off. Also, some of the keys are bent, which will take a bit of fine-tuning. Looks great on the bench, though, and will look even better once I clean it up, if you’re not an eye-rolling typewriter looker-downer like some people.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

And now, because there will never be too much porn on teh intarwebs, here’s a photo of an Olivetti Studio 44 without any clothes on:

Olivetti Studio 44 NAKED

I had to take it apart because it was so dirty that little bits and pieces of dirt were falling out of it every time I moved it. Also, the backspace key stopped working and not being able to backspace was driving me crazy! I actually managed to fix that by sliding an ordinary washer under the little hook arm that grabs the carriage and pulls it back. And I cleared most of the crud out of the mechanism with a few well-aimed shots of canned air.

This is one ruggedly-built machine, in case you can’t tell from the photo. I own quite a few portables, but this is the only one that’s as solid as the hundred-year-old cast-iron desktops I have. I think I know now why typewriter nerds get all warm and gooey about Olivettis.

The mouse is for my desktop, not the Olivetti.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Restoring a Remington Noiseless Model 7 Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Saturday, June 2

Monday, May 28

The Last Typewriter Repairman? Gramercy Typewriter has survived by diversifying into laser printer repairs, but its reputation for customer service has been its saving grace.

Thursday, May 24, 2012



Posted for sale today on e-bay: A Klein Torpedo

Sunday, May 20, 2012

image from Magic Margin: The classroom typewriter project

The Classroom Typewriter Project is designed to get children to write without distraction. Computers have become distracting, annoying machines that can do everything poorly and nothing well. The typewriter is still the perfect machine for getting ideas neatly presented on paper. Moreover, the typewriter requires the author to be aware of GUMS (grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling) because there is no talking paperclip to help. This is writing without a net.

Findings of the Project

1. Students who use a typewriter on a daily journaling activity and coupled with intensive spelling corrective activities tend to score higher on spelling assessments than students who complete the same intensive spelling corrective activities without a typewriter.

2. Most students feel that composing on a manual typewriter imparts their work with greater value.

3. Students enjoy using typewriters in a classroom setting.

4. Old technology can be highly interesting to adolescents.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

One afternoon in 1994 the e key on my favorite Olympia stopped working. E is not a rarity, like @ or %, that you can mostly do without. I was living in Brooklyn at the time. The Manhattan Yellow Pages has so many listings under “Typewriters” that you might think getting someone to fix a manual would not be hard. I took my typewriter various places to have it looked at, and brought it home again unrepaired. This went on for a while. Finally, approaching the end of the Yellow Pages listing, I found an entry for “TYTELL TYPWRTR CO.” The address was in lower Manhattan. I called the number, and a voice answered, “Martin Tytell.” I told Mr. Tytell my problem, and he told me he certainly could fix it. I said I would bring the typewriter in next week. “You should bring it in as soon as possible,” he advised. “I'm an old man.”

Typewriter Man, The Atlantic, November 1997, Ian Frazier

Martin Tytell, whose unmatched knowledge of typewriters was a boon to American spies during World War II, a tool for the defense lawyers for Alger Hiss, and a necessity for literary luminaries and perhaps tens of thousands of everyday scriveners who asked him to keep their Royals, Underwoods, Olivettis (and their computer-resistant pride) intact, died on Thursday in the Bronx. He was 94.

Martin K. Tytell, Typewriter Wizard, Dies at 94, The New York Times, September 12, 2008, Bruce Weber

ANYONE who had dealings with manual typewriters — the past tense, sadly, is necessary — knew that they were not mere machines. Eased heavily from the box, they would sit on the desk with an air of expectancy, like a concert grand once the lid is raised. On older models the keys, metal-rimmed with white inlay, invited the user to play forceful concertos on them, while the silvery type-bars rose and fell chittering and whispering from their beds. Such sounds once filled the offices of the world, and Martin Tytell’s life.

Martin Tytell, a man who loved typewriters, died on September 11th, aged 94, The Economist, September 18, 2008

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Selectric II speaks!

image of typecast

Friday, September 24, 2010

image of IBM Selectric II

I can’t believe my good luck: I am now the ecstatically proud owner of an IBM Selectric II. And I paid just a little over three dollars for it! How does this even happen? Well, just like this:

I found it on the bottom shelf in the electronics section of a Goodwill store here in Monona. The price tag said $2.99. That had to be a mistake, right? It’s an IBM Selectric II! These typewriters are legendary! And they’re still on sale, reconditioned, for upwards of three hundred dollars. Surely the price tag was supposed to read $299.00? It would be a crushing disappointment, but I had to find out. If it didn’t, I would suffer a gnawing anxiety that would eventually eat up all my brains and spit them out my ears. Yuck.

Squatting in the aisle beside the typewriter, I got my arms around it and stood up, being careful to lift with my knees. The Selectric II is a modern typewriter but was built by the old school of industrial design, all-steel inside and out, so it weighs close to forty pounds. If you bend over and pick it up like it’s one of those plastic daisy wheel typewriters, you’ll throw your back out so far a labrador retriever would get winded fetching it back to you.

There weren’t any shopping carts available, so I had to lug the typewriter all the way from the back of the store to the front doors where the check-out counter was. I reached my target heart rate somewhere in the middle of the store and by the time I got to the check-out it was banging hard enough to rattle the windows. No one was waiting, thank goodness, so I could plunk it on the counter without having to wait in line with the beast cocked on one hip like an overweight toddler.

The check-out guy gave me a cheery hello, then took a look at the price tag on the Selectric and gave a little speech: “If you want to return this for any reason, you’ve got seven days,” he explained to me, “but the price tag has to be on it and you have to bring the receipt with you.” Then, the moment of truth: He scanned the price tag with a laser, hit TOTAL on his cash register, and announced the grand total: “That’ll be three fifteen.”

