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Sunday 29 March 2020

The Much Caricatured Creator of Astérix and his Royal Keystone Typewriter

The death in Neuilly-sur-Seine this week of French comic book artist Albert Uderzo, who would have turned 93 next month, recalled Uderzo's long partnership with the writer René Goscinny. The pair created the much-loved and internationally-followed cartoon character Astérix in March 1959. Goscinny is possibly the most caricatured typist in history (usually drawn by his friend Uderzo).
Goscinny was born in Paris in 1926 and spent a happy childhood in Buenos Aires. In 1945 he started his career as an illustrator in an advertising agency. In New York in 1948 he started working in a small studio where he became friends with future MAD Magazine contributors Will Elder, Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman. Goscinny then became art director at Kunen Publishers.  Georges Troisfontaines, chief of the World Press agency, convinced Goscinny to return to France and work for his agency as the head of the Paris office in 1951. There he met Uderzo, with whom he started a famous collaboration.
In 1955, Goscinny, together with Uderzo, Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean Hébrad, founded the syndicate Edipress/Edifrance. Under the pseudonym Agostini, Goscinny wrote Le Petit Nicolas for Jean-Jacques Sempé in Le Moustique and later Sud-Ouest and Pilote magazines.
The next year Goscinny began a collaboration with Tintin magazine. An early creation with Uderzo, Oumpah-pah, was also adapted for serial publication in Tintin from 1958-62.
In 1959, the Édifrance/Édipresse syndicate started the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Pilote. In the first issue, 
Goscinny launched Astérix with Uderzo. The series was an instant hit and remains popular worldwide. 
The magazine was bought by Georges Dargaud in 1960, and Goscinny became editor-in-chief. Goscinny died in Paris of cardiac arrest on November 5, 1977, aged 51. His much used typewriter, now seen in many exhibitions about his life and work, was this Royal Keystone portable:
But in later life Goscinny also used an Olympia SF and a larger bodied Olympia.

Friday 27 March 2020

Cleaning 'Crinkle' Surfaces on Typewriters

For many years now I’ve tried a wide range of products in efforts to clean the “crinkle” grey paint surfaces on 1950s typewriters (Royals, Underwoods and Imperials in particular). Dirt gets ingrained in this particular type of surface and is very hard to shift. Last year I was asked to service a Royal HHP standard which had been bought for a Canberra woman by her mother-in-law, from the San Francisco Typewriter Exchange. It was in excellent working condition but needed a good clean-up. I had to take the machine apart anyway, so I tried something “new” (at least to me), a fast-acting, non-caustic “tough clean” spray from Shelleys. It contains 105g per litre of monoethanolamine. I found it worked a treat – simply apply (ensuring the decals are well protected, of course) and wash off.

The Imperial Good Companion portable I brought back from my visit to New Zealand was also in need of a thorough surface clean (as well as the mechanics, see below) and the same product worked wonders. I neglected to take “before” photos of the Royal, but believe me the difference after the cleaning was stark. You can tell from the “wash-off” water from the Imperial mask (bottom image) just how much dirt was extracted. I’m very pleased with the results and would thoroughly recommend using such a product if the need arises (as, in my case, it often does).

Thursday 26 March 2020

Isolation Ward 49: Update #2 - Using a Typewriter to Write News From Home

Print newspapers have been teetering on the brink for some years, and Coronavirus may well push them over the edge. Yet Coronavirus is at the same time underlining the fact that we need print newspapers now more than ever. We need accurate information, and we need it to be completely comprehensible and in black and white.
Other than chats in her trackie daks (track suit pants for those non-Antipodeans reading this) from New Zealand's brilliant Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, it’s almost impossible to fully take in the advice being offered on TV or online. As ex-cricketer Shane Warne rightly pointed out, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s talks are next to useless. And as for being bombarded with often conflicting advice, we’ve found we have to take notes of any audio or video that makes any sense. We need words in clear, concise print to get our heads around things.
The extra problems print newspapers are now facing are enormous. If you’re in isolation, as we are, you can’t go out and buy one (no crosswords and quizzes to help kill time). If you have home delivery, or if a throwaway lobs on your front lawn, as the Canberra Chronicle does on ours once a week, you need to be careful about plastic wrapping and the newsprint paper itself. Wash your hands after opening, wash them after reading.
As businesses are forced to close down, Coronavirus will severely curtail newspaper display advertising and advertorials (about the only decent income they have left). I personally won’t be sad to see the end of travel and car supplements, or racing guides, but these represent massive revenue newspapers can ill afford to lose. Already Australian Associated Press remains set to close down in June, and if newspapers have to lay off reporting staff they’ll contain very little in the way of news content.
Our local rag, The Canberra Times, is a good case in point. Independently owned, it continues – for the time being - to serve a vital purpose. And just to prove that point, here is our friend, Times journalist and Typospherian Jasper Lindell, doing the right thing and working from home. When Earth Hour comes at 8.30pm on Saturday, Jasper is going to need that Olivetti Diaspron 82 typewriter on his right. And as time goes on, he may well need it even more often!

