Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Clackety-Clackety Earful

I wonder how many times these keys have been struck, how many words were written and how many sheets of paper shuffled in and out of this old antique typewriter. This particular model (Underwood No. #5) provided a livelihood for millions in the first half of the 20th Century. A roomful of 20 or 30 secretaries all busily typing away would have surely been a clackety-clackety earful!

Saturday my Daughter and I went to a couple yard sales and she spotted this Underwood No. 5. The price was right at a perfect $5.

And I mean "perfect" in that our 14-yr-old Grandson likes to tinker. He likes playing with screwdrivers and pliers and drills. He used a bit of WD-40 to clean surface areas and was pleased that he got the space bar and the "stuck" keys to begin functioning. Heunderwood typewriter postcard thinks this will make a nice piece of "decor" in their living room. It's fortunate that his mother and he have similar tastes in interior decorating!

The No. 5 was one of Underwood's spectacularly successful models and was "the" typewriter for most of the first half of the 20th Century. You can read more about antique typewriters at The Classic Typewriter Page.

Being a retired secretary (the modern title is "administrative assistant") I had to put my own hands to the keyboard and try this out myself. I wonder if the secretary of yesteryear encountered carpal tunnel and artvintage underwood typewriter model 5hritis from the constant pounding. And there was no "backspace/delete" key that would undo mispelled words or incorrect grammar. Oh, no. Instead there were erasers and later, that beloved (or hated) bottle of white-out. Every letter required a carbon copy which meant that erasures had to occur on the original as well as the copies. What a tedious task! My first week on the job, with only one semester of high-school typing, required me to type 50 copies of a fund-raising letter. They were duplicates except for the address line. The only copy machine we had was a thermofax (that will date me!) and fund-raising letters were of such importance that each addressee should receive his/her own "originally-typed" letter. I did a lot of erasing that week! And by the end of the week my typing had improved considerably!


Elle Bee said...

What a great find! At $5, it can't be beat.

Roxanne said...

What a blessing you have in that grandson. Care to loan him out??

Laurie M. said...

I don't miss those old things, except of course for the ingenuity and workmanship. They are quite lovely in retrospect. I remember centering paper and counting spaces to center blocks of text, forgetting the carriage return and typing past the end of the page. The dread of errors...and sooo many things you could do wrong and have to toss the whole thing and start over. I do not miss those days. I've never been a good enough typist to run with the big dogs, and it was much worse then.

You've renewed my thankfulness for my computer and keyboard!

Debby said...

Those are my sort of finds as well.

I found another old suitcase, for 50 cents. Actually, it was 25 cents, but the sale was for Habitat for Humanity. I gave them double. (how generous am I?) These are stacked in a corner of my living room and hold livingroom clutter...reading material, the Scrabble game, some craft supplies.

I think your grandson has a lovely eye for decorating. It will look lovely in the living room.

martinhoward said...

How nice to read about your interest and love of this old Underwood 5.

Those who have an affection or even a curiosity for old typewriters will like visiting my website at

I have been collecting 19th century typewriters for 20 years now and my love of these machines and this 'hobby' has not diminished one bit.

Martin Howard

Jana said...

that is so cool! $5? thats a steal! I got really good at typing over a week long period of my husband being in Iraq and having the opportunity to instant message, before he left I couldnt type at all, nothing like a crash course!!