Typewriters in the Google age


My recent purchase of a gorgeous Olivetti Valentine portable typewriter (pictured above) has inspired my return to writing this blog after a long absence (I'm not what sure what happened to the past 10 months…). And I think it's serendipitous that I am also about to start editing the March 2012 edition of Research News magazine, which is all about the role of 'primary research in the Google age' (which has inspired the title of this post).

Later this year, I am setting off on an adventure and returning to my roots as a travel writer. I am also intending to run Evolve Media while I'm on the road, living in a house bus as we explore the South Island of New Zealand. While envisioning the logistical shape of all of this, the idea of buying a typewriter popped into my head. Later that very same day (it was apparently meant to be), I was chatting to my friend Patma (who has just opened a new shop in Mullumbimby, the biggest little town in Australia) and discovered she had one for sale. The only catch was that the ribbon was completely dry and she didn't have a clue where to buy replacements.

When I first laid eyes on the Valentine, I fell in love with it. It's one seriously gorgeous piece of machinery. While I was very tempted to buy it straight away sans inked ribbon – it's a classic collectible and would look awesome on display in my studio – I exercised some restrainst because, of course, the idea is that I will actually use it to write. I have this lovely vision of being able to touch-type without electricity in our 24 square metre house bus.

I suspect that in the 80s and 90s, even gorgeous manual typewriters like the Olivetti Valentine became forgotten relics of the past. They probably disappeared into the backs of cupboards or got buried under boxes in dusty sheds, destined to endure obscurity during the 'dark ages' for typewriters. The arrival of the Google age has, in what I believe is a nice piece of symmetry, brought about a renaissance in typewriting.

I have to admit my first attempt to find a typewriter ribbon supplier online wasn't very successful but I did embark upon a meandering journey, during which I discovered the story of the Valentine, which was designed by Ettore Sottsass in the late 60s. I also found some great pics of the typewriter, so I pinched and posted one on Facebook with the following plea to my friends: "Trying to find out how to buy Olivetti Valentine typewriter ribbons – if any one out there in cyberspace has any clues about this old school technology, please let me know!"

Unfortunately my friends didn't have any leads worth pursuing, although I think I inadvertently founded an Olivetti Valentine fan club, with numerous friends fawning over its design.

Luckily, my second crack at finding typewriter ribbons online was more successful – I guess I was just having a better day with keywords – and I found a couple of delightful web sites: www.vintagetypewritershoppe.com and www.typewritercollector.com (the latter replied very promptly to my enquiry, assuring me that they could supply the ribbons I needed).

So today I went back to Mullumbimby and bought the Valentine from Patma. Her fellow shopholder then told me she had another identical typewriter for sale and to "let anyone who reads this blog know it's for sale too".

If you're as entranced by the Olivetti Valentine as I am, know that we're not alone. According to the New York Times there is a whole 'sub-culture of revitalists' just like us out there, who meet at pubs for 'type-ins' (like a jam session for people who like typewriters). I might have to kickstart a few type-ins in Byron Shire before my departure and in the South Island upon my arrival…


My new Valentine meets my iPad – they're not getting along very well yet…

Valentine and ipad

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