Monday 9 March 2020

Worn Out Typewriters

When author Russell Munson visited Ernie Gann’s 800-acre Red Mill Farm on San Juan Island, Washington, in late 1992, almost a year to the day after Gann had died at Friday Harbor, he photographed Gann’s festooned Olivetti Lettera 22 still on Gann’s writing desk in the old chicken coop that Gann had converted into a studio. Gann had written there for 26 years, from 1965. Munson wrote in the December 1992 issue of Flying magazine, “The old Olivetti portable typewriter that kicked around all over the world with Gann rests in its scarred leather case on a small table. On top of the machine are fastened 25 bronze strips like campaign ribbons, with the titles of most of his books, including Island in the Sun (1944), Blaze of Noon (1946), The High and The Mighty (1953), his autobiography A Hostage to Fortune (1978), Gentlemen of Adventure (1983) and, of course, the remarkable all-time classic, Fate is the Hunter (1961) … Twenty of the books [actually 21] were best-sellers.” Island in the Sky, The High and The Mighty and Fate Is the Hunter were made into major motion pictures.
(After Gann’s death, on December 19, 1991, the Experimental Aircraft Association moved the Red Mill Farm studio and its furnishings to its aviation museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.)
         Ernest Kellogg Gann was born in Lincoln, Nebraska on October 13, 1910. He was an aviator, author, sailor and conservationist. He graduated from Culver Military Academy  then matriculated with the Yale School of Drama. In the late 1930s Gann purchased a half partnership in a Stinson Reliant (gullwing) aircraft with actor Burgess Meredith and soon became an accomplished aviator. After moving to California, he also began to write short stories. Then back in New York he was hired by American Airlines to fly Douglas DC-2s and Douglas DC-3s. The Second World War took him to Europe, Africa, South America and India. His travels and adventures would become the inspiration for many of his novels and screenplays and he gave up flying to begin writing as a full-time occupation.
Albatross after her conversion to a square rig.
Gann had a lifelong love of sailing and owned several boats of various types and sizes during his lifetime. Gann purchased a large metal sailboat in Rotterdam, which he christened Albatross. Along with his family and a few friends he sailed the boat across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal to San Francisco Bay. Albatross was overhauled and Gann then sailed it around the South Pacific Ocean.
            This is the Royal Quite DeLuxe portable which belonged to Alistair Cooke (1908-2004), a British-born American writer whose work as a journalist, television personality and radio broadcaster was done primarily in the United States. Cooke turned out his “Letter from America” for the BBC for almost 58 years. Cooke’s daughter Susan said that since Boston University got all his papers, it was only right that his typewriter should go the BBC in England. “This was the one he travelled with and the one I remember him working on in his apartment,” she said. “He wasn't writing for America - it was for England and the BBC.”

This Smith-Corona 5TE electric portable has a plaque on it saying it was given to Helen E. Weaver, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's personal secretary at NATO headquarters in Paris from 1951, and his secretary at the White House from 1953-1957, by her White House friends. The 5TE was first produced in 1957.

One of the more unusual typewriter displays you are likely to find anywhere in the world is in the late Noël Coward's West Indian home, Firefly, six miles east of Oracabessa in Jamaica. It is his Gossen Tippa Pilot portable typewriter - allegedly containing the very last words Coward ever wrote!

Not forgetting Cormac McCarthy's Olivetti Lettera 32 with its questionable provenance and its high selling price.

