The Muse Within

Every once in a while a comment is posted on Typewriter Review that coincides with something I’ve been thinking about lately. Unless you troll the comments sections, this might’ve been something you missed. Not only is it a timely comment, but the response it provoked expands an evolving theme found in recent posts.

William Craig commented on the post Titans of the Typosphere, where the merits of the larger office standard were reviewed:

I took your advice yesterday and bought a standard 1957 Royal FP. It turned out to be my least expensive typewriter ($25) and suffice it to say I agree with everything you say in this article.

The FP needed a lot of TLC (totally gummed up); but all the typewriter needed to get it working was a good cleaning (as in several hours of squirting naphtha and brushing with brass, steel and nylon brushes). Just as you say, this standard typewriter is in an entirely different league than my small collection of portables (’47 Smith-Corona Silent; ’48 Royal QDL, early ’60s Olivetti Lettera 22 & ’64 Olympia SM7). Interestingly, while the foam insulation of the FP is completely shot; to my ears the FP seems no louder than my Olympia SM7. In fact only the Royal QDL is appreciably quieter than the FP.

I’m surprised the standard typewriters get so little attention, I wish there was a fraction of interest and information on the standards as there is regarding portables. I suspect the many of the qualities that make the standard so good, make it less interesting. It appears the last comment on this article was 2 years ago! I thank you very much for this information; I think my typewriter may just have found me; and it turned out to be the standard Royal FP. It would never have found me had you not written this article!

The Response

Many thanks for your comment! And so happy you found your match. I might’ve emphasized this in a previous post, but worth repeating in case others want to follow in your footsteps. Look local for a standard typewriter. While portables might be flimsy in comparison, they usually hold up to the rigors of shipping better. They were designed to be locked in a case, stuffed in a trunk and transported in the coach carriage. Standards were delivered to the office in a wooden crate, unboxed and setup by the typewriter dealer. They didn’t move. They worked all day. When they needed a tune-up, the typewriter tech came to the office. When they were no longer serviceable, or the newer model came out, they were rounded up and dropped off at the second-hand office supply store.

Perhaps that’s why they’re harder to find and are often in worse condition than the portable. The portables we find today were most likely cherished members of the family. Many typewriter stories I’ve heard often included fond memories of going through college with their trusty portable. All those term papers! The long, solitary hours with a steady friend. When they graduated, their typewriter went with them, sometimes kept in the closet, other times used for creative projects, letter writing and when the grandkids came over, a novelty to play with. The office standards were used by paid typists. When the job was done, they went home and forgot about the typewriter. Once the office had no use for the typewriters, they sat with perhaps dozens of their forgotten comrades through the decades in a dingy, cold warehouse, the soft lubricating glaze gumming up, the joints stiffening through lack of use and the supple rubber hardening. They’d served their purpose, locked in purgatory, waiting for that day when they’d be relieved of their burden and buried in a landfill, or rescued by a writer motivated to find their voice.

And this might make what I’m about to say troubling — or challenging, depending on your views.

It’s hard to explain, and I’ve hinted at this topic in previous posts, despite fears of not being taken seriously or labelled a kook. Since these long forlorn standards lacked the love they deserved, the creatures that channeled their energy into the much loved portables often passed the standards over. Who was more likely to hear their voice, the over-worked office typist or the struggling writer seeking inspiration? OK, perhaps you don’t subscribe to such nonsense. But, spend enough time over the typewriter, alone, undisturbed, connecting with your inner voice, and you might tap into an undiscovered vein of creative energy. That’s where the muses live. Activate one and you’ll hang onto that typewriter until your dying days. It’ll never leave you. So what does this mean if a standard typewriter has come into your possession? It might take a bit more effort to summon a muse. They’re not used to hearing the call from a standard. But, put in the time, believe this to be true and you’ll find that voice.

William, you’ve prepped your standard typewriter for all the love it deserves. Cleaned her. Rescued her. Saw the potential. Enjoy the magical journey. And who knows, with such a mighty typewriter, you might find a mighty muse!

11 comments

  1. It is totally kooky and probably ridiculous.
    But I also think it is a bit of a self-fulfilling fantasy. If you are excited about what magic might lie within the machine, you approach with a positive attitude and excitement, and that will always produce better writing. It’s the same as going to write at a nice coffee shop or out in some meadow. Whatever you can do to center yourself and get excited is going to produce better art.
    You should check out a short story by Stephen King though, called “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet” found in his book Skeleton Crew. It is all about little creatures that live inside typewriters and it’s a great read. I’ve probably told you about it already in a comment or an email. It is one of my favorite stories.
    Though I call you kooky… I will admit that I am quite drawn to the typewriters in my collection which I know have literary history. Certainly the vast majority of typewriters were used for mundane business tasks or record keeping. Only a few were ever used by writers. But I have some used by journalists, or academics, or correspondents, and these machines DO feel more valuable to me.
    Perhaps I am a little kooky too. It seems a harmless fantasy.
    Until you begin feeding your fornit.

