Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chip, Rona, and a Good Companion

I have a story to tell about Communists, New Zealand, and a clandestine typewriter. While I might be stepping on toes here, I think that the ever-gracious Mr. Messenger will allow me to dabble in some southern-hemisphere typewriter antics.

Sidney Holland
The distance of Australia and New Zealand from traditional markets made shipping a vital part of their economic growth. It’s no surprise, then that the New Zealand waterfront became the locus of working-condition conflict. During WWII, labor shortages required that dock workers take on longer shifts; upwards of 15 hours a day. Anger at the situation was brought before the Arbitration Court of New Zealand and workers who were involved in the arbitration system were awarded a 15% wage increase. This did not apply to dock workers because their employment was controlled by a different governmental organization. Instead dock workers were awarded a 9% wage increase and among the rank-and-file this was seen as a slight for the vital service they offered to Kiwis.

In retribution, the waterfront workers refused to work overtime. Employers locked them out.

The center-right First National Government, led by Sidney Holland, called in the Army and Navy in to work the docks. An election was called in 1951 in an effort to capitalize on the national disapproval of the dockworkers actions. Emergency Regulations were enacted that significantly curtailed civic liberties and criminalized material support to watersiders. These regulations also made it a crime to write anything in support of the movement.

Rona Bailey
This did not stop Chip Bailey and his wife Rona Bailey from breaking the law and secretly writing pamphlets and articles in support of the watersiders.

Bailey and his wife were well-known in the New Zealand labor movement. Rona has been described as the ‘high priestess’ of Kiwi communism by a later New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. Chip was an ardent supporter of labor and—for a while—was purged from the party’s roll because he followed his own beliefs.

These two were not about to follow Holland’s dictum. They were going to fight for what they thought was right.

The Bailey Imperial at The Museum of New Zealand
It was on an Imperial Good Companion that the Baileys would write their pamphlets and political pieces. The couple were responsible for most of the illegal pro-union writing circulated around Wellington, their hometown. Often they would have to deliver these papers in the dead of night so as to not be caught.

Craftily hiding the unlicensed typewriter somewhere in their flat (history is mum on the location), they avoided being caught until the Gestetner mimeograph they were using to make duplicates was discovered in a police raid. They were fined 15 pounds for the possession of an unregistered printing machine. This would have been about ½ a week’s salary in 1950s New Zealand.

Chip Bailey
The Bailey’s weapon in the battle for labor rights was an Imperial Good Companion.

Chip passed away early in the 1960s. Rona continued to fight for her beliefs until she passed in 2005. However, Rona's later activism was less typewriter-centric. She used her love of dance as a way to fight for human rights. She was particularly active in anti-Apartheid movements.

The Good Companion, made by Leicester firm Imperial, was an immensely popular machine and I could go on and on about them, but Robert has already covered this ground which I suggest you read.

Typewriters often play an important role in political struggles. Ideas can change history, but ideas and typewriters can really get things going. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Brother Valiant

I put in a low bid thinking that if I did win this typewriter and it turned out to be trash, at least I would have some parts for other Brothers and I would be helping out a good cause.

I was shocked when I won with my $9 bid. I was even more shocked when it was delivered.

The paper support arm is fantastic!

There is nothing to dislike about this Brother.

It's in fantastic shape.

And it even has an instruction booklet with a very interesting cover.

So easy to use that there is only one instruction!

The previous owner must have gone to Hobart because...well...

It types beautifully. So, for a lark it turned out very well. I needn;t go into great length about Brother, because our faithful typewriter reporter, Robert Messenger, has gone in-depth just for you. Click on the Brother.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

57% Typewriters

In addition to my duties teaching English, I am also the Newspaper and Yearbook adviser. It is my job to make sure that the budding journalists of Alhambra work hard and get the news out. We have just finished with our second edition (No. 2) of the school newspaper, the Scimitar. 

Getting a school newspaper out is not easy. Keeping teens focused on what is newsworthy and what is just junk takes some deftness. Also, our news cycle is a month long. That makes some of our stories a little old by press time, but the experience of working on a paper newspaper is one that they won't have anywhere else. Last year's editor is now at the Cronkite School at Arizona State University working on her journalism degree.

As proud as I am of my students for putting together such a great edition, I am also proud to say that over 1/2 of the stories in this newspaper began as drafts written on a typewriter. They have been edited and edited again digitally, but they began as typewritten stories. Anyway, if you are interested in a copy, send your address to and I'll pop a free copy in the mail.

