Reminiscence of a By-Gone Era

Warning, long post follows, but that's pretty typical of me. :P I hope you enjoy it anyway.

olivetti-1Sigh. Having read some depressing articles on the economy and the opinions of some as to what shall soon come to pass, my mind turned to the pre-computer age, to the day when all my writing was done either by hand or by typewriter. My mind so turned, the old Underwood-Olivetti typewriter on which I learned to type filled my thoughts. This, in turn, led me to search for images of the typewriter that I might discover which model it was. It is pictured at left, sitting in the case provided for it. (The lid for the case could be removed.) This is not my parents' old typewriter, which had been given to me. That one, alas, is gone. (Yes, a victim of the storage unit.)

I look at this typewriter, and if I had it in hand, I would have no difficulty using it again. I remember all it's functions: how to set the tabs, centering the page, how to center type on the page, setting it for single-, line-and-a-half, double-, and triple-line spacing. I remember it all.

olivetti-2A heavy machine (about 20 lbs/9,8 kgs, with case), it was actually billed as a portable, and portable it was! From the mid-1960s to 2003, this typewriter went from Mississippi to Thailand to England to Michigan to Florida to Maryland to Greece to Maryland to California to Georgia to Pennsylvania and, finally, back to Georgia once more.

You see here the cream-coloured case in which it came. This model typewriter, the Studio 44, was first introduced in 1952. I've learned that playwright Tennessee Williams used this model typewriter. (Also, his birthday is March 26. Mine is March 27. Good man!)

Based on information found at this site I can confidently say that this typewriter was likely purchased in 1963, or shortly thereafter (probably in 1965 or 1966, when I lived in Mississippi). At that web site, they say, "By October 1963 Olivetti completed the purchase [of Underwood] and typewriters began appearing under the Olivetti Underwood name." This was the case with the typewriter that my parents owned. The brand name on the typewriter was Olivetti-Underwood, not Underwood-Olivetti.

My mother had a typing manual, the sort used in schools to teach students how to type. When I was 11- or 12-years-old, I decided one day to take the typewriter and the manual out onto the back balcony of our Bangkok, Thailand, apartment, and there I sat, day after day, typing, typing, typing, going through the manual, doing exercise after exercise after exercise. Years later, when we had moved from Thailand to England, and I had entered high school, I enrolled in a typing class, Typing I. By all rights, I should've been placed in Typing II, but as Typing II had the pre-requisite that you had to have taken and successfully completed Typing I, I remained in Typing I.

While I sped along at 50-55 words-per-minute, my classmates all struggled to do 20. As the class progressed and my typing improved, the teacher noted that I would sometimes look down at the keys as I typed. They had four sorts of typewriters in that class: Manuals with the letters printed on the keys and manuals with no letters printed on the keys, and electrics with the same features. In addition, hoods could be placed over the keyboards of all four sorts of typewriters, to prevent the user from seeing the keys if the habit of looking down proved difficult to break. The hood was placed on my typewriter a few times, but not before the teacher moved me onto an electric.

I was moved onto an electric to improve my typing speed, as the keys on an electric are far more sensitive than on a manual. Of course, this also meant an immediate drop in my speed, as any minor mishap resulted in an error, and for every error one word was subtracted from your total typing speed.

One day, our speed was tested. An old high school friend, Ron Clay, sat at the typewriter facing me. (I still stay in touch with Ron.) The teacher told us to start, and off we raced, trying desperately to type as fast and as accurately as we could, to best our last recorded speed. The teacher called time, we noted where we had stopped, counted up our errors, and calculated our speed. While doing this, Ron looked at me and asked, "How fast were you typing? You sounded as if you were flying!" I looked down, finished my calculation, looked back up, a huge smile on my face. "Seventy-two words-per-minute!" I said. It was the fastest speed I ever posted in that class.

