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Sunday 1 December 2013

Typewriter Update, November 2013

There were echoes of US intelligence monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone this month when The Guardian and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that in 2009, the Australian Signals Directorate attempted to monitor the mobile phone calls of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife Kristiani Herawati, and senior officials, including foreign affairs spokesman Dino Patti Djalal and trade minister Hatta Rajasa.
To suggest Indonesia is less than impressed with Australia right now is an understatement. Among retaliatory measures, Indonesia has suspended cooperation in trying to stop "Boat People" setting out for Australia, a massive embarrassment for Australia's new, non-humane, anti-refugee government. Anyone recall the cringe-ifying "Where the Bloody Hell Are You?" 2006 ad campaign from Tourism Australia (briefly banned by those sensible Brits)? Well, the guy responsible for that blush-generating idea is our new Immigration Minister. It figures!
Despite an as-always compliant Press, Australia's new government has set a record for going behind in the approval polls an incredibly short time after being elected:
(Actually, this is an Australian Signals Directorate operative in disguise.)
Anyway, back to the Indonesians. At the root of these phone monitoring revelations and their resulting spat with Australia is Edward Snowden. So I'm figuring that Indonesia might well be tempted to follow the example of  Russia's Federal Guard Service (FSO) in returning to typewriters (in Russia's case 20 Triumph-Adlers) to avoid global electronic snooping.
Which brings me to something which might come in handy - President Sukarno's Royal standard typewriter on display in Gebang Palace in Blitar, East Java. The palace is the childhood home of Indonesia's first president, who led his country from 1945 to 1966. Sukarno led the struggle for independence from Dutch colonialism. Each day thousands of Indonesians make a pilgrimage to Blitar. Sukarno, born Kusno Sosrodihardjo on June 6, 1901, died on June 21, 1970.
The Washington Post Magazine last week ran this image with a MINE piece from clinical psychologist Rolando Díaz about the Olivetti Studio 44 which had belonged to his grandfather, Luis Muñoz, "the smartest person I knew". "He arrived in New York on Easter 1961 without a coat ... Soon after coming to America, he bought an Olivetti Underwood Spanish-language typewriter. It had an acute accent, an umlaut and an Ñ key. My grandfather typed his exams, letters, even the captions for his scrapbooks. His frequent typing was one of the sounds of my childhood. I loved hearing the 'clack' of the keys as he typed, the 'ding' of the bell, and the sound of the carriage returning to start a new line. Sometimes, I’d pretend to type as fast as he did, only to have the keys invariably get stuck together ... In his late 70s, he had me teach him WordPerfect, but he transcribed his notes about the PC on his Olivetti. As he got older, the typewriter was one of the few possessions he kept with him. When he passed away, my mom gave me his typewriter, which sits on our living room bookcase. My kids are fascinated by the Olivetti. They sometimes pretend to type on it, but the sound is not the same."
A letter-writer in India last December.
The Times of India reported from Coimbatore in November that M.A.Anwar Sherieff runs a single room typewriter centre at Marakkadai near the Town Hall in the southern India city. "A third generation and probably the last typewriter serviceman from his family, Anwar, 50, is the one to approach if a typewriter spare part is needed. His room is filled with numerous dismantled typewriter units scattered around. Major components ... are saved to be reused in other typewriters brought in for service. 'My grandfather started the typewriter service centre and it was handed down to my father. I learnt the trade under my father along with my 10 brothers. All of them have left the business, I am the one looking after the centre.' Anwar has a collection of typewriters ranging from a 100-year-old Underwood from the United States to numerous models manufactured by Remington, Godrej and even imported typewriters from Germany at his repair centre, Perfect Typewriter Centre. Until recently, he was a busy man visiting numerous offices in the city to repair worn-out typewriters. As typewriters slowly made way for computers in offices, Anwar started to get less and less work. He now spends most of his time at the shop, as the occasional piece kept in an office in the city is sent to him for service. With the demand for typewriters dying out, Anwar now rents out typewriters to government job aspirants. People come to rent typewriters when they have to appear for government jobs and the rent varies from unit to unit, depending on its condition. Sometimes, filmmakers making period films come in search of old and antique units. 'My 100-year-old Underwood typewriter was used as a prop in a scene in an upcoming Tamil movie called Mundasupatti featuring Vishnu Vishal of Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu. It is used in a scene where a British officer is typing a report. They paid a rent of Rs 1000 for a single day of shooting.' Anwar said that to survive as a typewriter service personnel, he has to constantly track and locate old typewriter units that are being discarded from old offices both private and government. It is these machines that serve as the source of components for the other typewriters. 'These components are no longer available in the market. We have to keep these components with us and use it as and when required,' said M.Murugesan, another typewriter mechanic. A complete service of a typewriter costs a minimum of Rs 600 while normal oiling and minor repair starts from Rs 100."
