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Friday, 18 June 2021

Olivetti Dora Portable Typewriter Brochure: 'Designed to Make Typewriting Even More Universally Available'

The Olivetti Dora portable typewriter (aka Olivetti Lettera 31, Ventura, Italia ’90 and Class, Underwood 315 and 310, Mercedes and Mercedes Super T, and Montgomery Ward Escort 33) is named for the Fiume Dora Baltea, a 110-mile long river in north-western Italy which runs through Ivrea, the home town of Olivetti. It is a tributary of the Po. It originates by Mont Blanc as the confluence of the Dora di Ferret, fed by the Pré de Bar Glacier in Val Ferret, and the Dora di Veny, fed by the Miage Glacier and Brenva Glacier in Val Veny. As it crosses the Aosta Valley, the Dora Baltea flows through the city of Aosta and near all the main cities of the lower Aosta Valley: Châtillon, Saint-Vincent, Verrès and Pont-Saint-Martin. After it enters Piedmont, it passes through Ivrea and a good part of Canavese and reaches the Po at Crescentino. It is popular place for whitewater rafting and kayaking. The Dora Riparia is another tributary of the Po.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Corona Portable Typewriters of the Chinese Communist Martyr and the British-Mexican Surrealist and Feminist

Two typewriters, both Corona portables, have gone on display in museums in the past few weeks – one, a Groton-made Corona 3 folding, is in Shanghai, and the other, a West Bromwich-made plastic fantastic SCM, is in Mexico City. They belonged to two very different people, though both did much for major 20th Century movements – Communism and Feminism.

The Corona in Shanghai forms part of the centenary-marking Memorial for the Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China. It was, the organisers say, the typewriter used by Li Dazhao, or Li Ta-chao (1889-1927), to type up party documents.  Li was a Chinese intellectual who took part in the New Cultural Movement in the early years of the Republic of China, established in 1912, and co-founded the Communist Party of China with Chen Duxiu in July 1921. However, seven years ago a later model Corona portable (a four-bank) was on display at the Li Dazhao Memorial Hall in Li’s birthplace, Laoting County, Hebei Province.

A film clip of Li.
After more than 18 months of renovation and expansion, the Shanghai memorial, situated in the trendy tourist enclave of Xintiandi, reopened to the public two weeks ago. The memorial includes a 3000 square metre exhibition hall displaying 1168 historical relics, photos and diagrams that give insights into the history of the founding of the CCP. The building is the site of the First National Congress of the CCP, which Li himself was unable to attend. He has, however, been described as the CPC's “first true leader and its greatest martyr”.  

From 1914-16, Li attended Waseda University in Tokyo, but was expelled for taking part in the campaign against Yuan Shikai's imperial endeavors. Li returned to China in 1916 and served as a newspaper editor in Beijing. In January 1918 he was hired by Cai Yuanpei to be the head of the library at Beijing University and became a professor of politics, history and economics there. He influenced students during the May Fourth Movement 1919, including Mao Zedong, who worked as an assistant in the library's reading room. Under the leadership of Li and Chen, the CPC developed a close relationship with the Soviet controlled Comintern. Directed by the Comintern, Li and Chen joined the Nationalist Party (Kuomintangin, or KMT) in 1922 and forged a close tie with Sun Yat-sen to form a United Front. Li was elected to the KMT's Central Executive Committee in Guangzhou in January 1924 and visited the Soviet Union late that year. In 1926 he was forced to take refuge in the Soviet Embassy in Beijing. When the United Front collapsed in 1927, Zhang Zuolin of the Fengtian clique ordered a raid on the embassy. Zhang had Li and 19 others, both Nationalists and Communists, executed by strangulation on April 28, 1927.

Leonore Carrington and Max Ernst in a photograph by Lee Miller.

The much later model Corona portable went on display at the end of last month in the former home and studio of British-born Mexican artist, surrealist painter and novelist Leonora Carrington (1917-2011). Carrington lived there for more than 60 years. It is now open to the public as a museum, to show some of her works and possessions. More than 8600 objects have been catalogued. Pablo Weisz Carrington, son of the late painter and sculptor, sold the house to the Autonomous Metropolitan University on condition it be converted into a museum. The museum in Colonia Roma has on display 45 sculptures and other works and possessions, including the typewriter, donated by Pablo.

Mary Leonora Carrington was born at Westwood House, Clayton Green, Chorley, Lancashire, England, the daughter of a wealthy textile manufacturer. Educated by governesses, tutors and nuns, she was expelled from two schools for her rebellious behaviour. Her family sent her to Florence, where she attended Mrs Penrose's Academy of Art. In 1935, she attended the Chelsea School of Art in London for one year, and with the help of her father's friend Serge Chermayeff, she was able to transfer to the Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts established by the French modernist Amédée Ozenfant in London.