I know that no one in the Typosphere is opposed to a paper newspaper, but every once and a while a colleague says, "You should just put that on-line. It's so much easier." That makes me cringe. If it was so easy to do the New York Times would have just gone all digital. For some markets all-digital makes sense, but for my market it does not. We are a small monthly with a circulation of 1000. The adviser before me tried to do an on-line only newspaper and that went over like a lead balloon. No one read the on-line newspaper because it was on-line. So, as long as I am the adviser, we will have a paper newspaper.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Silencing Chatty Selectrics: Operation GUNMAN

On March 25, 1985 Dan Rather reported that the Soviet Union had successfully penetrated the United States Embassy in Moscow. The Soviets had placed bugs inside IBM Selectric IIs located in sensitive areas. These bugs were able to easily read what was being typed on these typewriters. Until this incident occurred, US Security agencies believed that the USSR had only been bugging audio, but the typewriter bugs were the first plain-text threat they ever encountered. Moreover, the bug itself was uniquely created to take advantage of the electro-mechanical nature of the IBM Selectric II. All-told 16 bugs were found hidden inside IBM Selectrics (both IIs and IIIs) and the story of their discovery and operation is a fascinating part of typewriter lore.

The relationship between the United States and Soviet Union during the late 70s and 80s was strained and both sides were actively using covert methods to infiltrate each other’s embassies. While the extent of the United States’ eavesdropping program is still shrouded in mystery, the Soviets’ exploits are well documented.

Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. having show-and-tell in the UN.
Take, for example, the great seal given to the American Ambassador and hung in his private residence in Russia. This seal was a gift from Young Pioneer Organization and in addition to being a beautiful carving, contained an ingenious bug that was powered using radio frequency, RF. This is the same technology that makes RFID tags work. The operation of this device stymied US investigators who didn’t understand how it worked.

The history is mum, but something prompted the start of a new program called Operation GUNMAN. This program was designed by the NSA to replace equipment and technology in America’s embassy in Moscow and Leningrad in a manner that would not alert the Soviets to the discovery of the Selectric bugs.

Replacing the entire American mission's compliment of communication equipment was going to be a serious task. 250 IBM Selectrics would be required, and they needed to transport the typewriters without raising the suspicions of the Soviets. The NSA contacted IBM's Office Products division looking for the required typewriters.

No dice.

Why? 250 Selectrics that ran on 220v mains would be hard to come by in short-order. They were out of stock and getting the right motor would take a while. IBM sent the NSA all 50 of the 220v typewriters they had. A decision was made to replace the typewriters in the 50 most information-sensitive departments in the embassy. 

The timing was right because these typewriters (along with teletypes and other devices) were going to be delivered in the spring when the embassy received other major shipments. The new non-bugged typewriters would be swapped out for the old machines. 

Here the official narrative is silent, but this is what I think happened: the NSA worked with several other agencies to create several anti-surveillance systems to be imbedded in the Selectrics. This would need to be done stateside and the completed machines would then be sent to Moscow and Leningrad in diplomatic pouches. What they did to the typewriters is still classified, but on the NSAW (Naval Support Activity, Washington) campus four trailers were set up. In the first trailer new machines were removed front their cartons and tested. They were x-rayed and those x-rays and operational information were included in a dossier on each machine so if one was suspected of being compromised, there would be non-compromised photos of all parts of the typewriter. In the second trailer secret counter-espionage methods were applied. The equipment was reboxed and sealed in the third trailer. The fourth trailer was for storage.

The equipment was transferred by diplomatic pouch and the swap occurred over the course of ten days. The swapped equipment was then returned to NSAW where a detailed analysis of how these devices were bugged was conducted. X-rays of the machines were done and by luck an unnamed technician found an interesting coil on the power switch of the Selectric.

Power switch.
This coil was hidden within the switch and would have never been visible to the naked eye. Also, because of the electrical nature of the coil it probably would have been overlooked had the technician not been familiar with the Selectric switch design. Further x-rays were completed and the ingenuity that went into creating this listening device became evident.

The Selectric uses a series of interposers and bails to determine rotation and the angle of the type element. The process utilizes a device called a whiffletree (for more information on the A/D converter in a Selectric see Bill Hammack’s very good video). The Soviets replaced the interposers with non-magnetic and non-magnetizable version. At the end of each interposer was placed a very strong magnet. This magnet, when an interposer was moved, tripped a Hall Effect sensor embedded in the interposer support comb. This corresponded to a letter on the keyboard and was sent to a small memory space in the device. When this storage was full, the device would send out the signal in a radio burst that could be picked up by agents listening elsewhere.