An earlier story, "Old typewriter mechanics recall busier times", appeared here.
New York City's The Villager last week ran an item titled Typewriter repairman’s job was punctuated by changes. "All tapped-out: Bino Gan, 60, has worked at Typewriters ’N Things for [28 years] and is ready to retire at the end of this year. 
"A sad note to typewriter aficionados: The final period is about to be struck on a long-running romance story - about typewriters. After 28 years in the business, Bino Gan, owner of Typewriters ’N Things in the West Village, is closing up shop. Gan and his wife, Nita, who also sell office supplies and stationery, will bid their loyal customers a final farewell on December 31. Originally from Manila, in the Philippines, Gan arrived in New York in 1976, and started working at his brother’s store in the family business - typewriters. His brother, who owned a store for 20 years in Midtown, taught Gan the trade. In 1985, Gan branched out with his sister, and they purchased a typewriter business together, which she later ran on her own for 18 years. After two years of working with his sister, Gan went solo and opened Typewriters ’N Things on Eighth Avenue near Horatio Street. The store is currently in its third location. Gan has kept it within a three-block area on the same avenue all these years ... 'Our generation of [typewriter] technicians are almost gone,' he reflected. 'Not too many are left.'
"Last month, Gan lost a technician who was with him 28 years, and had been working in typewriter repair since the 1950s. It was also that man who sold the typewriter business to Gan and his sister. Gan’s other technician returned to the Dominican Republic. In addition to serving the local typewriter set, Gan bought Olympia and Olympus manual standard typewriters, mostly from Canada, fixed them up, and then exported them to the Dominican Republic and sometimes the Philippines. According to Gan, the typewriters from Canada, which had blank letter keys, were in pretty bad shape. 'The way the kids used them in school was very rough,' he said. 'The students tried to destroy the machines. They can’t have class if they were broken.' It cost less for Canadian schools to buy new ones than bother with repairs, so Gan prospered from scooping up the rejects ... Gan focused only on repairs, then when he moved to where he is now in 2001, he sold Olympia manual typewriters for a few years. Eventually, Gan stopped selling manual typewriters since no one makes them anymore. However, there has been a resurgence of interest in vintage typewriters over the past five years. 'Now everybody is looking for manuals, and I don’t have any,' Gan said. While Gan is not exactly sure why, he does believe typewriters are making a comeback. 'I get calls from people asking me all day if I have them to sell, or do I fix them, or do I still have ribbons,' he said. Gan noted this demographic is in their 20s and 30s, and they are searching for Royal, Smith-Corona or Remington typewriters, generally priced at $295 and up. These vintage typewriters are from the 1920s to 1940s, and are black and shiny. A much younger generation, ages 5 to 10, is being introduced to typewriters at Poets House, a library and literary center in Battery Park City which is Gan’s client.
"Gan’s typewriter customers are a specific type. Most are writers and reporters who belong to an older generation. There are a slew of celebrities - Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola (above, at an Olivetti DL) and Tommy Hilfiger - who have brought in typewriters to be fixed. Repairs cost $125 and up. Gan produced a receipt from Coppola dated October 18, 2002, for the cleaning and tuning of his Olivetti Lettera 32, a popular Italian model from the ’60s. 'He told me it’s the same typewriter he wrote The Godfather on,' Gan said. Coppola has yet to return, which may speak volumes about Gan’s handiwork, or perhaps Coppola has transitioned to writing on a computer. Beth Bogart, a relative of Humphrey Bogart, has frequented the shop with her typewriter. William Packard, the late writer, was a regular. And Keanu Reaves, the actor, was looking to buy his own; he brought in a manual to show the Gans and get an opinion. Gan does not recognize many of the writers who come in, nor does he use a typewriter himself, but he gets the appeal. 'It feels different,' he said. 'The noise, the pounding and hitting of the key as it touches the paper.' As for his customers, they will most likely miss him. 'Woody Allen buys his ribbons from me, six pieces at a time. He owes me an autograph,' Gan said. 'When he comes in again, he’ll be surprised I’m gone.'
An interesting sideline to this story is that one reader commented. "He should have branched out into building, configuring, repairing and supporting computers." One of our dearest Typospherian friends responded to the comment ... and how!
The New York Times ran this image with a story about Burma modernising:

