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Another forever home for another typewriter

I have written here in the past about empathy for mechanical things. The syndrome must surely be related to the feelings — should I call them moral intuitions? — that cause us to adopt homeless cats. The mechanical version is the conviction that beautiful old machines ought to have a home. They ought to be maintained. And they ought not to be abused or put down.

I now have five typewriters in working condition. Four of them are electric. I promised myself that I would stop bringing home homeless typewriters after I acquired just one more machine. That machine would be a manual typewriter. It also would need to be a full-size office machine. And it would need to be a fairly late machine that well represents the highest evolution of non-electric typewriters. I was looking for an Underwood, because I used to have an Underwood that served me well for many years. But no suitable Underwood showed up on eBay. My next choice was a Royal FP. That’s what I bought.

Based on an on-line database of typewriter serial numbers, this typewriter was made in 1961. The eBay photos showed it to be very dirty, but I couldn’t see any damage or rust. I kind of liked that it was green. Typewriters with colored panels seem to be in demand by collectors these days. When the typewriter arrived, I was horrified to see that the carriage was jammed, hard. The carriage also was out of position by about 3/8 inch. It would have taken a very heavy blow to knock the carriage off its rails. The shipping box was not damaged. My suspicion is that the eBay seller knew the machine was damaged, even though he said in the description that the machine was working.

The seller would have allowed me to return the typewriter. But my empathy for mechanical things had already kicked in. This machine was eminently restorable except for the derailed carriage. I knew that, if I returned the machine, it probably would end up being junked with no hope of ever being repaired. Removing the carriage on most typewriters is one of the last things you want to do. But after watching a couple of YouTube videos on repairing old Royals, I decided to remove the carriage and see if repair was possible. Hail Mary surgery was, I reasoned, this particular typewriter’s only hope. If I failed, I would at least learn and know that I tried.

To my surprise, after removing many screws and with only two screws left to go, the carriage popped back onto its tracks and started moving smoothly again. I stopped disassembling at that point and put everything back together. This old typewriter has a will to live. Then again, all old typewriters do.

Many people who collect typewriters these days — including lots of young people — have no early experience with typewriters that makes them sentimental about typewriters. But I got my first typewriter when I was eleven or twelve years old. My first part-time job, during high school, was as a newspaper copy boy (1966). Not only did I look after the routine needs of a roomful of beautiful (and noisy) Teletype machines, I also worked in a newsroom full of typewriters. Over the years, as I moved up the food chain in the newspaper world, I used many models of typewriters. They were mostly Royals, and some of them were Royal FP’s like this one. (Computers started taking over newsrooms in the mid-1980s.) I found that my hands still have a memory of using the controls on the Royal FP, including its “Magic Margin.” How long has it been since you held a kitten? Even if it has been many years, if you pick up a kitten your hands will remember.

And speaking of newspapers, I retired from the San Francisco Chronicle, where a famous Royal FP is still on display in the Chronicle lobby, as far as I know. The Chronicle columnist Herb Caen often referred to his “loyal Royal.” There’s a picture of Caen’s last loyal Royal in the Wikipedia article on Herb Caen.

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  1. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    No doubt they (typewriters) are beautiful

    I believe the bust and Royal was removed from the former Examiner entry way, a few years back. I’ll find out for sure though.

    You will not recognize the interior and whats left of the newsroom is smashed into a 3rd floor area – very sad

    Sunday, July 24, 2022 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi Henry: Sigh. Yes. The money ghouls took over during the Examiner-Chronicle merger, didn’t they. The money ghouls probably wanted to sell the whole block at 5th and Mission, which would of course be worth a fortune. I’m a but surprised that they didn’t. They must have figured out that there was more money to be made by putting the Chronicle staff in a closet and renting out the rest of the building to tech companies. Surely they wouldn’t have gotten rid of Caen’s typewriter, though! I tried to preserve a Coyote terminal, the one that Phil Bronstein used. But I’m sure they junked that years ago, the bastards.

    Sunday, July 24, 2022 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  3. I used a vintage Underwood Standard for many years. Wrote my first magazine articles on it, my senior thesis in college.

    Then, in a precipitous move from Laramie, Wyoming to Jackson Hole, when it wouldn’t fit into my overburdened VW bus, I left it behind to its own dismal fate. Sigh.

    I must admit though, when word processors came out, I enthusiastically left behind cut and paste editing for the joys of copy and paste, especially in the news room, leaving the joys of late night deadlines, whooshing by or not.

    Monday, August 8, 2022 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

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