8 January 2021
By Göran R Buckhorn
2020 was a strange year, indeed. Göran R Buckhorn found himself buying a non-rowing related Christmas present – to himself. Here he writes about it with a little sprinkle of rowing.
A couple of years ago, when my son was in 8th grade, he came home one day from school saying that he was going to have a group project about the Industrial Revolution, and he wanted it to be some kind of show-and-tell. Did I have any suggestions, he asked?
The only thing that I could come up with that could be transported to school and back, was something I had won/bought on eBay a couple of months prior: a portable green 1959 British Smith-Corona Empire typewriter. This 60-year-old vintage typewriter would be ancient to the young teenagers to look at and try out, I thought. With some short instructions how to work the Empire, I drove my son to school in the morning. When my son came home, he told me that there had been many ‘ohhs’ and ‘ahhs’ among his friends when they saw the old machine. The lesson of the day had been that ‘writing’ didn’t start with computers!
I had earlier told my son that during my years at secondary school – or high school, as it’s called here in the U.S. – in Sweden, there were no computers. You wrote your essays by hand or on a typewriter (yes, I’m that old!). Even during my university years, my essays and papers were banged out on a typewriter. I had a portable, mustard yellow typewriter, an ADDO 602.
It was on this ‘knock-off’ I made my debut as a rowing writer when I in the spring of 1979 got an article about the Boat Race published in a local newspaper. I made 150 Swedish kronor (1979 exchange: £17/$34). I later reworked the piece and got it published in the Swedish rowing magazine; the editor got it gratis. That was 11 years before I was appointed co-editor of the magazine.
After I had finished my university studies, I landed a job at a book publishing firm. My first year there, I used an electric typewriter, an IBM, I believe. However, soon thereafter the company invested in what was known as word processors; then the computers came.
The 1959 Smith-Corona Empire was, however, not the first typewriter that had ended up in the Buckhorn home. At the end of the summer 2016, Mrs B. called me from her office saying that a colleague of hers was leaving for another job and he wondered if I wanted an old typewriter that he didn’t have room to take with him when he moved out of state. ‘Of course,’ I said. Mrs B. brought it home the very same day. It was a dark blue portable Underwood with beautiful white keys. Looking up the serial number on The Typewriter Database gave the manufacturing year 1930.
Then another thing happened in 2016 that awoke my interest in old typewriters – again thanks to Mrs B. At the end of October, she pointed out some Tweets by a fellow named Marcin Wichary (@mwichary), thinking what he wrote would interest me. In several Tweets, Wichary wrote that while he was driving from Barcelona, he took a detour to the little town of Figueres, where the artist Salvador Dalí was born and which has a museum celebrating the famous son of the town. But while Wichary was walking to the Dalí Museum, he saw a sign for another museum, “Museu de la Tècnica,” (Museu de la Tècnica de l’Empordà), so he decided to visit that instead. On one of the floors in the technical museum, he found five rooms with hundreds of old typewriters. He described many of them and also took some photographs of these wonders – and I was hooked.
During these computer times, there has still been an interest in manual typewriters. There was a renaissance in 2017 for typewriters at least in the USA. Two things happened that year which hyped up the interest. The film documentary California Typewriter was released. The film got its title from California Typewriter, a shop that repairs and sells old typewriters in Berkeley, California. The film was directed, photographed and edited by Doug Nichol and released by American Buffalo Pictures. California Typewriter portrays collectors, artists and writers who love the typewriter and still use it as a daily tool. Among others, featured in the documentary are writers David McCullough and Sam Shepard, musician John Mayer and film star Tom Hanks.
Here is a short trailer for the film:
The second thing that happened in 2017 that raised the excitement for typewriters was Tom Hanks’s collection of short stories Uncommon Type: Some Stories, all of which more or less have a connection to typewriters. In one interview after another, Hanks praised these old machines, just as he did in California Typewriters. Hanks told the reporters that he was collecting typewriters and that he then, in 2017, hade some 250+ typewriters in his collection.
How many typewriters do you have to have to call it a collection and you calling yourself a collector? I’m sure it’s more than two, so I’m just calling myself a fan of vintage typewriters. However, another manual typewriter would come my way.