You have probably already seen this bit of footage from Charlotte, North Carolina, where CBS affiliate WBTV went to a local elementary school and showed some of the kids some old technology "that were popular when dinosaurs roamed the earth".
Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing died on November 17, aged 94, at her home in London. Lessing was born in Kermanshah, Persia (now Iran), on October 22, 1919. Her British father was a clerk for the Imperial Bank of Persia. In 1925, the family moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

I was pleased to be able to alert some of this blog's followers to the auction of Emeric Somlo's typewriter collection, held in Melbourne on Friday. Sadly, I wasn't in a position to bid on anything myself, but I understand some of my closest typewriter collecting friends, including at least one overseas, had some success. The results of the auction are expected to go online this week and I will post on the figures reached when I get them.  It should make for some interesting reading. I gather there were at least 10 of the 90 typewriters passed in as not reaching a reserve price, but a few of these have already been sold. The impression I got is that prices were generally at the low end of the scale, below going rates, so some bargains were presumably there for the picking.
Scott Kernaghan's thought-provoking blog post on "eBay rare" on Friday drew a comment from Tino in Melbourne about this intriguing listing on Australian eBay. The Sydney seller is asking $1200 for what he describes as an "Olympia Traveller De Luxe". It's not the Olympia Traveller De Luxe with which most of us are familiar and there appears to be nothing on the machine to suggest it is called anything other than an SM3. Was there an earlier Traveller De Luxe? I don't think there was. Understandably, there were no bids at $1200 and the item has been re-listed at the same starting price.
What was a rarity on Australian eBay was this Stoewer Swift (an export name for the Record No 5) which attracted six bids and sold for $46:
Here is what it looks like when properly cared for:
But not all typewriters get the care they deserve. A lot of four were sold here for $10.50 after three bids. They looked like this (and take a look at where they were photographed!):
This Remington Model 1 didn't sell for $50, the unexplained large white blotch perhaps putting off potential bargain hunters. I wonder what it is:
This Czech-made Consul 231.3, masquerading as an Omida, got one bid and sold for $10, probably because the honest seller pointed to some "bent keys". You can still see where the Consul sticker was peeled off!:
This oddity looks like it evolved from the Monpti:
What are definitely not rare on Australian eBay are Olivetti Valentines which, strangely, are missing their front sections. And very rarely do the sellers point this out. Was it some sort of Australian ritual to remove the front section to improve stability? One Valentine was listed not so long ago with the two black supports still sticking out the front. Explain me up, Scottie!
On offer for $415
 But someone in the US wants $350 for this! At least it has the front section.
This nice Dutch-made Royal portable, apparently labelled a Royaluxe 325, went to some lucky buyer for $108. It looks quite Diana-like:
As much as I hated missing out on the Royal, I was even more disappointed to be once again left behind in the dust in the bidding for a Japanese typewriter. This one attracted 25 bids and sold for $325:
Regular correspondent David Lawrence commented on my post about the Olivetti Lettera 82 with a scathing critique of the Olivetti Lettera 12, saying (and these are the mild bits!): "You really need to try an Olivetti Lettera 12. The 12 is without doubt the most execrable device ever put into production and to expect humans to pay money for this 'thing' is malevolent lunacy." Well, David, someone in Australia did outbid 10 others in November and paid $67 for one! Mind you, it was described as an "Olivettie [sic] Lettera 12". But it gets better: "The first truly portable typewritter [sic] with its own hard carry case [63 years after the Standard Folding]". "Many historians consider it to be the Ipad [sic] of its day and was used by world renowned authors and journalists." All of which is, of course, total bullcrap. Still, if you can get $67 for one, good luck to you. I do wonder, however, if the buyer realised her or she needed to find ribbon cartridges for it. The seller claimed these were "readily available online". Maybe at a HUGE cost from England:
What, fortunately, didn't sell on Australian eBay was my Lemair portable, offered up by some friendly Victorian soul who couldn't see for the life of him why he shouldn't use a listing photograph of something sitting in my lounge. "this isn't your typewriter," the idiot insisted. "i don't understand why my using these images from Google affects you in any way."
David Lawrence was kind enough to alert me to a couple of interesting offerings on Trade Me in New Zealand, one a Remington Junior and the other a New Zealand Typewriter Company Blickensderfer 8. I hadn't previously been aware a Blick 8 was made for the NZTC. I have the 5 and the 7, but obviously not a 8:
David also pointed out this Mockba on offer from the Ukraine. The seller not only wanted $US99 for it, but $99 shipping as well. He said, "Typewriter is presented as found in good original condition. Needs thorough interior and exterior cleaning. Please see pictures for details." When you do look at the pictures, you wonder what a Russian typewriter that's not in good original condition looks like!:

