Communications and Correspondence (cont)

Typewriters Of course, you couldn’t always handwrite stuff. What if you were handing in the draft of a big novel or a report to your boss? You couldn’t handwrite the entire thing! What if your handwriting sucked and he couldn’t read it? Well, then you would have to type it, on grandpa’s response to the PC, the humble mechanical typewriter…

The typewriter went out of the office and the home study in the 1980s with the coming of the Personal Computer, but back in the old days, this was a key business machine, as essential in the 1930s as a laptop is today. Typewriters are fun to use, but they require a bit of skill and a certain level of finger-strength to operate. The majority of typewriters that your grandparents probably grew up using were the old-fashioned mechanical or manual typewriters. These machines were made of metal and plastic and they were incredibly clunky and heavy. Typewriters allowed you to write faster than you could with a fountain pen, they produced neat lines of text, but without a ‘delete’ button, you had to be a very good typist before you could use one effectively. When you used a typewriter, you scrolled in a sheet of paper and pushed the carriage (that’s the thing on the top that goes back and forth) all the way to the right, so that you started on the left side of the page. As you typed, each keystroke sent a small metal hammer up to strike the page. The hammer hit a cloth ribbon which was saturated with ink. When the hammer hit the typewriter ribbon and then the paper, it left a neat little mark there, corresponding with the mark on the hammer. As you typed, the carriage moved across the top of the typewriter. At the end of the line, a bell rang. This indicated that you were to finish the word you were typing and then push the carriage back to the right again. Some typewriters had ‘backspace’ keys which allowed you to go back a space to type over any incorrect words.

But what if you had to type out several copies of something? Grandpa would’ve used something called ‘carbon-paper’. Carbon-paper is a type of paper which leaves marks on anything that it’s pressed against. Grandpa had one sheet of regular paper, one sheet of carbon-paper and then another regular sheet of paper on top. He rolled all three sheets into the typewriter and set to work. As he typed, the keystrokes would hit the first page, and the impact of the hammer-strike would cause the carbon-paper to leave a mark on the second page of this little paper sandwich. When the document was done, you had one ink copy, one carbon copy and one used-up sheet of carbon-paper.

Of course, it was necessary to change typewriter ribbons,  and this could easily be done by removing the reel and fitting in a new reel. Typewriter ribbon-reels were purchased down at your local stationery store, along with all your other office supplies. Most ribbons were two-tone ribbons. Half of the ribbon was red and the other half was black. You had a switch or lever on the typewriter which moved the ribbon up or down, depending on whether you wanted to type something a different colour.

Typewriters generally came in two different sizes, gigantic clunking ‘desktop’ models which were almost as big as the PCs that replaced them……or the smaller ‘portable’ typewriters, which could fit snugly into a specially-made carrying case, a bit like a briefcase:

Most people used the smaller, portable typewriters purely because they were convenient and saved space, but for places where typewriters were permanent fixtures, like secretary’s offices or large business-firms, the larger desktop models were used.

A lot of terminology from the mechanical typewriter has continued to be used in the computer age. Just open up a new email blank in your Hotmail account, or have a look at your keyboard right in front of you. Maybe you see a key that says ‘Return’ or ‘Enter’? Or ‘Shift’? Or ‘Backspace’?

‘Return’ was the CARRIAGE RETURN key on the electronic typewriter which came in the 1960s and 70s. Pressing it returned the carriage to the starting point. ‘Enter’ entered a new blank line on the page so that you could continue typing.

We all know what ‘Shift’ does. That gives us nice, big capital letters. On a typewriter, the ‘Shift’ key literally SHIFTED an entire set of typebars! Moving the lowercase letters out of the way and bringing in their uppercase relations. The ‘Backspace’ key moved the carriage back one letter-space for you to type over any mistakes.

Fountain Pens.  When your grandfather or great-grandfather, or maybe your parents were younger, the ballpoint pen didn’t exist. Or if it did, it was looked upon with suspicion and displeasure, since early ballpoint pens leaked their filthy, disgusting paste ink all over the place. From the 1880s until the 1950s, the fountain pen ruled supreme. There are many people who still think that it should. Fountain pens are very long-lasting, they’re stylish, they’re cool, they write wonderfully and they’re smooth and effortless, gliding across the page allowing you to concentrate on what you want to write, rather than whether or not your pen is getting the ink onto the page!


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