Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Without Reservation: Typewriter Recommendations

This post come by way of an email exchange between Richard and myself. The question was what typewriter do I think is best for a classroom environment. I was flattered to be asked, but then I thought about it. My students have typed over 12 million words on the classroom typewriters. These typewriters have been my co-teachers for many years. In that time I have had a chance to stress-test several brands ant there is one that stands out above all the rest due to its low cost, ease of repair, and durability.

At some point we all come to the conclusion that some brands of typewriters fit our needs better than others. That is when we develop personal preferences. I, as you can sense, have an affinity for Royal desktops because here are no finer typewriters to be had. Others bow down at the alter of Olympia. Still others are true-blue Olivetti fans.

Of course, so much depends on the state of the machines when they come to you. I have had some fantastic top-shelf typewriters that have been real dogs, but other ugly everyday machines have proven to be very reliable. There is no one answer, but if I were setting up a CTP cell in a local writing studio or teen space I would probably fill the place with Brothers.

Hold on. Let me explain. The whole point of the CTP is to get kids interacting with typewriters and the written word. Given the robust insane nature of the typewriter resale market, finding a bargain can be hard. Luckily, these little all-metal typewriters are just ugly and charmless enough to be priced  in that all-important $20 area. Sometimes they can be had for far less, but their true value is so much greater.

These are transparent typewriters. By that I mean they give up their secrets easily. Fixing a Hermes requires (a) a ritual induction in to the esoteric brotherhood of Hermes aficionados and (b) a wiliness to accept that the escapement of that "rare" and "unique" sea foam-green 3000 you bought for $90 is irreparably broken and you will find no repair parts anywhere. Sobering thought. Let the Brother be a balm for your troubled heart. What a Brother lacks in seafoamy goodness it more than makes up for in interchangeable parts. I have swapped bits of escapement mechanisms to and fro Brothers and I have found them to play very nicely with each other.

True, these are easily repaired, but their durability means that I rarely have problems to begin with. No plastic. The bodies are metal. I am sure the plastic ones are pretty good, but the metal ones are very good. With the bumps and scraps that a typewriter like these will encounter having a metal body makes sense. Speaking of very good keep an eye out for the Webster.

This Webster is sporting a custom-made replacement right shift key. The previous one was lost.
The new one is made from InstaMorph.

Richard once offered me a Webster and I snubbed it. That little bit of typewriter snobbery still haunts me. After I got one for the classroom I realized that they are good typewriters; small, lithe, and easy to use. The two tone blue is also very nice. Many of my students like the red tab button.

So, am I saying that you should snub donations? Not at all. Take whatever is given to you. Appreciate it. Love it. Share that love. Just keep one eye out for all-metal Brothers. They are real gems and can add some durability to a heavy use typewriter collection.

Robert has all you ever wanted to know about Brother at this link. 


  1. I wholeheartedly agree. The ones I see are generally new-ish, so in good condition, plentiful, so cheap, and easy to use. They also have a built in a lap-friendly crumb-tray so don't have to be desk-bound. The only thing I don't like about them is the noise. That ping on each keystroke which comes from the little type-head arresting spring in front of the type point. Fairly simple to fix though.

  2. For an environment like your classroom, I would have made the same case without hesitation. For a collector writing NaNoWriMo, not so much. But the build quality and simplicity are miles ahead of the others.

  3. I have the Montgomery Ward version of the large white Brother--it is two-tone tan, and a pleasure to use!

  4. Well you know my high opinion of the Brother, so I also concur with the wisdom of your recommendation. (:

  5. I love my Brother Deluxe 220, got it in Germany and it's going strong!

  6. Twelve. Million. Words. Let me process that before I read any further.

  7. Good call. What's more, in 30 years time their awesome red and white and wood-grain retro styling will have them right up there with the best of them in terms of collectable desirability! 12,000,000 is quite the achievement and congrats.

  8. Great article. I've not had the pleasure of using a Brother but now I want to pick one up!

  9. Children can't be expected to use them delicately and that has to be taken into account.

    Durable, cheap, easily repairable, supplies easy to obtain.
    Yes, Brothers check all the boxes.

  10. Some good points there (as always) Ryan. I too was one of those Brother - Webster ah who needs them kind of people until I got my first one. I was surprised at how nice most are -- and like Skyriters, generally quite affordable.

    12,000,000 words! One fantastic amount.