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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

'Quick Brown Revived Fox': Uplift in Sales of Manual Portable Typewriters in Britain in 1989

On this day in 1989, the London broadsheet The Daily Telegraph ran an eight-page insert on "Office Automation". The spread included this Anthony Marshall photo of a then 71-year-old British typewriter collector and historian Wilfred Albert Beeching, author of Century of the Typewriter (first hardcover edition published by William Heinemann, London, 1974; second softcover edition published by British Typewriter Museum Publishing, Bournemouth, 1990). Beeching was born Sidney Frank Appleton in Smallburgh, Norfolk, on September 9, 1918. He changed his name by deed poll in Bournemouth in October 1941. Five years later, after serving in World War II, Wilf Beeching entered the typewriter trade as a manufacturers' agent with an office machine shop in Bournemouth. The business must have been good, for in less than 30 years Beeching had accumulated a collection of some 350 rare early typewriters. In late September 1974 he opened his version of the British Typewriter Museum at 137 Stewart Road, Bournemouth. Unfortunately, in 1978, the site was closed by the land owner in order to build a car park and Beeching presented his collection to the Bournemouth Borough Council. The collection was insured by the borough through the Bournemouth Museums Service and the borough bought the museum's souvenir shop stock and all rights to the museum brand name for £1500. The museum was moved within the Rothesay Museum at 8 Bath Road and reopened as "a museum within a museum" on October 23, 1978. Beeching became an "honorary keeper" as part of the arrangements. The museum remained in operation until the demolition of the Rothesay Museum in 1985. Beeching was outraged and asked to take the collection back. It included a Blick Electric and the extremely rare Conqueror. The collection was later split up, with some of it going to the Science Museum in London and other typewriters being sold to private collectors, including Uwe Breker. Beeching died in Bournemouth in July 2000, aged 81.

The Telegraph's supplement also included articles on the state of the typewriter industry in Britain at that time, and an article about QWERTY which, unfortunately, was one of those items which promoted the old furphy about QWERTY being devised to "slow down typists" when quite the opposite was in fact the case. It's amazing how many people still believe the "slow down" nonsense.


Bill M said...

Interesting stories. I often wondered with the advent of computers why the QWERTY keyboard stayed in use. Seems it would make sense to use a keyboard with most commonly used keys on the home keys. I have fun with my Dvorak keyboards on my PCs.

Andy ( said...

Ah! For once I can stop lurking and contribute something of value (I hope!).

I purchased a left-handed Maltron a few years back, as much of my work involves the constant switching of my right hand to-and-from trackball to two-handed keyboard. It's a lovely piece of work, but I find the retraining of hands that learned to touch-type on QWERTY to be difficult. So, for now, it sits on a shelf next to my Torpedo 18.

I suspect, just like voice recognition word-processing software, adoption of ANYTHING new besides a niche market falls victim to office norms and socialization. Indeed, the niche market factor seems to keep Maltron alive- it's a very good choice for hemiplegics, amputees, and others for whom two-handed activities are difficult.