In the 1970s, the Soviets managed to intercept top secret communications in the US embassy in Moscow and nobody could figure out how. While an antenna was eventually found hidden in the embassy's chimney, it took years to determine how what data was being collected for transmission and how. As a last resort, all equipment at the embassy was shipped back to the US for analysis. From IEEE Spectrum:
After tens of thousands of fruitless X-rays, a technician noticed a small coil of wire inside the on/off switch of an IBM Selectric typewriter. (NSA engineer Charles) Gandy believed that this coil was acting as a step-down transformer to supply lower-voltage power to something within the typewriter. Eventually he uncovered a series of modifications that had been concealed so expertly that they had previously defied detection.
A solid aluminum bar, part of the structural support of the typewriter, had been replaced with one that looked identical but was hollow. Inside the cavity was a circuit board and six magnetometers. The magnetometers sensed movements of tiny magnets that had been embedded in the transposers that moved the typing “golf ball” into position for striking a given letter.
Other components of the typewriters, such as springs and screws, had been repurposed to deliver power to the hidden circuits and to act as antennas. Keystroke information was stored and sent in encrypted burst transmissions that hopped across multiple frequencies.
For more on this fascinating story, check out former intelligence officer and technologist Eric Haseltine's new book: "The Spy in Moscow Station"
image: IBM Selectric by Oliver Kurmis (CC BY 2.5 Read the rest
Jeremy Mayer is a San Francisco sculptor who creates incredibly intricate creatures from torn-apart typewriters. One of Jeremy's preying mantises has lived in my home for many years and I still marvel at its construction. Wired visited Jeremy's studio for the short documentary above. For more, here are a slew of Boing Boing posts about his astounding work.
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Martin Howard from Antique Typewriter (previously) writes, "In 1881, Thomas Hall, a Brooklyn engineer, invented the first portable typewriter that would enable a person to type with the machine anywhere, even on one’s lap. This was also the first index typewriter, a typewriter with no keyboard that requires one to use a selector. In this case, a black handle is depressed to choose the characters when typing. The Hall, despite its unusual design, proved to be quite successful over the next twenty years."
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Hey vintage typewriter nerds, there's a store in Carmichael, California (which is outside of Sacramento) that's selling off its machines.
The unnamed store went out of business 10 years ago but the family who owns it is just now beginning to liquidate their inventory, according to Richard Polt of Typewriter Revolution. He writes, "There are lots of electrics, especially Selectrics, but also manual standards and portables. A Torpedo 18 in a case is on one of these shelves."
Go to Richard's post to see more photos and to find out how to purchase machines.
photo by Richard Polt Read the rest
Here's just a few from my searches—in pursuit of the elusive red Canon Typemate—but there are many like them.
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According to this Vanity Fair video, Tom Hanks has the "secret talent" of changing the ribbon on a circa 1960s (stunning pastel green) Hermes 3000 typewriter. Watch as he does just that.
Next up: watching paint dry.
Just kidding. This is a cute video. It reminds me of a time, maybe three years ago, when I was at a Digital Detox event at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. The organizers had set up tables of typewriters for people -- milennials -- to play with and I sat nearby watching as they struggled to figure out how to operate them. Most gave up just trying to load the sheet of paper but one gal didn't. She walked right over to me and asked if I could help her out. She knew I was old enough to have typewriter-using knowledge!
I remember thinking, at the time, that I should start a YouTube channel for young people on how to work obsolete devices. Now Tom Hanks has upped and stolen my thunder. Thanks, Hanks... ;) Read the rest
Martin from Antique Typewriters writes, "The Alexis typewriter is the result of a small town inventor with the desire to design and manufacture his own typewriter. James A. Wallace (1845 - 1906) was born in Alexis, Illinois (pop. 900) where he is now buried. He was a dynamic man with various occupations including bicycle repair, writer, and photographer (see his portrait below). He was also an avid musician. The Alexis is a superb example of a unique typewriter from the 'Wild West' of typewriters during the 1880s & 1890s when all sorts of ingenious designs came forth. Some ideas were better than others though and there were many successes and failures."
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Montreal artist Eric Nado transforms vintage typewriters into stunning models of machine guns. As a William S. Burroughs fan, I have great appreciation for this intersection of objects. From Galerie COA:
Through sculpture-assemblage, Éric Nado transforms and reorganizes certain objects to reveal other possibilities through their forms or intended functions. Using iconic metal objects such as typewriters and sewing machines, Nado materializes concepts such as labor and memory.
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There are few possessions I've held on to like my Remington Rand De Luxe Porta 5. I've been trying to fix it, it mostly works kind of/sort of. OK, I give up. Read the rest
Typewriter sculptor Jeremy Meyer sez, "I just got back from Telluride where the feature-length documentary by Doug Nichol called 'California Typewriter' premiered." Read the rest
Benjamin Cheh and Jeffrey Kong made this prototype Lego typewriter a couple of years ago: "a perfect example of how LEGO elements can pack so much detail in something so small. A retro creation for both the young and the young at heart – imagine this typewriter on your desk!" Their site's a treasure trove of Lego creations. [more, more]
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OverType simulates, to an undesirable degree of accuracy, the experience of using a mechanical typewriter. You can have three fonts, one of which is IBM's classic Courier, set the degree to which you want your typewriter to be broken, and the state of your ribbon ink. You cannot delete—but there is correction paper! Read the rest
Craiglist has something wonderful on it: a vast collection of more than 600 vintage Smith-Corona typewriters, including accessories and marketing literature. Yours for a hundred grand.
My collection consists of over 600 typewriter items including the company's first typewriter in the 1880's to one of the company's last typewriters in 2000's and all models in between, along with all types of items that correspond to the typewriters, including ads, accessories, displays, documents, manuals, photos, shipping crates, etc. Smith Corona's products are beautiful, interesting, unique, colorful, and when displayed, fun to look at.
I collected the typewriters and related items from 44 of the 50 United States, Washington DC, four Canadian provinces and three foreign countries. I only purchased museum quality items, so the collection would make an instant museum. The collection includes many rare and valuable items.
I have decided it is time to sell the collection.
The collection is a nice financial investment that consistently increases in value over time due to a large international typewriter collectors market. The collection will only increase in value over time.
More pics at the listing!
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Artist Jesse England modified a typewriter to use a Comic Sans typeface. "If I'd made it in Helvetica people would've just observed it as a little design experiment," he says of his device, called the Sincerity Machine. Read the rest
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.
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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."
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.
(Thanks Martin!) Read the rest
This 1945 Royal Typewriter ad provides a glimpse into the horror of messing about with mechanical typewriters.
Life, May 28, 1945 Read the rest