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Thursday 28 February 2013

Thoughts on Typography, New Technology, TV, Twain, QWERTY and (Naturally) Typewriters

I am a "member" of a Facebook group through which former editorial staff members of Dublin's The Irish Press stay in contact. Yesterday the moderator of this group, Ronan Quinlan, posted a most fascinating little video, passed on to him by Louise Ní Chríodáin, about the way in which the newspaper's pages were put together in what I remember as the "stoneroom" or simply "stone", in this instance called the "caseroom". Of course, this process did not involve typewriters, but the copy being typeset on Linotype machines was all typewritten.
I am aware that some Typospherians are quite interested in this long-gone newspaper production method, even though it had little to do with typewriters. Watching the five-minute video, made by Raidió Teilifís Éireann in November 1964 (10 years before I joined The Irish Press) and now available through RTE's archives, brought back many happy memories of working in stonerooms in various parts of the world. It reminded me that the set-up and layout of these sacred areas of a newspaper building, the procedure and the language (the words used in the process) were common to stonerooms wherever I worked – New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and England.
This is definitely a lost art. Some years ago I wrote a column about working on the stone, and searched the Internet in vain for something like this video, or at least a written description of the process, to confirm my recollections. Is it a "forme" or a "form"?
To this day I find people are still interested by the way it was done. For example, as old-timers such as myself recoil at the mistakes which now appear so regularly in print, we recall the way in which newspaper moguls like Rupert Murdoch, so eagerly embracing new technology in the mistaken belief it would save money, mercilessly ripped the guts out of so many tiers of the story checking process. The compositors themselves read the type, upside down and back to front as it was, checking for errors. In the video, one sees the proofing process, with galley proofs being run off from long, thin galleys of Linotype set copy, to go to the proofreaders' room (always adjacent to the stoneroom). Good copytakers often corrected grammar as they typed, even before the copy reached sub-editors. Then there were check sub-editors. And the linotypists were never afraid to draw attention to mistakes. All of these tiers of checking copy have now gone.
All this was brought back to mind, coincidentally, as I was preparing to make a presentation to book editors titled "A Curiosity-Breeding Little Joker: Mark Twain and the Early Typewriter". One thing one will always be asked at a typewriter presentation is to do the impossible and explain the mystery of QWERTY. I find Twain's reference in his first typewritten letter (to his brother Orion Clemens, on December 9, 1874) to being reminded by the typewriter of "old Robert Buchanan", quite intriguing. Twain says he was "lost in admiration" for Buchanan's "marvelous intellectual capacity" in setting up articles "at the case" (by hand) "without previously putting them in the form of manuscript". 
I'd say Twain knew nothing about the development of the typewriter, or about the man behind it (Christopher Latham Sholes) - which means Twain wouldn't have known Sholes had a similar background to his own in typesetting newspapers. Therefore, the reference to Buchanan was just one of those spooky, spine-tingling yet tantalising chance asides. In his Antique Typewriters: From Creed to QWERTY (1997), Michael Adler quotes an alleged Sholes explanation for QWERTY from Milo Milton Quaife's 1925 Henry Roby's Story of the Invention of the Typewriter.
We do tend to grasp at these, since Sholes himself left nothing to help unravel the enigma:  
Adler says "This is not a bad theory", but then goes on to dismiss it along with all the other theories.
A much less happy coincidence was that this morning I got the expected word of the death of a dear old friend, John Joseph Carter, aged 86. Jack Carter was a compositor who made the transition to journalism long before I first met him, in 1979. Throughout the second part of his career, Jack made excellent use of the knowledge he had acquired in typesetting and page assembly. He taught me more about typography that anyone else I ever met in newspapers, and I am forever thankful for it. Once new technology was entrenched, this knowledge was never made available to young journalists, which is a great pity. They have no idea about correct leading, about why Helvetica was designed and how it should be used (single column, caps only), about the awful eyesore created by mixing serif with sans serif, about never using serif on coloured backgrounds. The local rag has had to apologise on at least three occasions that I know of, because whatever the type said, the reader simply couldn't read it! How stupid is that?
Jack's greatest claim to fame came one Saturday evening as he was turning off the lights and locking the doors after a long shift. Word came through of a major earthquake. Jack not only wrote the story, but typeset it and placed in a remade page - then, in crowning glory, he turned the presses back on to roll with this up-to-date news.
After watching the Irish Press video, I went looking for similar films which showed the writing and sub-editing processes in newspaper newsrooms. If you watch the Irish Press "caseroom" film, you will see that RTE's archives also have a long news item about the newspaper business in Dublin in 1971 - but there's not a typewriter in sight. 
What came up at the top of a YouTube search was a series of clips from the British TV drama series The Hour, set in a London TV network's newsroom. I have watched a couple of episodes of this show, having noted comments from Mike Clemens (no relation to Orion or Samuel, I believe)  on typewriters appearing in another British TV show, one starring Stephen Fry. I was confused by the range of typewriters used in The Hour, as the episodes I saw seemed to be set around the height of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. My eagle-eyed friend Jasper Lindell also spotted this inconsistency, and emailed me with images of typewriters such as an Olivetti Lettera 25 beside a Remington International (which I used at The Australian in 1969) and a much older Remington. It seems little care is taken these days to get the right machines for the right era.
But as for real newspaper newsroom footage, this short New York clip was further down the list: 

