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!!! Typewriter Week, Entry #1

by Twitchy on February 11, 2013

I’m very pleased to announce I’ll be blogging with a theme this week. It came to me today while starting what I thought would be a very quick post- but it quickly triggered off splinters of thought, all drawn together by the humble typewriter. That’s how my mind rolls (too many directions). Anyway, it’ll be FUN!
— x —


A few weeks ago I was utterly thrilled to become the owner of an old school typewriter. At long last, weeks of research and patience paid off and victory was mine. Not only have I snared an item long yearned for, but somehow I emerged triumphant at a very modest price too. Furthermore, she’s a hard-to-find, bright, shiny, sassy red. Oh, the rush. Hunter/buyer gratification does not get better than this, yet detractors have questioned my need. “What do you want a typewriter for?” While I’d rather not dignify such lack of clue with a response, the best one would be “I just like typewriters.”*

She’s been sitting on the dining table, attracting my children’s attention, eyes and fingers just as I’d hoped. Explaining to them how this old-fangled contraption works and reacquainting with this old banger have brought joy. Requiring much greater force than today’s electronic keyboards, this folly is somewhat harsh on the forearms!

Each day or so someone passes and types another thought, or line:
“I am so in a good mood today”
“My sister is a nooooooooooooooooooooooob at Mario games.”

Last night, Mr13 made a discovery: “Hey- there’s no 1 key!”
I looked. No exclamation mark either!! This is terrible!! Especially for someone who over-uses them so flagrantly!!


The offending key; 'l' is the new '1'; this is how you make a '!'; how I feel about this.

Surely this was a mistake- how did I miss this? There’s a totally blank key in the top-left spot before the 2. It got worse: there’s no asterisk! Someone call me a wahmbulance! No wonder I got her so cheaply. She’s missing a few chromasomes!! Oh heartbreak!

I asked the Google machine for answers. Images of Miss Red’s brothers and sisters appeared, all with the same genetic mutation- so she is not alone. Digging further, a Wikipedia page on older Olivettis informed me:

The character set conspicuously lacks the number 1, which is supposed to be substituted by the lowercase l. Although this may seem like a strange absence today, this was common on older typewriters. There is also no exclamation mark character on the keyboard; instead this is typed by a period, then a backspace, and then an apostrophe.

That seemed really dumb. After all, didn’t “1” deserve it’s own key? And the full point, backspace, floating shift, apostrophe… that’s a lot of effort just for a little ‘!’ Was the absence of a ! designed to foster restraint in people like me? Nevertheless, relieved and cheered was I to know that Miss Red’s quirk was deliberate and navigable. I ran to test it out immediately, leaving a tantalising curiosity for Mr13 to stumble upon and be baffled by. But my new-found explanation raised yet another question. What on EARTH is the blank key for??

Ask an expert.  Hoping for enlightenment I sent off an email to a Typewriter Collector and Historian. This morning I received my swift and very fascinating reply:

It’s known as a “dead key” – you can look it up on Wikipedia. It’s there to be fitted with a diacritic, for example, on demand. If the buyer wanted a specific character or symbol, it could be added to the typebasket and geared to work with the other typebars.

Ooooh! A customisable key- brilliant! You know what I’d put there? A “1” with a “!”.**   (<~ I wouldn’t be able to type this on her. Sad.)

What special character/s would you choose?

*Thank you Eden.
** Failing that, an interrobang would be cool, yes?!


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Spider April 3, 2013 at 3:33 am

I don’t like this particular model, it has too much squares, but I like your post!

Back then, when early typewriters were made, they needed to save up on key characters. So the 1 and the 0 were left out. The blank key is indeed for modifications. In your case you would’ve put a 1 with a ! up there, but imagine yourself working at an office and constantly needed to type a specific character to fill in forms or otherwise needed to type a whole word instead of using a shortkey character. You can understand the use of it right? 😉


Twitchy April 3, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Thanks Spider- my way of thinking was the other way around- put the number 1 and ! on there, and if someone wanted a mod, they could have that instead! Seems like commonsense to me 🙂

Seana Smith February 12, 2013 at 11:34 am

She’s a little beauty. I think it’d be good for me to have no exclamation key… on keyboards and in life too. (Note no exclamation.)


Mark L. Fendrick February 12, 2013 at 9:09 am

Ahhh – the days of the manual typewriter. I would say that I used one extensively in college, but being a chemistry major, most of my reports were hand written lab reports. However, I did write an occasional paper for other required courses.

When I started using a computer in the 1980’s – I still tended to use a lower case L as a 1 – but since the computer was so much more literal … it was not happy when I was programming that way. 🙁


Twitchy February 12, 2013 at 9:23 am

Oh that’s funny Mark. The alternative binary being l0l0l0l0l0l (LOL)! I certainly can’t see why it was more important to have a blank key in the 1 spot- when the fractions keys, on the far right- are completely unnecessary. Who needs a tiny 1/3 and 1/2, or 1/4 and 3/4, when you can simply type what I just did? Also, the double . and double , buttons? Completely uneconomical use of space, and still no ‘!’ !

Mama Marmalade February 11, 2013 at 10:24 pm

The fact that she is bright red would have been the deal clincher for me. I wonder why they chose the No.1 key to leave out? Surely they could have picked the no. 6 key with the stupid ^ on it? Who uses that?


Twitchy February 11, 2013 at 10:35 pm

I thought the 0 and O are so close together already, they could’ve economised that way. I mean the thing has a bloody tiny little 1/3 symbol- why?!

Parental Parody February 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm

That is a fine looking machine!

My favourite activity, growing up, was grabbing the phone book and typing it on my Mum’s typewriter.

Yes, really.


Twitchy February 11, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Gorgeous. So much creativity and bash power channelled together. I was kept out of trouble this way too. But not on Mum’s – she never had one. That story tomorrow 😉

Oculus Mundi February 11, 2013 at 8:52 pm

I can remember having a typewriter which missed those exact keys, my first ever typewriter when I was about 7, I had completely forgotten this! I had a fascination for typing for some reason and my mum got me a blue Fisher Price manual typewriter. At school I learned to type on a manual and was forced to touch type (they covered the keys up with yellow dots and if you tried to peek, instead of looking at the wall chart, out came the ruler on your fingers!) as a result I can still do 95 fairly accurate words a minute without glancing at the keys (so long as there are not too many numbers, parenthesis etc involved!).

I am SO jealous of this, would love a typewriter again and would commit several crimes to get my hands on an electric typewriter, like the one from my first office job, it had such a lovely, chunky feel and sound. Ah, memories 🙂


Twitchy February 11, 2013 at 8:58 pm

That’s a great story- so glad I triggered a very happy memory for you. I also leart on electric typewriters and used them in my first job. They were brilliant. I may not be done with the collecting… Shhhh! Stay tuned for more this week.

Janet February 11, 2013 at 4:33 pm

She looks a lot like the typewriter I had when I was in high school – except mine was blue. Oh how I loved her! As a kid I was fascinated by typing, could watch & listen to that clackety clack all day long. My best friend had an old typewriter for a toy, talk about jealous!

It’s just not the same on a computer keyboard is it. 😉


Twitchy February 11, 2013 at 8:59 pm

It just isn’t!

EssentiallyJess February 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I haven’t seen a typewriter for ages!!! Oh how I wish I could play with her!


Twitchy February 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Whenever you’re in town… You are welcome to!

Ness February 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Very nice. I learned to type on an electric type writer when I was still in high school. I still love the sound.


Twitchy February 11, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I love the sound too! When the electric models came in, it must’ve absolutely revolutionised office life. And saved SO many arms and wrists!

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