Sunday 8 March 2020

Mary Hocking and her Imperial Good Companion Typewriter

I can't let International Women's Day pass without mention of a great female author and her typewriter. Mary Hocking  (above at her Imperial Good Companion portable typewriter) was a British writer who published 24 novels between 1961 and 1996. Educated at Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls, Acton, London, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service in World War II. After the War Hocking became a local government officer in the Middlesex Education Department, where she worked until the success of her first novel allowed her to become a full-time writer and move to Lewes, East Sussex, where she lived for the rest of her life.

Hocking's novels are characterised by wit and irony, and their subject matter often includes central women characters and their relationships with families, or individuals seen against a background of work and society, with moral questions asked. Most of Hocking's novels are set in the contemporary world, although He Who Plays the King (1980) is a historical novel set in the last years of the Wars of the Roses. Her last novel, The Meeting Place (1996), included time-slip scenes. The Fairley family trilogy - Good Daughters (1984), Indifferent Heroes (1985) and Welcome, Stranger (1988) - is family saga spanning several decades of the 20th Century. Letters from Constance (1991) is an epistolary novel that looks back over the same period.
Reviewer Nick Totton commented about The Mind Has Mountains in The Spectator: "Mary Hocking writes brilliantly on many levels at once, because she knows that the everyday contains another, stranger reality: it only takes attention, an at-first casual intensification of vision, to open the crack between the worlds ... The Mind Has Mountains is a funny, serious book, to be read and reread: the kind of book that bides its time, perhaps remaining an innocuous entertainment for years until a reader is opened to it by explosive experience - 'so that was what it meant!' It is a Steppenwolf for our time; and, I think, the equal of Hesse's."
Mary Hocking was born on April 8, 1921, and died on February 17 2014, aged 92.

Tom Carment's Typewriter Paintings

I came across Tom Carment's typewriter paintings through a feature in The Sydney Morning Herald's Spectrum liftout a week ago. The piece described Carment as "one of Australia's most accomplished plein air artists". But accompanying the article was an image of one of his typewriter paintings, which was painted indoors - in a shed. It's "Singer typewriter in Don’s shed, Perth", 2019 (above), which was a finalist the Sir John Sulman Prize, one of Australia's longest-running art prizes (1936-) and held concurrently with the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. The Sulman is awarded for "the best subject/genre painting and/or murals/mural project" and is valued at $A20,000.
Carment, noted for his writing as well as his painting, said, "Every typewriter has its provenance, its own fingerprint – the crooked key that leads detectives to the blackmailer. My friend, the writer Elizabeth Harrower, who still types her letters, told me that she and Patrick White had a typewriter mechanic they used regularly, in North Sydney. It was like getting your piano tuned.
Alex Olivetto, 2017

"Cormac McCarthy’s battered Olivetti typewriter was considered so talismanic that, in 2009, it sold for $254,500, at a charity auction, after which a friend replaced it for him with the same model, bought for less than $20.
"As a teenager I found a grey portable on which I attempted to teach myself ‘touch typing’ from an instructional booklet, doing the exercises, ASDFGH etc. I never really succeeded. The eyes kept looking at the fingers.

"My remaining typewriter is a large office model Remington, bought in 1982 from a second-hand office supplies shop near Central Station [in Sydney]. I nearly broke my arms carrying it home on the train. The Remington was a step up from my tinny portable with awry keys; a V8 of a machine with a lovely action. I wrote my first book Days and Nights in Africa on it, in many drafts. In following decades, since the advent of word processing, this hefty machine has languished beneath my desk. I use it now and then to weigh things down, glueing primed linen to plywood boards.
"Last year [2017] I felt like typing a letter and brought it up to the kitchen table, to show my son Felix how things used to be done. It revived an old memory, the way it clarified my thoughts, the physicality of pounding the keys. Felix reckoned it was very ‘steampunk’. After that, I lugged it downstairs, placed it on some old dark floorboards, removed from a hatch near our letterbox, and started a painting. My partner Jan nearly broke her ankle when I forgot to put the boards back. A month later, I borrowed my friend Alex’s Olivetti Lettera, the same model as McCarthy’s, and then a Remington portable that I saw in the Grand Days shop on William Street [in Sydney]. A friend Fiona lent me her 1970s beige Optima, next to which I placed my father-in-law’s watch. I painted them all."

