I’ve been bidding intermittently on typewriters on eBay for ages. Somehow I always manage to lose the auctions, however, and have never actually purchased any of the awesome, old-fashioned “silent” or “portable” typewriters of my dreams. Feeling glum about a recent loss (a pink Royal typewriter), I typed the magic words “pink typewriter” into a Google image search, and discovered Cheryl Lowry’s website, Strikethru.net. Besides offering a great photo of her hot-pink spraypainted typewriter, the blog is dedicated to typewriters, “typecasting” (i.e. writing about typewriters), and various other anachronistic activities and ephemera. It’s also the home of her excellent zine, Silent Type, about which I was able to ask her a few questions.
Black Heart: Why have typewriters so captured your imagination that you’ve made a zine about them?
Cheryl Lowry: Typewriters are beautiful objects. Mechanically complex, elegantly designed, they reflect a century of slow evolution in product design. Using them is a tactile joy. I sensed that people needed a reminder of this, or an introduction, if they never experienced it in the first place.
BH: What made you decide to start a zine, as opposed to a blog about typewriters?
CL: I’ve actually blogged about typewriters since 2007, at strikethru.net. The community of people I’ve met through this site became the authors and audience for the zine, which is ironic, since the Internet is often accused of killing off zines. To the contrary, it can be used to grow audiences for print.
BH: How did you decide what types of items to include, and will Silent Type have themes in future issues?
CL: I’ve been pretty open with the theme so far: anything related to retrotech, with more restrictions on format; issue 1 prose and poetry, issue 2 just poetry. Typewriters and poetry strike me as a logical pairing, since it’s said both are doomed. For the third issue, should I do one, I’m leaning toward instructional information about typewriters—people in the typosphere (the community of typewriter bloggers) have come up with many innovative ways to modify typewriters, ribbons, and paper, and I’d like to see this information compiled in a Silent Type.
BH: You spray-painted your typewriter pink, which is awesome; do you have any special tips, tools or ideas for those seeking to replicate the Pink Typewriter, or hints for keeping parts you don’t want painted from coming under fire?
CL: I have been meaning to do a blog post on this (or perhaps, a piece in Silent Type 3). I have no particular painting skills, I just found a machine that was easy to take apart (it was a Hermes Rocket with a shell attached by screws) and had a rough metal finish that took well to paint. I made sure to clean the parts I intended to paint, and then set them on a cardboard box and painted them with craft spray paint, using long, even strokes. When the shell dried I just placed it back on the typewriter. This is how you avoid spray painting the typebars, platen, and other parts you don’t want affected. I’d advise finding a typewriter that comes apart easily with a screwdriver, and has a metal (not plastic) body.
BH: How many typewriters do you currently own?
CL: This morning I had nine, this evening I have six. I just gave away three at a type-in event this afternoon. I try to keep my total number under 10, as they can be difficult to find places for around the house!
BH: How did you acquire your first (or favorite) typewriter?
CL: I grew up using a 1970’s Smith-Corona Sterling, on which I wrote bad fan fiction about Huey Lewis and the News when I was in junior high. I wish I was kidding about this.
BH: Will you, indeed, be making another issue of Silent Type?
CL: After (barely) finishing issue 2 during an extremely overscheduled year, I swore off of further Silent Types, but I still am considering the “instructional” 3rd issue nonetheless.
BH: With the increasingly digital world we live in, what role does ancient technology like the “portable” or “silent” typewriter play?
CL: As analog and offline options to read and write become more scarce (the closing of bookstores, interacting with screens around the clock) I believe people will begin to seek deliberate experiences to disconnect and regain their solitude and concentration. The typewriter provides the perfect opportunity to rediscover the joy of monotasking.
BH: What’s your favorite brand of typewriter?
CL: Olympia, which is a German brand. Olympia typewriters are solid and well-made in a way you’ll rarely experience with modern products.
BH: If you could be typing anywhere in the world, where would it be—and why?
CL: A sidewalk cafe in Paris. I went to Paris in 2009, but regrettably didn’t bring a typewriter along. Typing, watching people, and drinking wine in Paris would be the perfect way to pass an afternoon.