I just celebrated a not-insignificant milestone of a birthday (but I’m not telling which one). My girlfriends and I had decided that this year we were going to chip into a significant present for each other. Say, a piece of jewellery. The non-birthday girls would chip in a nominated amount, and anything above and beyond that would be contributed by she who was celebrating her birthday.
I couldn’t afford the Tiffany diamond ring I’ve been lusting after for all eternity, so I requested something else significant but that I probably wouldn’t buy for myself: an antique typewriter.
It was a big ask for my friends, I later realised, as they had to scour antique stores and online sales and find out what a reasonable price was for such a thing. Coincidentally, it was announced earlier this year that the last ever typewriter factory was shutting its doors, so typewriter values may have immediately astronomically increased.
I also didn’t give my friends a whole lot of help, stipulating vaguely only that if the typewriter were old and metal, I was pretty much guaranteed to like it. What they found (and what they gave me just last Saturday) was this masterpiece:
I honestly couldn’t have imagined a more perfect typewriter. It now sits front and centre in my lounge room and I’ve sat entranced examining its every detail—is it possible to be in love with an inanimate object? I’ve googled it too.
The typewriter’s an Underwood, a name that until Saturday meant nothing to me. I think it’s a No. 5, the most common but also the most iconic of the Underwood typewriter models (if you’re a typewriter expert and I have this wrong, please feel free to correct me). Here’s what I’ve found out (in no particular order):
- The Underwood family used to make typewriter ribbons and carbon paper for then typewriter manufacturer Remington. When Remington decided to make their own ribbon and carbon paper, the Underwoods decided to make their own typewriters.
- The first Underwood typewriters they made were called ‘No. 1s’ and ‘No. 2s’. Sorry, but it did make me teehee.
- The No. 5 was the most successful (and recognisable) typewriter of all time.
- Underwood typewriters appear often in pop culture, including (if Wikipedia is to be believed):
- In the 1991 Coen Brothers film Barton Fink, the character Jack Warner says: ‘Actors? Schmucks. Screenwriters? Schmucks with Underwoods.’
- In Catch Me If You Can, which starred Leonardo Di Caprio, Carl Hanratty says he made a forged cheque with ‘a stencil machine and an Underwood’.
- Jessica Fletcher, the main character in Murder She Wrote, used an Underwood typewriter.
- Authors William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald used Underwoods.
- To Kill A Mockingbird character Mr Underwood types on a typewriter all day.
- Award-winning Australian film Mary and Max features an Underwood.
- Video game BioShock refers to ‘Under Tree’, a comical reference to ‘Underwood’.
Did I mention that I love this typewriter? Sure, I’ll never use it. In fact, I’ll never even move it from its resting/display place, having discovered just how entirely, unfathomably, made-from-buckets-of-metal heavy it is. But I will love and adore it. Besides, surely owning an antique typewriter makes me more inspired, talented, and writerly?