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Underwood joins the family


My wife is the best. Last Friday morning my phone rang at the office, much earlier than I'm used to hearing from Julie every day. She and Maddie had decided, spur of the moment, to go to an estate sale, and she informed me that she had found an old Underwood typewriter, and asked if she should buy it for me. As I suspect is the case with many writers, I have a fetishistic attraction for old manual typewriters, though I had not yet taken the plunge. Trouble is, I had never studied the old machines well enough to know exactly what I was looking for, and Julie knew little about them. So she tried to describe it for me as well as she could, while I prowled typewriter websites looking for something that matched what she was describing, without much success. Finally I said, Oh what the hell, go ahead and buy it. Which she did - for just twenty bucks. Bless her heart - I know that old typewriters certainly weren't high on her list of things she wanted to at during that estate sale, but she still took the time to do so, just for me.

So when I got home that night, here's what I had: an Underwood Universal portable, from 1938. That's it in the photo above, and I couldn't be happier with it. It's in very good condition - it shows well and seems to be in perfect working order. (That website linked to above has their model listed for $450, but that's in completely refurbished condition. Plus that's their asking price - who knows if they'll ever sell if for anywhere near that much. Still, it looks like Julie made a very good deal.) The only thing that needs to be replaced is the ribbon, which was all but dried out. But the ribbon had just enough ink left in it to allow me to type out my first message:


I'm really looking forward to buying a new ribbon and giving the old relic a real workout. I'm toying with the idea of writing an entire new story, start to finish, completely on the typewriter, and mailing off the final typed draft to some literary journal without ever using a PC. I'll let you know how that goes.

("The Lovely Miss Underwood", indeed!)

October 12, 2008 in Photography | Permalink


I have to confess that I do not have a desire to own an old, manual typewriter. I think the word processor is the best thing to happen to the mechanics of writing (rather than the soul of it) since literacy began. Of course Updike makes a big deal out of how he writes all of his manuscripts with pencil and paper first, but who reads Updike anymore, eh?

Posted by: Paul Lamb at Oct 13, 2008 7:14:30 AM

And now I want to start a career as a typewriter refurbisher. Seriously -- $450? I could totally do it.

Posted by: Julie at Oct 13, 2008 9:51:22 AM

Paul, I certainly don't plan to make the typewriter a regular part of my writing routine - in fact, that story I write on it will be a very short one. I'm so used to PCs now that I can't even imagine the old days of writing countless revisions of a novel on a typewriter. It's a wonder that any writers were able to support themselves solely by their writing back then.

Julie, go for it. You might want to talk to this guy:


Posted by: Pete at Oct 13, 2008 4:18:20 PM

And it astounds me to think that works like War and Peace or Moby Dick were written with pen and ink. There were giants in the earth in those days.

Posted by: Paul Lamb at Oct 13, 2008 8:01:18 PM