Ridiculously wonderful 19th century Ford typewriter

Martin Howard sent us the latest addition to his stupendous antique typewriter collection, an 1895 Ford:

The Ford typewriter is a striking machine with its beautiful ornate grill and gracefully integrated keyboard. It was a machine to grace the eyes but would not have endeared itself to the typist, as the keys are rather springy and wobbly when typing and the platen surprisingly does not have a line-by-line clicking action. Also the shift keys for capitals and figures require a solid push to operate, not a good design for fast typing. However, what the Ford did have was visible writing, allowing one to see the typed words on the platen as soon as they were typed. It was not the first to do this but most contemporary typewriters were still blind writers, requiring one to lift the carriage to see the last few typed lines.

The Ford typewriter broke new ground in being the first typewriter to use the new metal ‘aluminum’ in its construction. The Ford was sold in two versions, one with an all aluminum frame and carriage and the other with a cast iron, black enameled, frame and aluminum carriage, as shown above. Both sport a beautiful Japanned grill.

Ford Typewriter Company, New York 1895 - serial no.869 (Thanks, Martin!)


  1. OK speaking of typewriters, does someone know what we call words that have lost their meaning but that we still use?

    For example:
    * Pressing the “shift” key on a computer keyboard doesn’t physically “shift” anything, but we still call it “shift.”
    * Similarly, we still “dial” a phone, listen for a “dial tone,” and may still use “dial-up” (and set our radio “dial” to Hot 100 FM), although no physical dials are involved.
    * Speaking of phones, our phones “ring” and have “ringtones” but no actual bells.
    * We still refer to “uppercase” and “lowercase” letters although they are unlikely to be stored in a case.
    * We “cc:” an email even though no carbon paper is involved.

    I once came across the word that refers to this kind of usage, but now I forgot and it’s been bugging me ever since.  (I’m not thinking of “anachronism,” and I don’t think it’s “dead metaphor” either.)

    (edit) P.S. Beautiful typewriter. For some reason, at first I didn’t even see the top and bottom rows of letter keys.

    1.  I think there is a term for that.

      And for the record, my ‘mobile phone call alert ‘ is an actual (reproduction) of an old telephone ring.  I recorded it from the intro to the Wonder Pets tv show. :)

      Any time I see an old typewriter it reminds me of the time my grandmother brought out her old manual machine for me to play on. Those were the days!

      I didn’t even know Ford made typewriters!

      1. Search for “Universal Telephone Ring.” What you’re looking for is an .mp3 of the original sound file used by Universal Studios in films and television for “the sound that a telephone makes.” It is (or at least was; I got my copy years ago) all over the ‘net on SFX sharing sites.

        By the time this telephone ring sound effect had been used for the opening of “The Rockford Files,” it had been dubbed and redubbed so many times that it no longer represents an actual, mechanical ringing phone, but rather the idea of a ringing phone as transmitted through decades of 20th c. pop culture. “Universal Telephone Ring” is the “Wilhelm Scream” of ringing phones. Five stars.

        1. I now have a new, and more accurate “ring” for my phone. 

          Thanks, Ernest :)

          1.  I’m glad you found it, but it’s definitely not “more accurate.” It’s a telephone ring recorded onto 78 rpm acetate, transferred to 33 1/3 vinyl, then sent to wide-track magnetic tape, then reel-to-reel, then 8-track half-inch loop, then digitized, then sent to WinAmp, and finally converted to CD-quality .mp3. It sounds like a phone, according to every memory everyone over forty-five has of a ringing mechanical phone, except that it doesn’t sound like a phone at all. It’s all illusion created by movies and TV. “Universal Telephone Ring” is the ultimate culturally determined reality.

    2. Perhaps it’s that word (which I also forget) that means “pretending to be an implementation of a familiar, old technology because people aren’t comfortable with the new one”.  There was a boing-boing post about that a while back giving the mp3 “click” clip on digital cameras and the square structures at the tops of stone columns which are a hold-over from the older wooden columns as examples.

    3. Surprisingly, here in Auckland me and my teenage sons still say “video” as in “Shall we get a video out tonight?”. I don’t feel like changing it.

  2. I had no idea typewriters from the 19th century had @ signs, but Wikipedia tells me they started using it in 1889, so I guess this story checks out.

    1. Why wouldn’t they have @ signs? It’s a pretty basic symbol in the sales world.

      1. I knew of its usage in accounting/sales, but for some reason I didn’t think its ubiquity went back that far. With almost no working knowledge of these things, I would have expected to see some other symbols on there ahead of @ (“+”, “!”, etc.), but now that I think about it, most of the symbols that we are familiar with today that are missing from that keyboard can be produced from other key combinations if you get creative.

        Hey, look at that. I think I’m turning into a typography nerd as we speak.

  3. Hi guys,

    Thanks for your interesting discussion about the @ symbol. It does seem strange at first sight to see this ‘modern’ symbol appearing on a 19th century keyboard. 

    If you would like to see other early and unusual keyboards, please visit my collection at http://www.antiquetypewriters.com 

    The collector, Martin Howard

  4. Only 10 years earlier, aluminum was still as expensive as silver, and this exotic metal was used as the capstone for the Washington Monument. 

    1. The roof of the lobby of the Library of Congress was done in the most valuable metal in the world: aluminium!  They ran out because of the civil war and had to make due with crappy old gold for the last few tiles.

  5. There’s a term for such relicts in the visual language of architecture and other physical crafts: skeuomorph, from Greek words meaning ‘shadow shapes’. Many of the elements of Classical architecture were originally functional wooden components, reproduced in stone despite totally different structural requirements. In fact horizontal stone beams are a fundamentally bad idea—but they built ’em anyway, rather than abandon the familiar look of traditional wooden buildings. It took generations of powerboat designers before they abandoned long overhangs and bowsprits, purely because plumb bows didn’t look the way people had learned a boat should look. Automobiles retained running boards for decades after they’d been lowered enough that you didn’t need a step to get up into your seat. Men’s suits to this day often have a single rear vent, ugly on nearly everyone, inherited from the ancestral riding coat, which had to spread out either side of a horse’s back. None of these is a verbal relict, though, and I can’t think of a specific term for the pattern you describe. Maybe it‘s just too common—so many words are fundamentally metaphors, with meanings far from their original literal sense. http://theliterarylink.com/metaphors.html

  6. Very nice.

    Just a couple of days ago, I found that it’s possible to buy a kit to convert old typewriters to PC keyboards (while still retaining their original function). Has anyone here tried it?

Comments are closed.