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Francesco Rampazetto and the Scrittura Tattile

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Francesco Rampazetto was an Italian printer, noted for his edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. He was also a member of a printers guild.

Earliest typewriter?

In 2014, Francesco Rampazetto reentered the typewriter narrative when the Museo Dinamico Della Technologigia A. Olivetti posted a blog entry asserting Rampazetto as the inventor of the earliest typewriter:

The first attempt, of which we have knowledge, unanimously recognized, to build a typewriter, which replaced the common handwriting, dates back to 1575. The Italian typographer and publisher, active in Venice, Francesco Rampazetto, designs a mechanical device with the intent to allow the blind to communicate with each other and with others. It was a rudimentary mechanism consisting of cube-shaped pieces of wood, bearing characters in relief. – link

By this account, Rampazetto precedes, by nearly 140 years, the Englishman Henry Mill, who patented a mechanical writing machine in 1714.

Subsequent to the museum’s posting, a slew of bloggers published articles asserting Rampazetto as the inventor of the earliest typewriter. Wikipedia references the museum’s post and places Rampazetto first in its list of inventors.

But did he invent or even design a machine called the Scrittura Tattile?

Documentation lacking

Problematically, there is no documentation for such an invention. No patent. No image. No primary source documents. The earliest reference to Rampazetto’s device is a 1924 article in Il Carrorcio, an Italian-language American magazine, which wrote (translated by Google):

The idea of replacing handwriting with typing first arose in favor of the blind From the Roman Rampazzetto 1575 who was the first in the world to try to make the blind correspond to seers by means of a special tactile writing on a species of nuts.1

The magazine cited a pamphlet by Count Emilio Budan of Venice, which was published in 1911: “J Precursori delle moderne macchine da scrivere” or “Precursors of the modern typewriter.” While that document was frequently quoted in subsequent narratives, those sources omit that Budan mentions Rampazetto and indicate that the narrative begins in 1713 with Henry Mill.

The pamphlet is apparently available in some libraries, but none of which I have access.

Il Carroccio cited Budan’s pamphlet previously in 1916 but did not mention Rampazetto. Nor did the magazine mention Rampazetto in 1923, when once more it cited Budan’s pamphlet. The 1924 article, containing one sentence about the 1575 invention, appears to be the only source for the claim.

Budan wrote at least two pamphlets, but none apparently covers any history before 1714. The following is from Typewriter Topics (1907):

Conclusion

That Francesco Rampazetto invented any type of writing machine is doubtful, though it is worth exploring why and how his name came to be associated with the invention. It is evident that many individuals attempted to design a writing machine through the ages, and it is possible that this Italian printer ranks among them, but until further documentation can be provided, Henry Mill ranks first.

Note: A biography of Rampazetto can be found on this page – click here.

1924 source

Il Carroccio (New York), July 1924 –

Il Carroccio (New York), 1923 –

© 2021, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

  1. Edited: Google Translate finished the sentence with “to the Nob,” but, as Richard Polt noted in his comment, “Nob” attaches to the following clause as a title for the next inventor. []
{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Bill M July 13, 2021, 10:56 am

    Interesting.
    I need to spend some time later today reading the sited articles. I’ll find out if I recall enough Italian to understand them.

  • Richard P July 14, 2021, 5:26 pm

    Very questionable, and it depends on what you mean by a typewriter … According to Google Translate, dado (pl. dadi) can have several meanings. One is “nuts,” but in this case I think the right translation is “matrices,” “molds,” or “dies.” “Nob.” is short for Nobile, nobleman — a title for Pellegrino Turri.

    • Mark Adams July 14, 2021, 7:16 pm

      Prior to the Scholes & Glidden machine, I’d say that a “typewriter” is loosely any mechanical instrument for writing. Sometimes I prefer the term “proto-typewriter.” I sent out an inquiry to the museum, asking for their source for this information about Rampazetto, but I have not heard back from them yet. Somehow his name came to be associated with the invention, and I’d like to know how. Some of the pieces fit: he was a printer and there are other printers who contrived writing devices for the blind. There most be some earlier source document that will either confirm that he did assemble or design such a machine, or that some detail has been misconstrued. I wish I had access to Budan’s pamphlet.

      Also, I’ll edit the quotation. “Nob” is the title, not a descriptive element.

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