Coping: With the Return of REAL Typewriters

I mentioned a while back that I was planning to pick up an IBM Selectric II because to my way of thinking they were the absolute best keyboard ever made.  That is, if you don’t count that seven-pound marvelous mechanical keyboard that shipped with the original IBM-PC’s and which I used at a number of job sites in Ure’s Halt & Catch Fire-era.

Lots of UrbanSurvival readers write.  And not useless social jots.  Since A.G. Kimbrough wanders by often-enough I’ve actually focused on reducing typos.  And then there are colleague – like G.A. Stewart, probably the best Nostradamus writer on the planet, presently. Plus, I hold Chris Tyreman of The Chronicle Project in very high regard as well.  Not just as a reader, but as a graphic artist to boot.  And let me not overlook Lt. Col. (Retd.) Chris McCleary who picked up the National Dream Center project I launched back in 2008 and continues producing fine reports on what dreams foretell.  It’s an honor to be in such esteemed writing company.

Thing is, we all bash words for money (or love of research and intellectual jollies) and that requires the RIGHT machine.  Like selecting a spouse, car, or right sailboat, there are classics.  And that gets us to an interview with Daniel Marleau, another professional wordsmith, who has a dandy site The Typewriter Review which you can find over here…

(Continues below)


While my own preferences run to the Selectric I or correcting Selectric II, Dan’s focus is on the REAL machines.  Ones with no plug.  The manual machines that birthed everything from Hemmingway to…well, you name it.  Most great books haven’t come off keyboards, at least until lately.  Hemmingway wrote standing up, writer Coy up the street reminds us.  First of the Stand-Up-Desk crowd?

Since Urban is about making money and prepping (in other words, buy a future instead of social status crap) I though it’d be interesting to pop some questions over to Dan and see how a real typewriter aficionado looks at that’s out there…

I began my chat with Dan of Typewriter Review with the obvious: Are old geezers like me (*and maybe you) the only ones interesting in getting back to our typing roots?

Seems like the crafting crowd has gotten into typewriters for crafty projects. I’ve seen a new typewriter for sale at Michael’s craft store. I played around with it. As expected — unless you’re tapping out a few greeting cards, then avoid.? Plus, I’m not much of an electric guy, as you can tell. Though I’d love to give the vaunted IBM Selectric a spin! It’s an ICON! My dad’s secretary was a whiz on that thing. 

I could regale you with tales of the quarter-million newscasts I cranked out of a Selectric during my broadcast days.  The sound of the old Model 19 teletype, precut half-sheets of news print for stories…cigs going up in smoke in the ashtray… real audio tape cassettes of news-makers recorded on an early vintage Sony TV-110 – yeah, that was journalism at it’s finest.

Back to point, I asked Dan, “If you were a prepper – and wanted to be able to type when the net goes down (and presumably the power) what would you recommend? Your top 10 list?”

A proper prepper packs a pallet of pencils! I wouldn’t want to be making undue noises that’d call attention to my stash. ?Unless you’re living in an underground bunker, then I’d recommend at least 5 meters of concrete between you and your noisy machine. Still want to take chances with drawing looters? Go with the Remington Noiseless. I had one, it was so quiet that it barely made an impression on the paper! But if you insist on posting communiques with the outside world and want a minimalist machine with a small footprint that is somewhat quiet, go with the Olivetti Lettera 32. Zip up case for easy travel in case you need to hit The Road. It’s so small you don’t even need a table. Works great on the lap or from the horse’s saddle. I want a horse if things go south. 

What about full-sized machines? We see a lot of copy about the smaller portables, but what about those YUGE machines that were such a joy?

Full-sized , aka, The Standard. I wrote a post, “Titans of the Typosphere,” that touched on this subject. Despite their size, the YUGE ones are often superior machines — even if your fingers are small.

Having had a machine get wrecked in shipping (the first effort to buy a Selectric II) are there any packing (and for that matter shopping) tips you could suggest?

You read my mind! Got a post in the works with detailed instructions on how to pack along with pics. BUT — getting the average seller to abide by these tips is another matter! See answer to next question. ?Quick answer. 4 inches of padding all around the case. Ranpak is fine. Bubble is better. Use a rubber pad to disengage the carriage lock. Keep the carriage free floating. But, wrap the typewriter in plastic wrap to keep the carriage from moving. The carriage is the most sensitive part. I’ve got a story about Royal doing a stunt involving dropping typewriters by parachute. Those that landed flat were ok. If it landed on the side — the carriage got out of whack. Don’t know about packing electrics. I use FedEx packing services. I drop off typewriter, they pack it in a new box with loads of Ranpak. After I’ve secured the carriage. Never had a problem. FedEx seems to actually care about doing a good job. It costs about $10-12 for this service, depending on typewriter size. Totally worth the peace of mind! Plus, I don’t need to keep packing supplies in stock. 

