If you look in your dusty basement or a long-forgotten closet, you might find a typewriter which has been lying there for years. Otherwise, ask a relative, and you will get a sneak peek at the past and probably a story you have never heard before from someone you thought you knew. That is where the beauty of this steady, solid, and greasy object lies 

To me, it’s just like an old watch you received as an heirloom from your parents or grandparents. Typewriters are complex, unique, and carry so much history. Despite being mass-produced, they are all different because of time and usage. There are still millions of them in all kinds of shapes: destroyed, clunky, in need of a little bit of love, or even fully restored, which is how I found the 1935 Royal Standard Portable I bought at a flea market in Paris back in 2017. It was waiting for me, shiny and alone, surrounded by old DVDs and green copper pans. I immediately loved it, but I don’t know why - probably because it was close to lunchtime - I turned my back and left. Thankfully, a few hours later, the machine was still hanging there and 10 euros cheaper.   

My life changed the day I bought it. Eager to know more about this object, which was just supposed to be a decoration, I started researching. Eventually, I was so drawn by what I learned that, in 2019, I decided to travel all the way to Hartford, Connecticut, where Royal was building typewriters from the early 1900’s until the 1980s. Four years later, I live less than two hours away from the now destroyed Royal factory (replaced by a Stop & Shop) and the city that was once the richest in the United States, the world capital of insurance and home of Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Samuel Colt.   

As a resident of Hartford, Mark Twain was among the 400 customers who paid $125, in 1874, for the first commercially successful typewriter, the legendary Sholes and Glidden (built by Remington but not branded as such for fear of a failure). Later, he became the first writer to submit a typed manuscript, despite hating the object, as he wrote in a letter in 1875:Please do not even divulge the fact that I own a machine. I have entirely stopped using the typewriter, for the reason that I never could write a letter with it to anybody without receiving a request by return mail that I would not only describe the machine but state what progress I had made in the use of it”.  

I feel like most people didn’t really like typewriters before the early 2000. It was just a tool, like a computer without the Internet features, hard and tedious to use. However, since the digital and multi-task era emerged, they have been seen as a blast from the past. Hearing them being noisy provokes immediate nostalgia and melancholy. The new generation is using them more and more to experience the happiness of being focused on only one task and the satisfying physical effort of typing.   

A few days ago, we decided to purchase one from Cambridge Typewriter, the last seller and repairman in the area, and place it in the library. Our Corona Standard, from 1940, can be found next to the graphic novel section. It is perfectly functional, and to celebrate its presence, we have decided to launch a poetry contest. So feel free to visit us, type your poem (in French or English) on it, and hand it to the librarian (with your name and email). The winner will receive a book, and their work will be shared on our social media. 

Benoit Landon

Librarian

After studying journalism in France, Benoit began his career in Paris where he lived and worked for over a decade. In 2018, he crossed the Atlantic for a research project on a typewriter he bought at a flea market. He ended up in Hartford, Connecticut, where he met his wife by accident. Many administrative forms later, he settled in Greater Boston. As an avid reader, Benoit is delighted to be surrounded by books and to stay in touch with the French culture he loves. Come say hello at the circulation desk!

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