Monday, 8 April 2013

The great digital future

One of my more realistic predictions for the future is that the number of persons, places and things with online/digital footprints will increase exponentially over time as the world continues its rapid transition to co-existing online. I also think it is pretty safe to say that in order to compensate for the unfathomable amounts of stuff online, internet search functions of the future will be incredibly powerful tools. Considering the inevitability of an increasingly digital future, I'm pretty certain the typewriter-related information generated today will be of significant benefit to future generations of typewriter tinkerers and probably many unforeseen other people. Already thousands of us are leaving potentially useful online footprints about typewriters right now (many inadvertently) by contributing to forums, writing blogs, posting photos, buying them online, selling them online and everything in between. However I reckon we can take this one step further. My idea is to start listing the serial numbers of all the machines that I talk about on this blog. So that every typewriter story told can be traced to the machine's serial number.

See the plan here is that long after my ashes have been tipped from an urn; some weedy hipster of the future might be planting his organic basil when his trowel strikes something hard. He starts excavating and unearths an ancient old Lexikon 80. "Huh, liek wtf's this?" he exclaims and Tweets these thoughts immediately. After using the online photographic recognition software of the future he finds out it's an ancient writing tool. Using the Google of the future he then searches the make and model and finds out all sorts of information on Olivetti, on Nizzoli and importantly, where to find the serial number for these machines. He then adds the serial number of the machine to his internet search and is incredulous to find a story about the very machine in his hands, written by one of its past owners on a "blog" back when the internet was in its formative years. Hopefully, if the next owner after me does the same, this thin sunburnt organic gardening hipster of the future might be able to establish a fair chunk of the history of this ancient machine he's just found. If everyone starts linking stories to serial numbers over time there will a huge wealth of free online history amassed, not just of typewriter companies and designers and models, but of thousands of individual machines with their individual owners and individual stories...... Of course this is hugely naive and dreamy, but one is allowed to dream!! Let me know your thoughts on this.

So on this note and following on from my previous post, I continue the story of my first typewriter; the seed of a lasting obsession; an Olivetti Lexikon 80, serial number: 21174266 

After winning the auction ebay, exactly one year ago- April 8th 2012-  I rolled up to a house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a rather well to do suburb to pick it up. The retired professor from whom I bought it from was pleased to show me how to wind in paper, return the carriage, backspace, use the Tip-Ex strips and set the tabs and margins, all of which I found fascinating. The type-cleaner however had turned to a curious consistency of play-dough and wasn't much help.

The typewriter it turned out had been his for many years. According to this affable old gentleman, back in the 60's and 70’s his faculty within the University of Queensland (UQ) offered regular and free servicing to the typewriters of academic staff who typed up their own documents. This was a means of minimising the workload of a regularly over-worked typing pool. He told me he had originally bought the typewriter from an office equipment auction in the late 60's when it was already almost 20 years old and that he understood it to be a typing pool machine in a large company before they upgraded their fleet. “So it’s got about a million miles on the clock but I’m sure it’s got another million or so to go!” He said how he was proud to still be using his big old manual typewriter at UQ at a time when many of his colleagues were using modern or electric machines or handing their work to the typing pool. When he retired in the late 80’s, he and his wife continued to use it for correspondence and creative writing. More recently however they too had been swallowed by the computer age and it was with pangs of regret that he had finally decided to put the now disused typewriter up on eBay. He wasn’t sure why the ribbon cover is a different colour to the rest of it; it was “just the way I bought it”. As John notes in a comment on my last post, both are Olivetti colours and the original cover was probably just lost and swapped with a spare.

So this fine old-style glass-keyed Lexikon 80, with its endearing two-tone paintwork, home-sewed green vinyl cover and associated box of tricks fast became my pride and joy. After leaving the seller's house I took it straight to Gary of Alderley Business Machines to show me how to fit a new ribbon and ask him if it needed any repairs. Gary said the seller’s claim of “It’s got about a million miles on the clock but has got at least another million to go,” seemed to be pretty accurate, as did the claim of regular servicing at UQ. Twelve months and more than twelve typewriters later, this remains one of my favourite typers to use. It's currently on loan to a good friend who is far more creative than me, she was keen on typing up some personalised Christmas greetings.


  1. Nice idea. Every typewriter has story and the serial numbers are the only distinguishing feature you can rely on.

  2. You make an excellent point about the serial numbers.

    I tend to be a bit skeptical about the survivability of digital documents -- hardware and software change, once-popular websites collapse, etc. Most computer files from 40 years ago are unreadable if they have survived. So will our blogs still exist, in some form, 40 or 400 years from now? Maybe so!

    I enjoy the story of your Lexikon. Quite a life it's had, and continues to have. My own Lexikon was a one-owner machine in New Mexico before it came to me.

  3. A great story and a fantastic typewriter. While the ribbon guard may not be original, it goes well with the machine.

    Also, when I saw the last picture, all I could think was, "A nice typewriter, Mr. Frodo."

  4. Nice Lexicon, Steve. Can't get over the size of the platens on those things. Good score with that one, too.

  5. Have to say I quite like the two-tone effect of the mis-matched ribbon cover...

    And I don't really want to think about my blog in forty years time, it will be quite an embarrassment to me if it is still around, I'm sure.

  6. Whenever I buy a machine online, I try to suss out as much of the history on the machine as I can. However, it can often be difficult, with sellers being rather apathetic to discussing something that they just sold - often for just a handful of bucks.

    But I do like your idea, of keeping the history alive.

  7. Cheers for the comments gentlemen

    Richard- Upon googling "typewriter" in the early days of owning the thing, it was your website that I found and you who I contacted about where to find the serial number! The survivability of online documents is a fascinating debate and one which I could (and probably will) waffle on about for far too long. While I agree that entire email inboxes can be wiped with the closing of an account or failure of a company, I get the feeling more of the big players like google and facebook are storing all sorts of personal information for datamining. With the expansion of online storage we (well I) no longer delete really delete anything. I really am no authority on the subject whatsoever, but I look forward to seeing where the whole thing goes......

    Jasper- Ha ha, good call, me too probably! But hey, what counts is the present!

    teeritz- Agreed. One day I really hope I can find a legitimate reason for saying: "Gee, where would I be without this 50 foot platen!"