Antique Detective: Collectors Remember the Typewriter

type1By Anne Gilbert


   To the computer generation the typewriter is an all but forgotten object. Not so for its many collectors, mostly over 40 years of age. For them, and me, typewriter history is fascinating, even though names like Sholes and Glidden and Oliver are no longer remembered. Actor Tom Hanks recently appeared on TV displaying his collection of over 100.
   I first became aware of the Oliver typewriter, made in 1921, when in the 1940s I used it in college. It was a gift from my uncle who had taken it to college. I tossed it when I could afford one of the new Coronas, after graduation. These days a collector could pay over $500 for a working one.
   When I became a public relations executive in 1961, I had to have the new Electric typewriter. I wore out several till the computer became a “must.”
   Historically what became known as a “typewriter” had many names and appearances over the centuries. According to historians, over 52 forms were invented over the years, in the search for a workable design and patented. Along with the designs were a variety of names such as “typographer” and “Pterotype.”
   A strange early example was the “Hansen Writing Ball,” the first typewriter manufactured commercially, in 1870.
type2   Thomas Edison’s’ invention of the Universal Stock ticker in 1870 was a forerunner of the typewriter, printing letters and numbers on a stream of paper tape. It was generated by a specially designed machine at the other end of the telegraph page.
   The first typewriter that began to look like the 20th century versions was invented in 1874 by Sholes & Glidden. It was a huge and heavy monster that was downsized and sold to offices in 1885. Expensive in its day, priced at $100.
   In 1969 the designer typewriters became trendy. Everybody wanted one of the lightweight Olivetti in its many colors. Italian designer Ettore Sottsass designed the first in bright red, known as the “Olivetti Valentine.” It was priced at $259 and considered expensive.
   CLUES: What do you do with a collection? An Olivetti Valentine could be decorative art for your home office. Or, you could use them, as many collectors do. Online supplies are available as well as specialty repairers.    CAPTIONS: (1) Hansen Writing ball. (2) Olivetti Valentine. CREDIT: Wikipedia

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