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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Vale Manson Hale Whitlock (1917-2013) - Master Typewriter Man

Born Bethany, Connecticut,
February 21, 1917;
Died Bethany, Connecticut,
August 28, 2013, aged 96
Research, photos,
photocopying and scans
by his friend, typewriter collector
of New Haven, Connecticut

Operating from a bicycle shop, Manson Whitlock's father, Clifford Everett Hale Whitlock, started the family bookshop business in New Haven in 1900, aged just 15, and in 1910 branched out to sell and rent typewriters
In 1912 he acquired the New Haven franchise for Oliver typewriters. The Yale Daily News Pictorial Supplement in 1928 said:
Yesterday John Lambert learned that his friend and typewriter repairer Manson Whitlock had died, aged 96. The news came not long after John had stopped by the Whitlock home in rural Bethany, Connecticut, at the request of Manson's son, Bill. Bill had asked John to pick up a couple of still-unrepaired small typewriters that Mr Whitlock had only last month confidently expected to fix, "just as soon as he could escape the convalescent home".
"Yet," wrote John, "he looked so small and frail". When John returned from Maine on Tuesday, he found a telephone message from Mr Whitlock's grandson Dale, saying that he and his uncle and cleaned out the York Street, New Haven, office and had brought his grandfather home and hired a hospice nurse.  "I'm so sorry I did not get one more chance to say goodbye," wrote John, "as the times I had visited Mr Whitlock at 'the Willows' he had seemed in good spirits, determined and resolved to return to his shop."
One of the last jobs Mr Whitlock did for John was to convert his prized 1952 'dunkel rot' [dark red]  Gossen Tippa from a German keyboard to QWERTY. "My Tippa insisted that it was an English QWERTY model trapped in a German QWERTZ configuration, so I was just trying to facilitate its liberation and fulfillment. I left it with Mr Whitlock on a Friday. I received a telephone message from Mr Whitlock the following Monday to say that it was ready. He told me he had gone in on Sunday to do the job because he would be uninterrupted. The tab? $30.
"But I'm sure you understand that the cost is not the attraction; I'd pay admission just to be in Mr Whitlock's presence.
"He told me he doesn't particularly like doing this sort of work but he said he'd do it for me.
"Many keys stuck and the slug on the 'a' key did not leave any impression at all, even though I could hear solid contact with the platen. Mr Whitlock took the typebar into his aged hands and applied some pressure to bend the typebar. Momentarily, I was horrified and then, almost instantaneously, I thought, 'I'm watching a master who knows just what is needed to cure the typewriter's ills.' Almost magically, an 'a' appeared on the sheet of paper I'd left in the machine. I left it with Mr Whitlock for major cleaning and the second 'QWERTZ-ectomy', or German-to-English makeover, and now it's my mini-jewel.
"Mr Whitlock always reminds me that the large typewriters were the easiest to type on and the best quality because compromises had to be made to make small typewriters.
"He inspires me and I just love him."
Above is what John called the "odd" tool Mr Whitlock used when replaced typeslugs.
One of the first jobs John had Mr Whitlock do was on his "barely pre-70s version of the Olympia SM9 ... perhaps about as good as they ever got. I know many people on the web praise the SM9, but more important to me was the high praise it received from Mr Whitlock. When I first took my SM9 De Luxe in for maintenance, Mr Whitlock's first comment was that it was 'among the best ever made' (although he added that, generally, the Olympia desktop model are superior machines to the heavy portables and that the heavy portables are superior to the light ones).
"I know Mr Whitlock has never used the Internet or a computer and doesn't intend to, so I know his opinion is not influenced by anything anyone has ever said on the Internet; it's based purely on his 80 years of experience repairing  typewriters. I am not seeking the 'holy grail' of the finest typewriter ever - one of the best is fine with me." 
Later John had Mr Whitlock fix John's blue and gray 1962 Torpedo 18B. The margin stops did not work, but Mr Whitlock restored them to function "for an embarrassingly low invoice of $10.75.  He declared it to have a 'nice, snappy action' and, as usual, guaranteed his work against everything except misspelling."
The original book shop, in 1900
Before expanding to selling and renting typewriters, in 1908 Mr Whitlock's father, Clifford Everett Hale Whitlock (born Norwalk, Connecticut, April 14,1885; died Bethany, October 2, 1979) took out a lease on the building that would for most of the next decade house Whitlock's Bookshop.
In 1917 he incorporated the business and moved it into new, larger quarters on Elm Street,  about a block from where Elm becomes Broadway (at York Street). This building burned down on Christmas Eve 1943.
Manson Whitlock was in military service at the time - he enlisted in Fort Devens on January 20, 1942, six weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (listing himself as a typist and stenographer). Manson's brother Reverdy Robert Hale Whitlock (May 27, 1913-April 8, 2011) took over the family business, in a rebuilt store, in the late 1940s. Reverdy, who had attended Yale, became the head of local cultural institutions such as what used to be known as the New Haven Colony Historical Society and the Preservation Trust.  It was Reverdy who pared Whitlock's Bookstore down to a rare books-only store. Manson also collected and restored cars.
Manson's other brothers - Gilbert Hale Whitlock (November 12, 1915-March 22, 2004), Clifford Everett Hale Whitlock Jr (known as Everett, June 28, 1912-September 12, 2003) stayed in nearby rural Bethany, where the Whitlocks had farmland and ran what was known as Whitlock's Book Barn. John Frederick Whitlock (September 17, 1918-August 28, 1996) was a research chemist with Uniroyal in Woodbridge. Another brother, Norman Whitlock (1924-1950) died young. 
The Whitlock family were originally from Wilton in Fairfield County - Manson's grandparents Luther Grumman Whitlock (1852-1893) and Virginia-born Ida V. Hale Whitlock (1854-) had owned and run Whitlock's School. 
Wilton Bulletin, 1941
Manson's aunt Genevieve Hale Whitlock (1875-1903) was a pioneering female journalist:



Scott Kernaghan said...

Excellent write up Robert. You have done the man a great service. My condolences to the family, if they should read this.

TonysVision said...

I loved Cora Lewis' interview of September, 2010, in the Yale Daily News. It seemed to do a good job of bringing out the rich personality of someone you would like to have coffee with. Another wonderful post - thank you, Robert

Richard P said...

A fascinating compilation. Thank you, John and Robert.

Good for Mr. Whitlock for asserting, when the main store closed in the '90s, that the typewriter business "will come back." You know what? He was right.

TonysVision said...

It occurs to my slow mind, Robert, that you would have had considerable correspondence with your friend over the years, and his passing must leave a great emptiness. I'm sure I'm not the only one whose sympathies and condolences are being extended to you today.

Michael Leddy said...

What a beautiful tribute. I never knew Mr. Whitlock, and I’ve never lived in New Haven. But I somehow found my way to the Yale Daily News interview in 2010, and in June I saw the news that Mr. Whitlock had suspended business. I liked his optimism — “It isn’t closed. It’s temporarily not open.” And I was rooting for him.

Thank you for sharing these advertisements, articles, and photographs.

John R said...

Enjoyed reading this article on local icon Mr.Whitlock. I just came from his home removing some old furniture with a friend and have this very type slug tool found in the basement that was on its way to the trash.