An Attempt at Principles


Filed under manual typewriter, Olivetti Lettera 32, Olivetti Valentine typewriter, Olympia SM9, Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Uncategorized

13 responses to “An Attempt at Principles

  1. Typewriters be Vintage, mate. Antiques are something that is by nature delicate and not to be heavily used. That’s not how I feel about my writing machines – even the 1920 Underwood 5 – they’re machines I can feel confident in carting around and using for the next 20 years at least, with little worry that they’ll fail me. (well, unless ribbons stop getting manufactured, then I imagine the Typosphere will be rife full of ribbon re-inking articles)😀

    • Rob

      By that reckoning, from my failure to find a source of 3/4″ ribbon, looks like I have a number of objets vintage and one antique. If anyone stumbles across 3/4″, my Blick Universal will be eternally grateful. And become vintage once more.

  2. Very nice job on the principles, well said. Make sure everyone in the typosphere sees these and comments, I think it’s a great point that journos have a certain “old timers look back” or “Luddites hang on to obsolete tech” spin that doesn’t mesh with the reality. Also, your terms are wonderful.

  3. A very thoughtful essay. Your training is showing: it’s far clearer that my own meandering stabs at trying to lay down the W’s (a process I keep returning to in my own posts, as I struggle to understand.)

    The definition of “antique” is a slippery one. Do we go by the 25-year definition of cars? If so, then I’ve cases full of antiques. Do we draw a line of distinction based on materials? Technologies? World events? You could say antiques don’t contain plastics (or many plastics, anyway), that they were upstrikes and not visible machines, or that they predate World War II, for instance. I’ve seen models no older than me listed as “antiques” on Craigslist, and (more alarmingly) ones that are half my age listed as the same. Maybe “state of mind” is another definition: it’s antique now, because we live in the time of *now*, of instant downloads and full connectivity and GPS tracking of trips to the coffee shop (fueling our espresso lifestyle.) If that’s the rule, then we’re all antiques before our time. And what does that mean for the teenage typecasters who have come to this obsession with the energy and enthusiasm that their peers reserve for the latest touchless gadget?

    Maybe the Typosphere is best defined as an appreciation society for practical art: for the functional metal sculptures that tick out words from their clockwork hearts.

  4. @ Michael, this is a foundational post. The Typosphere now has defined its First Principles.

    I love your concept of “mid-tech,” which is much more precise than the term “old school,” something I’ve personally heard attached to typewriters and film cameras, but is also used to define things older than, say, six months, and entirely lacks precision.

    @Clemens: “the functional metal sculptures that tick out words from their clockwork hearts” – that’s a great line. Well done.


  5. This a fantastic summation of why we use these things. I’ve never taken the time to articulate all of the “P’s” but I’ve thought about them at different times. This is a good essay, Mike!

  6. As far as the question, I think of an antique as something to be admired from afar, not used. An antique photograph in a frame, a China tea set on display, something from the old days that sits on a shelf or gets displayed in a glass case. When I think of vintage, I think of something from the old days that gets used: an old vehicle, typewriter, fountain pen, pair of jeans, whatever. While some typewriters may be of more the antique variety because they are not comfortable to use or super-rare or unusuable due to a mechanical problem, a vintage typewriter gets thwacked and attacked daily (the way most of us use our machines) and are still working away despite their old age.

    • Hey, at 56, I felt pretty vintage when I got up this morning! We had a big cycling event on Saturday, and our annual spring sale on Fri-sat-sun, so my voice is shot from a combination of explaining, haggling, and (on saturday) shouting directions to cyclists!

      It’s got me thinking about a “slate day” where I would write out everything, like the monks did, and maybe type the rest. If this laryngitis keeps up, that whim will be imposed on me shortly. Have also thought about making a handful of cardboard signs to hold up with my most needed phrases of the day.

  7. Michael Höhne

    “Antique” vs “vintage”? This is tougher than I like things to be, mostly because our language is hopelessly debased. I think words are most useful when they have specific, agreed-upon meanings and not multiple meanings per word. I have only one positive thought on this and several negative ones.

    When I learned the word, “antique” simply referred to items older than one hundred years, whether they are currently in use or not. That definition seems to me perfectly functional. At some point the word was appropriated by vendors needing additional cachet for their wares. And now—what can you count on? I will not live to see an antique Chevrolet Corvette (25 years? Sheesh!), but the vessel, OK.

    “Vintage” meant to me a descriptor of what a vintner did and was used of wines in conjunction with a specific year; that usage has (had?) real meaning. It really should not have a meaning outside of wine-making. And yet I have been forced by popular usage to use it in all my eBay listings, none of which are wine.

    “Classic”—also meaningless now. Not sure what it should describe but motorcycle-styled bicycles are far from a classic rendition of the ideal. And “Classical Music” has come to mean anything with a violin (not a fiddle) and no lyrics. How useful is that?

    So, good luck trying to fit typewriters into this mess. Of course, hundred-plus-year-old machines are antiques but that is not very useful for us or the public. I would advocate lumping them by decades but maybe I am still insufficiently knowledgeable. Perhaps lump them in groups named for a dominant example of the kind in question. Perhaps wait until someone has a good idea of how to do this….

    • Rob

      Antique or Vintage? I wonder if the distinction needs to made at all. I’m not sure any purpose is served beyond the classification as “typewriter”.

      • Hmmm…. well, I ride an old Raleigh 3-speed, with a Sturmey-Archer hub. A few years ago, thanks to some shady dealings, Sturmey was bankrupted and was to close…. at the last minute, SunRace of Taiwan bought all their tooling and moved it all to Taiwan, and thus S-A hubs and parts are still available, and in fact they are doing better in some ways now.

        I think that if they had closed, my Raleigh would be certifiably an “antique” dependent on having some hubs to salvage parts from, and receding into the past at a faster rate. BUT, for the moment, it’s merely vintage! Of course, computers flash from new to now to troublesome to junk, for the most part, never enjoying any charming vintage period. And I think my Remington 1924 is hovering around antique status compared to my Olivetti Lettera 32 a solid, new-feeling vintage machine.

  8. Rob

    Great essay, I really enjoyed reading it, thank you. Like others, your having been so eloquent means that’s another thing off our list of things to do. You may have read Illich, Tools for Conviviality (1973), if not, I think you or other denizens of the Typosphere might enjoy it. Lumping together bikes, typewriters and high-touch tech made me think of that book. I’d include the clockwork gramaphone, hand-cranked sewing machine and push-along lawnmower in there too.

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