Going public

by | Feb 5, 2013 | exhibit | 29 comments

In 19 years as a typewriter collector, I’ve never had the chance to put on a public display of my machines before. But the Xavier University library has agreed to a rotating exhibit of selections from my collection over the next couple of months. There will be four groups, more or less in chronological order. This first group is meant to illustrate some of the interesting possibilities in 19th-century typewriter design. A few postcards, ribbon tins, and a book are included. When the next groups go on display, I’ll show them on the blog too.

Here’s the text I wrote to accompany the display:

Crandall New Model (USA, ca. 1889): Invented by Lucien S. Crandall, this early typewriter uses an interchangeable type cylinder and a curved two-row keyboard with double shift. It is hand-painted and inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Smith Premier no. 1 (USA, ca. 1895): One of the most successful 19th-century typewriters, the Smith Premier has no shift key and instead uses a double keyboard, with separate keys for upper- and lowercase characters. Like many early typewriters, it is an understroke or “blind writer”: it types on the underside of the platen (the rubber-covered cylinder), which the typist must raise to see her work.

Odell no. 2 (USA, ca. 1895): The Odell is one of many “index” typewriters, which require the user to point at a character on an index and then perform a separate action to print the character. These typewriters were slower and cheaper than the large office machines. When the standard price for an office typewriter was $100 (comparable to about $3000 today), the Odell cost $5 ($150 today).

Williams no. 2 (USA, 1896): Williams typewriters are known for their so-called grasshopper mechanism, in which the type “hops” from an ink pad onto the paper and back. Only a few lines of typing are immediately visible.

New Franklin (USA, 1896): This model employs a downstroke mechanism and has a distinctive curved keyboard.

Fay-Sho No. 4 (USA, 1901): a copper-plated blind writer known for its elegant neoclassical design. Like many but not all early typewriters, it uses the QWERTY keyboard first introduced on the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer of 1874.

Columbia Bar-Lock no. 14 (USA, 1910): a downstroke typewriter with a double keyboard, named after its system of locking the typebars to ensure good alignment.

— Now we’ll see if I get 12,000 visitors, like Robert Messenger! (A man can dream…)


  1. Ton S.

    Congratulations, Richard! Happy to hear, it's about time. Xavier should give you a permanent rotating exhibit if you ask me.

  2. Anonymous

    Congratz! Must be fun to do such a thing.

  3. Peter

    A very nice selection to kick thngs off! Will you eventually display an actual writing ball?

  4. shordzi

    Oh that's wonderful news! I am happy to see this happening, and the display is very nice, so is the texts (an given the university environment, many people will actually bother to read them).

    Crandall and Williams – dream machines! I recently got a French descendent of the Fay Sholes – the Japy 3.

    Maybe time to visit Cincinnati again.

  5. Richard P

    Umm … maybe if I find a spare $100,000 I can buy one!

  6. Richard P

    I didn't realize you had been to Cincinnati. You're always welcome in my house!

  7. maschinengeschrieben

    Congratulations on your exhibiton – you've chosen a nice selection for that job!

  8. Miguel Chávez

    That Fay-Sho is fantastic! Congratulations, I bet you'll have a lot of success with the exhibition!

  9. Anonymous

    Never before have I so wanted to hatch an Ocean's 11-type burglary scheme.

  10. Doug Freeman

    Please tell us the accompanying text was TYPED!

  11. Richard P

    I'm afraid not — I saved time and word-processed it. When I display my Olivetti Graphika, though, I plan to include a typing sample since it's so distinctive.

  12. Ton S.

    By the way, I hope you will be displaying your Sholes Visible with some info on the restoration project.

  13. Richard P

    It did not make the cut, though I can't give a great reason for that decision. If I could, I would put all my typewriters on display! As it is, I had to make some tough choices.

  14. Ton S.

    Noooo! Please tell me at least that that red Olivetti Ico made the cut??

  15. Bill M

    Congratulations! You are following in Robert Messenger's footsteps. I hope you do get 12000 visitors.

  16. Robert Messenger

    Congratulations, Richard, this is a beautiful display, well done. I, as always, will be your disciple.

  17. Duffy Moon

    That's great, Richard. I'll be down in Cincinnati again at the beginning of April. If there's any way I can arrange a side-trip, I'll have to check it out!

  18. Dwayne F.

    I'm sure the Graphika will be quite safe in a glass display case. Really.

    Which building is the exhibit in?

  19. teeritz

    That's awesome! My wife has asked me if I'd like to display some of my machines in the foyer of her library, but I'm a little nervous about it. They would be in locked glass cabinets, but I wonder if the glass shelves would be able to hold the weight of them. I could display 14 typewriters if I put two one each shelf. I'm thinking that if I go ahead with it, I'll just display seven Typers with a little card next to them. At the moment, my son's LEGO collection is on display and it's gotten positive comments (from most library patrons under the age of six), so I may consider it.
    Congrats on your exhibit, Richard. Personally, anything that shows people how we used to write pre-Digital Age is a good thing. Well done!

  20. Anonymous

    Congratulations!!! It must have been difficult making the final selections out of all your machines. I'm glad the Olivetti Graphika made the cut. I'm a little fixated on it and can never get enough. :) The displays show them off perfectly.

  21. J.A.

    Oh this is SOOOOO cool! As a librarian and occasional store window and set designer, I am really glad to see this happening. Congrats, Richard. And thanks for doing this.

  22. Fer Andrade

    Congratulations!! The typewriters looks great!

  23. Anonymous

    Very cool, Richard! Echoing the first comment, I think they ought to have a permanent rotating exhibit. This would allow you to eventually display your entire collection, which would also be a nice way of presenting the evolution of the typewriter. Perhaps you could set up a "beater" typewriter on a side table on which visitors could type comments about their impressions of the display; and then later you could post some of the more interesting comments. Maybe you could even acquire a copy of "The Typewriter (In the 21st Century)" and have it running on a small monitor next to the typewriters. And maybe…. (Before you know it, I'll have suggested you have an entire type-in event.)

  24. Richard P

    I like your enthusiasm! This has to be kept to a pretty modest scale, though.

    A while ago I contacted the main public library to see if they'd be interested in a display, which could be significantly bigger, but they were noncommital.

  25. shordzi

    Well it was back in 2000 – no typewriter collecting then! But did pay a visit to the campus.

  26. Scott K

    Love the display Richard. Rotating hey? I bet with your collection you could run with any kind of interesting themes. Great to have such machines out and on display!

  27. Ping A

    Would love to see the exhibition. Congrats!

  28. - a typebarhead

    So very very cool, congrats. Wish I could visit it.


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