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Typewriter Presentation: "A Curiosity-Breeding Little Joker"

Tonight I gave another talk about - what else? Typewriters! To be more precise, "A Curiosity-Breeding Little Joker: Mark Twain and the Early Typewriter". This one was for the Book Editors' Society and was held at the Emeritus Faculty, Australian National University, Acton, Canberra:
The mock S&G was there to show the audience what Twain's looked like - approximately. Plus the USB Underwood (its typing appearing on a big screen for the first time). Plus the bits and pieces of an Olivetti Lettera 22.
There to be used ...
This young chap, Cameron (not an editor, but the son of an editor), took home as a gift my "Curiosity-Breeding Little Joker" of an Underwood, since he showed so much interest in how typewriters work. And he also typed so well with it.

Two Years, 1000 Posts, 425000 Page Views

I hasten to add I consider these figures to be an achievement for all typewriters lovers, worldwide, because they promote and reflect our shared interest in all typewriters of all ages.

The Baseballer Who Thought He'd Make Millions Out of Typewriters

Oliver-trained typewriter machinist-turned pro ball player George Moriarty reached for the sky with his 1909 typewriter invention.
On the eve of St Patrick's Day last year, I posted on the legendary baseball player, manager and umpire George Moriarty, who had started his baseball career playing for the Oliver Typewriter Company team. The Moriarty post is here.
On this day in 1909, Sporting Life published an article in which Moriarty - who while playing for the New York Americans in the Major League continued during the winter months to work as a typewriter machinist for the Union Writing Machine Company - claimed he had invented a device which "will be the greatest improvement to a typewriter that has been invented since writing machines have been in use".
It was set to "revolutionize the present system of typewriting", Sporting Life reported.
It apparently concerned the typing of a whole word or phrase with a single stroke, with the addition of no further characters. Please see my previous post today on the Xcel Typewriter.
Moriarty's "invention" (it does not appear to have been patented), would make him "independently wealthy", through payments from the Union Trust.  Royalties from the sales of improved machines would, in 10 to 12 years, double what Moriarty would initially be paid by the trust for his invention.
Moriarty was so confident about his future financial success with his typewriter invention that he jokingly told Sporting Life he would be able to afford to buy a baseball club or two as "toys" for his son (the "mascot") "should such a whim possess him".

