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Sunday 5 June 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (XVI)

The Sherman Typewriter, 1877
Is this the world’s first portable design?
On this day in 1877, 134 years ago, and within four years of the Sholes and Glidden going into production, Daniel Hoit Sherman, then of Urbana, Ohio, was granted a patent for what Sherman specifically described as a portable typewriter.
Sherman’s words were, “The object of my invention is to furnish a type-writer that is so compact as to occupy the space of a lady's ordinary portable writing-case.”
Nonetheless, I am prepared to bow to the superior knowledge of typewriter historian Michael H. Adler, who in his The Writing Machine: A History of the Typewriter (1973) described the Sherman typewriter design as for “a down-stroke machine with semi-circular, four-row keyboard, and ribbon inking. An interesting fore-runner of later book typewriters.” Later, in Antique Typewriters: From Creed to QWERTY(1997), Adler said the Sherman “included features heralding later book typewriters”. 
This may well be so, but based on what little I know about book typewriters, such as the Elliott-Underwood, I can’t imagine them being able to fit too comfortably into a “lady’s ordinary portable writing-case”. Maybe Adler looked at the design rather than reading the description too closely. I’ll leave others to decide. In the meantime, here is more of Sherman’s description (of a non-QWERTY keyboard machine that was never, of course, made):
“[The object is] to see the words and characters as they are printed and those that have been printed without removing any part of the machine; to arrange the letters and characters upon the keys so as to be most convenient in writing; to arrange the ink-ribbon in such a manner as to be of easy access in adjusting and renewing, and to give the paper one motion only."

Sherman’s application was witnessed by his widowed mother, Julia Maria Hoit Sherman, and by one of his sisters, Susan Ann Sherman.
Daniel Hoit Sherman was born on September 10, 1840, in Sandwich, New Hampshire, the son of Enoch Wood Piper Sherman, originally of Gilmanton, New Hampshire. Daniel H. Sherman died in Sandwich on March 11, 1910, aged 69. He was married to Cordelia Elvira Robbins at Honeyoe Falls, New York, in 1870. Sherman’s wife died in New London, Connecticut, on August 3, 1925.
It strikes me that there is an awful lot about typewriter history that still needs to be fleshed out. OK, the Sherman and Dodson typewriters were among many that were never made. But they surely still have a place in the overall scheme of things, in the development of the typewriter, and also in underlining how many different ideas were being applied to the typewriter after the S and G went on to the market?
Mention of the Dodson typewriter (of a couple of posts ago) brings me to the confession that I may have been a tad hasty with my judgment of Dodson as the “most persistently unsuccessful typewriter inventor ever”. I subsequently discovered that at least one if not more of Christopher Latham Sholes’s sons were also most persistent yet spectacularly unsuccessful. As Darryl Rehr pointed out in the June 1994 edition of ETCetera magazine, Frederick Sholes tried twice in June 1879 to emulate his father – or at least improve on his father’s typewriter. Fred Sholes was indeed persistent: He continued to apply for patents related to the typewriter right up until 1922. And there seems to be nothing to show for all these efforts.
On this day in 1956, Elvis Presley introduced his new single, Hound Dog, on The Milton Berle Show, “scandalizing the audience with his suggestive hip movements”. It was from this performance that the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis” emerged. You may notice in the photo here, of Elvis with his manager Colonel Tom Parker, the hound dog with the His Master’s Voice dog Nipper in the frame behind Elvis’s left ear.

English novelist, biographer and critic Dame Margaret Drabble Holroyd was born (in Sheffield, Yorkshire) on this day in 1939. She turns 71 today. Her elder sister is the novelist and critic A. S. Byatt and their younger sister is the art historian Helen Langdon. This photo is of Drabble typing on her Adler Contessa portable at her home in London in 1974.
Welsh author of thrillers and historical novels Ken Follett was born (in Cardiff) on this day in 1949 (he turns 62 today). Follett has sold more than 100 million copies of his works. Four of his books have reached the No 1 ranking on The New York Times best-seller list: The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, Triple, and World Without End.

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