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Wednesday 27 October 2021

The Last Infirmity of My Mundane Mind: Why ozTypewriter Must One Day (Soon) End

"Who knows whether in retirement I shall be tempted to the last infirmity of mundane minds, which is to write a book."

-           Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Baron Fisher of Lambeth (1887-1972), the preposterous Anglican priest who was the 99th Archbishop of Canterbury (1945 to 1961), and who once also said, “the dangers of a world war would be reduced if typewriters are abolished”.

Facebook reminded me this morning that is nine years today since I took early retirement, after 47 years in print newspaper journalism. Offered an opportunity to do so, I eagerly jumped ship, almost six months ahead of the prescribed retirement age of 65. It remains one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. Ever had one of those nightmares in which you’re buried alive and, desperately scrambling for air, see a fragment of light above you? That was the sense of relief I experienced on October 27, 2012. The next day I posted on this blog about a beautiful ivory and como green Remington Model 2 portable typewriter I’d won on eBay for a ludicrous $22. I was also already making plans to attend Herman Price’s typewriter gathering at the Chestnut Ridge typewriter museum in West Viriginia. I never did get to meet Ken Coghlan at it, but there were hundreds of compensations, not the least of which was visiting Richard Polt in Cincinnati.

Many times in retirement I have been close to what that bonkers bishop Geoffrey Fisher described as “the last infirmity of mundane minds”, which is to write a book. Indeed, in mid-2017 I actually put together something called The Barefoot Billionairess (about the heiress to Henry Benedict’s Remington typewriter fortune) on a Lulu template. But after carefully laying out the text and images, Lulu told me it only accepted the Calibri sans serif font. That threw everything out, so I gave up. In January 2017 I promised on this blog to bring out books on the history of the Imperial typewriter, the typewriter in Australia, and about those real mad men, Yost, Hammond, Crandell, Densmore & Co, and to re-edit and republish The Magnificent 5 (it's been out of print for 10 years now). The next month I met my wife. Enough said. I do have two books more than half written, one of which is a sure-fire bet to knock some socks off. But neither of them have much to do with typewriters.

The main reason these works haven’t been completed is this blog. Since my retirement celebration post on October 28, 2012, my 765th post, I have added 1995 more posts - which must amount to close to two million words (or enough for several books). On Sunday ozTypewriter quietly passed the 4¾ million page views mark. It crawled its way there but has since – for reasons beyond my comprehension - taken off again. Notwithstanding that sudden surge in interest, my blog has definitely entered its final phase. I plan to stop contributing posts to it within the next year. Then, maybe, “the last infirmity of my mundane mind” will take hold and I will get at least one book written and published before I die. Who knows? It may even be about typewriters.
The End

Saturday 23 October 2021

The Oakland Oracle and his Ode to the Haka

"Jimmie" Hopper, centre, presents a University of California, Berkeley, football jersey to fellow Oakland author Jack London, right, on London's 45-foot sailboat, The Snark, before she headed off for Hawaii in April 1907. On Hopper's left is London's wife Charmian Kittredge London. Also in the crew at that time was a then 20-year-old "ship's engineer" Herbert Rowell "Stubby" Stolz, who in 1913 played rugby union for the United States against the All Blacks at California Field, Berkeley. New Zealand won 51-3. For more on Stolz, see ozTypewriter blog post of September 5, 2015

Oakland journalist and writer James Marie "Jimmie" Hopper was the lead "beat" reporter on The San Francisco Call when, in mid-February 1906, a couple of prime assignments came his way. Not alone did The Call justifiably rate very highly Jimmie's ability to capture in words the city's most historic events in his own unique style - for ample evidence, see Jimmie's famous coverage of the April 18, 1906 earthquake. The Call also knew Jimmie knew football, inside out. The Call grasped the matches it was sending Jimmie and his Blickensderfer typewriter out to cover in February 1906 weren't just any old football matches. They were quite special. California's two major universities, Stanford and UC Berkeley, had only two months earlier - on December 11, 1905 - decided to abandon American football as being too violent, and to take up rugby union instead. Trouble was, hardly anyone in California knew the slightest thing about playing rugby. Some did know, however, that the all-conquering New Zealand All Blacks had been touring Britain, Ireland and France. A few of this small group thought it possible the New Zealanders might be enticed to travel home through the United States, rather than more directly through the Suez Canal. One of them had sufficient sway to write to New Zealand Premier 'King" Dick Seddon and persuade him to offer government money to bring the All Blacks back through New York and California. But since Californians hadn't even started playing rugby by mid-February 1906, British Columbia bravely stepped forward and offered to voyage south to take on the New Zealanders on American soil.

