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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back in the day: Typing erasers

Lately I have been faithfully reading a very nice blog by vintage typewriter enthusiast Ton S. called I dream lo-tech, which is bringing back all sorts of memories for me, as well as continually educating me about all the beautiful old typewriters still out there to be found. I highly recommend this blog as a fascinating look at another area of vintage collecting.

Remington Star-Tab

I learned to type on a manual typewriter back in 1964, and subsequently started my education career in the early 70s as a secondary English teacher/typing teacher. (It was a very small school, and I taught 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade English...and one class of typing. Yes, you young teachers...7 preps!)

I was reading Ton's blog the other day and started thinking about all the changes I've seen in typing/keyboarding over my lifetime. Learning on Underwood and Remington manuals, thinking I was in heaven when I got my first IBM Selectric, moving up to an Apple IIe, buying my first laptop (which was like learning to use a computer all over again)...and now being tempted by my SIL's iPad 2 to have one of my own.

As I reminisced, I started to think about correction fluid, correction paper and typewriters with correction tape built in. My mind naturally drifted back to the even earlier terrible-old-days of multiple copies made with carbon paper and to the use of typewriter erasers...which I arduously labored to teach my students to use so their erasures were almost imperceptible and didn't leave holes in their paper. "Huh?," you ask. To some of you who are much younger than I, most of this sounds like Dark Ages stuff.

I realized that I possess a completely obsolete skill. I can make a perfect erasure...and teach others to do the same, which is just about as impressive on a résumé as saying you're an expert streetlamp lighter. I started to wonder if typing erasers are even produced anymore. (At this point, I could tell you about what a procrastinator I was in college and having to take a portable typewriter with me on my honeymoon so I could type a 20-page term paper..with carbon copies...and the slightly disgusted look my new husband got from the motel clerk when he asked to borrow a typing eraser in the middle of the night, but that would be a major digression...and I never digress. Just ask anyone.)

I did a little research (Big surprise?) and found that indeed they are still produced. For you youngsters who have never seen a typing eraser, here's the kind I recommended to my former students, who no doubt are cringing if they're reading this.

An even older version, which was much harder to use, was this Eberhard Faber eraser.

So, OK...I'll quit beating around the bush. What I've been hinting at is this: Do any of you know how to get me booked on Letterman for a Stupid Human Tricks segment? I really can make a perfect erasure.


  1. I have very vague memories of using an IBM selectric, which I thought was about as cool as it got. I remember it was a lot louder than I thought it was going to be.
    You might get a kick out of this story, a Florida university put out a copy of their student newspaper using only analog tech:

  2. @Nick Klaus: That was a great story. It brought back even more memories of my early teaching years...cutting stencils for the mimeograph machine...typing tests to reproduce on the spirit duplicator machine and having to scrape off mistakes with an X-acto knife and getting purple waxy stuff all over my hands...the smell of the cold the paper felt when it first came out of the machine. That even sounds like Dark Ages stuff to me!

  3. Love it - my parents had that roller kind that I would sit at my dad's big roll top desk and play with. I knew it was for type writers but no one ever used the typewriter or the eraser (until, like most good girls of my age, I took typing in high school and they bought me a fancy typewriter - with an automatic return!)

  4. @DearHelenHartman: I very well remember the turquoise portable typewriter my parents bought for me as I headed off to college. I put a lot of miles on that thing.

  5. i am fascinated when i see typewriters..being born in the computer generation (486) and later, I had no clue my mom used to type before we got the first computer home, incidentally she was a teacher too :)

  6. I get really excited when i see typewriters in some homes..i never used then, my mom says it was lot harder compared to the electric ones, and then the computer keyboards are actually a breeze..should count our blessings :)

  7. Dana, many thanks for the mention, very kind of you!

    I do have two bottles of "Liquid Paper" and two Eberhard-type erasers. We're a disappearing breed, I tell you. And don't get me started with carbon paper!

    That said, I'm still here to convince you to get at least one decent typer and exercise your dormant skills. ( :

    TON S

  8. Dana,

    If you are ever in Vancouver BC stop into the Regional Assembly of Text where every Thursday night they host a letter writing club on numerous old typewriters. (see picture on the link) I haven't been yet, but the store is fantastic.

  9. @Reduce, Reuse and Rummage: I checked out the site, and it looks like so much fun. If I ever get there, I'll be sure to check it out.

  10. When I hear people complain that they can't type on a computer (Andy Rooney, I'm talking to you) I wonder what part of trying to correct errors that they can't let go of? I ADORE typing on the computer and I know it has improved my writing 100%. I can cut and paste with ease and spell check is a savior. The young will never know what we went through, but I don't begrudge them one bit. Typewriters sound great but no one will ever take my computer away from me, ever.

  11. @suzieQ: I'm tempted to buy a manual typewriter for the sake of nostalgia, but I'm with you. I'll never go back to using a typewriter to create long documents that require correcting/editing. I paid my dues back in the 60s and 70s.