Remington Rand

I have always had a penchant for antiques. When the mood strikes me, I love meandering through antique stores and estate sales, hoping to find something that may be of little monetary worth but may have an incredible story behind it. It’s not so much that I like my belongings old, dusty and sometimes broken. Rather, my taste in the old and sometimes obsolete affirms my suspicions that I was born in the wrong decade.

Take, for example, the typewriter. A century ago, this handy machine was the bee’s knees in the technology world. Birds of all shapes and sizes breathed a sigh of relief when they realized that their feathers would no longer be plucked and used as crude writing implements. One could send a clear, legible letter to a friend without running the risk of spilling a bottle of ink over carefully-written prose. The authors of dirty love letters could remain anonymous, as no handwriting would be available to trace.

Although I love the exciting and new technologies that have been introduced in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries (and I readily admit that I would have a terrible time adjusting if I suddenly had to go without), at times I have longed for a door to open to a past occupied by my great-grandparents. I long for a time when no one left the house without a hat. I long for a time when correspondence was carried out by post more often than by telephone. I long for a time when people took the time to think about what they wrote to others in a letter, rather than zipping something away in a quickly written, badly spelled email. I had always believed that if I had a typewriter, I would type carefully thought-out letters to my friends and family, just like a writer in a film noir, complete with a cigarette hanging from my lips.

One cloudy Saturday in July, deep in the hills of West Virginia, my dream came true.

For some reason that has now escaped me, I made an offhand comment about how typewriters were better than computers in that nearly any type and size of paper could be typed upon, and did not have to fit through the gauntlet of cogs that make up the inside of a fussy inkjet printer.

I was then told that there was, in fact, an old typewriter upstairs in a bedroom closet, sitting unused. Upon hearing this news I immediately tore up the stairs, tripping a couple of times and probably cracking a rib in the process. Flinging open the closet door, my eyes beheld…a relatively new electric typewriter, most likely from the seventies or even the eighties. The machine was like an early laptop; the words that were printed upon the page looked clean and precise, just like those that have been printed from a modern word processor. Sighing, I lugged the “typewriter” downstairs, trailing the plug behind me.

Mike instantly snatched the machine from me to type up a screenplay while I remained behind, slightly discouraged. To answer questions about the disappointed look on my face, I explained that what I really wanted was one of those big, black, clunky typewriters from the thirties or forties.

“Why didn’t you say so? There’s one in the garage, just sitting there collecting dust.”

Not wanting to have my raised hopes smashed for a second time in less than five minutes, I skeptically made my way to the back door of the garage, expecting to find dust, spiders and something that was certainly not what I had in mind. Pushing the door open, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light.

Then I saw it, hidden behind scrap pieces of wood, old paint cans and a layer of dust and cobwebs. I had to have Mike retrieve it for me; it was too heavy, and the shelf on which it sat looked like a perfect arachnoid hideout.

Once he placed it on the kitchen table, I had my first good look. The machine was one of the most beautiful things I had ever laid eyes on. The casing was a dull black, slightly rusted in some places and worn down to the metal in others. Beneath the dust the keys still shone like new. A little-used spool of ribbon was already threaded through the type guide. The words “Remington Rand” were printed proudly across the paper table.

My heart fluttered in my chest as I gingerly reached for a key. With a delightful clack a piece of metal flung up, ready to slap against a piece of paper. I couldn’t help but giggle as I pushed the carriage to the side until an inviting bell rang to signal the end of the line. I was in love.

One trip to the convenience store, a toothbrush, a can of compressed air, a surprise spider attack and two hours later, my beautiful typewriter was free of grime and ready for action.

Typing on a typewriter is a vastly different experience than typing on a computer keyboard. I have still not gotten used to the interruption of the bell each time I reach the end of a line. The keys are raised like stadium seats, and they are a bit smaller and farther apart. The darkness of the ink upon the paper is determined by the amount of pressure applied to the keys. It is easy to make a mistake, and there is no “delete” key. A few of the characters are either missing or are found in different places. For example, the apostrophe is found above the 8, and the asterisk has its own key. There are no brackets, no tilde, and no caret. There are also a couple of keys that are not found on a modern keyboard, like a cent sign, as well as a key that neatly prints either one-half or one-fourth. My particular typewriter is missing the number one, and with it, the exclamation point. However, that is an easy obstacle to overcome, as the capital letter “I” looks close enough to the number one, and a period and an apostrophe can easily be combined using the backspace to make an exclamation point.

I have yet to discover the exact model of my Remington Rand. The closest thing I have found is a typewriter for sale on eBay, the advertisement of which features a photograph of an eerily similar machine. The seller does not know the model either, but states that it was built in 1941.

Although I am not quite ready to type the next great American novel on my beautiful new friend, I have already written a couple of out-of-turn letters to some pen pals, so I feel like I have already put it to good use. I will gladly type a letter to anyone who requests one, wishing to feel for the moment that time has stopped. Just let me know, and I’ll send it via post, post haste.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. maleesha
    Jul 21, 2008 @ 22:25:54

    Wow. I am really, really jealous of your typewriter collection. Two in one day, no less. Now I don’t even know how you “ink up” one of those oldies. Very, very cool.

    Reply

  2. Anne
    Sep 07, 2008 @ 12:52:14

    Meg –
    In grandma’s storage shed is a very old typewriter – just pining for love. It belonged to Grandmother Anne’s Aunt Ber. It probably dates back to the 20’s. It is in a case and needs to be rescued. With your love of old typewriters…. this would truly be a match made in heaven.
    Aunt Anne

    Reply

  3. megan
    Sep 07, 2008 @ 13:20:49

    Aunt Anne: Actually, Mom brought Aunt Ber’s typewriter up to me! Unfortunately, it didn’t work – there was some wire that was supposed to bring the carriage back when you got to the end of the line, and it had snapped. I think the plan is to get it repaired.

    Reply

  4. Anne
    Sep 11, 2008 @ 21:12:31

    I am so glad that you all do have it and it is not still in the shed – decaying slowly with heat, humidity and giant creepy crawlies.
    Do get it repaired when you can and then write – cool and inspired things on a machine that has been in your family for years.

    Side note – I have a picture I need to scan and email to you and your mom. If you have wondered who you look like – I have found that person. It is creepy – but it is definitely you. There is a little of me there – but definitely you. I was so excited when I found it. I’ll try and do that soon.

    Reply

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