25 comments on Smith-Corona
2 minutes
Canon EOS A2e, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF, Kodak Tri-X, 2016

I love old mechanical and electronic things. I’m just endlessly fascinated with them.

When I see an old typewriter in an antique store, it’s all I can do not to bring it home. That pull is even stronger when I find a vintage radio or television.

What I appreciate most about these old machines is their visual design. How did the designers work with or around these machines’ hard points? A typewriter is going to have keys and a platen. A television’s screen is going to be its main design element whether the designers like it or not. A radio can’t not have a way to select stations.

It fascinates me endlessly how industrial designers went on to make aesthetic choices from there. A television could be a small and tight portable or a wide console in a walnut cabinet. A typewriter could be low and sleek, or tall and stout. A radio can have a circular dial, or a linear dial, or even a digital dial. Its speaker can be large and prominent, or small and hidden around the back.

I always want to experience these machines — feel the action of a typewriter’s keys, find how selective a radio’s tuner is and how good the set sounds, see the television’s picture quality.

I’ve owned a few old machines — a 1950s typewriter, a late-1940s console radio and phonograph, a portable radio with a dial hidden behind a mechanism that worked like a roll-top desk, and a mid-1960s black-and-white console television. Trouble was, when they inevitably broke down from age or use, I had no idea how to repair them. Even if I did, parts aren’t always available anymore. An old friend of mine who knew how to fix old televisions traced the failure in mine down to a power regulator, if I recall correctly, that was unique to a handful of sets by that manufacturer in that era. Finding a new-old-stock part was unlikely. Our best bet would be to find another broken set with that part, and harvest it. That proved to be an incredibly difficult needle to thread, and in the end I gave up.

But the bigger problem with collecting things like televisions is figuring out where to put them. My house is already full of the stuff we need to live.

The one kind of old machine that I’ve allowed myself to collect is vintage film cameras. They tend to be small and thus easier to store. And for now anyway there are enough repair people for me to send them to when they fail.

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25 responses to “Smith-Corona”

  1. lizkflaherty Avatar

    I had an old Royal portable. It was a great beginning…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I had one as a kid! It was “the family typewriter” but I used it most and it lived in my room.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    You and Tom Hanks! He’s a big typewriter collector as well. Who doesn’t love a good typewriter? Ive actually been searching for a while for a certain typewriter I used to see in newspaper newsrooms and tv newsrooms not that long ago. It’s the larger, upright version; not a portable like you see in your picture, except that it had type much larger than a normal typewriter. People at the newspaper used to type on paper with blue lines that made it easy to figure how much column space a story would take, and people at tv stations would use the same machines to type their anchor voice overs, which made it easier to read while on the air, and before electronic screens. These were not machines like the IBM Selectric, with the interchangeable ball for type, but actual old upright mechanical typewriters that just had big type. Still searching…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh yeah, I know just the type one of these produces. I’ve seen them. Very cool.

  3. Theron Avatar

    About 15 years ago I fell in with a bad lot of folks who collect vintage camping and hiking stoves from around the world. There’s a club for just about everyone, I suppose!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Whatever the interest, there’s probably a group to join!

  4. Peter Miller Avatar
    Peter Miller

    If you want to see old typewriters, computers and remember how far the graphic arts have come in the last 40 years visit the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

    1. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      Might I also recommend the Hamilton Moveable Type museum in Wisconsin.

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for the tip!

  5. Tam Avatar

    My roommate is a fan of typewriters and also old radio gear.

    This is helpful, since I don’t have to explain why I felt compelled to buy some old or offbeat camera.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Very helpful indeed!

  6. JR Smith Avatar

    I had a Royal Quiet Deluxe for many years. Fine machine.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Mine was a Royal Aristocrat. It needed a tune-up.

  7. tbm3fan Avatar

    I have a Baker’s Dozen in typewriters. Smith-Corona, Royal, Remington, Olympia, and IBM. No Underwood. The IBM’s are of course Selectric II’s and in the process of restoring one which broke one of the tapes that controls head positioning. Already has been fully cleaned with new motor and main drive gear which crack with age and rattle. When you look into one with all the gears, rods, cords, metal tapes, and so forth you wonder how engineers designed something this intricate and got it to actually work. I display the mechanical ones in my office while one of the Selectrics will do actual work.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I used a Selectric in one summer job during college and I instantly felt like every other typewriter was inferior.

  8. Mauro Avatar

    Interesting post!
    I own and enjoy using a Olivetti typewriter (nearly 50 years old); olivetti was an appreciated producer of typewriters in Italy. It produced well designed models, but unfortunately it does not exist anymore.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I owned an Olivetti typewriter in the 1980s!

  9. Keith Milsark Avatar
    Keith Milsark

    My father bought a Smith-Corona electric when he started college in the late ’50s. Almost thirty years later, in 1984, I took it to grad school. He still has it, and it still works.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I love that!

  10. Mark Johansson Avatar

    I fell hard for the typewriter collecting bug about five years ago when I found an Underwood Golden Touch in an antique store on the northern California coast. My collection peaked at around 25, they were all over the house. Everything from a Smith-Corona Skywriter made to fit under a 1950s airline seat, three different IBM Selectrics and an enormous Hermes Ambassador with a 22″ wide platen. I’ve whittled it down to around ten now.

    We won’t discuss my camera collection today. Or tube radios or vintage Apple computers or wind-up phonographs or…

    I get completely immersed in some thing, buy books about it, learn everything I can about it, collect it, repair it, let it take over my life until after months or years one day I wake up and it’s like a switch has been turned off, just no interest in those widgets at all, so they all get stuffed in a closet and my brain just waits for the next big thing to come along. If I’m lucky (?) it’ll be something I was into previously and all that stuff comes out of storage and off I go again on another hobby cycle.

    It’s a sickness I guess but it can be fun.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I totally get it!

  11. kennethwajda Avatar

    I’ve got 15 of them! Love ’em. I type notes and put them in birthday cards. The notes are the only thing people save.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      15! You must have typewriters stuck all over the house!

  12. J P Avatar

    Oh, another one! I have the alpha and omega of typewriters – a Selectric that came to me with my old office and the Underwood portable that my father bought used for college studies in the early 50s.

    I also maintain a home for wayward vintage audio equipment, including a late prewar Bendix am/shortwave/phono. It all needs to go somewhere.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s awesome! Especially the Selectric. Such a seminal machine.

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