Glancing at the cash register display I saw $3.15. I handed him a fiver. He counted out the change and handed it back to me.

Wow. Just wow.

The down side is, it doesn’t run. Not at all. I plugged it in, switched it on and got nothing, not even a click. It’s supposed to hum when it’s working, but it was dead as a doornail. Not sure how to proceed from here. I may not be ballsy enough to crack the case and look for a burned-out fuse or broken connection, and who repairs typewriters professionally any more? But it only cost three bucks, so it’s still a bargain even if it’s only good as a boat anchor.

UPDATE: It DOES work after all! I plugged it into an electrical outlet at Goodwill that must’ve been dead! Later in the evening I tried it again by plugging it into an outlet here in the basement lair of Drivel HQ and it not only hummed, it also typed a quick brown fox and a now is the time as fast as I could hammer the keys! Now all I need is a ribbon, and if their web site is to be believed, I can get one at the Staples office supply store down the street. Bliss!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Smith-Corona Sterling

While I was prowling the aisles of the Madison Antique Mall this morning I spotted this Corona Sterling sitting amongst the china, figurines and other bric a brac. Carefully picking my way past the tightly-packed shelves so as not to become the not-so-proud owner of a newly-broken Humel, I managed to get a close look at this pretty little manual.

Flipping open the top, I found serial number 1A 22553, and a quick check of the Typewriter Serial Number Database revealed it was manufactured by the L.C. Smith & Corona company in 1937. Its beautiful maroon paint job was still in excellent condition. I couldn’t bang out a quick brown fox in the library-hush of the antique mall to see what kind of condition the action was in, but I did gingerly press down a few of the keys along the right-hand home row and found they were a little sticky but otherwise in good condition.

The sixty-five dollar price tag tripped my cheap trigger and kept me from taking it home, but not from snapping a photo I could moon over later.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Do elementary school teachers even teach Cheeseheads that the QWERTY keyboard was invented in Milwaukee? Do they know what that gray lump of metal with the QWERTY keyboard is? This Royal, which appears to be in pretty good condition except for the loss of its carriage return arm, has been on display in the window of the Wisconsin Historical Society for the past several weeks with a sheet of paper rolled up in its carriage explaining Wisconsin’s claim to typewriting fame.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I’m of two minds when it comes to recycling parts of old typewriters for jewelery or other artwork. My first reaction is revulsion. Typewriters have an intrinsic value to my nerdy sensibilities that is so great I could probably be persuaded to sentence key-cutters to jail terms that would raise an eyebrow on Charles Manson. In my shiny happy world, I would be most happy if every old typewriter was adopted by a loving caretaker so devoted to his responsiblities that he eventually subscribed to a correspondence school to learn typewriter repair so he could restore his machines to their former glory.

Back in reality, it’s unfortunately impossible to rescue every old typewriter put up for sale on e-bay and other auction sites because of the sheer volume, to say nothing of the shipping charges required to send a thirty-pound typewriter through the mail, and restoring all those machines would require raising an army large enough to make Patton, were the old bastard still alive, glow radium green with envy. Some of those keys are going to get cut, there’s just no way around it.

Now that you’re aware of my misgivings, I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m even a little bit warmed when I see a Royal typewriter carriage recycled as a display stand for pierced earrings. I spotted this disembodied carriage while browsing the aisles at the craft store Anthology on State Street.

Friday, September 17, 2010

image of Smith-Corona Super Coronet

I stumbled upon this Smith-Corona Super Coronet waiting on the counter for someone to take it home from the Willy Street branch of the Saint Vincent de Paul’s thrift store in Madison. Unfortunately, I didn’t take it home because I couldn’t figure out how to make it fit in my book bag and carrying it under one arm would’ve made steering my bicycle a problem.

I couldn’t take it for a test drive because it wasn’t plugged in, but somebody had been using it and left the sheet in the carriage, apparently offered up as proof that it worked. The ribbon was a cartridge type, which I thought might have been a problem until I got home and googled for more information. That’s when I found that everyone offers cartridges for sale, so there must still be a few Coronets in use out there, which just boggles my mind.

Vinnie’s tends to price typewriters a bit high, if you ask me. They wanted twenty bucks for this, which is about the going price on most internet sites, but I’m a tightwad who won’t pay full price if I can help it. Sometimes if they sit on the counter a while and cool off the price comes down a bit, so this typewriter might yet see in the inside of my basement lair. I’d give them a fiver to let me take it home.


© 2010 — 2012 David Okonski


image of Smith Corona typewriter
Corona #3

image of Corona Silent typewriter
Corona Silent

image of Smith Corona typewriter
L.C. Smith
& Corona #8

image of Smith Corona Skyriter typewriter
Smith Corona

image of SCM Sterling typewriter


image of Remington Remette typewriter

image of IBM Selectric II
IBM Selectric II

image of Underwood No 5 typewriter
Underwood No. 5

   Reference Pages   
The Classic Typewriter Page/Restoration
The Typewriter Restoration Site
The Typewriter Serial Number Database

Mike Campbell
Anthony Casillo
S.L. Johnson
Mr. Martin
Richard Polt
Herman Price
Alan Seaver
Jack Tanner
Wim & Guy
Typewriter Fever

Fountain Pens & Typewriters
I Dream Lo-Tech
Magic Margin
Retro Tech Geneva
To Type, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth

   Sales & Service   
Robert E. De Barth
The Vintage Typewriter Shoppe

   And, finally   
All the Drivel There Is

Read the Printed Word!