Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bashing away at the Remington

This is for my young readers who don't know about typewriting machines, or typewriters. Am I nostalgic for typewriters? Not in the least. I don't want to go back to mistakes that could not be erased, and if a perfect copy was needed and you made a mistake, you would just have to retype it. Kind of like when you have half written the bestest blog post ever and Windows crashes. No, that is worse. God invented the computer for very good reasons.

First thing was to insert your paper. You lifted the back rest for the paper, like you do on a printer and then wound the paper in either by a knob on either side of the roller that the paper went around, or with the carriage return bar, kind of like the enter key now.

Remarkably the key board was much as it is now. The shift key either lifted or lowered where the striking keys rested to give you the alternative character, although my Hanimex portable used to lift the whole carriage, that is the thing that held the paper. Really good typewriters did this smoothly, but my portable had a very heavy shift key.

You could type at quite a high speed on a good typewriter, but a cheap model would end with the keys getting in a tangle. Yes, my keys often got tangled up.

When you wanted to move to the next line, you hit the carriage return lever. It could be adjusted to jump more than one line. A little bell used to ring when you had seven spaces left at the end of the line. This was crunch time when you had to decide if your next word would fit on the line, and if not, could it by hyphenated? For an experienced typist, the call came automatically.

One of the funniest things I have ever seen on tv was on Candid Camera, of the 1960s I think. In a professional typing pool, the typewriters had been altered so that when the typist hit the carriage return lever, the carriage shot off the end of the typewriter and across the room. It sounds so simple but we rolled on the floor with laughter.

Making a duplicate copy was easier than clicking a few keys on you pc. You just put in two sheets of paper with a sheet of carbon paper in between. The carbon sheet could be used a few times, although what the carbon sheet produced was quite blurry and it only worked when you put the carbon in the right way and not back to front. Yes, I did that many times. Handling carbon paper was a pretty messy business too.

My practise if I made a mistake when typing, and it was not a really important document, was to over type with x. But in the seventies along came liquid paper, invented by the mother of a member of the pop group of the time, The Monkees, and also a small piece of paper that you would insert over the paper and retype the mistake to blot it out. Of course there was always an eraser, but the bottom of your typewriter ended up full of little rolls of rubber.

I left out that the keys struck an inked ribbon, and this made the print. Ribbons needed changing every so often, a messy job. The typewriter auto changed direction of the ribbon running from spool to spool........mostly. Some times the spools needed help to change direction.

You could even get dual coloured ribbons and type red as well. I can't recall how it worked on decent machines......I think there was a little lever? On my portable, I had to take the ribbon spools out and turn them upside down.

My portable sounds like it was crap, but in the mid nineteen seventies, it cost $80, second hand. That was a lot of money, like a few weeks wages.

There would be plenty of people, probably women, who are still around and who were excellent typist, fast and no errors.

Electric typewriters appeared in whatever year, and they were much faster. I think they used the golfball method of printing. More speed and no danger of key entanglement.

For us in the late eighties, along came the word processor/typewriter. You could type, read on a screen what you had written, correct it, save it to.........I can't recall, and then when it was correct, print it. This was modern technology and it was brilliant.......until the pc arrived.


  1. I'm loathe to do it, but can't help saying that in the mid seventies $80 was one week's wages for a factory hand, office workers, including typist girlies got more of course.

    An excellent posting.

  2. 'Bashing away at the Remington'...a very disturbing image involving a Ladyshave sprang to mind then.

  3. I am quite sad to say that I am not the target audience for this post...I learned to type pre-pc and word processor.

    You've done an accurate description.

  4. Anonymous11:03 am

    Do you still remember the old roneo machines, when you wanted to run off more then one copy. No they were a force to be recond with and messy too. But I always luved the smell of the ink.

    And not to forget the old ladies able to do shorthand - is it still use these days?

  5. I think I dropped a zero Robert, although my first wage at the age of sixteen was $30 as an apprentice.

    Brian you really get off on my use of bash.

    T'was fun at times Daisy.

    We used to call it a duplicator Anon, although I remember Roneo being used too. Did the ink smell or was it the fluid, metho?, that smelt. Care taken to not use too much. I suppose there are a few around who remember shorthand but I doubt anyone learns it now. What was with the two different types? Pitman and, I forget.

  6. Anonymous1:36 pm

    Ah, this post brings back memories. The torture of learning to touch-type on an ancient manual typewriter, the joys of discovering the much easier to use electric typewriter and then the absolutely estatic wonder at the introduction of the word processor. My how far we've come in 30 years!!! Vik.

  7. You can't possibly be old enough Vik. You must be remembering a toy one that you had as a kid.

  8. Anonymous6:43 pm

    Oh if only that were true...! Vik.

  9. Hi Andrew

    Touch typing - best thing I ever learned. Can't understand why it isn't taught today. I love typing.



  10. Does it have to be taught Pants? I just taught myself. I quite like rattling the keys too.

  11. i remember teaching myself to type on mum's old manual typewriter, and typing up some high school essays on it, and the annoyance if I make a mistake at the end of a full-page (as use of Liquid Paper was frowned upon!) and a messy correction could have cost points so a re-type had to be considered but sometimes, oh i just couldn't be arsed!

    Then in high school, our school got Wordstar and we felt so modern when the dot matrix printer showed us our printed work!

    And I remember the metho smell from those copying machines too...

  12. Ah, so TVAU, you are of the liquid paper age.

  13. What you didn't mention was that bliss was having a clean sheet of carbon paper.

    As the sheet got used more and more the messier it became and the poorer the copies.

  14. Indeed Victor. We treated carbon paper like it was very expensive, which it may well have been. Note the underwhelming interest in typewriters by my younger readers. Don't blame them.

  15. For some unknown reason my mum bought a typewriter at a garage sale a few years ago, it's a very modern one though. An electric Brother.

    The thing I like about typewriters is they are very tactile, you press a key, you feel it, and you hear the little arm go clack. All very satisfying. Then you get to the mistakes and the fact you put the paper in a bit skew-if and remember that modern computers and printers are better.

  16. The other shorthand was the Dacomb method and was taught in secondary schools in the 60s. Pittman's was the snob variety because it was more difficult. Pittman's was supposed to be so universal that a good secretary would be able to pick up another's notebook and read it without difficulty.

  17. Well Ben, put the paper skewiff into your printer and it won't turn out so well. And you have typed the perfect letter, and then you type, yurs faithfully.

    I was going to say I don't recall the name Dacomb Jahteh, but it is sinking in now, yes it was. I had a Pitman shorthand book, and I will do the usual and jump up and alarm R and say, 'where's my Pitman shorthand book'. I haven't seen it for 35 years.