Jimmie Hopper, circled, in the 1898 University if California football team.
The 1905-06 All Blacks, who won 34 of 35 matches and scored 976 points to 59.

So it was that French-born Jimmie Hopper and his little typewriter went out to the University of California campus at Berkeley to write about a rugby union match on Saturday, February 10, 1906. OK, it wasn't a match involving any Californian teams - the "Big Game" between UC and Stanford wasn't first played under rugby rules until November 10, 1906. It was the first of two matches between the All Blacks and British Columbia to be played within three days, each match specifically staged to both convert Americans to rugby and to show them how the original version of football was played. Jimmie Hooper covered the two matches, the second at the Recreation Park, San Francisco.

And now, 115 years and eight months later, the New Zealand All Blacks – comfortably the world’s most successful sporting team ever, with an 85.8 per cent win ratio from 1332 matches since 1884 – will play the United States Eagles in an international at FedEx Field in Washington DC. And we might safely assume that tomorrow's Test will be avidly watched by President Joe Biden, who with his brother Jim played rugby for the Delaware club (formed 1972) and at Syracuse University. 
POSTSCRIPT: New Zealand beat the United States 104-14 on October 23, 2021. The two tries scored by the Eagles were the first the US had ever scored against the All Blacks, in five matches dating back to 1913.

Headlines and photo with appeared in the Sunday edition of The Call 
above Jimmie Hopper's match report.

But getting back to the first time the All Blacks played an official match in the US, at Berkeley, on Saturday, February 10, 1906. Jimmie Hopper watched in awe as New Zealand swamped the Canadians 43-6. He went back to Newspaper Row with these words typed on his Blick:

Kamate, Kamate, Kaura, Kaura

Kamate, Kamate, Kaura, Kaura

Tenai Te Tangata, Puhuru Huru

Ne Ne Ne Waka, Whitu Te Ra

Hoo-oo-pane, Kan-an-pane

Hoo-oo-pane, Kan-an-pane

Hupane, Kanpane, Wititira.

With this yell, in days that are past, the Maori warriors, up in their volcanic fastnesses of New Zealand, used to work themselves up to frenzied fighting pitch before rolling down, like seething lava, upon the British invaders of their lands. Centuries ago, perhaps, some gentle poet, who liked to see others fight, composed this rhythmic collection of syllables that make men mad. He was of those who build better (or worse) than they know. He meant merely, in all probability, to procure himself a series of spectacles which he could watch safely from behind convenient rocks, immortalizing them later, as the same time immortalizing himself. As a matter of fact he was doing nothing of the kind. He was merely deciding that in the year 1906 a country called the United States would suddenly reverse its sporting policy, wipe out all of its pigskin lore and bow to a new idol called Rugby football.

I’ll tell you how this happened.

On the Berkeley campus the All-Blacks of New Zealand played a match of Rugby football yesterday for the benefit of collegians lately attacked with moral doubts and scruples as to the ethical beauty of their own game. They presented, first of all, fifteen athletes, broad of shoulder, lean of loin, powerful as rhinoceroses and fleet as kangaroos, the mere sight of whom won distinct approbation. Then, when these athletes got started, they showed a game beautiful in its darting speed and kaleidoscopic variety of action. All this would have been insufficient to overthrow the old tried and beloved god, intercollegiate football, had it not been for our old Maori fight-loving bard.

For, before they started flashing through their Vancouver opponents, these All-Black New Zealanders stood in the center of the field, silent for a moment as with some tense, religious fervor. At a word of their captain, they massed close, their fists rose to heaven and began to brandish imaginary war clubs, their feet began to paw the ground with metrical beat, their fifteen mouths opened and then it came, raucously rhythmic:

Kamate, Kamate, Kaura, Kaura

Tenai Te Tangata, Puhuru Huru

Ne Ne Ne Waka, Whitu Te Ra

Hupane, Kanpane

Hupane, Kanpane

Hupane, Kanpane, Wititira.