Carment was born in Sydney in 1954 and studied at Julian Ashton's Art School in 1973. He has been painting landscapes and portraits ever since. During the 1980s he lived overseas for four years, in Africa (Zimbabwe and Zambia) and in France. Carment returned to Sydney in 1988. His work has been shown since 1974 in 25 solo and numerous group exhibitions, mainly in Sydney. His work is held in public and private art collections in Australia and overseas.
Carment was the winner of the 2014 NSW Parliament Plein Air Painting Prize, the 2008 Gallipoli Art Prize and the 2005 Mosman Art Prize. In 2002 and 2010 he was awarded the Alan Gamble Award (for the best depiction of the built environment) and in 2010 the COFA Art Award. He has been hung in the Archibald Prize 10 times, the Wynne Prize six times and the Sulman Prize and Dobell Drawing Prize three times. Carment is a three-times winner of the Waverley Art Prize. Last year he was the only artist to have works in all three prizes at the Art Gallery of NSW: the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes.

Carment's book Days and Nights in Africa (written and illustrated by the artist) was published in 1985, and his essays, stories and pictures have appeared in HQ magazine, Heat magazine, The Bulletin and The Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend and Sydney Review of Books. In 2014 his book about the experience of long walks in Australia was published: Seven Walks, Cape Leeuwin to Bundeena. Carment's most recent publication is Womerah Lane: Lives and Landscapes, published last November. It's an illustrated  book of non-fiction essays and stories covering 30 years of his experiences.

Saturday 7 March 2020

The Sweet, Sweet Sound of Smooth Typing: My ‘Crossover” Olivetti Lettera 22, a Crispness Gift

My friend George has given me his Glasgow-made Olivetti Lettera 22. George bought it from Hopwood Business Machines on George Street in Launceston, Tasmania, in May 1963. It got a lot of use and travel over the next 22 years, and it still has in it the last ribbon George bought. It’s in tip-top condition and types beautifully.
        The first time I typed with it, I was absolutely thrilled by the sharp crispness of the elite typeface. So gorgeous, so clean, clear and pleasing to the eye! So fresh (for a 57-year-old typewriter)!

          But what had surprised me most when I first saw the typewriter was that it has the squarish dark grey keytops more associated with the Lettera 32. It also came in the blue case I tend to think of as a 32 case. Lettera 22s sold in the United States from September 1953 to June 1961 had the round black keytops and the case with the clip-on flap. Indeed, as far as I can recall all the 22s I have ever owned, or seen first-hand, had the black keytops and the case with clip. So I have labelled this one a “crossover” machine, meaning it was made at the time Olivetti was gearing up for and moving toward the new model, the 32. Sure enough, George’s 22 has the serial number 91103502, meaning it was made in late 1962, just a few months before he bought it. The Lettera 22 with the squarish keytops and blue case started to sell in the US in the middle of 1961, not long after Olivetti’s takeover of Underwood.
The blue 22 first advertised with the changed keytops in late 1961

        George’s gift completes a set for me – a set of bookends, if you like, from the very start of Lettera 22 production in Glasgow to near the end of that line, when the distinctive features of the 32 began to be phased in. A few weeks back I acquired a taupe Olivetti Lettera 22 with the black keytops. Its serial number is a surprise: XS659731. Ted Munk’s serial number database says, “Early Lettera 22 examples have S-Prefix serials”, but I can’t find reference to XS. Whatever it represents, the 659731 figure shows my taupe 22 was one of the earliest ever made. Ted says 22s were numbered up to 904,000 in the model’s first year of production, 1950.

Thanks to this 22 having all its paperwork inside the case, including the instruction booklet and service receipts, I know that it was bought by a Mrs Rollinson at Longs Typewriter Co, 86 Queen Street, London EC4. I can’t find any references to this company online, and I’m wondering if there is any connection with Christopher Long. From London directories on I can see the company was around from at least 1938.

1940 and 1941 London Directories
At the time of Mrs Rollinson’s purchase, Olivetti’s head office and showroom in London was at 10 Berkeley Square W1, it had a sales and service depot at 32-34 Worship Street EC2 and branch showrooms at 117 Kingsway WC2. Glasgow sales and service was at 115/207 Summerlee Street E3. Internationally, Olivetti had associated companies in Argentina, Australia (Sydney), Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Spain and in the US.

First Australian advert for the 22, November 1951
Later Australian advert, June 1954