06 February 2009

Typewriter Cabinets of the 1880s and 1890s

I'm reading Henry Petroski's The Pencil right now for a class on the "social life life of paper," which I'm taking at Harvard with Lisa Gitelman this semester. The book has got me thinking a lot about writing implements -- their use, their design, and (most fascinating to me) the auxiliary gadgets that grow up around them. For instance, once you have pens and pencils being used shared in schools and businesses, of course an antiseptic pen or pencil holder becomes indispensible. While designed in and for a specific environment, the tool in turn starts to mold the environment to it, particularly as it becomes more widely used.

A few weeks ago, I changed the header of this blog to an image of a duplicating pen from the Delitiae physico-mathematicae (1651), a three-volume work co-edited by Daniel Schwenter and of course my favorite baroque guy, Georg Philipp Harsdorffer. The design is whimsically simple -- an extension off the end of the pen doubles the writing onto another sheet of paper -- and yet immensely practical, too, in a writing culture that didn't involve mimeographs, carbon copies or Xerox.

(Little noted fact: the Delitiae also contains one of the earliest designs for a fountain pen.)

So anyway, pens -- pencils -- writing implements -- the things that help us write, and the things that help us use the things that help us write. I was poking around Google Patents earlier (my new favorite image bank -- can't beat these early patent designs) and stumbled upon a treasure trove of typewriter cases from the 1880s and 1890s -- of course, just about the time typewriters were starting to be more widely used. They all look more or less like desks, but have been adapted to the tool writers were beginning to use (i.e., the typewriter), much the way my home desk has a roll-out shelf for my keyboard. At the same time, there's so much anxiety over technology in these patents -- they all hide the instrument, pushing it out of view, as if to preserve the appearance of a "traditional" writing space while tucking the "real" writer away in a drawer.

In any case (pun intended!), there's definitely a paper here to be written.

TYPE-WRITER CASE by HARRY D. PURSELL:
No Model No 402,106 HD PUBSELL TYPE WRITER CASE

TYPE-WRITER CABINET by JACOB KIEFER:
No Model No 418,522 J KIEFER TYPE WRITER CABINET

TYPE-WRITER CABINET by SAMUEL L. CONDE:
No Model S L CONDE No 486,435 TYPE WRITER CABINET

TYPE-WRITER DESK by OLIVER B. ROWLETT:
No Model No 540,516 0 B EOWLETT TYPE WRITEK DESK

TYPE-WRITER ATTACHMENT FOR DESKS by JOHN GRAMELSPACHER:
Ho Model J aRAMELSPAOHER TYPE WRITER ATTACHMENT FOE No 575,602

TYPE-WRITER CABINET by PHILIP E. WHITING:No 613,182 Model PE WHITING TYPE WRITER CABINET Application Bled Dec 1 1897.1 "

2 comments:

John McVey said...

"they all hide the instrument, pushing it out of view, as if to preserve the appearance of a "traditional" writing space while tucking the "real" writer away in a drawer."

sounds like the (incredible shrinking, ever slimmer) laptop.

Whitney said...

Right? Although it is funny how much computers have become a part of an office. I'm always astonished seeing pictures of the White House desk -- with no computer on it! Shocking! What's a desk without a computer?

(It does have a phone, so that communications technology seems to have crossed some kind of rubicon..)