A Selectric mechanic retired to his own shop in a big city (after 50 years btw) tells me that buying a machine on eBay is like roulette – with maybe better odds in the casino due to shipping. Would you buy a machine on-line? Or, would you stick to Craigslist and an in-person type-drive?

I agree, eBay for me has been 50/50, even after giving packing tips and the offer to give them a great review! But, eBay is a buyer’s market. I look for typewriters that claim the machine is “fully working” or some such language. If it arrives not in working condition, you have the eBay buyer’s guarantee. Full refund, including shipping both ways. The seller usually just tells me to keep the machine. I have quite a few busted ones in the basement. But still bummed — the world has one less working typewriter. I don’t have a repairman nearby. Sad!

What about old-fashioned publishing? Does ANYONE have old linotype machines, presses and such? I’d sure like to set up a hot lead machine one of these days but damned if I can find one.

Forget that and the mimeo — look up Risograph. That’s what I want.? They still make ’em and you can get good used ones. Great for doing a zine. But still need some power to run the thing. Not good for the doomsday scenario. 

(Hmmm…rocks and chisels?) 2. When the whole world electronica backbone fails what role do you see the printed/typed word?

When, not IF?? I’m optimistic about the world grid staying ON. As it turns out, it’s much easier to control (distract) people when you get them hooked on these little gizmos and screens. If they go offline, they’re liable to read and think and, well, we know that’s not good. However, I’m seeing young people opting out and looking for something more fulfilling than nonsensical snippets. I suspect it’s mostly brief moments of sobriety before they drink the magic potion and lull themselves into a semi-conscious state of swiping and tapping or gaming. If reports are true, teens drink less, don’t drive and delay having sex. What’s the fun in life?!?! Not much to write home about. I yeah, I forgot, they don’t write much these days. I’ve been reading my father’s letters from WWII to his parents. While the circumstances were dire, the writing was heartwarming. Suppose these days the warriors just fire up Skype or FaceTime….

Got that right, brother.  Still…care to make any side bets (after reading books like “One Second After”) about whether the Post Office will still be delivering?

Don’t know about that book, though I watched Kevin Costner in The Postman. Still delivering after the crash! There might’ve even been a typewriter involved in that movie.

All great questions! While I might not share your view on the current state of world affairs, I am a fan of post-apocalypse tales. And it seems these stories are never in short-supply. What is it about things falling apart that is so compelling? Do we yearn for a return to simpler times? Do we need to destroy the present to restore the past? I don’t know. About the only thing I’ve been advocating is the potential for a typewriter to reduce distractions and reveal a voice that might’ve gone undiscovered. Plus, it’s damn fun to pound the keys and see those typebars make a lasting impression! I never have that much enjoyment on a computer, which always seems like work. 

Enjoy and happy trails, amigo!

Dan’s site is and also has some great sources if you’re looking for a good manual machine with a little “character” to it.

If you’re feeling flush, you can get a mechanical keyboard like the Plugable Full Size 104-Key Mechanical Keyboard for Typing Enthusiasts and Gamers with Adjustable White LED Backlighting, Blue MX Style “Clicky” Switches, Double-shot ABS Keycaps, and N-Key Rollover (long enough link for yah?) for $50 bucks, but I get occasional double-strikes with that and finding a useful double-strike filter for Win-10 (the included one is useless, won’t go less than 0.5 sec.).

Hard to be a good mechanical machine – so check Dan’s reviews of some oldies but goodies.

Or, head to Amazon and pick up a very nicely reviewed (there) Nakajima WPT-150 Electronic Typewriter which with a ribbon or two will be under $200.

It’s the write thing to do.

Write when you get rich,

author avatar
George Ure
Amazon Author Page: UrbanSurvival Bio:

29 thoughts on “Coping: With the Return of REAL Typewriters”

  1. I keep one stashed in my barn, “just in case”. Years ago (many) I also used a Friden mechanical calculator (which looked and acted exactly like my typewriter). They were electric though, even back then. Not sure if they ever made a fully mechanical one, but if one ever needed to do some calculations after SHTF, that machine could do it.

