Tuesday, March 9, 2021

American Calligraphy #11: Typewriter

ABCs of the USA: The stories behind America’s most distinctive calligraphy styles. 

Letter bars on early typewriters
 often went out of alignment. 
Ribbons dried out, picked up
dust, and needed re-inking.
Today, it looks "antique."

Although 19th-century European and English inventors tinkered with contraptions for mechanical writing, America eventually took the lead with a cluster of crucial patents. 1876 is considered to be the birth of the typewriter. The expanding market brought these machines into homes, schools and offices. 

For almost a hundred years, each typewriter letter had to be the same width, and did not support refinements like varied stroke width, font choice, or sharp serifs until the 1961 IBM Selectric offered type balls and mylar ribbons. 

Although these letters are not exactly fine art, calligraphers can re-create classic typewriter letters and their era from my post of January 9, 2013, using the Speedball B pen nib or a bull-nose marker. It's challenging to over-ride your own good instincts about spacing, and it re-creates a recently vanished era. (And it actually is a robust, useful alphabet style.) 
People older than 70 may remember some work-arounds from the early days. You added two spaces after a period; used a capital O for a zero; substituted a small l for the numeral 1; and superimposed a slash on a c for the cents sign (wait a sec; who even uses a cents sign now?). A brief exposure to early typewriters will remind you to thank your lucky stars for Spellcheck, Undo, and the Delete key. 
Here are some delightful images from the past. 

Detail from a typist's diploma designed in 1921 and awarded in 1944, with a Gothic Revival
headline and a mix of a dozen other letter styles--handwritten and typeset and
 hand-stamped. At the top, the typewriter is glorified as a holy icon. 
The French headline and maple leaf heading remind us that it is from Canada. 

In another detail, a vignette shows the
"muse of stenography" inscribing a scroll. 

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