13 March 2012

It Was a Dark and Stormy . . . Typewriter

This post is heavy into typewriter geekdom!

Word on the wizarding street is that we may be getting the band back together.  That is, there is talk among the folk who put together last summer's Wizarding Event that they might do a new one in 2013. To that end, new props are being created and new and improved sets designed.

One important set is the Headmaster's Office.  Each actor will be responsible for his or her main set.  In this case, the Headmaster actor (my brother Architect) is thinking that a few old and funky desktop typewriters might heighten the entertainment and curiosity levels of the wizarding students.  So I was asked to keep my eyes peeled for unusual and/or weird, and preferably inexpensive, machines.  The Gods of the Typosphere were with me; I recently found two acceptable items.

The first was a real bruiser: a 1940s-era IBM Electromatic, also called the IBM Model 01.  It came from the household belongings of my Dad's two sisters.  They both worked as secretaries and we think this is one of the machines they used along the way. The very eclectic "Mr. Martin" includes a well-written history of this machine along with some useful links at his site.

 Image source*

Because Architect is not formally a typospherian, I created an information document about the Electromatic that contained pics of old ads and the PDF of a service manual I found for this line of machines (a very lucky find).  This was important because the Aunties' machine was thickly covered with cobwebs and dust and not working.  (I plugged it in when I got it home . . . can you say arc-of-blue-white-sparks, boys and girls?)  Part of that info included these wonderful comments from  my colleagues over on the Yahoo Typerwriter Forum:
"There is no other machine that evokes industrial brutalism quite like this one."

"That's one huge, bulbous, era-specific, overpowered typewriter."
Architect took some lovely pictures of the machine. (He cleaned it up and installed a new power cord. He reports that, unfortunately, it now hums mightily but the keys do not work. Any ideas as to why this might be, oh readers who geek out on such matters?)

The second machine I found at a local antiques store while on the hunt with my mother for a small writing desk for her apartment.  It was the only typewriter in the place.  I immediately called Architect for a confabulation.  My phone is old school -- no camera -- so we did it the fun way:
Me:  Are you near The Internets?
Architect: Give me 30 seconds . . . okay, shoot.
Me:  Search Remington Rand Model Seventeen on Google Images.
Architect:  (after a few moments) Oh yeah, this looks like a possible!
Dear Reader, it was not only possible, it was cheap ($35)!  It was also ugly, but in a nice way; the way we wanted it to look: unusual and a tad otherworldly.

I've suggested to Architect that he might -- in the interest of a wizardly theater ambience -- want to change the look completely by painting the Rem and, perhaps, add some decorative decals or handpainted designs. Actually, I believe the words I used were tarted up. (I referred him to the Flickrstream of mpclemens of Clickthing who has also been known to dunk-n-wash old typewriters in soapy water!** The Clemens is an intrepid soul!)  This has led to an interesting philosophical and art-making discussion on the nature of old things and whether/if/how they should be altered and to what degree.


*  I failed to note where I found this image and have been unable to re-find it.  It it is yours or you know from whence it came, please let me know.  

** Please note, the 1957 article to which this link connects should be read in tandem with a Letter to the Editor, published here in a later issue of the magazine, which vehemently disagrees with this cleaning approach. Mr. Clemens has reported success and no problems with the method.  Note, while he may be intrepid, Mr. Clemens is also meticulous and careful in his work.


  1. Both of these look great for a Headmaster's wizardly office! I especially love the IBM and the very appropriate comments about it! Good luck with your next Wizarding event - it looks like you are off to a great start.

  2. Yeah, the Electromatic is one cool and impressive piece of machinery. Architect is hoping to find an engineering student or the like who might want to fix the innards and get it running again.

    Whether or not the event happens again is quite up in the air. Some of the original group may not be around next year and I am only available for the 'thing finding' and brainstorming side of things. (I have major projects of my own that will prevent me from being an active maker or actor this next time.)

  3. Thanks for sharing these. The electromatic looks awesome, never seen one before. The red keys and space bar perfectly contrast the crinkled black. I particularly like your profile pics.

    Great job on the headmaster's office.

  4. Thanks, Ton! I am still drooling over the Remington Portable Model 1 you posted pics on 3/2. I've never seen a machine with 'horns' before. What a great find. (More and more Adwoa appears to be the utter Queen of Finds!)

    Speaking of magical-looking machines, I hope someday to acquire an Oliver. I am not a collector - I buy 'em to use 'em - but an Oliver I would happily display as a work of machine art. A local antique store was selling one for $120 but it just isn't in my budget these days. I shall continue to daydream about it. ;-)

  5. I think the dip-n-dunk is pretty safe, as long as you get the machine *totally* dried out afterward. This is easy in arid California, where "humid" is an unknown word. You have to be especially careful to make sure the mainspring isn't sitting in a puddle and thus rusts out.

    For that big standard, I'd just blow some air through the guts for starters: a can of compressed air from your local electronics-selling place would do the trick, and will dislodge all sorts of gunk and grime. Sacrifice a soft bristled veggie brush to gently scrub the outside paint with dilute dish soap, and be quick with the rags to mop of any residue (oh, there will be residue.) It'll be a whole new typewriter.

    As to painting, the trick is always to get the panels all off. I don't know if this is feasible on a standard machine, but I don't know if you have to go so far. What about doing another stamp job like you did for your Owl Post typer? I just saw some scrapbooking ink pads that claim to be useable for metal, and it might be reasonable to do such a thing to the typer. Or even freehand some runs and mystikal sygils around the base, or even decorative gold scrollwork.

  6. Thanks for the additional info on the dunk approach, Mike. As for painting/decorating the RemRand17, that will be up to Architect to decide. He seems to leaning against it at the moment, but I'll see if I can suggest some of these ideas when I see him this weekend. I do like the idea of decorative scrollwork!


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