I can't work out what's going on with shipping charges for small items being posted from the US, but a couple of times now I have queried the $27 to $29 that was being asked for items like an empty typewriter ribbon tin, which weighs less than one ounce. On one occasion the seller found a more realistic price and charged me that - so I can't make out what the problem can be.
The last time this happened, with the tin seen above, the seller responded: "I am only charging $1.00 for postage. The extra charge is being added by eBay. From what I understand with their global shipping program, I mail it to a center domestically and then they 'take it from there'. So those extra charges are theirs. And I understand that over $27.00 is a bit much." A bit? Try more than five times the correct price!!! After I asked her to question eBay about this, she replied, "I just talked to eBay and they said that the figure from them is correct. This amount covers the domestic and international postage, the custom fees and the brokerage fees."
This is OUTRAGEOUS, a rip-off of monumental proportions. eBay sellers in the US are losing out because eBay is charging such ludicrous, over-the-top shipping costs that people in other countries aren't buying. Someone should do something about eBay's cash grab. Twenty-seven dollars for something weighing less than an ounce. I don't think so!!!
I was contacted by a young man in Sydney last week. He was getting married at the weekend, had bought a typewriter on eBay for the wedding reception, and was having difficulties organising with the old lady seller to pick up the machine. First he wanted to make sure he had a fresh ribbon for it, so I advised him accordingly.
It turned out that the typewriter he won was a 1920s Underwood four-bank portable in fantastic condition, and to my great surprise it had been listed and sold by a woman in Canberra. Anyway, the groom-to-be was coming through Canberra on his way to the wedding and to cover all eventualities, we made arrangements for him to borrow a typewriter from me.
Groom-to-be duly arrived, having succeeded in picking up the Underwood. But I advised him not to use such a valuable old machine at a wedding, and loaned him my pink Olivetti Studio 44, which had already been set aside for a wedding here in Canberra next year. Happily, groom-to-be exclaimed, excitedly, that the Olivetti would match the bridesmaid's dresses (as I had suggested it might).
When groom-to-be had picked up the Underwood, the old lady hadn't even come to the door when he called, she just left the typewriter in its case on the front doorstep. Amazingly, however, groom-to-be had managed to ascertain that the Underwood had once belonged to the secretary of Australia's longest-serving prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies. The case was tastefully lined with green and gold stripes.
'Pig Iron Bob' Menzies (correctly pronounced Min-gas) with John F.Kennedy
The whole exercise was fascinating - and galling, as I had had no idea the machine was up for sale (can't win 'em all, I suppose). The women had agreed to sell the machine to groom-to-be and then offered it up for auction. When groom-to-be protested, she withdrew it from auction and sold it to him. The worst part of this whole saga? The cost was a mere $130!!!
The Los Angeles Times's "L.A. at Home"  gift pick No 24 came from Louise Ann Marler. "Using vintage typewriters as inspiration, Santa Monica artist Louise Anne Marler crafts whimsical, contemporary artworks from manual machines now rendered obsolete. Playful and colorful like Pop art, the L.A. Marler limited-edition archival prints are replicated on woodblocks ($65), as fine art prints (up to $600) and on canvas pillows ($45). Also available: canvas bags, T-shirts, note cards and jewelry. Marler said she views the vintage machines as symbols of  'communication, letters, books, stories, commerce and life'. She also views them with a sense of humor, adding amusing captions to some pieces: 'Here's my story' typed out from a Mercedes Superba, 'Keys to Success' on a Corona Special and simply 'Word' on a Corona."
The Contenders:

The Winner:


Richard P said...