Last year was a strange year on many levels. That Christmas was going to be different, I understood already in October, when Mrs B. informed me that she had seen the Christmas present she wanted and, as a matter of fact, she had ordered it herself. There was some kind of time frame that you had to order this special box set of records of a band, which also came with a unique book that would not be available in the book shops. The box with records and book should arrive late November. I took this information as it was now up to me to find, and pay, for my own Christmas gift – if I wanted one.
I’m seldom looking for stuff on eBay these days, but when I did take a look in late October, I did find something that caught my eye, and which had been on my wish list for quite some time: a Halda typewriter. For those who are not familiar with a ‘Halda’, it’s a Swedish manufactured typewriter.
The company Halda was founded in 1887 by Henning Hammarlund (1857-1922) to produce pocket watches. The firm got its name from the founder’s name: Hammarlund(a). He had received his education first as an apprentice to the Swedish watchmaker Per Jönsson Holm in Ängelholm. Then Hammarlund studied in Stockholm before he travelled around America and Europe, where he ended up at the Geneva Academy of Horology, Switzerland, in 1880. When he returned home to Sweden, he set up the country’s first pocket watch factory in the small town of Svängsta in the providence of Blekinge, in the south of Sweden. In 1889, Hammarlund’s first pocket watches came out and four years later, in 1893, the Halda watches were awarded two medals at the World Exhibition in Chicago. In 1890, Halda also started to produce typewriters and in 1891 taximeters. At one point, there was also a production of bicycles.
Halda didn’t produce many typewriters the first years. It was first with model 4, constructed in 1900 and marketed in 1902, that a small series was produced. Typewriter aficionados point out that the Halda typewriter had a great resemblance to the American Densmore typewriter.
After financial problems during the First World War and Hammarlund being ill, Halda pocket watch production was put to sleep in 1917 and the company was liquidated in 1920. Instead, a new company, AB Halda Fabriker (AB is Swedish for aktiebolag, ‘company limited’), took over the manufacturing of typewriters. Other companies took over the making of pocket watches and taximeters.
However, Halda Fabriker was struggling with the making of typewriters and in 1927 the company went bankrupt. The production of typewriters continued under a new company name, Halda AB, and merged with the Danish company Norden in 1929 (Norden-Halda typewriters). Nine years later, in 1938, Halda was taken over by AB Åtvidabergs Industrier and converted to a subsidiary under the name Facit-Halda AB, though the Halda typewriters continued as a brand in the Åtvidaberg Group to the year 1957, when Halda was renamed Facit AB.
In 1957, Facit launched the typewriter Facit TP1, which was designed by Sigvard Bernadotte (1907-2002), son of the future King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden and his first wife Princess Margaret of Connaught. In 1934, when Sigvard married a commoner, he lost his princely and ducal titles.
In an American ad, it said about the Facit TP1 that it had a ‘Viking grey color, matte finish and elegant Swedish Modern design by Sigvard Bernadotte [which] makes the new Facit Portable a proud possession in your home’.
Facit AB went bankrupt at the end of 1992 and the typewriter production in Svängsta ceased. In 2009, the name Halda came back when watch entrepreneur and engineer Mikael Sandström developed a new watch.
So, there was this portable 1957 Halda typewriter on eBay. A typewriter collector in Germany was getting rid of some of the typewriters in his collection, he wrote, including the Halda. It’s rare to find a Halda, even in Sweden. For a couple of reasons, the 1957 Halda was very appealing to me, being the last year this typewriter was manufactured before it switched name to Facit. This Halda was made in Sweden for the German market. While the colour of the classic ‘modern’ Halda was ‘military green’ (designed by Carl Malmsten in 1941), the 1957 machine on eBay was grey, or maybe ‘Viking grey’, as it said in the American ad. While I might have preferred it in green, when would there ever be one coming up for sale again? The price of the Halda on eBay was fair, and I could even ‘make an offer’ on the typewriter. There was not much to do with the shipping cost, and the seller pointed out that due to the pandemic, it would take extra-long time to get it over the Atlantic from Germany to the USA.
I put in a bid – and the Halda was mine.
It took four weeks for the typewriter to reach my corner of the U.S., but it was worth the wait. It’s beautiful and well-made – well, it’s Swedish, so…
Even Ernest Hemingway had a Halda. Of course, Hemingway wore out many typewriters during his long writing career, a Corona #3 and #4, an Underwood Noiseless Portable, a Royal Model P, a Royal Quite Deluxe, a Halda and a few others.
