Book Review: The Typewriter: The History – The Machines – The Writers, by Tony Allen

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv)typewritersTypewriter is a delightful little gift book, hardbound and with a fittingly
retro look to it. Inside, the front/endpapers, emblazoned with packaging images for ribbons, invoke nostalgia, and the font mimics that of the early mechanical devices. Illustrations abound, from old advertisements to photographs of the various typewriters themselves.

Here we have the entire history of mechanical writing machines, a history which began as early as 1714, when the first patent for an artificial typing machine was issued, but the pace of invention really came to the fore in the 19th century with the industrial revolution.

Contained here, is a wealth of knowledge for the typewriter aficionados. Did you know, for example, that typewriters were, in part, designed to help those with poor sight? The Braille typewriter was invented in 1892.

The_pincushionWithin the collected pages we have the bizarre-looking Pincushion, the first commercially produced typewriter (1862). There is also a list of patented machines lost to history, a selection of museums that you can visit, a timeline of milestones in typewriter history and a fully-labelled Underwood typewriter ( the first “modern” typewriter) identifying all of the parts. It is easy to forget, in this modern age of keyboards and touchscreens, that once it all had to be done mechanically.

I found the section on the keyboard arrangement to be the most interesting. How little quirks in a keyboard (a misaligned E, a fainlty inked P) could be used to identify a machine and thus solve a crime. The QWERTY keyboard, which most of us use today, first found its use in 1874, and was designed to prevent the typebars from clashing, thus allowing the typist to reach greater speeds.

Outside of the technical aspects, Typewriter also delves into the cultural, listing famous authors and their typewriters, as well as their appearances in both classic and modern film. There are even instructions on how you can make your own concrete poetry, which uses the typed word to create poems in shape as well as in text. It delves into details on how the typewriter has shaped the world as we know it.

Whilst this book is definitely targeted at a very specific market, it does have a charm to it, and it cannot help but spark a small sense of affection to these typing machines that have largely now been supplanted by their electronic descendants. A nostalgic keepsake.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Typewriter: The History – The Machines – The Writers
by Tony Allan
Published by Shelter Harbour Press
ISBN 9781627950343

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