The growing popularity of word processors in the 1980s and early 1990s led to a rapid decline in the use of typewriters, as the ease at which documents could be created, modified, stored and distributed was revolutionised by computer software programs such as Microsoft Word, first released in 1983. The market for typewriters quickly became a niche one as people in Western countries considered these devices cumbersome and outdated, consigning them to history. It is therefore perhaps surprising that the last typewriter to be made by Brother’s manufacturing plant in Britain rolled off the production line as late as 2012, and that typewriters are still being produced in the United States. At TTP we wondered who is still using them today!
As it turns out, there is quite a large market for typewriters. In recent years the humble typewriter has seen a renaissance of sorts, being viewed as vintage chic and eminently collectable, with certain rare antique models fetching hundreds or even thousands of dollars on eBay. Many of these collectables are displayed as decorations in homes or recycled into items such as jewellery, lamps or even bookends. One modern trend is to use the typewriter as a retro guest book for weddings or functions, giving guests the opportunity to leave a personal typewritten message for hosts. Others have used the typewriter as a innovative source of visual art, creating images or landscapes by typing characters onto paper.
More importantly, there are people of many different demographics who regularly use a typewriter for their daily correspondence or as part of their work. For instance, many elderly people who grew up in the pre-Internet era have chosen to stay true to typewriters, either due to a mistrust of computers, or because it is what they are most comfortable and familiar with. Famous authors such as Will Self and Frederick Forsyth are members of a select group of writers who find typewriters more conducive to the creative process than computers, due to the enforced discipline of having to think more before writing, as the revision process is significantly more prohibitive on a typewriter.
For many people there is a sensory appeal in using a typewriter, derived from the sound of the keys and typebars, the tactile pleasure of pressing keys, and the visual effect of seeing letters instantly appear on a page. There are also practical advantages such as greater security (typewriters cannot be hacked into!), fewer distractions (no Internet or email), and the fact that manual typewriters do not require batteries or electricity and are therefore portable and easily operable in countries such as India and in Latin America where reliable electricity isn’t guaranteed. In India typewriters are still used on the street by a dying breed of professional typists who write legal documents outside court houses, type resumes on demand or even transcribe love letters for customers!
Other workplaces where typewriters are still regularly used include the US police department, funeral homes in some American states, and prisons in the US where clear typewriters (that make it hard to hide contraband) are used by inmates for correspondence. One of the last manufacturers of typewriters in the US, Swintec of Bridgewater, New Jersey, still sells thousands of machines per year. Other customers of Swintec include corporations and individuals who have trouble completing PDF forms and address labels on a computer.
Amongst small business there is also a niche market for the sale of typewritten wedding and other vintage-style stationery including thank you notes, condolences and congratulations. Manual typewriters accommodate a wider range of paper sizes, shapes and textures than typical computer printers, making it easier to complete labels, invitations, note cards or forms that are hard to load into a printer. Typewriters also have the advantage of making it easier to type a word or line on an existing document.
In summary, there is a surprisingly large range and depth of modern uses for typewriters, and they are still commonly found in many offices and homes around the world. Although typewriter enthusiasts may be in the minority, they are a passionate and vociferous group. Judging from all of this, it seems that typewriters are likely to be around for many years to come!