Through the men packing the bleachers – the kind, you know, who yell owsky-wow-wow and weesky-wee-wee and ha-ha-ha and rah-rah-rah and give-’em-the-ax and whatsdematter-widsoandso – there ran a thrill of tenderness, then of delight, then of enthusiastic admiration. Never had they heard such a yell, never seen such brandishing of arms, such stamping of feet; never had the ingenuity of their yell leaders risen to such ecstatic results. Immediately they were conquered. Their eyes ran tears of maudlin tenderness. They shouted, they laughed, they wept, they hugged each other. Afterward whatever those cunning All-Blacks did was the thing to do; whatever game they played was the game to play. Next year we’ll be calling “touchdowns” “tries.” A “line” will be a “scrum”; we’ll weigh not “pounds” but “stones”; we’ll tackle by ears and noses; our cavorting legs will be indecently bare; quarterbacks will be further sliced into “three-quarter-backs” and “five-eighths-backs,” and before starting to wade through the “red shirts” or the “convict stripes” we’ll shake our fists and stamp our feet and yell:

“Kamate, kamate, kaura, kaura, etc”

That’s what this old rascal of a Maori poet had done for us.

And the game?

Well, the game is a truly beautiful one – open, fast, clean and elastic. It’s really a game, not a struggle, not a battle, not an attempted massacre.

The photo which appeared in The Call above Jimmie Hopper's report of the second match.

And so Jimmie's report went on. Hopper went back for more on the Tuesday, to see the All Blacks beat British Columbia 65-6. His report in The Call opened: “The New Zealanders gave another exhibition of their wonderful football yesterday afternoon … Seventeen times, like a squadron of black hussars, they swept through the Vancouver men …”

James Marie Hopper, the son of an Irishman and a French woman, was born in Paris on July 23, 1876. He went to Oakland with his mother, Victoire Blanche Eudoxie Lefebvre, when his father died in 1888. After graduating from the University of California in 1898, he attended Hastings Law School and passed the state bar ex
amination but never practised. Instead he concentrated on football and was a star quarterback on the 1898 UC team. As a colourful and much travelled journalist and writer, Hopper was friends with Jack London, Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair. He lived most of his adult life in a famous writers' enclave at Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, and died there on August 28, 1956, aged 80.
The cottage Hopper bought in 1913.
Hopper, seated, and London, right, in 1913.

Friday 22 October 2021

Corona Typewriter Coin Box Writing Competition

I'm starting a contest to win these (4½ inches high, 5¾ inches long, 6 inches wide) Corona folding typewriter coin boxes (and other subsidiary prizes). You have to TYPEWRITE no more than 200 words explaining why you want a Corona typewriter, scan your typed entry and email the scan to me by January 1, 2022. We're a wee bit late for the original $1500 contest, as advertised in Popular Science Monthly in March 1930, but hey, better late than never! Send entries to

Tuesday 19 October 2021

The Man Who Loved Stealing Typewriters

The chance arrest of mild-mannered, partly deaf market gardener Louis Von Einem on Queen Street, Auckland, at 6.35am on Wednesday, June 16, 1920, came, it turned out, as much a cause of relief for Von Einem and it did for those New Zealanders whose typewriters had been disappearing at a rapid rate. The 45-year-old Von Einem was apparently well aware he was suffering from the impulse control disorder kleptomania, and had found himself unable to stop his “peregrinations and pinchings” of more than two years. He was also quickly running out of space to move about in his Vincent Street boarding house room – he had taken to hiding things in secret cupboards inside walls. Von Einem told police he wanted to “relieve himself of everything he had stolen”. Police found in his rooms more than 150 items, worth £NZ413, two shillings and five pence, that Von Einem had stolen in the previous 27 months. That’s about $NZ80,000 worth of booty in today’s money. Among the pilfered belongings was a range of typewriters and 85 fountain pens, some gold-mounted.

Von Einem began his crime spree while on a fortnight’s Easter holiday in Wellington in March 1918, stealing a typewriter. In 1920 he told police, “About two years ago something happened and I stole, and I didn’t seem to be able to stop stealing since.” He faced 71 separate charges, surely some sort of record. In the haul put on display in the Auckland Police Court on July 21-22 was an Underwood standard belonging to the Le Grove Typewriter Company of Wellington, a Corona portable belonging to the Dominion Radio-Telegraphy College Company and a Royal standard which was owned by the New Zealand Government Education Department. The Underwood was found with “a stylish toque [brimless cap] perched saucily” on top of it. Quite how the light-fingered Von Einem made off with 30lb machines without being caught is mind-boggling. 

Von Einem had been nabbed by a Constable Holt, known in Auckland for his uncanny ability to “sniff” a burglar from a block away. Holt was footing it down the city’s main drag at that early hour when he saw Von Einem tampering with the lock on the case of a window island at Whitcombe and Tombs, 186 Queen Street. “Oi, oi,” said Holt, “what are you up to?” Von Einem, not yet ready to own up to his lifting mania, replied that he was employed by Whitcombe and Tombs as a cleaner and had been sent into work at dawn to tidy up the case. “Good morning,” he bade Holt. But Holt wasn’t buying it, and marched the market gardener to the nearest cop shop. Upon searching Von Einem, police found his latest plunder of pens. Von Einem was locked up and Holt went to have a look at his room. For an initial court hearing, Holt “found the finest selection of samples that could be got together,” New Zealand Truth reported.

