Say hello to my little friend! She (pretty sure she’s a ‘she’) is a Smith-Corona Classic 12 portable manual typewriter, that I bought a few weeks ago from someone on Craigslist (photo credit to the seller). I got new ribbons online, bought some of that ‘tacky on both sides’ shelf liner to put under it so it doesn’t slide to the right every time I hit the Carriage Return Lever, and I’m ready to roll!
I’m not sure why this machine is a Classic 12, because her American Typewriter keys are ten-pitch, not twelve-pitch. (For you young’uns, ‘pitch’ refers to how many characters fit per linear inch. No kerning; each character takes up exactly the same amount of space.) Maybe the model number had more to do with evolution than pitch. Who knows?
This particular machine was bought at a local Sears store, and cost $179.99 in 1979. I know this because the original (hand-completed) receipt was in the carrying case, along with the user manual, all of it in the same excellent condition as the machine and the carrying case. The machine was in use until twenty years ago – there were a few old papers related to a 1994 event, in the carrying case. And it was obviously well taken care of, because apart from a bit of dust in the guts, easily addressed with a can of compressed air, it was clean as a whistle when I got it.
My mom had an electric Smith-Corona when I was in high school, and it had a very similar look and feel to this machine. Getting to know this machine was more a matter of remembering than of learning. I knew what some of the keys, buttons, levers, and whatnots did before I even touched them. That blue cover over the keys slid back just as I expected it to, when I had my first look at it. It was a bit like meeting an old friend again, after a long time.
I haven’t done much with her, yet, actually, though I did bang out a 9-box outline for a novel I have in the works the other day. The directed-pressure tactility and the associated sounds make working on this low-tech machine a completely different experience from writing on a computer. The mechanical clack of keys has a rhythm and musicality all its own, wherein the space bar acts like a musical rest. If I am fanciful – and I’m a writer, so it’s a given that I’m fanciful – musical notations seem to apply: lento when the prose is the barest trickle from brain to fingers, allegro when the words flow smoothly, accelerando or staccato when the fingers struggle to keep up with the flow of ideas. And of course, the ‘ping’, like a tiny triangle among the small percussion, announcing the end of each line.
Some of the key locations are taking some adjustment, I must admit. That bar at the top? That’s the Tab bar. (If you don’t have Function keys or a drop-down menu, you can give the Tab bar its due!) Backspace is under the opposite hand. The ‘ and ” are on two different number keys, and I never use that fraction key where the ‘/” should be. Trickiest of all, though, is that the ‘i’ doesn’t autocapitalize.
I remember how thrilled I was when word processing usurped typewriters in the workplace, and my proclivity for typos became instantly immaterial. But I’m oddly excited to take a step — a twenty-five year step — back in technology and see where that takes me.
And now that I have a typewriter again, I’m wishing for an 89-cent, 100-sheet pad of yellow typing ‘practice’ paper, the kind I used reams and reams of, back in high school.
I might take a leaf out of Cris de Borja‘s latest book and write my next blog post on the typewriter. Because materials are fun!