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Sunday 29 May 2011

Cats and Typewriters: Dedicated to the late Tilman Elster

 (October 7, 1933-August 2010)
It's now nine months since the typewriter collecting and treasuring world lost one of its heroes, Tilman Elster. But he is still sorely missed by all those fellow collectors who were fortunate enough to know him or to have had any contact with him.
The Christmas before he passed away, Tilman sent cards to his many friends around the world, wishing them the compliments of the season. On the front of the card was this wonderful photograph, taken at Tilman's late 18th century farmhouse at Herford in the North Rhine-Westpahlia in Germany. The photo was taken on October 27, 2009, of Tilman's cat cleaning itself in front of his [Underwood] Elliott-Fisher T12.
If you look very hard at the image at the bottom of this post, of just one part of Tilman's massive collection of more than 1400 typewriters, you will see the T12 in front of the back shelves, at ground level - and you may well suspect you see a cat resting on the top right. I do. (The images of Tilman, above, and of his collection are, by the way, scanned from the June 2006 issue of ETCetera, the journal of the Early Typewriter Collectors' Association, edited by Richard Polt).
What is it about typewriters and cats? I think I can work out why there so many images of women with typewriters, but cats? Maybe the attraction is explained by American writer Barbara Holland, who shared a birthday (April 5) with me (though she was 15 years my senior) and who died just a couple of weeks after Tilman, on September 7 last year.
Holland wrote the popular book The Name of the Cat (1988), which was updated and reissued as Secrets of the Cat: Its Lore, Legends and Live (1994, 2002, 2010).
In it she said:
A catless writer is almost inconceivable. It's a perverse taste, really, since it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat; they make nests in the notes and bite the end of the pen and walk on the typewriter keys.
So here are some cats and some typewriters - let's start with Hemingway's cats, then and now:

Marlon Brando apparently liked cats around when he was typing, too
This image was on a 60th birthday email sent to me by Richard Polt (who is my mentor!):
This is our Australian representative cat, apparently called Ginger
The fascination with cats and typewriters is such that many people have posted such images on blogs, and on Flickr:
And cats have appeared with typewriters on calendars and in art, too:
Well blow me down, after all this I turn to the back page of the same issue of ETCetera - and what do I find? A photograph of a cat with a typewriter! Of all things ... (I think it was cat fate; now I'll have to go look for the Martin Howard article):

And two more cute shots I overlooked when I first published this post:


Richard P said...

Wonderful collection of images! I looked through them with a cat on my lap (and stepping on my keyboard, squatting on my desk, and otherwise charmingly bothering me). I particularly love the photo of the cat actually snaking its way through an Underwood #5, and the "Too Tired to Write" postcard.

I think cats are naturally interested in the motion of the parts and in the smells of a typewriter.

Tilman would have been delighted.

Ryan Adney said...


I am a cat man myself and I appreciate the special place cats demand for themselves. Our cats have not been too interested in typewriters. Mostly they just hide from an exuberant baby. Great post, as always!

Ted said...

I keep meaning to comment, but your prolific and always interesting output has me reading so much that I have too many things to comment on and I never can whittle it down to one thing. :D

A cat post, however, is always going to elicit comment, if for no other reason than the little beasts are practically vital to the typing process. This cat is in my lap now, purring away and occasionally reaching a paw towards the keyboard to tap the spacebar at inappropriate times. She loves typewriters and keyboards of any kind. :D

notagain said...

great post! We have four cats but only one - the princess - is a lap cat, and she has interrupted a lot of typecasts. Here's the big guy who is interested in the typewriters: