Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Have you ever used one?



25 years ago, there were hardly any computers & even fewer people owned printers. So if you had to write a letter, you had two choices – either you write it or you use a typewriter.



This is the Antares Compact portable typewriter. Of Italian make, it’s nearly as old as me and weighs around 3kg. Back in the late 1980s, it was being sold for around Rs 3000 (not in today’s currency).



The training centre where you learned how to type (I know there was one in Curepipe) didn’t provide typewriters. Hence that’s why this portable version was bought along with the original case.



Imagine people carrying this around in the bus, going to work... Indeed, this is the ancestor of the laptop.




Unscrewing the back.





All it takes is one key press to trigger the complex system of printing.



The QWERTY keyboard layout, invented in 1873, to prevent the multiple typebars from jamming (it still jams if I type too fast).




It has all the basics – left/right Shift key, Caps Lock & Backspace, but no Return/Enter key. The Caps Lock in fact holds down the Shift key.



There also this one unknown key which doesn’t appear to trigger anything: ↔



The smiley.



The character map. For the accents, you have to type the letter, backspace once & then type the accent on the letter.



Typewriting is exactly like printing.




These are the typebars on which a character is embossed on its head in reverse.



When you press a key, the typebar arm moves forward. At the same time, the ink ribbon moves up & when the head hits the ribbon, a mark is printed on the paper wrapped around the platen.



There are 2 characters on each head. The upper character can be printed by using Shift key which moves the platen upwards.




The ink ribbon works in the same way like carbon paper. There are two slots to insert the ribbon cartridges because when you type a letter, the ribbon rotates as it moves (a bit like a cassette).



You have the option to use ribbons of different colours & the colours can be switched using this dial.




The paper is inserted through the platen & the print margin is adjusted through these tabs. The typewriter does not print beyond this margin. When you have to return a new line, it starts exactly at the left margin tab. For the right margin, it uses another system.



The paper is held in place on the platen using this holder.



These are the rails on which the carriage moves.



For the right margin, the typewriter does not prevent you from printing because you may not have finished the word you’re typing before the right margin is reached. Instead, the margin tab strikes this bell to inform you that the margin is near.



This lever on the right is what triggers the carriage return, i.e. allows you to start a new line of text.




When you drag the lever up & push it to the right, it also scrolls the paper upwards. You can adjust the line height of new lines.



& that’s the rail & the wire mechanism which moves the carrier assembly to the left each time you press a key.



& the end result is this.



Of course, if you make a mistake, there’s no Ctrl+Z, it’s either the correction fluid or a fresh new document.



Long before touchscreen keyboards, Swype, T9, PS/2 keyboards were invented… I learned to type on this.



This was my first intelligent machine.




What makes it even more amazing is that this is a totally mechanical device. No electric input at all. It just functions on human power.





More than a machine, it’s a work of art. One that still works.




Siganus Sutor

Yes, I have used one. My father had an Olivetti in a brown casing which I loved to use as a child. Writing poems sometimes…
The ribbon had two colours, black and red, and it was possible to shift it up or down so that the little hammers would strike the black or the red part. Pressing two keys at the same time usually resulted in jamming the mechanism, so while swearing you had to push all the bars back in place, one by one. Of course, there was no such thing as changing a font, say swapping from Times New Roman to Arial.
In his office there was a huge Underwood on a small table. When I happened to go there with him on a Saturday, I would sit there and start typing anything I fancied. The mobile part (“chariot”) was so heavy that if you happened to press the “tab” key that released the carriage, it would slide until it blocked, which would then make the whole table shake as if it was about to crumble.
When my wife's father died and her mother moved away from their house, we inherited an electric typewriter (see photos here and here). I've never used it — much too modern for me — and I'm just wondering what we are going to do with it. There is very little chance that we ever use it one day. Wouldn't you have a plan to open a (mechatronics) museum?


As a child, I wasn't really allowed to use it, but I always wanted to know how it really worked.

Electric typewriters, I've never seen one. Which makes me wonder, what happened to all typewriters in Mauritius? Sold as scrap metal probably? Yes, we do need a museum. In 50 years, machines like these will be priceless.


I have one. 
Took the picture years ago. ;)
Did you know that there were exams for it a few decades ago? They were testing your typing speed. It was called Pitman and yep, it was a very popular exam at that time! :)
Disqus = +1 


They still do. :P

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