Philosophy Behind the Gourland Girl and her Baby-Grand Typewriter

Typewriter Topics reproduced in its March 1922 edition an article from The New York Evening Mail of February 18 that year, in which Russian émigré Michael Jacob Gourland explained his philosophy behind this Charles Spiro-designed "Baby-Grand Typewriter". Spiro was commissioned by Gourland to design the typewriter in 1919.
The following month, Typewriter Topics took a closer look at Mr Gourland:
Michael Jacob Gourland was born in Vilno in Russia on November 24, 1879. He arrived in the US in August 1916 and became a naturalised American on June 7, 1922. He was still living in New York in 1942.

The Xcel: A Syllabic Typewriter

The Norwalk Hour, September 6, 1922
In early 1922, Wesley Henry Bennington, a politician, inventor, street-corner preacher and active socialist, made his second dab at launching a syllabic typewriter, the Xcel.
Bennington, by the way, was an associate of Norman Mattoon Thomas, the Presbyterian minister who achieved fame as a socialist, pacifist and six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America.
Bennington and a J.C.Golner planned to buy out the Fox Typewriter Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which had been in receivership since May 1921, in order to build Bennington's syllabic typewriter - as well as existing Fox models. Typewriter Topics, in its initial reports on the project, in March 1922, incorrectly gave credit to Golner for the syllabic machine's development. Golner was in fact the Toledo broker in the partnership.
What might not have helped Bennington's cause was that the omnipresent Burnham Coos Stickney, a fervent New York patent attorney and alleged typewriter inventor, stepped in and applied for a patent for the syllabic typewriter for Underwood in June 1922. Stickney often stole other men's ideas through his lightning speed in patenting them. The machine was never made.
Typewriter Topics, March 1922. (In the Fox story, Typewriter Topics incorrectly called Bennington William instead of Wesley.)

Wesley Henry Bennington was born in North Robinson, Ohio, on May 15, 1861, and died in Cleveland on October 30, 1928, aged 67.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

A Brilliant S(hiny) Portable Typewriter

So this is how it goes:
1.   A “Brilliant’ typewriter pops up on Australian eBay.
2.   Never heard of a Brilliant typewriter, says I. Is it a brand name, a model name or a just an enthusiastic seller's description?
3.   Check Will Davis web pages. Can’t find a Brilliant.
4.   Check Georg’s sites, check Richard Polt’s site, check Alan Seaver’s site. No Brilliant.
5.   Do a general web search. No luck.
6.   Must be a mistake, says I.
7.   Put it on Watch List.
8.   Thirteen seconds from end of auction, already 14 bids and over $100 ... but curiosity gets the better of me. Put in bid.
9.   Win.
10.                 Intensify searches. If only I knew what country it came from, that would help track it down. Looks vaguely Japanese. A Nippo, perhaps. Has that sort of Royalite look about the front. That suggests Nippo, too. Think Atlas, Baby Alpina, Condor, Rexina …
11.                 Days later, note from Post Office in letterbox to pick up parcel.
12.                 Pick up parcel.
13.                 Tear open packing, what little there is of it.
14.                 Yes, it says “Brilliant S” on the front.
15.                 Yes, it’s a brilliant red, all right - eBay photos didn’t lie.
16.                 Ah, “Made in Western Germany”.
17.                 Straight home. On to Internet.
18.                 Cracked it! Will Davis has all the answers on the Davis Typewriter Works blog.
19.                 Will (who owns it as a Collegiate) has had the good word from Thomas Fuertig. It’s an ABC. Marketed by Neckermann as a Brilliant S.
20.                 ABC? Think Cole Steel.
21.                 Get out Cole Steel, compare. Workings identical.
22.                 Now, Will says I can find the patents.
23.                 Yep (many minutes later), there they are.
24.                 Patents applied for by Kochs Adlernahmaschinenwerke AG, Bielefeld, Germany in March 1960, issued September that year.
25.                 Wow! Thanks Will! You’re a champion! First I have a lovely little gleaming, snappy red typewriter that I’d never heard of a weeks earlier, now I have its patents. Can’t beat that!
Yes, I know, I've already mislaid the little clasp from the front, but I'll find it again ...