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Write? No, Caligraph!

Historians have observed that if the American Writing Machine Company had been successful with the Caligrpah, we wouldn’t be collecting typewriters. We’d be collecting caligraphs. Only, I’m not persuaded. The Caligraph may well have been good invention, but it was not ideal.

Throughout the 1800s, inventors advanced hundreds of designs for mechanical writing machines, and some were quite exceptional. Consider the Hansen Writing Ball, which preceded the Type Writer by a few years. The Writing Ball was well made, but not so well designed as to establish itself as the market leader. Instead, the simplicity and functionality of the Sholes & Glidden, with QWERTY keyboard, dominated the field.

The Caligraph and Writing Ball were close seconds.

In the early 1880s, though, the dominant design had not yet been decided, and many retailers pushed hard for the Caligraph. Wrote one sales agent, “Pen paralysis comes to those who use the pen and ink process. When such men have to discard the pen they resort to the Caligraph because it is so easy to learn, needs no repairs, and produces the best work.”

If only the Caligraph could have realized those claims.


From the Daily Pacific Commercial Advertiser (Honolulu, Hawaii), Dec. 4, 1893.

Postscript: By 1887, the “Type Writer” was so dominant that even the Caligraph became a “type writer,” as in the image at the top of this post, from an advertisement in the Dallas Daily Herald (Dallas, Texas), June 29, 1887.

© 2016, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


What typewriter is this?

Every now and then, I get a request from a reader, inquiring about a particular machine. “What is it?” they ask. “Is it valuable?” My first reaction is to wonder why they haven’t Googled it, but then I relent. A few clicks later, boom, I’ve got an answer.

Rewind to 1947. Some soul finds an odd-looking machine in storage and wonders about its history. In the days before Google, citizens wrote their local newspapers, who in turn wrote their readers. Such was the case for a recovered Calligraph, which stumped everyone including the resourceful minds at the Waxahachie Daily Light. “Its origin, its history is unknown,” wrote the paper. “All that remains is a description” — which they amply provide.

The paper concludes with the following thought:

“With a scrub brush and patience, the old machine might have possibilities. And though it can’t write its own forgotten lore, it might, with the dust shaken from its interior, serve a new generation.”

Here’s the article:

From The Waxahachie Daily Light (Waxahachie, Texas), Aug. 29, 1947.

© 2016, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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The song is “Run” by Tiggs Da Author featuring Lady Leshurr. Catchy. The first six seconds of the commercial feature a string of typewriters. Can you name them?

Also, goodbye QWERTY? According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple is working on a new keyboard:

Although the Apple keyboard would be a standard feature, it is likely to hold added appeal to those who frequently type in more than one language, including people in international business and students. People who use software with specialized commands, such as graphic designers and gamers, are also expected to welcome the versatility of the device.

For everyday users, the new keyboard would also make it easy for people to spice up their communications with emojis and other symbolic substitutes for words, which have gained widespread popularity through the spread of smartphones and social networking apps.

It’s Goodbye QWERTY, Hello Emojis as Apple Rethinks the Keyboard (Wall Street Journal)

© 2016, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.