As far as the Chinese zodiac is concerned, my favorite has always been the Year of the Rat: I myself was born a Rat, will always be a Rat, made the mistake of marrying a couple of Horses (I should have heeded those paper placemats) and learned my lesson.
A year ago, however, I declared my own Year of the Typewriter (YOTT). I had collected a few old typewriters during my college years and twenties, and continued using typewriters for my own writing well into the computer era, but had never thought to look at typewriter listings on eBay until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving last year. Then the light bulb went off and I was on my way to becoming a frequent-flyer on PayPal.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve indulged (perhaps over-indulged, but it’s good for the economic recovery) in purchasing old typewriters and typewriter-related ephemera: vintage ads, postcards, photos, paintings, figurines, gewgaws, and doodads. In this ongoing series of posts, I will present some of these items, along with insightful commentary sure to amuse and delight even the most discriminating reader.
In this inaugural installment, I’m starting off with a bang: my all-time favorite typewriter, a beautiful 1961 West German-made Alpina portable. It’s kind of like starting off a sports season with the All-Star Game—in a way it’s all going to be downhill from here—but I can’t resist honoring this stunner.
Will Davis, considered a typewriter guru, has dubbed the Alpina the “ultimate portable typewriter in terms of engineering.” And indeed, there are features on this machine you won’t find on any other typewriter. One of the niftiest is the shift mechanism: only the platen (the large rubber roller) lifts up, rather than the entire carriage, making shifting lighter and easier. Another distinctive feature is the white nylon carriage return/line space lever, as opposed to the chrome metal lever you’ll see on every other typewriter. It folds inward and rotates to hug the top of the machine when you put it in its case, and looks and feels terrific.
The preponderance of typewriters I will feature in these posts are German-made machines of the post-WWII era, principally the Fifties to early Sixties. When I declared my personal YOTT, I had no idea I would gravitate toward these machines—I hadn’t heard of most of them. My idea of typewriter collecting had been limited to Remingtons, Smith-Coronas, and Underwoods from the Twenties and Thirties: those old black machines you think of when you think “old typewriter” (if you do). I had no idea that the Germans, recently vanquished in the war, emerged in the post-war period as creators of the finest typewriting machines the world had ever seen.
Makes you wonder how we beat them.