In 1936 Carrington saw the work of the German artist Max Ernst at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London and was attracted to Ernst before she even met him. They met at a party in London in 1937. The artists bonded and returned together to Paris, where Ernst promptly separated from his wife. In 1938 they left Paris and settled in Saint Martin d'Ardèche in southern France. The couple collaborated and supported each other's artistic development. Soon after the Nazis invaded France, Ernst was arrested by the Gestapo because his art was considered to be “degenerate”. He managed to escape and, leaving Carrington behind, fled to the United States with the help of arts sponsor Peggy Guggenheim. After Ernst's arrest Carrington was devastated and agreed to go to Spain with a friend, Catherine Yarrow. She stayed with family friends in Madrid until her paralyzing anxiety and delusions led to a psychotic breakdown and she was admitted to an asylum. She was given “convulsive therapy” and was treated with the drugs cardiazol and Luminal. She was released from the asylum into the care of a keeper, and was told that her parents had decided to send her to a sanatorium in South Africa. En route to South Africa, she stopped in Portugal, where she made her escape. She went to the Mexican Embassy to find Renato Leduc, a poet and Mexican Ambassador. Leduc was a friend of Pablo Picasso and agreed to a marriage of convenience with Carrington so that she would be accorded the immunity given to a diplomat's wife. Meanwhile, Ernst had married Guggenheim in New York in 1941. That marriage ended a few years later. Ernst and Carrington never resumed their relationship.

After a year in New York, Leduc and Carrington went to Mexico, which she grew to love and where she lived, on and off, for the rest of her life. She befriended painter Frida Kahlo, future Nobel laureate Octavio Paz and Hungarian photographer Kati Horna, and had a relationship with the émigré Spanish artist Remedios Varo. Carrington and Leduc divorced in 1943. Carrington later married Emerico “Chiki” Weisz, born in Hungary, a photographer and the darkroom manager for Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War. Carrington died on May 25, 2011, aged 94, in a hospital in Mexico City as a result of complications arising from pneumonia.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Olivetti Standard Typewriters: Lexikon 80 and Linea 88

An old Holden FJ  drives through Camden.
In terms of blogging, I've been out of action for the past fortnight, but I've still found some time to fool around with typewriters - Olivetti standards in particular. Two reasons for my lack of oztypewriter posts since the end of May: my wife has been undergoing a series of tests to qualify for a cancer treatment drug trial in Sydney, which has meant a lot of driving there and back, and we decided I should avail of a short break in the testing schedule to fly to New Zealand and visit an ailing elderly sister in a care home in Greymouth. I got back to Australia last Thursday evening and first thing the next morning we were back on the road to Sydney. On our way home we stopped off at the historic (in Australian terms) town of Camden, which Europeans named, imaginatively, "Cowpastures" when they first arrived there in 1795. Ten years later it became the property of John Macarthur, a pioneer of settlement in this country, who named it Camden Park. It became the town of Camden in 1840. 

Wherever we go our first stop is usually an op-shop, and there was a good one in Camden. For the first time in many months, I found there a decent typewriter at an affordable price: a 1969 Olivetti Linea 88 in excellent working order for $10. I like the look of the Linea 88, with its light mauvish mask and deep reddish purple keytops (a couple of which are missing, but no worries). I have a vague memory of using the Linea 88 back in the day, possibly more often than its more popular predecessor, the Lexikon 80. I test typed the Linea in the op-shop and a nice old Italian lady behind the counter said, "You can write a book on that!" But what really attracted me to this Linea was the  panel on the back: "By appointment to High Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh", with the coat of arms seen above left. I've seen a lot of typewriters with the seals of British royalty, from old Queen Vic onwards, but this is the first time I've seen one mentioning 'Phil the Greek' (as we knew him here). Prince Phillip of Greece and Denmark died on April 9, aged 99. It was the unusualness of the panel rather than any sense of attachment to the British Royals that led me to buy the Linea.

A couple of temporary keytops here, making do until I find the right ones.
I was keen to get the Linea home and take it apart, both to clean it up and also to compare its mechanical design with the earlier Olivetti standard. I'd been doing some preliminary work on a couple of Lexikon 80s, both, as a rarity, with the embossed name on the paper plate and the nickel rimmed keptops. Both, as can be seen here, are in very bad condition, but I'm sure I can smarten them up and get them working properly with the goodness of time, and goodness I've got plenty of that on my hands right now.