    • Oh, yes, those pesky fornits. King invented these to scare off the competition. Writers are often a gullible lot, prone to speculation and dark thoughts. What better way to feed these fears than invent a scary creature that’ll drive the writer to madness. While the forces of darkness are real, I tend to favor the favorable aspects of the typewriter.

      • If you read the story again you will see the fornits are not to blame! It was the belief systems that were dangerous, just as belief systems can also be beneficial. It’s just the darker side of the same idea you promote the lighter side of.

  2. Hello there. I don’t think we’ve crossed paths in the typosphere, but I’m an avid collector myself. I have several portables and standards. I use the latter most often. I’m not the kind of person who can do typing in public, so portables are less essential to my writing. My trusty Olympia SG1 is the best typewriter I have ever used. (I also have the Hermes Ambassador and a fully clean and functional Underwood 6 and Royal 10, among other standards). To be sure, the SG1 complements MY typing style the most, but I do think it really is one of the best machines out there. Richard Polt favors the model. Daniel Steele, although not a writer I read, uses an SG1 for her many, many novels. Hey, and Bob Dylan wrote lyrics on an SG1.

    In my opinion, anyone who has the space on his or her desk should use a standard rather than a portable. I love many of my portables, but don’t bring a sedan, no matter how sporty, to the Grand Prix.

    That’s my two cents.

    McFeats (Untimely Typewriter)

  3. It was the French forensic scientist, Edmund Locard, who said that every contact leaves a trace. It is this that we feel in things that have been held and touched and used and adored by the people before us, the thing that draws us to antique shops and flea markets and farmhouse attics where we might find a trunk and inside a letter written to a solider…from Abraham Lincoln. Yes, I found such a letter long ago.

    We writers, and even those who do not write, can feel the traces in these old writing machines; indeed, we can nearly see them, and hear them if we gaze upon the hulking metal and those alluring key tops long enough. The machine doesn’t just sit there. She’s asking you to take her out for a spin.

    I have a small collection of 10 machines, all portables and all stunning to look at and to use, and in truth, it’s hard to say if I prefer the Alpina, or Torpedo 18b, or Erika 5, or Erika M, or Swissa Junior, or Underwood Portable Three-Bank or, or, or…since they each are heavenly to write with.

    But the moment my fingers touched the glass key tops of the L.C. Smith No. 8 circa 1918 sitting on the shelf at Cambridge Typewriter Co., there was no doubt she would be my eleventh machine, and what the Holy Grail of writing machines felt like. With the patented ball bearings in the type bars, you can just blow, and you are typing.

    My L.C. Smith has her own writing table and she asks me to take her for a spin every day, and she is the machine through which I go on many journeys because I just can’t resist her. And why should I?

    Maybe she only wrote invoices and business tasks. Maybe there were letters or stories from others who found her. Maybe she was a piece of curiosity in someone’s room. One thing is certain about my L.C. Smith: she was made for paper and ink and human hands.

    Every writer who hears the stories and feels the traces in these cold forges should have a standard sitting on her own table so you can both go out for the ride of your lives…

    • I certainly am closer to believing the machine itself has a soul and desires to write, than I am that there are muses external or ghostly residue. A lot of what you said resonates strongly with me. Perhaps it is because I was an only child and grew up talking to my toys… I feel my typewriters deserve a great respect and I have caught myself whispering to them here and there!
      Maybe this post and these comments are just the product of a strong desire and fantasy in all of us for our machines to be alive. As writers we often create souls and history from thin air.

  4. Indeed, Mark!

    During one of our winter storms last year here in Maine, I was staring at my L.C. Smith in the quiet morning dark and she was staring at me and wanting me to write something about her.

    This is what we both wrote:

    IF ONLY WORDS COULD SPEAK

    Black bulk bulging
    with metal, on metal, with oiled metal
    gears and springs
    and rolled rubber.

    Aching.

    Black letters, prisoners
    to white circles of silver and glass,
    staring at fingers,
    undecided.

    Aching.

    The cold forge craving words to
    slam something…
    soft
    on the paper.

    Warming things.

    • Thanks for sharing, James! Convincing evidence of all that has been posited. Whether you believe in the soul theory of objects or tapping an inspired subconscious entity, there is little doubt the forces of creative expression are best channeled through these singular devices of creation.

  5. I don’t think I can match up with those who have spoken. I am not a collector, a writer or a poet although I hold anyone who can do those things in high esteem. I am just an old typewriter salesman of the Underwood breed. Once I was introduced to Facebook, I became hooked and I now visit it at least once a day for an hour. My favorite place to be is on Typewriter Salespersons Page where I originally wanted to see if I could scare up some old compatriates. So far not much luck, however, I am enjoying all the folks who are collectors and adding their machines and comments to my page.

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