Literary Geniuses and Their Vintage Typewriters

Sep 10, 2008 by

“Vintage typewriter” conjures up connotations of tapping keys, assertive strokes, and the feeling that what you are typing is real.  The physical presence of your words through a typewriter, as well as the delightful announcement of the end of a line, can never be replaced by software programs that mysteriously lose your work into the digital abyss.

No wonder the literary greats composed works that still move us today!  We can only imagine Hemingway, Steinbeck, Twain, and Orwell hunched over their machine of choice late into the night, with furrowed brows and their large, trusty waste paper baskets overflowing at their sides.  If you are curious as to which piece of machinery your favorite Hemingway, Orwell, Steinbeck, or Twain novel was created on, here is an overview:

Ernest Hemingway: 1940s Royal

As one of the greatest American authors, Hemingway penned many of his novels on a Royal Quiet de Luxe, including Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and many others.   Whether he was writing in Florida or Cuba, Hemingway utilized his trusty Royal typewriter to compose great American novels.  In fact, in his Cuban home, Hemingway kept his Royal in his bedroom – one never knows when inspiration will strike!

Hemingway’s trusty Royal, still in its leather case, was recently sold at an auction for $2750 in 2007 – which seems like a steal for this vintage aficionado!

Hemingway’s Actual Typewriter via Havana Journal, Writing Desk via Mr. Typewriter, Bio Photo via Gary Scott Thompson

George Orwell: Remington Home Portable

George Orwell was an overworked journalist around the time he began working on “1984.” It has been said that his Remington Portable (model #2) was his “right hand man,” and that his preoccupation with both the machinery and “1984” led to his early demise. By the time the novel was packaged up to send to the publishers, Orwell’s physical health had deteriorated, and he collapsed – never to pick up a pen or use the typewriter again.

There are several photographs in circulation of Orwell seated at the Remington. The typewriter is easily identified by the gold lettering above the keys, and by the retractable toolbar which was intended to lower the profile of the machine for travel.

George Orwell at his Remington via Orwell Today

John Steinbeck: Hermes Baby

In 1935, portable typewriters were hard to come by. Moise Paillard and the Thorens family sought to produce a typewriter which could be easily transported and used whilst traveling. When the dynamic duo collaborated with engineering expert Giuseppe Preziosa, the Hermes Baby portable sensation was born.

Both Steinbeck and Hemingway used the Hermes Baby amongst others, and the authentic Steinbeck typewriter is still situated in the Martha Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies. This institution is located at San Jose University, if you are interested in paying a visit.

Mark Twain: Sholes & Glidden

Twain is thought to be the first person to submit a typed novel to a publisher. “Life on the Mississippi” 1883 was a typed copy of a written manuscript, and in all honesty, the grunt work was probably not done by the great man himself.

Twain used a variation of the very first typewriter which was called the Sholes & Glidden Treadle Model (1874). What made this model so special was that the traditional foot pedal, which was used for providing quicker carriage return, had been substituted with a handle. In actuality, the typewriter looks strikingly similar to an old sewing machine.

It is actually quite a romantic notion to think of bare, dark, smoky rooms, sans computer, keyboard, and mouse. Some of the vintage typewriters used by the literary greats are available for sale, and others have been donated to public institutions.

Vintage typewriters are becoming highly collectible, and if you aspire to be like the literary greats, perhaps your next Pulitzer Prize winning piece will come from the keys and strokes of an antique typewriter.  Check Poetic Home’s Etsy shop for vintage typewriters – the inventory is ever-changing, and one day, your inspirational typewriter may just be waiting to turn you into the next Hemmingway!

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