This is a reprint of a story that originally appeared in the June 2011 edition of the Hamilton Post.
One day last year, Matt Cidoni, 16, wanted to impress his classmates, so he pulled his newest portable device out of his backpack. He did nothing more than set it on his desk, but soon a crowd was gathered to admire his piece of communications technology: a Remington Quiet Writer typewriter from the 1950s.
“People thought it was awesome,” Cidoni recalls. “People gathered around as I typed.”
Cidoni, who lives in East Brunswick, is part of a group of typewriter enthusiasts who patronize Karl Business Machine, a shop on a busy stretch of Nottingham Way in Hamilton.
The shop, which is packed full of copiers, fax machines, adding machines and typewriters, is one of the last places in the state that services typewriters. Karl Business Machine also sells used and even new models. (Japanese company Nakajima still makes them, and they cost as much as a low-end computer.)
Rick Dutczak’s father started the business in 1976, when typewriters were in high demand. Rick took over in 1987, when the decline and fall of the typewriter was well under way. The business once had six mechanics, but these days, only one retiree, Joe Benczik, comes in to make repairs on a part-time basis.
There is nothing one can do with a typewriter that can’t be done using a computer with a printer, but the technology refuses to die out completely.
A typical customer of Dutzczak’s is Morrisville, Pa. resident Rae Bennett, who, at age 75 is still using the Royal portable typewriter, which her parents got her in 1951, for all her correspondence. Bennett, a retired music teacher, said her typewriter played a role in saving her life.
In 2008, Bennett was hit by a car. She was unconscious when paramedics reached her, and found on her person a typewritten record of her medical history, allergies and medications. Bennett credits that list, which she made on her typewriter, with giving the medics the information they needed to save her life.
And she never would have had that list without her typewriter. Bennett hasn’t considered buying a computer. She recently took her typewriter to the shop to get the “e” fixed.
“I enjoy using it, so I wouldn’t know the advantage of using computers,” she said.
Not everyone who owns a typewriter is averse to new technology.
Cidoni has a computer and a smartphone in addition to his collection of 10 typewriters, and he uses them all.
“Anything other than e-mails, I type on my typewriters,” Cidoni said. “I type my school reports, papers and letters, and obviously my blog entries.”
Cidoni has a blog, typewritersite.blogspot.com, where he types entries, scans them, and posts the images.
Cidoni said he has been using typewriters since he discovered one in his basement at age 11. He discovered that using a typewriter had the power to make him feel nostalgic for a time he never experienced.
“I really just like the fact that you have a hard copy right in front of you when you’re done,” he said. “I love the sound and the feel, returning the carriage and the ring of the bell at the end of each line … the way the typeface looks on the paper.”
Dutczak said his clients come from all over the county, state and country. People have sent him typewriters to repair from as far away as Australia, and he recently supplied 20 machines to a historically set movie filming in New York City, though he was sworn to secrecy about the film’s identity.
There are typewriter holdouts and young enthusiasts scattered all over, from grandparents who buy typewriters for their aspiring writer grandchildren, to businesses that have a typewriter tucked away in some corner because it is still the easiest way to fill out labels or forms.
Even Karl Business Machine has a typewriter that employee Roberta Winder uses to fill out invoices. It sits under a dust cover opposite a flat-panel computer monitor.
The aesthetic appeal of the machines is more important than its practicality to young typewriter enthusiasts. Andrea Lindsay, 17, of Yardley, Pa., uses a Hermes 3000 for some of her writing, but not because it’s more efficient than a computer.
Lindsay, who lived in Hamilton in her childhood, also has a record player and uses film cameras. She said the typewriter is better than a computer for capturing impulsive stream-of-consciousness writing.
“I think it’s a physical manifestation of my thoughts as they’re occurring,” she said. “When you get into the rhythm of typing on a typewriter, you can anticipate when the words are going to the margin and it leads to that signature bell sound. It’s satisfying when you’re clacking on the typewriter to hear the bell and advance the carriage to the next line and just keep going. It definitely seems much more like some kind of process that has a definite end when you get into the rhythm as opposed to just casually typing on the computer with Google in the background. There’s nothing to think about when you’re typing on the typewriter except the paper in front of you.”
One further advantage of a typewriter over a computer — no hacker can pry loose its secrets.
One Karl customer, a retiree who lives in South Jersey, uses a typewriter to bang out fiery, mudslinging letters to the editor to a weekly newspaper. He uses a typewriter, and asked to be anonymous, because he fears retaliation from the local powers-that-be.
The nameless firebrand reasons that a typewriter, unlike a computer, is immune to hacking.
“The typewriter really is the only secure means of putting something in print,” he said, and claimed that other politically active people in his community have been victims of computer criminals who were hired guns of one of the local parties.
“People will say that’s extreme and this and that until they get hacked, and suddenly it’s not so extreme,” he said.
It may be tempting to think of a typewriter as a primitive machine, but a few minutes pecking at an IBM Selectric from the 1980s will dispel that notion. The typewriter, by the time it was displaced by computers, was a highly advanced and refined device, having been perfected after about a century of mass production.
Before electronics replaced typewriters, they enhanced them.
On the Selectric, which is still the most popular brand of typewriter, the letters are embossed on a metal type ball which, guided by precise electrical impulses, stamps each letter on the page with a pleasing whirring and clacking sound. There’s no direct connection between the key and the type ball, so it doesn’t matter how hard you hit the keys. Keystrokes require about as much force as a computer keyboard. You can correct mistakes — the typing ribbon has the ability to lift not-yet-dried ink from the page.
Karl Business Machine is full of old typewriters. The basement is stacked with them, and Benczik raids them for spare parts. In front is a glass display case with pristine models, including a 1910 Oliver. Dutczak loves them, and appreciates their beauty, but you won’t catch him using one – he never learned how to type.
Dutczak’s customers will be in trouble if he ever closes up shop, which he doesn’t plan to any time soon.
“You can’t get parts for old manual typewriters anymore,” Dutczak said. “When people like Joe pass on, 10 or 20 years from now, the guys that worked on these, they’re not going to be around any more. So tell everyone to bring theirs in right away.”
Karl Business Machine is located at 2562 Nottingham Way in Hamilton and can be reached at (609) 890-1743.