Last week I purchased an authentic Royal KMG manual typewriter on eBay for the low, low price of $40. The line was introduced in the 1940s; the machine itself — a 40-lb. steel behemoth — has aged well.
Granted, I had to perform a bit of repair; some of the keys stuck, so out came the WD-40 and gun oil. There’s one part of the travel of the carriage that’s stiff in the middle, so I need to figure out how to re-tension it. And I need a new ribbon. But otherwise, it’s a fresh, friendly and fully functional manual typewriter.
I used to have a Royal KMM when I was in junior high — it was the bridge device between my beloved Commodore 64 and my first PC, a Packard Bell 486SX-20. I wrote all of my papers in 7th and 8th grades on that Royal.
The typewriter is a magical thing. The Royal KMM/KMG line actually had a patent for its “magic margin” — you flipped a rod, and the typewriter updated its margins without fussing behind the cover. The machine had three ribbon settings — black, red and “white” (for no ribbon, used for corrections and carbon paper). It could tab, shift, shift lock and automatically single-, double- or triple-space sentences. And you can’t kill the thing. You buy an old Royal, it’ll outlive you.
So why did I pick it up? Four reasons.
First, I’m going to grab an antique office desk — the tiny steel kind, circa 1950 — and put it in the alcove of my living room. The typewriter will join the vintage ham radio equipment I’m collecting.
Second, I intend to use the typewriter. Typing forces writers to think carefully about their prose. There’s no CTRL-A/Delete. No drag-and-drop sentence shuffling. If you screw up, you retype the sheet. That sort of discipline — to get it right the first time — is on the wane with too many writers who use editing as a substitute for planning, so using the typewriter for my daily journal will, I think, prove salutary. Especially if I type by the light of my oil lamp.
Third, every writer who loves the craft ought to own a manual typewriter. Not only are they supremely useful for filling out paper forms, but possessing the accouterments of authorship reminds yourself daily that writing is a vocation, not a hobby.
Fourth, nostalgia. When I was a wee lad, I was eager to dump that old Royal in favor of a shiny new computer. It even had Windows 3.1 and the LotusWorks Suite! Now that I’m older, and surrounded (nay, tethered) to electronic devices, there’s something reassuring about manual typewriters. In the same way that there’s something reassuring about my well-worn, much-loved copy of Webster’s New International Dictionary … second edition.
So that’s my story. Manual typewriters: Just because they’re old, doesn’t mean they’re useless.