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Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Olivetti's 1954 Drive into the American Market - The Lettera 22 is 'So Very Handsome Too'

Starting in The New Yorker magazine on February 27, 1954, and continuing through to December 18 that year, Olivetti really went to town with its advertising blitz for the Lettera 22 portable typewriter. The New Yorker alone ran a series of six full-page colour ads in the concerted campaign, as well as 2/3-page and smaller ads. Not satisfied with that, in May 1954 Olivetti organised its "A Sidewalk Typewriter" gimmick, with a Lettera 22 placed outside the company's new showroom on Fifth Avenue near 47th Street in New York - in the 11 months to April 1955, 50,000 people had used the machine. That was when LIFE magazine gave Olivetti and the Lettera 22 two-and-a-half pages of precious publicity. In the end, though, Adriano Olivetti decided his company needed its own plant in America, and to sell its typewriters through a name association with that great American typewriter brand, Underwood. So in 1959-60 Adriano took over Underwood, then died without realising the full extent of his American dream.
Above, some British Olivetti ads, and below, the New York showroom set-up.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

St Dorothy May Day? Saints, Sinners and Typewriters


Have we had a typewriting saint since Mary Helen MacKillop was canonised on October 17, 2010? St Mary of the Cross (1842-1909), the first Australian to be recognised by the Catholic Church as a saint, took to a typewriter – a gift from a friend - after suffering a stroke in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1902, and learned to type one-handed.
The next typewriting saint may well be American journalist, social activist and anarchist Dorothy May Day, already widely regarded as a putative saint – although there is some opposition to her elevation. A proposal for Day's canonisation was first officially put forth by the Claretian Missionaries in 1983, and in March 2000 Pope John Paul II granted the Archdiocese of New York permission to open Day’s cause. The archdiocese submitted the cause for the endorsement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2012. In the closing days of his papacy, on February 13, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI cited Day as an example of conversion to devotion. He quoted from her writings and said, “The journey towards faith in such a secularised environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless.” Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, praised Day before a joint session of the US Congress in 2015, including her in a list of four exemplary Americans who “built a better future” (the other three were Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr and Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion Thomas Merton). Francis said of Day, “Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”
An article by Casey Cep in The New Yorker last month, “A Radical Faith - The life and legacy of the Catholic writer and activist, whom some hope will be made a saint”, was timely, given the plight of the poor in American during this pandemic. Cep said “the cause of [Day’s] sainthood is officially advancing within the Catholic Church” and pointed out it was writer, editor, film critic, social critic, philosopher and political radical Dwight Macdonald who, at the outset of a two-part Profile published in The New Yorker in the autumn of 1952, first called Day a saint (see below).
Dwight Macdonald
But Cep also commented on the mixed views about Day’s possible sainthood. She quoted Day’s latest biographers as saying some conservatives are “horrified at the prospect of canonising a woman who had an abortion and a child out of wedlock and who condemned capitalism far more frequently and vehemently than she condemned Marxism-Leninism”, while some progressives “fear the loss of her radical edge”, believing that sainthood “would be antithetical to her very uninstitutional, anti-hierarchical approach to spiritual growth and social change.”
Cep said Day, “devout and left-wing, believed we needed ‘a revolution of the heart’”. “Day had been alarmed by [poverty] her whole life. She first encountered it in the slums of Chicago, where she lived as a teenager, and she saw it all around her in New York City, where she moved after dropping out of college, and lived for more than six decades. Even before the Great Depression, Day had been sensitive to the plight of the poor, a sensitivity that ultimately shaped her calling.”
Day converted to Catholicism in 1928, aged 30. “In the years that followed, she started a radical newspaper and began opening what she called ‘houses of hospitality’ for those who needed something to eat and somewhere to stay,” wrote Cep. “Eventually, Day’s Catholic Worker Movement would serve the poor in more than 200 communities. Under her guidance, it would also develop a curiously dichotomous political agenda, taking prophetic stands against racial segregation, nuclear warfare, the draft and armed conflict around the world, while opposing abortion, birth control and the welfare state. That dichotomy seems especially stark today, when most people’s beliefs come more neatly packaged by partisan affiliation. But by the time she died, in 1980, Day had become one of the most prominent thinkers of the left and doers of the right.”
Day was born in Brooklyn Heights, New York, on November 8, 1897, and her family relocated to California in 1904. Two years later they were living in Oakland when the San Francisco earthquake struck. “That tragedy changed Day’s life in two ways,” wrote Cep. “First, it affirmed her pre-existing fears about annihilation, while simultaneously stirring in her a theory of mercy based on her mother’s nightly reassurances and the broader response of collectivity and charity. Why, she wondered, couldn’t the community care for all its members so generously the rest of the time? The second change was more pragmatic: her father, John, was a sportswriter who could barely support his wife and five children on his salary, so when the earthquake destroyed the press that printed his newspaper he moved the family again, this time to Chicago.”
Donald S. Day
Later, back in New York, Day’s father had helped her brothers find journalism jobs, but he refused to help her. (Dorothy’s brother, Donald Satterlee Day, 1895-1966, was an American reporter in northern Europe for The Chicago Tribune in the 1920s and 30s. As a broadcaster on German radio for several months during World War II, he argued that the United States should support Nazi Germany in its war against the Soviet Union. Following the Allied victory over Germany, he was twice arrested by US authorities and investigated for treason, but no charges were brought. Due to his position in eastern Europe as a reporter for many years, Day was able to provide the US government with tips about Soviet espionage agents, which played a part in his charges being dropped).
Dorothy found a job with The Call, a socialist daily in which her first byline appeared under the headline “Girl Reporter, with Three Cents in Her Purse, Braves Night Court.” A few weeks later, she interviewed Leon Trotsky, who was then living in the Bronx. After that, she managed to craft a feature from a three-minute conversation with Margaret Sanger’s sister, newly released from prison and desperate to drum up support for the American Birth Control League. In 1933 Day and Peter Maurin established the Catholic Worker. They sent the monthly publication to parishes and priests around the US, and it soon had a circulation of 100,000. To help accommodate the homeless during the depression, in the winter of 1934 Day and Maurin rented a four-story, 11-bedroom building on Charles Street, New York, the first of their hospitality houses. Within a few years, there were 32 hospitality houses, from Buffalo and Baltimore to St Louis and Seattle. “We cannot love God,” Day wrote in her memoir The Long Loneliness, published in 1952, “unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.” The Catholic Worker Movement still exists, with nearly 200 houses of hospitality around the world and a newspaper that is still published and sold for a penny (plus postage if you take it by mail).
Day suffered a heart attack and died on November 29, 1980, at Maryhouse on East 3rd Street in Manhattan.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Life of a Typewriter Technician (Installment 5)