  2. Always remember that if you are going to write and publish, then you will need paper and lots of it. That means humidity controlled environment to store it in, and it takes up quite the space.

    I wonder what it takes to print a book? Do they have small printing presses anymore? Hand bookbinding alone would make a book cost more than most could afford. And then who has a paper drill anyway?

    JIT (just-in-time) will be a casualty of money floundering, oil prices going moonward or roving bands of something or others. And running a paper plant is not like yesteryear – they don’t do small at paper mills. It’s pretty handy living close to LA though, where these mills still operate.

    Post office guys are barely hanging on now, so your bet is a sucky one. I think it unlikely that people will even work if it gets bad, because they will be busy trying to eat. Unless the corporate guys were going to pay in food, which is unlikely if their money evaporates from the huge debt loading we have.

    • One of my project a that I do with all my grand kids is to teach them how to make paper and pencils out of plant fibers.

    • There’s a place in Muncie, Indiana (can’t remember the name of it) which is filled with artisan shops and cubbies. Among other towns and other places, we visited there when my artsy niece came to the Midwest last summer. There is a shop which has a bunch of platen presses + more California typecases and woodblock cases than I’ve ever seen in one place, in my life. When we were there, they had just acquired a newspress (their second) from Chicago (Trib, I think), which they were in the process of restoring for use — Nifty! It was belt-drive (4″ flat belts) and originally ran off a steam engine. They use the platens — actually let my daughter and niece print tri-color handbills on one. The guy in the platen room told me they are frequently offered small platen presses in good shape, for under $200, and if they have the money, always buy them to keep ’em out of the scrappers’ pile. I gave him my number and asked him to phone me, the next time they didn’t have the money…

      ‘Pretty sure there are (or were) paper mills in Chillicothe, OH, and Terre Haute, IN although it’s been years since I’ve been in either. The smell is rather distinctive…

      I’ve seen at least a dozen paper drills come up for sale over the past year (also, 3 or 4 shears.) Want I should shoot you a heads-up, the next time I spot one?

  3. Ure in great company – Asimov used a Selectric (and kept a spare at the ready just in case). Also Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

    Obsolete technologies eventually become art forms. Now, where’s did I put my Mag-card?


  4. Being an engineer, I have an “in excellent condition” slide rule and some pre-CAD drafting tools. Hopefully they’ll just be some nice antiques for the grandkids one day.

  5. After the Y2K debacle, I did some serious cogitating about further prepping. Deliberation about my health and age led me to the conclusion that I could not survive an EMP or WW3 or maybe even a pandemic as I cannot function at a robust physical level, so I decided to prepare for a financial crisis that would cause only temporary interruptions of services. Even this may be overly optimistic for me. Therefore, I am putting effort into enjoying what few good years may yet remain, and not worry over the “what ifs”.

  6. Dude! ‘Deliberate technological retrogression’…you and John Greer have this in common, and it’s why I keep reading here. The way forward includes bringing back some things we never should’ve shelved.

  7. Day late not to mention $ short.
    Donated our collection of typewriters to a charity just down the road from you when we were downsizing. Timing is everything.
    I do have a few old-fashioned pen’s and a recipe for ink like my grandfather used. But paper – Maybe a light colored wallpaper.

  8. I learned to type on one of those mechanical beasts that probably doubled as boat anchors; never broke twenty words per minute. Later, with computers I got much better, though I wouldn’t have called myself ‘a typist’.

    (Typing while composing, is an interesting difference than longhand composing, I have found – both have advantages.)

    Have used an old mechanical ‘number cruncher’ – it was even heavier than the typewriter, and had LOTS of internal springs; I saved one when they switched to modern calculators. But it got bumped one day, and springs ‘sprung’ and I couldn’t figure how to fix it.

    Old dumps are probably filled with ’em.

  9. Thanks for the kind mention.

    Reading “One Second After” started me into thinking about the unthinkable. Along that path, I discovered Urban Survival and other useful information sources.

    When I retired for the fourth time in 2012, I finished a long delayed book, BB-39. I was working to complete another project, but a story line kept intruding in my thoughts, regularly.

    I gave up, and started writing what became Volume I of the Coastal Event Memory Series.

