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Our Typewriters

manual typewriters on bookshelves

People wonder aloud to a surprising degree about our extensive and nationally celebrated typewriter collection.   

And while we curate the collection with as much care as if we’d sought them out and bought them with money out of our own pockets, they have actually come to us for free, one by one, for at least the last 30 years.

It started with Roger putting three of his own typewriters on top of the reference section—which was where bestselling hardcover fiction is now. People would notice them and say “I have one of those-- I should bring it in." And they did. 

Some came to us with storied stories— recollections of the click and clack of college or high school days past, or a mom typing term-papers late into the night. One of these belonged to a guy named Joe Bear. One was bequeathed to us in honor of a former MI Reporter Editor, another guy had written a sports book on his--It has large print key covers that you could buy in those days--they fit right over the regular keybuttons.   There is one, built in Germany in 1938, that was retro-fitted with nine Lithuanian special character keys. One of these typewriters broke somebody’s toe.

But mainly the typewriters have come from people who were mostly just glad to have finally lugged the dusty contraption out of their basements, into and out of their cars, and were very ready indeed to plop the thing onto our counter without so much as a good-bye.

“Oh my god that’s an Underwood Number 5!” I once exclaimed, “Possibly the most celebrated typewriter in human history--They built a gigantic one for the Pacific Exped—” 

“Yeah-great-thanks” they said and “goodbye” and were gone. 

We would then blow off the first layer of dust, dab at it with a paper towel and a brush, fool around with the thing to test its functionality, then hoist it up onto a high shelf and remit it to this ever-growing and quite honestly astounding  collection of random typewriters in varying conditions, which, as of last month, consists of 79 machines manufactured as early as 1892 and one as recently as 2019. But before you ask--They are not for sale. They are a community treasure and we are a Museum of Quaint (if Heavy) Antiquated Typological /Typographical Technology History (QIHAT/TTH*+**). We NEVER turn away a donation to our collection.  But we do have limited display space, favor mechanical typewriters over electric and are not at all equipped to house those gigantic IBM Selectrics even while we bow to their monstrositous*** ingenuity. 

 All of that said, a little over a year ago, along came Anna.  Anna is a high school student from Issaquah who came to us seeking an internship. She was interested in out-of-print books and that’s kind of one of the things that I do here so I said YES! and YAY!!!  An opportunity to bore a teen who will convincingly feign interest in the minutiae of publishing history that I can still remember sounds like a great way to spend a couple of hours a week!   

As it turned out, Anna was more interested in the typewriters than in the minutiae I can recall of publishing history and we decided to take on the Island Books Typewriter Collection instead. We would clean them, lubricate them and learn how to fix them. We would find their serial numbers and date, map, and catalogue them. I’d been wanting to get my head around this collection for a while—for years really—Anna brought a fresh interest to the task and her internship hours created a space in time to start doing it--Thank you Anna! You will see us here most Thursday afternoons and the occasional Sunday taking photos and lugging typewriters around. Please feel free to interrupt us for a tour or a tutorial. We never tire of talking about typewriters--Though we’ve been known to segue into book talk from time to time.


*I offer this for ease of reference going forward. 

** “+” indicates inclusion of the Burlington Calculator, Comptometer, Stenograph, and Rolodex Card File in our collection. 

***I will not back down on this magnificent word construction so don’t even try to take it up with me. 


Cindy and Anna working on typewriters in the back room

The elves (aka Cindy and Anna) in their workshop on Typewriter Fixation Day!