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ASCII art and its precursors

Alexis Madrigal explores the history of typewritten images, from their present nadir in YouTube comments to Illustrated Phonographic World's 1893 efforts to prove the value of the medium.
The Reporter's Journal agreed with the Phonetic Journal about "the foolishness of attempting to make sketches by means of typewriters." Furthermore, the London publication continued, "Some of our American contemporaries indulge largely in facsimiles of this class of work, and this has tended to foster the absurd custom." Stung by the white glove, Illustrated Phonographic World set out to prove that typewriter sketches were indeed worthy of respect. "We believe that any endeavor which will cultivate painstaking and accuracy on the part of operators should be encouraged," they wrote. "The endeavor to excel in artistic typewriting unquestionable does this. The pen maketh the exact man; so will the typewriter, which is only the modern pen."

Munson typewriter, a beauty from 1890


The Martin Howard Typewriter Collection has a new treasure to show off: a Munson typewriter, with horizontal rods that control a hammer that strikes the page from behind:

The Munson typewriter is a remarkable piece of engineering, with a complex and original mechanical design packed into a small frame. Its inner workings are largely exposed, so the machine comes to life with moving rods and levers when being used.

The Munson does not have type-bars but uses a horizontal type-cylinder (about the size of ones finger) that slides from side-to-side and rotates to have the correct character move into place. Then a hammer strikes the paper from behind, pushing the paper against the ribbon and type-cylinder. Type-cylinders with different fonts were available.

With two shift keys, uppercase and figures, only three rows of keys are required.

The Munson was introduced in 1890 and did quite well on the market; however, today it is hard to find. The Munson became the Chicago in 1898 when the enterprise was bought and the typewriters were manufactured by The Chicago Writing Machine Co.

Munson 1 (Thanks Martin!)

Terrifying typewriter


This 1945 Royal Typewriter ad provides a glimpse into the horror of messing about with mechanical typewriters.

Life, May 28, 1945

Sexy typewriter postcards of yore


On How to Be a Retronaut, an invigorating, 1910s-1920s gallery of winsome, partially unclothed lasses posed with typewriters. Hummina. 23 and/or skiddoo! They're ganked from marvellous Virtual Antique Typewriter Museum.

Typewriter Erotica c. 1920s (via Making Light)

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!)

Interview with a Maker: Jack Zylkin, USB Typewriter Guy

Jack Zylkin created the USB Typewriter. I interviewed him about his creation, the response he's received, and why people are so interested in "the muggle magic of gears and pulleys and solenoids."

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