I came across the first of these on April 5, in Bungendore.
I have a replacement badge for the front.
Here is the second one, which came from Parkes with a longer carriage
and a lot of rust and dirt.
I've done a little bit of work cleaning up the second one, but there's a long way still to go.
I did give this one a "bubble bath" just to get some of the grime out of it. The dirt just dripped off:

Once I got the Linea apart, I noticed that the foam rubber sheets inside the sides of the mask had turned to powder and were making a mess inside the machine, sprinkling tiny bits of dried foam everywhere:

Given it was last serviced by "Speedie Typewriters" in Liverpool, which we had visited earlier in the day, I'm inclined to leave this sticker above the paper bail:

The Linea is considerably lighter than the Lexikon and the mechanical design had changed a great deal in the 20 years between them reaching the market (The Linea is on the left; the Lexikon shown here is not one of those with the embossed brand name, but a spare parts machine I bought last year to complete another project):

Monday, 31 May 2021

William Faulkner, the Two-Fingered Typist, and AI, 1962-Style

A year before the Nobel Prize-winning writer William Faulkner died, aged 64, at Wright's Sanatorium in Byhalia, Mississippi, he was the subject of a special report by journalist and novelist Elliott Chaze for the July 14, 1961, edition of LIFE magazine, titled "Visit to Two-Finger Typist". 

In a September 1962 edition of LIFE, Chaze took an amusing look at the advance of artificial intelligence, after coming up against an "electrically operated typewriter".

Sunday, 30 May 2021

C.J. Dennis and his Empire Typewriter: Bringing The Sentimental Bloke* Back to Life

*In Australia, a bloke is a unique masculine archetype associated with the country's national identity. The "Aussie bloke" has been portrayed in important works of art and associated with famous Australian men. "He's a good bloke" literally means "he's a good man".

I hadn’t realised, until after watching a brilliantly restored version of the 1919 Australian silent movie The Sentimental Bloke, that the verse novel upon which the movie is based was written by C.J. Dennis on an Empire thrust-action typewriter. The screenplay was also typewritten, in part by the movie’s female lead Lottie Lyell, using a Remington.

C.J. Dennis typescript.

It turns out that in early November 1988, West Australian media magnate Kerry Stokes (a former rugby teammate of mine, and owner of The Canberra Times when I joined it in 1997) paid $8500 for Dennis’s Empire typewriter at a Leonard Joel auction at the Malvern Town Hall in Melbourne. How the South Yarra company had come by the Dennis typewriter is unknown, but the provenance is beyond doubt. That Dennis used the Empire at his home in Toolangi in rural Victoria was confirmed by his illustrator and friend, Harold Frederick Neville (Hal) Gye (1887-1967). The Empire is now part of the Kerry Stokes Collection, and features prominently in a video of Australian actor Jack Thompson reading excerpts from The Sentimental Bloke at

Clarence Michael James Dennis (1876-1938) published The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke in October 1915. It was an immediate success, requiring three editions in 1915, nine in 1916 and three in 1917; by 1976 57 editions had been published in Australia, England, the United States and Canada, covering 285,000 copies. A very human story, it was simply and humorously told in dialect verse which could be as easily spoken as read. Dennis said of this verse “that slang is the illegitimate sister of poetry, and if an illegitimate relationship is the nearest I can get I am content”. He had “tried to tell a common but very beautiful story in coarse language to prove - amongst other things - that life and love can be just as real and splendid to the ‘common’ bloke as to the ‘cultured’." The timing of the publication was important, as it reached a public depressed by enormous  casualties at Gallipoli.

Our renewed interest in The Sentimental Bloke was piqued when we got the chance to see the restored movie last weekend at the National Film and Sound Archive's theatre in Acton in Canberra. What a brilliant job the NFSA has done with what it describes as our first rom-com. The images are crystal clear, the acting is wonderful, and the new narration by Rhys Muldoon is fantastic, as is the new score by Paul Mac. The film is mostly set in Woolloomooloo, Sydney

The movie was directed by Raymond John Walter Hollis Longford (1878-1959), but much of the credit for it must go to his long-time partner Lottie Edith Lyell (real surname Cox, 1890-1925), who plays Doreen, the Sentimental Bloke's love interest. Bill 'The Kid' is played by Arthur Michael Tauchert (1877-1933), and his friend “Ginger Mick” by Gilbert Charles Warren Emery (1882-1934), who moved to Los Angeles in 1921 and stayed there for the rest of his life, teaching in an acting school.

For the newly restored version of the movie, the NFSA had to search for and identify multiple sources to work from - including a digital scan of a pristine fine grain print from the George Eastman Museum in New York. The film was painstakingly brought back to life by NFSA experts and postproduction partner Vandal.