A Typewriter Tale

Some of you may know that I already have a number of typewriters, largely due to the largesse of my father, who lives in a small midwestern town and enjoys going to yard sales. While I don’t consider myself a collector by any stretch of the imagination, I do have nearly a dozen typewriters, and though probably none are what most people would call collectible, I like having them around anyway.

But recently, I spotted an IBM Selectric I on eBay. Though the 1961 Selectric possesses none of the collector cachet or rarity of your Olivetti or your fancy-pants index typewriters of yore, it has two things going for it (at least in my mind): it’s fast, and it has typeballs. Yes, that’s right. I said TYPEBALLS.

I’m sorry. They’re rightly called elements, and with the simple flick and click of a lever, the typist can switch typefaces like that. From Courier to Letter Gothic to Adjutant to Sunshine Script in seconds. Keep your script manuals! One typewriter to RULE THEM ALL!

I bid on the Selectric, and I bid on a couple of element lots, and I won the elements. Then I won the typewriter. I kept a photo of the typewriter in my pocket and looked at it from time to time–I was that smitten. I showed it to people: “And it’s RED, I bragged. I couldn’t wait until it arrived. One day, the doorbell rang, and I ran outside in my socks to find the UPS driver holding a huge box, wearing a pained expression. “Is it heavy?” I asked. “Forty-eight pounds,” he said, and handed it over.

I was excited for about ten minutes, until I pried open the (smashed-looking) package and untaped the (rather meager) bubble wrap. The paper bale was broken off on one side. That wasn’t good, but I could probably fix that. Oh. Some of the keys were loose. Broken, in fact. I didn’t think I could fix that part. I checked a Fran Fixes It! YouTube video and learned how to take the body apart so I could further evaluate the damage. Some portions of the mechanism were clearly not in the right place, jammed into the machinery. Little bits of important-looking things were scattered in the bottom of the body. This was bad.

I did some Yelp research and discovered that there are two popular typewriter repair shops not too far from me. I chose the one that listed as being recommended by Tom Hanks (what would you have done?) and called them up. “Do you repair IBM Selectrics?” “Of course we do,” said the deep-voiced man on the telephone. “I’ll be over soon,” I promised.

The box of elements (which had arrived before the broken typewriter had) mocked me from across the room.

On a sunny, sunny day, I drove my broken beauty and my heavy heart over the bridge to Berkeley and met the proprietors of California Typewriter. As I staggered in the door with my unwieldy box, a gentleman emerged from the back, took one look at my heavy load, and said “looks like you’ve got a Selectric there.”

This was Herb Permillion, who runs the shop with his daughter, Carmen. He (a man of few words) and she (a chattier type) allowed me to lurk around the shop and take photos. They told me about some of their customers–filmmakers, television propmasters, Danielle Steele (that lady gets around–E&M Office Machine also claims to have serviced the many hardworking Olympia manuals she uses to write her many novels), and yes, Tom Hanks. They also spent some time examining my Selectric. Despite the doleful utterances that came from Herb’s lips, as he tutted and hummed as he noted the troubles of my typewriter (“looks like this got dropped,” he said, sadly), the final one was the one I wanted to hear: “I think we can fix this.”

And fix it, they did…for almost exactly the amount I paid to purchase and ship the beast. Thankfully, the seller had refunded my money in full, after some emailing of super-annotated damage photographs and a few calls to the UPS claims department. All’s well that ends well, especially when it concerns a red typewriter.  Right?

I’ll leave you with some gems from the California Typewriter shop. Links to some cool articles, too.

–Carolee (psst: now you know why I’ve been posting so many typewriter photos on the GMD tumblr! They’re the happy by-product of research!)

Meet the Last Generation of Typewriter Repairmen

Typewriter Service around-the-world!

The Cambridge Typewriter Blog, Life in a Typewriter Shop

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8 responses to “A Typewriter Tale

  1. Many years ago when I was a freshman at Berkeley, I popped into Berkeley Typewriter and bought a couple of ribbons for an old Olympia portable that I had. That was the last typewriter I owned, sadly, but it served me well. I’m glad to hear the shop is still around.

  2. Cal

    My first full-time job was as a secretary (in 1983) and I loved my old IBM Selectric! Loved those type balls – thought it was so cool to have a choice of regular OR script font! A couple years later, I was the first one in my office to get a (gasp!) computer! It was a little boxy Apple Mac. Your story and pictures brought back memories (although my typewriter wasn’t a cool red!).

    Enjoyed your story…glad all’s well that ends well!

  3. Happy to know about the Berkeley Typewriter shop in case my old Royal poops out. Love the photos. Typewriters are just so cool. And glad to hear
    your Selectric is on the mend…..

    • goodmailday

      Pamela, they were so nice to me. There is a minimum hourly fee (less for manuals than for electrics), but you should see how they spiff up the machines. They’re clearly proud of their work!

  4. Pingback: Friday Blogger Tuck-ins « European Paper Company

  5. Bean

    Oh, the poor dear – I’m so happy you were able to get her repaired and didn’t end up losing any money on the whole deal! I love my sweet little baby blue SC Coronet super12 but it isn’t nearly has cool as this!!

  6. I never get tired of looking at pics of typewriters and reading stories about them. I love the color of that 1930 Royal Portable.

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