The Dean of Typewriters

Every writer likes to have a special space in which to write.  I like to write in the basement, in the dark, on a laptop, halfway reclined in my papasan chair.  Some people write in the woods.  Some like a noisy cafe, full of characters worth stealing.  Some like a special kind of paper or pen.

This Christmas I tried to give Megan a special space, in the form of an antique typewriter–a 1942 Portable Royal de Luxe, to be exact. Meg’s an old soul, with a taste for the simpler, finer things (she likes to write by hand in a leather-bound journal, for example), so it seems like a good fit.  I did a lot of research, trying to figure out which machines the great poets of the past century have written on.  There are lots of famous stories.  The Catholic priest who refused to give Anne Sexton her last rites instead told her, “God is in your typewriter.”  But what brand was it?  I still don’t know, but whatever it was, it must have been durable.

I quick Google search turns up, which lists the machines that dozens of great works were written on.  Royal seems to top the unofficial tally in my head, and as far as typewriters go, that company has certainly been the most innovate, developing feature after feature that other brands soon copy.  John Ashbery still writes on a Royal Aristocrat.  Joan Didion on a Royal KMM.  Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up at his Royal, which he kept on a bookshelf.

So I was leaning toward a Royal, and then I found the perfect one on eBay.  This 1942 Royal de Luxe was made just months before the war shut down its production plant.  On most machines, many of the small components of the carriage are chrome-plated, but on this one it’s straight-steel–a symbol of the era’s shifting necessities.  I know this because the seller, Dean, is one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever done business with.  He refurbishes these machines seemingly just for the love of it, and his product descriptions are the most detailed I’ve seen. It’s clear that the typewriters are his babies, and in communicating him, I almost got the feeling I was being interviewed to become an adoptive parent.  The typewriter arrived in perfect condition, tripled-packed, with the original instructions, and a letter typed by Dean on the machine itself. It looked new, but for the faint smell of oil and the unmistakable must of age.

I still don’t know if the present was a success–writing on a typewriter is vastly different than writing on a computer keyboard.  There’s a nice romanticism to it, and you have to love the sound of the keys pounding against paper, but you do lose a certain amound of functionality.  Either way, though, I just had to give a recommendation to Dean–it sounds like I’m in love with the typewriter, and that’s his enthusiasm rubbing off.  If any of you are looking for this kind of old fashioned writing experience, buy your vintage machine from him, and you won’t be disappointed.

Now I’m curious how others write, and I don’t think it’s a question I’ve asked on here before.  What your preference?  Pen and paper?  Typewriter echoing in the woods?  Laptop at Starbucks?  Drop me a note and let me know.

4 thoughts on “The Dean of Typewriters

  1. I’m a bit behind the times — I still handwrite my drafts of my poems. By the time the poem hits the screen, it’s usually in the final stages…

    However, now that I am thinking about it, when it comes to prose (book reviews, academic essays, etc..) I do almost all my writing on the computer screen.

    I’m not sure why I approach writing differently.

  2. What a truly awesome gifts. May many good words flow from it.

    I wrote my whole ms on computer, as well as my co-authored book. Poetry’s a combo of longhand and keyboard, and VizPo, natch, by hand.

    Happy, healthy creative New Year!

  3. I only write on the computer. I’ve never written anything by hand, except when I was in high school and we didn’t have a computer. My handwriting is brutal, and brutally slow. If society and the electric collapse, you don’t have to worry about me becoming Poet Laureate of the Thunderdome.

    Karen–maybe the different is that poetry is more personal and introspective? Handwritten notes do seem much more that.

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