    Volume I is the first of five Novellas in a Post-Apocalyptic series. Each book in the series tells the stories of a group of survivors that live through a Global Extermination Event. The characters in Volume I are clustered around the shores of a great Inland Sea, above what used to be called the San Joaquin Valley in California.

  10. @ Sherilyn Lampe –

    I think your decision is prudent. I am prepping more, but it is in case my children need it more than myself…

    • Agreed. My primary goal now is to help the kids & grands and keep myself upright & mobile as long as it furthers that goal.

    • You don’t really think ole preppers like us would miss a case of ribbons and correcting tape? OMG…

    • I use about an 80/20 mixture of rubber stamp ink to India ink — both stored in glass bottles, BTW. Older ribbons are silk, or silk blends, and will last practically forever. The job is very messy and the ink is very permanent: Soak, squeegee, soak, squeegee, let hang a couple days until dry, then respool. I used the same process on kevlar thread to make it “disappear.” The stuff’s been in the weather for three years and is still “invisible,” and kevlar is distressed polypro. Did I mention the ink is very permanent…?

  11. My dad typed at 60 to 80 words per minute on the big tall office size Smith Corona manual that was his office favorite … with TWO fingers.

    When younger I managed to finally get up to about 60 wpm with full finger typing, but with more mistakes than he had with only 2 fingers … though I was at first on a so so portable manual Smith Corona and later on a portable electric Smith Corona. Definitely NOT the quality of the big manual office typewriters (or IBM’s).

    At the office we currently keep around an IBM Selectric (correcting model) with it’s ball and my old Brother Daisy Wheel typewriter (the Brother can correct an entire line by itself!!). The IBM is definitely a more durable machine with a MUCH better keyboard but in the early days of computers my Brother Daisy Wheel had an interface for the computer’s parallel port and served as our HIGH QUALITY printer for letters etc. (we also had one of those indestructible Panasonic 1123 dot matrix printers for more routine work and it NEVER DIED … only got outdated – our local bank branch was still them until about 3 years ago for doing Cashier’s Checks so those indestructible 1123’s lasted about 25 years in the real world of work!!)

    At home I have an extremely small portable manual typewriter in a travel case in the event the internet ever ceases to exist, cost me $3 at a charity sale event … even keep good ink ribbons for it – buy new ones about every 3 years or so. Forget if it’s an Olivetti, but in any case it was one of the top noch small traveling portables in it’s day (better than the very small Smith Corona’s that’s for sure).

    I still think the old typewriters had MUCH better keyboards than what you get with computer keyboards today. Those manual’s keyboards were easier to type on with fewer mistakes, probably due to both their key spacing AND the fact that each line of keys was at a totally different elevation.

    Ah … the memories of the sound of those old manual typewriters being typed upon!! particular if there was a room of them all being used simultaneously.

    NOW … whatever happened to that super thin “Onion Skin” paper? GREAT ability to ERASE mistakes when one was made with that paper. NO white out required!! Loved it for writing papers in HS and College.

    • I use to type five hundred words a minute on an old typewriter.. You couldn’t read any of it .. Lol just kidding I actually miss my old typewriter got rid of it When I couldn’t buy ribbons anymore.

  12. Way baaack in 1979, had to type 85 wpm for 10 minutes with only 5 errors to become an Executive Secretary; used the Selectric and loved it. The noise from a Selectric is like the noise of a lawn mower, sure makes one feel productive!

  13. “A proper prepper packs a pallet of pencils!”

    ‘Bought two cases last year. Does anyone know there are actually discussion groups devoted to pencils? The Internet is a truly amazing library resource!

    Dixon Ticonderoga used to be the standard for pencils. They also used to be made in Chillicothe, Ohio. Now they’re made in Mexico, Vietnam, and China, and (according to the experts) are junk (i.e. the lead crumbles and the wood splits.)

    I bought two cases direct from General Pencil (much cheaper than Amazon — YMMV.) Write Dudes is also really good, but I got a better price from General. There was also a place in Lima, Ohio which made excellent pencils, but their specialty is custom printed styli and I figure in a grid-down, anonymity is the more-prudent option. {I only remember them because Lima is the home of Fair Radio… ;-}

  14. Speaking of older technology, I still have a mechanical clock that has been in my family for nearly a hundred years. I would like to get a newer one or a pocket watch, but clocks are probably the best bet for durability. Good timekeeping can be useful in any age. Even a backyard sundial would be nice to have too.

Comments are closed.

Toggle Dark Mode