February 3, 2013

Typewriters making a return

It’s an Apple/HP world out there, and yet ... among a small but growing number of key players, names like Olivetti and Underwood are PC once again. Word.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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The view at LFK, a tapas bar where typewriters are respected and loved, at State and Pine streets in Portland.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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The well-worn keys of a Royal typewriter in the LFK collection.

Additional Photos Below

Costigan demonstrated its nimbleness as he sat at the keyboard and banged out a few lines.

Each time he reached the end of a line -- ding -- he hit the carriage return, advancing the paper and zipping the roller, or platen, back into its starting place. The mechanical sounds were musical, reminiscent of snare drums, cymbals and the Cajun washboard.

Costigan has a long history with typewriters. His father, Ronald, serviced typewriters in World War II, and later got into sales for Underwood, which produced the most popular typewriter in the country in the first half of the 20th century.

Olivetti took over the company in the 1960s, and Costigan's dad kept selling. In 1969, according to his son, Ronald Costigan was the top salesman for Olivetti in the country, working out of Augusta.

"He had that Irish personality. He could tell a story and he could sell anything," Costigan said. "People loved him."

When his father retired in the 1980s, Costigan and his brother took over the business. As things happen, times and technology gutted the typewriter business. The Costigans adapted, moving from typewriters to fax machines to printers.

But he never let go of the typewriter business altogether. These days, he thinks he's the only guy in Maine who services manual typewriters, operating out of a small office attached to his home. A framed picture of his father hangs on the wall, linking the family forever to its proud history with the typewriter.

Costigan will tell you that the typewriter never went away entirely. It's still a functional, efficient and frustration-free machine for writing on index cards, labels and envelopes. Many offices still have a machine under a dust cover somewhere in the corner.

And now they're coming back -- in a limited and almost entirely nostalgic way.

"It's never going to be like it used to be. They're not coming back like that. But there is interest. And I can see why. When you look at that machine," he said, gesturing to my beautiful Woodstock, "it's a great piece of machinery. It's incredibly well made."

And durable. Some 70-plus years after its manufacture, my typewriter is still functioning.

CONNECTING WITH WORDS

My friend grew up in a digital age, and is as connected as anyone. For him, the typewriter represents a way to step free from the tethers of technology and connect more with the words as they form in his head and then are transferred to the page.

He feels more in touch with his thoughts when he writes on the typewriter, and perhaps less distracted. It hasn't changed as much how he writes as how he thinks.

He's not alone.

"Lots of friends and people my age are into the idea of writing on a typewriter, for similar reasons," Patrick wrote in an email, which he composed on his laptop.

"I don't think anyone really thinks of a computer as a tool for writing, and that's maybe where the appeal comes from. For some modern writers, I feel like the typewriter is still that unique tool that kind of belongs to us. Painters still have brushes, musicians have instruments, and I think maybe a lot of us just like the idea of an instrument just for writing.

"I do know a bunch of people, friends that aren't particularly into the idea of writing, who can't understand the purpose of using outdated technology. I don't think of myself as rejecting technology -- I use a computer daily and am an active member of numerous branches of the social media. I just like the idea of writing with the instant access and connection to what I write."

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Hermes 3000

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Hermes Ambassador

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Wide-carriage Royal

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Royal portable

Gordon Chibroski

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The LFK bar, which is shaped to resemble a typewriter and is embedded with keys specially made to look like old typewriter keys (and which spell out the words of an Emily Dickinson poem).

 


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