Your Updates are always highly entertaining.

The story about Typewriters 'n' Things alerted me to the use of typewriters at Poets House, and yesterday I spoke to someone there about the phenomenon. It will make good material for my book.

I got a notification from eBay recently about the great favor they've done to all US sellers by making it possible to ship their items worldwide ("Now the whole world can buy from you"). I am just supposed to mail the item to nearby Kentucky, and they take care of the rest. Superficially it sounds convenient, but your report makes it clear that it's another way to eBay to cash in. Now they soak sellers with eBay fees and PayPal fees, and they soak international buyers with handling fees. And of course, international shipping was already always an option before, if the seller was willing to go to a little trouble. I haven't used the new system yet so i don't know whether there is any way around it.

Miguel Chávez said...

Ah, I see Miss November uses a Corona 3... that definitely wins my vote to her.

Robert, that brown oddity you were wondering about is a Remington 25. I used to have one; made in Brazil, plastic mask with a rigid plastic cover. Not a bad typer, but definitely not as good as, say, a Lettera 22 or 32. And there were several variants on the same basic subject: here in Mexico I've seen them come in mustard yellow, white and brown, and each color has its own features: the brown one has a tabulator; the white one is a simpler model without tabulator, and so on.

If you don't mind using Google's nefarious translate feature you can see some info on the Remington 25 in my blog:

I'm still to try selling stuff on eBay, so I don't know what I'll find when I do, specially considering that I would be selling from Mexico. But I've sold some stuff online and, as a seller, one of the biggest trouble when it comes to shipping stuff to another country is that you have to take care of some basic, yet time-consuming procedures, and it certainly goes against the profits of selling stuff online (we already have to pay fees to the e-marketplace site we choose). So, in theory, having the e-marketplace arrange for the international shipping of things sold through it can be a huge convenience to the sellers.

As for the buyers, in theory they can also benefit from this, because they have a better warranty that the item was actually shipped, and can settle any claims with the e-marketplace instead of the seller. BUT if that means that the shipping costs will inflate to three or four times their value, I wouldn't be surprised if many buyers thought it twice before buying from sellers in the States.

Unknown said...

You're going to love this one! This Etsy seller misquoted your blog saying that you said the Olivetti Lettera 12 was the "very first portable typewriter on earth"!

Unknown said...

(Oops, forgot the link)

Spiderwebz said...

Thank you Robert for this great report!

From a business perspective, I do understand that Ebay needs to add a handling fee, but can't they just make it an option? This sounds very ridiculous! The only way around it I can think of, is sending it to a typospherian in the USA and let them send it to you...

In case anyone has an interest, there is a black Bar-Let for sale in the Netherlands. The highest bid is 42 euro's.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Richard, Miguel, Nick and Spider.
In the case of the seller who did get around it, it did take some effort on her part, and she had to send me a request through PayPal for the shipping cost, as she couldn't invoice me through the usual channels, as eBay was insisting on the exorbitant amount. There's no question about it, it's yet another eBay cash grab. What started out as a friendly international flea market is now no more than a means of eBay making profits.
Miguel, I do hope US sellers come to realise the "hugh convenience" will cost them business. I feel sure they'll rebel when they find that out. I don't see much in it for the buyer except extra cost. What we are looking at here is, say, $8 for a ribbon tin, $28 for shipping. That's just crazy!
Nick, I contacted Anouschka at VintageEuroDesign and she claimed she had "read it at haste and not taken it in" and has promised to remove it. Thanks for alerting me to this. She was actually linking to a post about the design, which referred to the "first portable with cartridge ribbon". I wonder if that is what the Australian seller conveniently overlooked too? When I contacted Anouschka, to my surprise I found she has as a Favicon artwork done for me by an Australian artist - its origins are beyond question and it is unique.
Spider, I couldn't find the Bar-Let. There are a couple of black Model 2s for sale in England at very low prices.