It took Holt and Sergeant Dempsey a month to track down the owners of the items valued at £NZ413, but much more of Von Einem’s loot remained unclaimed. His swag showed a penchant for watches, tailor-made suits, hats, shoes and other clothing. It also included what Truth delicately described as “blouses, bloomers and other ‘undies’ … in short, just the kind of articles a ‘flapper’ would leave home for.” Another newspaper mentioned “intimate underwear fabrics that ladies affect”.

On August 14 Von Einem was sentenced in the Supreme Court to seven years “reformative treatment”. The court heard Von Einem had been “fascinated with the cleverness of getting these things”. Police reported he was “very religious, he studies, has reserved habits and writes poetry – a curious mixture”.

One newspaper remarked that Von Einem was the “author of a series of the most expert shop-lifting operations which have yet disturbed the peace, happiness and profits of shopkeepers and householders of Auckland”. Yet almost nothing is known about him. New Zealand Police Gazettes listed him as an Australian native, born in 1875, but newspapers said he was German. He first appeared on New Zealand electoral rolls in 1911 as a student. There is no data on his movements after he was released from jail.

Sunday 17 October 2021

Typewriters Not So Extinct

Extinct species? Typewriters featured in colour magazine inserts in the weekend’s major newspapers in Australia. Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV personalities Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales appeared on the cover of Melbourne Inside Out to promote their book Well Hello while journalist Trent Dalton featured in a rival publication promoting his book Love Stories. Crabb is holding an orange Brother portable and Sales a yellow Adler Tippa. Meanwhile Dalton is using a blue Olivetti Studio 44 semi-portable, which had belonged to a friend’s late mother. For some months Dalton lugged the typewriter around Brisbane streets asking passers-by for love stories. He had a sign saying “Sentimental writer collecting love stories.” The responses he got from hundreds of strangers gave him the material for his book. That aside, Dalton obviously has got good taste in typewriters and music. He listens to Best of The Kinks.

Sales is the anchor of ABC TV’s flagship daily current affairs program 7.30, while Crabb is also a regular on TV from such programmes as Kitchen Cabinet. Their book provides insights into each personality. Sales is obsessed with music — show-tunes in particular. Crabb relies on cooking for her peace of mind. Well Hello features think pieces, top 10 lists and snippets from their podcast Chat 10 Looks 3. Apart from similar values, there’s a shared interest in the arts and literature and a love of humour.

Friday 15 October 2021

A New 'Typewriter' Book

There’s a new “typewriter” book on the market. I put quotation marks around the word typewriter because this is a book primarily about the use of typewriters to write rather about typewriters per se. There is some typewriter history in it, however, and there lies the rub. The book is written by a 75-year-old emeritus professor of history and European studies at the University of New South Wales, Martyn Lyons, who is a specialist in the history of the book. It’s called The Typewriter Century: A Cultural History of Writing Practices and is published by the University of Toronto Press. Be warned. Susan Lever, in reviewing the book in the Inside Story section of today’s The Canberra Times, says Lyons’s overview of the typewriter’s development is “fascinating”. It may well be fascinating to Lever, but it’s not actually all that factual. (And I don’t think, as Lever claims, that Georges Simenon and Erle Stanley Gardner sold books for a few pence on the railway stands, either.)

The book begins by calling the typewriter “a now extinct species”, which of course is a very long way from the truth. Lyons goes on to say the “typosphere” is how he refers to “the global imagined community of typewriter users”. Are we imagined or are we real? It seems pretty real to me. Lyons adds that this “imagined community” “was also a global market [his italics] of users in manufacturers’ eyes”. Since manufacturing of the typewriters that Typospherians in the main still use had ended before the Typosphere began, I can’t see how this makes any sense. That is unless Lyons has usurped the name of our community to embrace the history of typewriter since the 1870s, which indeed seems to be the case.