By Guest Poster Michael Klein

Previously I have related how I came in to typewriters, as a young wet-behind-the-ears school-leaver, being offered a job with a local office equipment supplier, and in many ways it was like working for Arthur Daley of Minder fame. In this installment, I’ll relate some more stories of practices that were just a little bit dodgy, but for a young naive typewriter technician – who was I to question some of the dodgy practices that were going on?
        There was a mate of my boss (he had lots of dodgy “mates”, either through his golf club, or through his Catholic Church connections). This mate was a wholesale rep for the local Olympia agency. I got the impression that he was only commissioned to sell to the trade – that is, small dealers like ourselves. Olympia generally didn’t sell too much [if anything perhaps] direct to the public, only through authorised dealerships such as ourselves.
        This particular salesman used to visit us on a regular basis to keep the relationship going (we were also an authorised Facit dealer, and quite frankly were selling more Facits at the time), so this Olympia rep would have been pressuring my boss to sell more Olympias and hence his wholesalers commission would be boosted. I suspect there was some connection between this chap and my boss. And I always got the sense that he was a somewhat shady businessman. A good deal of our customer base were Catholic schools through the boss’s connections, and in those days, typing was a big part of high school curricula, with it not being uncommon for one or two rooms in schools being dedicated to typing lessons, containing perhaps 50 or more typewriters.
        There was one school in which we had to install several dozen typewriters (during semester break, so as not to disrupt teaching. We unpacked and checked all the brand-new typewriters, checking that they were undamaged from shipping and making any adjustments required. When it came to signing off with the customer after the job was done, I noticed that the paperwork didn’t have the letterhead of the company I worked with, but rather some obscure obviously dodgy name to it. Also, the documentation from Olympia to us was also in this obscure business name. Over the following months, there were many such new installations being done, Some were quite substantial deals - complete replacements of whole typing pools within tertiary institutions and business schools, with new machines in deals of dozens if not hundreds of machines being delivered and installed. The deals being done on trading-in the old machines, no doubt, as we also took away the old machines in many cases.
        On looking back on this, with the hindsight of worldly experience (which I didn’t have when  I was a young typewriter technician at the time) I’m now aware that a separate trading company was formed between my boss and the Olympia wholesale rep in partnership with each other. I’m sure if Olympia knew of this “arrangement”, that rep would have been out the door quicker than you could press the shift key on a manual typewriter! You see, he was in a privileged position in that he had access to typewriters at a wholesale price that the average dealer couldn’t buy at, and also this “company” was probably selling at a retail price not sanctioned by Olympia. All in all it was an enormously unfair trading advantage against other retailers.
        I knew it was dodgy, as whenever the fictitious company name was mentioned in the office it was in hushed voices between the boss and the secretary, and separate invoices, journal entries, separate letterheads were being shuffled around the office in a furtive manner.
        Another part of working with “Arthur Daley” was the Friday night drinks sessions in the back of the shop. Picture this: it was a somewhat grotty, crowded space, full of dusty typewriters, paper and stationery items (some stock of which hadn’t moved for decades), a parts washing machine in the workshop, which was reeking solvent fumes throughout the shop (it must have been a huge fire hazard). These drinking nights were the stopping point for the boss’s “mates” to drop in after work, all characters from the trade, from golfing mates to other assorted business or church associates. One day a poker machine “arrived” at the shop and was quickly whisked into the back room and a sheet pulled over it. It was one of those mechanical ones where you put in 5¢ and pull the handle and mechanical rollers spin with card suits, or fruit. Bear in mind this was the 1970s, before computers and sophisticated electronics. Also, in the 70s these things were illegal in the State of Victoria, Australia, as the State Government didn’t allow them, and one had to go over the border into New South Wales to see them in clubs. I don’t know how the boss got it, whether it was part of a business deal, or stolen or whatever, but anyway, we had this highly illegal piece of machinery in our typewriter workshop-drinking parlor on Friday nights. And the beauty of it was that the machine worked! we all saved our 5¢ pieces for Friday night drinking sessions!
