A Type A(sdf) collector

Austin_Robyn4C.jpgIt is highly unlikely my son, a fifth-grader, will ever have to
actually dial a phone. Nor will he ever have a sneezing fit while
cleaning the chalkboard erasers. Nor will he curse over jammed
typewriter keys because his fingers were faster than the machine.

In fact, I’d wager his only exposure to typewriters is “history”
articles like the one Martin Howard shares with us in this week’s
Antique Trader.

Mr. Howard set out to collect something “off the beaten path,” and he
certainly found it. I don’t know many people who collect the
oh-so-heavy and clunky-to-handle writing tools of days gone by. Mainly
because they are oh so heavy and oh so clunky to handle. But those who
do, know they have in their possession one of the most essential pieces
of machinery in history!

Although the shape, design and weight of typewriters have changed over
time, and there was even some effort to rearrange the letters, one
thing has remained the same: the keyboard is still an essential means
for communication. In fact, as Mr. Howard notes, “The keyboard truly
connects the planet.”

Look around you at all those businessmen and women typing on their
BlackBerries. Look at just about every teenager out there “texting”
their friends. Look at all the e-mails in your inbox.

Where would we be without those first typewriters and keyboards? How
exciting it must be for folks like Martin Howard to track those down,
buy them and, in his case, restore them.

I remember typing essays and reports in junior high and high school on
my mom’s big Royal. Lifting that monster onto the dining room table may
have been the start of my back problems! But it worked.

It typed. Not as fast as I’d like sometimes, but the letters went on
the page and the papers were up to my teacher’s standards. So I really
couldn’t complain. But I was a teenager, so I did – especially after we
got electric typewriters in school and then, by my later high school
years, computers with this “ultra-fast” keyboard.

Fast-forward 30 years and my 10-year-old already knows the “home row”
and is typing with both hands poised over the keyboard. In his
classroom, both the chalkboard and overhead projector have been
replaced by what is called a SMART Board – an interactive, electronic

Let me tell you about this SMART Board. You can draw or write on the
touch screen and save that info into a document. The teacher can
display everything from class pictures to movies to Web sites. What an
incredible teaching and learning tool!

But then again, that’s what the typewriter was and always has been. If
someone hadn’t figured out a way to get type-written words on paper,
you probably wouldn’t be holding this newspaper in your hands either.
Those typewriters are pretty special to us writers and editors.
Perhaps I could start my own collection. They certainly would look a
lot more attractive than that pile of outdated computer monitors and
broken keyboards!

Antique Trader would like to know if you collect something that was
significant to history (typewriters, telephones, radios, etc.) but
evolved into something else we still use today — something that perhaps
has transformed over time from something enormous to electronic. Use
that new-fangled keyboard and send me an email at robyn.austin@fwmedia.com or post a reply here.

Until next time, keep your hands on the home row… asdf jkl;… asdf jkl;…

— Robyn