Location of replaced equipment.
When the device was not transmitting, the radio was silent. That was the genius of the system. Power came from the typewriter itself. 

There were also reports of another bar in the typewriter and the location and purpose of this was not clear. I find it likely that the bar was part of the antenna system. Selectrics were made of steel with aluminum housing. Without a properly tuned antenna it would have been difficult to hear a low-power device through the Selectric’s bodywork; it would have acted like a Faraday Cage.

Interesting as the technology was, what really caused the breach was a systemic failure in the State Department’s security. Inventory control was never completed on these typewriters and when they were first installed Soviet customs had the typewriter in their possession. No one knew how long, but it was evidently long enough for them to apply this special bug.

Soviet Portable from PTF/Davis
As compared to Soviet systems for data protection, the US was very lax. The USSR did not allow the use of electric typewriters to be used for drafting secure and classified information in their own embassies. Typewriters used for classified work were sent from Moscow to foreign embassies in diplomatic pouches. When the typewriters were not in use, they were stored in sealed containers in sealed location. Considering how the Soviets bugged the United States’ typewriters, their actions were in keeping with their own surveillance techniques.

In the Cold War spying and espionage was a central activity designed to keep the superpowers equal. For typewriter aficionados it is an interesting footnote in the history of typing.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Positive Spur: Henry James, Theodora Bosanquet, and a Remington Typewriter

Having seen its heyday, the torch of the typewriter is only carried by a few true believers. We see these Promethians lighting pockets of darkness all over the world. The impetus is drawn from a vast mythology of typewriters; Mark Twain with his love/hate relationship to the Sholes & Glidden, Ernest Hemingway standing at a bookshelf in Cuba, Cormac McCarthy's $50 beat-up Lettera from a pawn shop in Texas. Stories are ambrosia that feed our love of these wonderful iron companions, but there is one great story of a man and a woman and a typewriter that shows how a simple machine intended to complete a task can become integral to a life.

Henry James by John Singer Sargent
Henry James is known for his meandering prose. Jamesian sentences can stretch on for lines. It's his style, and he is a master. What Hemingway did for the terse, short sentence, James did for long, complex syntax. I thought this was a by-product of writing during the Gilded Age, but James was a realist author. He wasn't a victim of Romanticism. Wharton, a compatriot and Gilded Age insider, wrote in a far less complicated way. Reading the criticism you hear mention of his "dictations" and that being an excuse for the prose.

James didn't write many of his books by hand. Early in his career he did put pen to paper, but his handwriting was so poor that it made sense to find some way to alleviate the problem. In a letter to Frances R. Morse dated June 7, 1897 James tells Morse that he took up "the click of the typewriter to which I dictate, and which, some months ago crept into my existence through the crevice of a lame hand and now occupies in it a place too big to be left vacant..."

When James writes about the typewriter he does not describe it as a tool that can be forgotten. James describes it as occupying "a place too big [in his life] to be left vacant." This tool has become far more important than a means of keeping his handwriting in check. It was a tool of composition.

However, James never operated his own typewriter, or at least that is the impression given by the papers he left behind. In 1897 Henry James hired William MacAlpine to serve as his amanuensis; a secretary. James replaced MacAlpine, perhaps due to his completely stoic reaction while James was dictating The Turn of the Screw. Whatever the true reason might be, MacAlpine was replaced by Mary Weld a young woman from one of the many secretarial schools that were popping up in The Strand (James was living in London at the time). In the great pauses that James took while dictating his prose, Weld would take out her crocheting. This, no doubt, aided in making it easy to replace Weld with someone more attuned to James' thought process: Theodora Bosanquet, the woman who would be his amanuensis until his death.
Theodora Bosanquet

James described Bosanquet as "boyish" and very much the perfect secretary for his need. Her literary sensitivities were more advanced, and she was able to translate James for the typewriter. Bosanquet read many of James’ early pieces previously and was, indeed, a fan.

Bosanquet described her first experience with the typewriter in a personal journal entry from late 1907:

“[Thursday]. 10 October, Rye…I went to Mr. James’ house and he introduced me to his typewriter—which I inspected for an hour or so—a brand new Remington and very complicated—or so it seemed to me.”

Here we get the only factual piece of information about one of Henry James' typewriters for we must conclude that he had an earlier Remington in 1897 when MacAlpine was working for him. The Remington, most likely in his study at Lamb House, would have been a No. 7. Bosanquet described it as being "brand new" and very complicated.