        On one particular Friday, we had a new drinker in our midst. He was brought along by one of the boss’s mates, so we didn’t know him directly. As he was a mate of a mate, it was considered okay to let him in on our little secret, namely the poker machine – the one-armed bandit. So off comes the sheet and we all put in a few coins. (I still don’t recall if that machine EVER paid out at all, but there was always the hope that one day the jackpot would fall. In any case, we didn’t have the keys to the cash drawer so we couldn’t recycle the coins.
        This unknown visitor left shortly thereafter and not 10 minutes later there was a knock on the front door of the shop and it was none other than the police. Straight away the boss had one of those turns where he turned white and looked as if he would pass out. Well the sheet was thrown over the poker machine and everyone tried to look as nonchalant as possible. Having a beer in our hand was probably bordering on illegal as well, as Victorian liquor laws were quite strict in those days, and technically speaking we were probably breaking some of the laws as well as having a pseudo drinking establishment in operation.
        There was a divider between the front showroom and the back workshop, so all drinkers were sitting in the back with hushed tones while the boss attended to the police presence out front. As it turned out all they were looking for a stolen typewriter and wanted to check the serial numbers of some machines in our shop; we didn’t have what they were looking for and they left without wanting to see out the back. All the members of the drinking party could all collectively breathe again. Needless to say the poker machine was off the premises within the week.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

2500th Typewriter Blog Post

This is my 2500th post since starting this typewriter blog in February 2011. In that time I've racked up 4.15 million page views, and I'd estimate I've written about 2.5 million words here. During the Coronavirus lockdown period, I've been fortune enough to be kept busy renovating typewriters. Here are five I have worked on in the past fortnight:
The first of these, this 1909 L.C. Smith No 2, was bought for me at auction by a friend who thought I needed something to occupy my mind and hands in self-isolation. There was certainly plenty of work involved - the typewriter was in a shocking state of long-term neglect- but at the end of it there was a sure sign the typewriter gods were smiling on me:
And that's what got me started on this frenzy of renovation. Happily, I suddenly had a ready supply of typewriters to work on. I was contacted by a bookstore which was downsizing and needed to offload seven typewriters, all of which had been "on display" in the store for many years but none of which had ever received the slightest bit of care and attention. They were in appalling condition. I have toiled away on four of them, and this was the last, completed last evening:

This was what the L.C. Smith No 2 looked like when I got it:
And this is how it finished up:
The wide-carriage Remington No 12 was the one that required the least work, and it is probably the best typer of the lot:
I next tackled the 1933 Imperial 50. This was what I found under the carriage:

But all was well in the end, including getting the thick black paint off the bevilled glass panels. Why would anyone want to paint over such a nice feature?
Here is another typewriter I "re-modded" in the past few weeks, an Olympia Traveller with a Dutch keyboard (and a couple of dead keys):
Then, of course, there was the Royal Empress which was finally completed, with the right switches:
So on to the Remington Noiseless portable and the Smith Premier No 12. Wish me luck!

PS: One sees some very odd things done to or with typewriters, but two things I have come across in the past week just about take the biscuit. First, on the Imperial Good Companion portable (the one without the carriage lever assembly) someone had TIED the ribbon to the capstan:
One of the things I was looking for in my last post was a second ribbon spool cap for the Remington Noiseless portable. Actually, it was ON the machine all along, just completely buried under ribbon that had been wound around it - so much of it I couldn't even see the cap!