A few years back (2002 or so), when I was unemployed, I went to a staffing agency, to have my typing and data-entry speeds tested, for potential employment. These had to be tested and recorded, so that accurate speeds could be passed on to any employers interested in hiring. I registered a typing speed of 78-wpm. I forget what my data-entry speed was. This seemed like an average number (even the data-entry speed seemed average) until the woman at the office noticed that everything I had typed was free of errors! She said, "We've never had anyone type or do data-entry so fast with no errors." (In other words, they had people who had faster speeds, but they all had errors.) Ever since the advent of computers, because I can see what I'm typing on the screen (and I'm no longer chided for looking at the keyboard :P ), I correct all my typing on the fly. If I did not do so, my speed, sans the subtraction of errors, probably would not be all that much greater. I'd guess it'd be in the range of 85- or 90-wpm. (It's become such an in-grained habit that I've never been able to register my speed without correcting on the fly. For all I know, if I didn't correct, my speed my actually be 100+ wpm.)

This reminiscing brought on a lust to purchase an old manual typewriter. Why not? I've been told that there are studies which have shown the right-brain to be more engaged when writing longhand, or when using a typewriter (vs. a computer). So, I searched and I found several online stores that sell refurbished manual typewriters. One store caught my eye: does have the old Underwood-Olivetti Studio 44 typewriters. You can see the page for them here (but there are no images of it, unfortunately).

I've browsed nearly every bloody page of their store, and three typewriters in particular have captured my imagination. The first I saw that I liked is the Corona Sterling/Corona Silent of the 1940s.

There is a soft place in my heart for Coronas. For my high school graduation, my parents bought me a Smith-Corona electric (also a victim of the storage unit—trying to not let that anger me right now).

Isn't that typewriter just beautiful? Sigh! Says in their description:

A classic workhorse. Replacing the early Corona line of 1930s that included the Standard, Sterling and Silent, the new model sports a streamlined design billed as Speedline in matte finish (some also available in glossy maroon and black finish). The Sterling and Silent models were essentially identical in appearance and mechanism except that the Silent model had a interchangeable platen and sound proofing feature. The Speedline models were well built and appeared to be the choice of many writers and typists for decades.

I rather like the matte finish.

The second machine I like is the Royal Quiet DeLuxe Portable of 1941.

Here is's description:

The Royal Quiet DeLuxe puts you right in touch with literary history -- it was one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite machines. This was the first model in a series of the Royal Quiet DeLuxe line that outsold any other portables of the time. It was introduced just before World War II, but its production was suspended when Royal Typewriter Company, like other typewriter manufacturers in the United States at the time, was converted to an ordnance factory to produce weapons. When production resumed in 1946, the Royal Quiet DeLuxe continued to gain a following among on-the-go writers and journalists. Compact, snazzy and a pleasure to write with, this workhorse model is also one of's bestsellers.

underwood-float-1underwood-float-2underwood-float-3underwood-float-4underwood-float-5underwood-float-6underwood-float-7The Underwood Universal/ Champion Portable of 1938 in Matte is the last of the three. I can see in this typewriter influences in the design of my parents' old Olivetti-Underwood. As with all the others, I think it's also a beautiful looking machine. In fact, all of these machines cause my eyes glaze over with complete, unadulterated lust!

I can easily see myself purchasing any of them. Of course, not until after I've found myself employment. :P Worry not. I'm not so taken with these machines that I've lost all sense of reason. Well,... not completely, anyway. :P

The description that accompanies this machine at's web site is as follows:

Billed as the new Typemaster portable, the Universal/Champion line was a popular portable that embodies the latest development in personal writing machines of the late 1930s. Noticeable improvements of the new line include Sealed Action Frame, Champion Keyboard, Dual Touch Tuning as well as an array of features that one would expect to find only in higher priced portable. Available in Charcoal gray or tan matte finish. The early version had metal ring key tops while the later version had improved plastic key tops. (A carrying case with folding stand was also offered at the time as an optional accessory for the line.)

My inclination, despite the history of the Royal Quiet DeLuxe, despite the loss of the old Underwood-Olivetti, is to go with the Corona. Very likely it's got to do with my high school graduation gift, the Smith-Corona electric, plus I rather like the looks of the Corona a bit more than the others.

2 comment(s):

gypsyharper said...
December 03, 2009 3:17 PM

I like the look of the Corona best also, though the Royal looks a lot like one I used in a play I was in last year. I eventually gave up trying to actually type real words and just hit keys at random - I couldn't type fast enough on those keys! My fingers kept missing the keys and getting stuck, or I'd hit keys too close together and they'd all end up in a big clump. It was fun though!

g d townshende said...
December 03, 2009 4:35 PM

I wanna buy one! :D

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