Typewriter and Inventors

One of the first typewriters to allow typists to see work in progress was invented in 1855 by Giuseppe Ravizza.

In 1861 a Brazilian priest made a typewriter from wood and knives and was awarded a gold medal for his invention by the Brazilian emperor. Controversially, many people consider Father de Azevedo to be the real inventor of the typewriter.

Peter Mitterhofer's creation, in 1864, was the first of five designs by the Austrian, the last in 1868.

The first typewriter to be sold commercially was in 1870 by the Reverend Malling Hansen of Denmark whose design, the Hansen Writing Ball was a success throughout Europe for several decades and being used in London as late as 1909.

Until the late 1860s most typewriters were slower than handwriting. The first of these faster typewriters, by Scholes, Soule and Glidden, in 1867, was sold for $12,000 to Densmore and Yost who later licensed the typewriter design to Remington, whose typewriter was produced in New York in 1873.

Underwood also famous for creating typewriters and famous too for early steroviews.

Typewriter History

It is believed that 'writing machines', similar to typewriters, were around in the early 1700s, the earliest was probably created by Henry Mill who in 1714 obtained a patent from what sounds to have closely resembled a typewriter.

In 1829 the 'typographer' was patented by William Burt and is sometimes called 'The First Typewriter', although more accurate perhaps is London's Science Museum's description of Burt's work as 'the first writing mechanism whose invention was documented'.

Burt's version of the typewriter was never commercially produced, no buyer was ever found for the invention which was in fact slower than writing by hand. But one great benefit of Burt's typewriter was the distinction incurred between an 'index typewriter' like this one which had a round dial to select characters, over the 'keyboard typewriter' as it came to be known where multiple keys existed to create character impressions in much the same manner as the typewriters we know today.

Since the first successful commercial typewriters were introduced in the late 1860s many unusual designs have emerged, some plain and simple, others intricate and stunningly detailed. One of the simplest and earliest designs had a wheel with letters round the edge which was turned manually until the required letter appeared in front of the paper and was pushed to form an impression. More complicated typewriters had double keyboards, one for lower case, the other for capitals, and were created in brass and mother of pearl hand painted with glorious gilded leaves and flowers. These are the kind of unusual models to watch out for at non-specialist auctions and they're almost certain to attract high prices on eBay.

These early models sometimes crop up at specialist typewriter auctions where they invariably fetch a high price. Not the place to buy in expectation of high resell fees on eBay but worth visiting for research and experience.

Like most collectibles, value depends mainly on rarity, not just age. For example, one of the earliest serviceable typewriters, the Underwood, created from 1900 to 1932 was made in the millions and can still be found in working condition, consequently they are worth very little.

Typewriters Today

Although still favoured by some writers and hugely popular as collectibles, typewriters - even electric designs - have largely been replaced by computers and word processors.

Unlike early typewriters, computers and most word processors allow changes to be made to a document while still in the machine's memory so all mistakes can be corrected before the document is printed to paper. Some typewriters had keys striking upwards onto paper that was hidden from the typist's view and consequently many typing mistakes were made of which the typist was not aware until the typing process was finished and the paper removed from the typewriter.

Around the 1980s electric typewriters appeared on the scene which made typing less energetic and allowed typists to reach far higher speeds than ever before. Unlike earlier typewriters where impressions were created manually and often needed a heavy strike on the typewriter keyboard, a motor in these electric typewriters created the force needed to strike characters onto paper. Previously typing was hard work, often painful and, the faster the fingers moved, the more likely the keys got tangled together in mid strike. On electric typewriters the movement of keys was synchronised and rarely would keys make contact during typing. Most importantly however, before electric typewriters the clarity of characters on paper was entirely down to the pressure applied by the typist and characters could vary in depth and colour, so lacking uniformity and appearing very unprofessional. The heavier handed the typist, the deeper her work embossed through to the rear of the printed page, while the work of light handed typists was often too light and sometimes unreadable.

Electric typewriters respond to the touch, however light, and apply identical pressure leading to even depth and uniform colour. So although machines resembling typewriters have existed for around 300 years, only in the last quarter of a century has anything closely resembling perfect type been possible.

IBM and Remington led the way in electric typewriters and IBM later introduced the Selectric typewriter which had a spherical typeball, like a golfball, that replaced the traditional individual keys and rotated to locate and impress particular characters. Selectric typewriters overcame the still quite rare possibility of keys jamming in older style typerwriters, both manual and electric.

Use of Typewriters Today

Typewriters are rarely used today but they do have applications for some people, some reasons and in some countries.

* Typewriters are still used by people or in areas without computers, such as away from electrical supplies or even during power cuts.

* Typewriters are extremely useful for filling out forms where paper can be lined up in the typewriter for words to be typed in their proper place, something that is nigh on impossible using computers.

* In countries without access to computers and with few people possessing typewriters we find individuals setting up with their typewriters in public spaces where they provide on the spot letter writing services.

By Avril Harper in: www.1st-in-typewriters.com

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