Remington No. 7
Alan Seaver Collection
The Remington No. 7 above certainly fits the bill. The maze of features, four-bank keyboard, and modern feature-set must have seemed very formidable when new and shiny. Alan Sever’s No. 7 looks the part of a complicated modern typewriter. A preponderance of levers and knobs make early Remingtons look positively byzantine. I have always enjoyed the fact that the key levers-- to which the keytops are attached-- are not metal, but wood. Yes, lumber. It's the Morgan of typewriters.

Remington No. 6
Alan Seaver Collection

However, a No. 7 was probably not the first typewriter that James had. We know that MacAlpine used one and that means that it was lost likely a No. 6. The No. 6 was available in 1897 and a fairly usable machine. While still a blind-writer the escapement, carriage, and ribbon advance mechanisms had all been improved.

The Remington No. 6, as period advertising described, was "A Development, Not An Experiment."

While pinning down the typewriter that James relied on is interesting, the most amazing thing is how the typewriter became more than a way to make a quick letter impression on paper. The typewriter became the trigger for a response in the mind of Henry James. His Remington made him create.

In an excerpt from Bosanquet's memoir, At Work with Henry James we can see how the noise the typewriter made, in effect, became the trigger for creating.

Indeed at the time I began to work for him, he had reached a stage at which the click of a Remington machine acted as a positive spur. He found it more difficult to compose to the music of any other make. During the fortnight when the Remington was out of order he dictated to an Oliver typewriter with evident discomfort, and he found it almost impossibly disconcerting to speak to something that made no responsive sound at all.

The typewriter was part of his creative process and Bosanquet recalls “…he liked to have a typewriter moved into his bedroom for even the shortest letters.” The typewriter became the locus around which his prose was crafted. However, there was Bosanquet, also a typewriter.

Her role is far less understood. Pamela Thirschwell, in her fascinating article "Henry James and Theodora Bosanquet: on the typewriter, In the Cage, at the Ouija board", talks about the unusual working roles of the elderly bachelor novelist and a young woman. As his amanuensis and typewriter Bosanquet was privy to many intimate moments of James' creation. The manner James created was unique to him. First he would think about the characters and the situations. He would do this silently, pacing the room. Bosanquet would be installed at the typewriter waiting for him to start speaking. At a moment’s notice he would start speaking; spending no time indicating punctuation. Often he would have asides and it was Bosanquet's job to decide what James intended to include in his dictated narrative. James told her that “I know, that I’m too diffuse when I am dictating.”

In a sense the typewriter, the machine and the typewriter (women who operated typewriters were called typewriters themselves) were entwined in the creative process. Each was inextricably linked to the other and where James, the typewriter, and Bosanquet melded was on the page. In fact, even Bosanquet became more and more reliant on the typewriter herself. The sound became synonymous with the thinking mind of James which Bosanquet desired nothing more than to completely understand.

…but what I really want most is just to get back to the dear old Remington tick. I hope to arrive with the ticker itself &c on Monday about one; and I will bring a new ribbon...

It was this way up until Henry James died. The typewriter allowed him the freedom of words to write in a way that was immensely unique. James' prose is unlike any others and a James sentence is always identifiable. Even when on his deathbed, Henry James called for his trusty old Remington and his special amanuensis to ease the pain of dying.

1. Fanny was a long-time correspondent to Alice James, Henry and William James' sister Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute. Fanny's father, Samuel T. Morse was a shipping merchant in Boston.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wall Post

When we moved to our new home about a year ago, Mrs. Magic Margin was very generous in allowing me space to display my personal typewriter collection. Everything about the "typewriter room" has been a work in progress. The biggest problem for any collector is storage space. To display a typewriter is a large investment in shelf real-estate. 

I've mentioned my love of the Expedit shelf from the mega furniture retailer, IKEA. Each cube is 12" square so any typewriter you display needs to be smaller than that. I have been able to display a large collection using this storage system, but there are machines that I don't use (because they need to be repaired or restored. I don't want to get rid of them, but I would like to have them out and appreciated. So, this was the solution:

I know that there are some in the Typosphere that might be a little hesitant to hang some typewriters on the wall, but I like it. 

Each machine is custom-hung and the mount is attached to a stud. They are very secure. I don't know about the long-term effect that hanging would have on the mechanisms, but I imagine that it wouldn't be too different from storing them upright in their cases for an extended period of time.