Journalist Robert Messenger, who is running a wonderful website about typewriters (and journalists), oz.Typewriter, which you shouldn’t miss if you are interested in typewriters, wrote an article on Hemingway and his Halda.
When Messenger’s article was published in November 2011, Hemingway’s Halda was up for sale and had been for a long time. However, on 10 July 2013, Hemingway’s Halda was sold at an auction for $65,000 (it was estimated to go for between $65,000 and $80,000!).
Now, before you readers of this website bombard the comment section with funny remarks that my Halda will not make me a Hemingway, rest assured that I’m aware of the fact. I will just be happy click-clacking away on my Halda.
Well, the other day, I saw another beautiful typewriter on eBay, an Adler, and my birthday is coming up soon…
Love your article!. Sure brings back memories; the muscle memory of how hard you had to press the keys, the lever (?) and the sound when you changed the line (?) and the constant use of Tipp-Ex! A couple of years ago I dowloaded the typewriter sound to my computer – however it drove my husband mad and I had to uninstall it. Maybe I should give it another go…sorry husband…you´ll get used to it…eventually…
Thank you, Marie. Well, you tell your dear husband he better get used to the wonderful click-clacking sound of a vintage typewriter. Or even better, you find yourself an old typewriter to bang on. It will have a therapeutic soothing effect on your well-being. / Göran
Chris Dodd writes in a comment ~
Great piece, Göran. When I was a kid my mum had an Underwood which I used. In 1961 I landed a vacation job on the Bristol Evening Post in prep for editing the Nottingham Uni newspaper. Reporters had to supply their own typewriters but the firm had a deal with a typewriter shop whereby you could buy them with a huge discount, like 80 per cent, and I acquired an Olympia portable, which was the MacBook of the day for journalists. The newsroom at the E’en Po (as we called the Bristol paper in the local dialect) included the future novelists and playwright Charles Wood and Tom Stoppard, and Frank Keating who was to become a Guardian sportswriter. The news editor, Fatty Farnsworth, actually wore red braces, shirt sleeves and a green eye shade and his desk had four Bakelite phones, one of which was red, and he inevitably barked into the wrong phone. It was like a set for the Front Page. My Olympia cut its teeth on wedding reports, corn prices, the West of England budgerigar and canary show (a colleague and I taught a Micah bird to tell the judges to Fuck Off), wallabies escaping from the zoo and whatever the hospitals and police stations came up with when making the calls on the 6am to midday shift. Happy days.
Chris Dodd: You mean a Mynah bird – we had one which was taught to speak by my mother, with the result that he sounded indistinguishable from her. Unlike parrots they mimic their teacher’s exact voice. This often caused confusion to visitors and delivery men, especially when he said “What ARE you doing?”. Göran: I enjoyed this digression into the world of typewriters. It reminded me of my year at secretarial college in Winchester (England) 1974-5 just as the era of those was ending. It was run on strictly old fashioned lines for young ladies by a pair of genteel old ladies who lived together. Were they a “couple”? We girls were never quite sure! They made us use a whole variety of typewriters ranging from the earliest vintage Victorian ones to modern, and we had to spend a week on each so that we could get used to everything we might encounter in our careers, little knowing we would hardly ever use them at work because electric ones had just been invented. Remember golfballs? But as a foretaste of the future the college had a single electric typewriter which we got to practise on after mastering all the old ones. It seemed very strange with such sensitive keys compared to bashing out on non electric ones. All the keys on our typewriters were blanked out with white paper circles so that we had to touch-type or else! After a week they got pretty grubby so you had to peel them off and replace them all. If you needed to know what was on any key you could refer to a chart beside you. Only three mistakes allowed per page or you had to take it out and start again, so for one’s own self defence one became very accurate and I well remember the nuisance of erasing your mistake with Tippex liquid, then with a hard eraser on the carbon copy underneath as we weren’t allowed Tippex paper strips. Actually there is still a huge market for old manual typewriters in India. I have long known about the old men who set up their stalls in the street with their typewriters who type out documents for poor and/or illiterate people, especially outside courthouses.