The introduction and notes section both start with a quote from me about Hunter S. Thompson taking his IBM Selectric out into the snow and shooting it. This is closely followed by another quote from me about Paul Auster regarding his Olympia SM9 portable as a sentient being. The trouble with this is that both of these quotes come from an article I wrote for Gia Metherell at The Canberra Times 12¾ years ago. Which doesn’t fill me with confidence about the depth of research for Lyons’s work, especially given what I know about typewriters now and what I knew about typewriters back on February 14, 2009. In the 4626 days since then (actually, since February 27, 2011, which is still 3883 days), I have written and published online 2754 blog posts on typewriters and their history, each of which has been very thoroughly researched. In the process of writing these blog posts, my knowledge of typewriters has advanced exponentially. I mean that literally.

There are many other references to my articles in Lyons’s book, including Ettore Sottsass on the Olivetti Valentine, but these aren’t credited. Too bad. This is the sort of book that just picks bits and pieces from wherever it can find them and throws them together like a potpourri. It’s nowhere near as well “constructed”, with original ideas and well-thought-through narrative, as, say, Richard Polt’s The Typewriter Revolution. Lyons has, one assumes, read Richard’s book, because he writes, “Richard Polt elevates this counter-cultural movement to the status of a ‘typewriter insurgency’, which embraces old technology and rejects the contemporary trend to slice all information up into pre-digested 30-second sound bites.” It’s a shame, then, that Lyons slices up his information and presents it in a slightly different form of pre-digested material.

Things get truly worrying when one reads that Lyons has relied “on well-known authorities [my italics] like [Bruce] Bliven and [Darren] Wershler-Henry”. The books by Bliven (The Wonderful Writing Machine, 1954) and Wershler-Henry (The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting, 2007) have been shown here to be quite inaccurate, at least in many parts. And certainly Bliven’s book, written under contract to the Royal Typewriter Company and heavily biased toward one manufacturer, was very poorly researched. “Well-known authorities”? I think not. Lyons’s other sources include Will Beeching and Michael Adler, but only Adler’s earlier, 1973 work.  There’s a lot of Friedrich Kittler in there, too. I don’t know so much about Kittler’s 1986 Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, but personally I've come to learn not to entirely rely on Beeching or Adler.

Lyons’s “pre-history” ignores Burt among many others. He has Pratt moving to England in 1864, after the Confederacy had lost the Civil War. He has Remington adopting or stealing Ravizza’s ideas, when Richard N. Current makes it perfectly clear in The Typewriter and the Men Who Made It (1954) that Latham Sholes and James Densmore were completely oblivious to any previous attempts to build a typewriter, certainly until Sholes was made aware of the Pratt machine. Yet other sections on the early development of the typewriter come directly, in huge slices, from Current. Because of this reliance, the Sholes & Glidden being exhibited in Chicago in 1873 is completely overlooked.

Lyons dates the Blickensderfer to 1890, way ahead of when it actually reached the market, and he thinks that in 1909 the electric typewriter “lay well into the future”. He believes female speed typists “soon demonstrated their superiority” when in fact men won every world speed typewriting championship from 1918 to 1938, 19 on end! He thinks Frank McGurrin’s choice of a QWERTY keyboard was “just an accident”. And that Turing was a “star performer” with the computer. He doesn’t seem to realise that Hemingway was far from alone in terming a typewriter “a mill”. Hemingway’s suitcase of manuscripts wasn’t stolen in Paris in 1923, it was lost. Lyons says, “ … the first visible-page typewriter was designed by Underwood in 1897”. He thinks when reading “blind” typing, one had to lift a “cover”, and that Cormac McCarthy could have bought a Lettera 32 in the US in 1963. Like the Mitchell Library in Sydney, he identifies Patrick White’s Optima as an Olivetti (I note the library has finally admitted its mistake). He has George Yöst supervising the typing of a letter from a dead man after Yöst himself had died. Blickensderfer didn’t close down in 1919, nor was it “later taken over by Remington”. The Olivers “made” in England until 1959 were very, very different to the ones made in America, and they weren’t made in England anyway. Imperial was “defeated” way before 1974. This silliness about typewriter history just goes on and on.

When Lyons leaves his botched typewriter background behind and gets into the meat of his matter, he starts to make good points. “ … many literary critics [suffer] from typewriter blindness”, for example. Lyons is at his best when he regurgitates and reassembles passages already written and published elsewhere, about the way in which authors approach their writing with typewriters. This is interesting stuff, but it’s hardly original. What’s more, an awful lot of misinformation about typewriters has gone into print and online in the past 120 years, and what Lyons has done here is indiscriminately assemble and publish it without first checking the veracity of so many vital details. Susan Lever, in today’s review, says the book is based on “wide archival research”. This doesn’t mean the material used is entirely factual, merely that it has been plucked and published to suit a purpose. The purpose is well met, I just wish Lyons had left the history part to the real experts.