Does the Internet need another blog about typewriters?
Does the Internet need another blog about anything?
These are questions I’ve been asking myself over the last few months. As my interest in typewriters has grown over the last few years (and I will tell a bit of that tale in my next installment) I discovered the great blogs that make up the Typosphere (http://munk.org/typecast/the-typosphere-literally/), as well as Richard Polt’s excellent book, the Typewriter Revolution (https://typewriterrevolution.com/), which documents the resurgence of typewriter use and how the typewriter relates to, and is used in, the 21st century.
I’ve had a desire to participate, but didn’t know if there was a need, or room, to share my view. I am certainly not an expert, so what could I add? I benefit from the support and knowledge of the online typewriter community (particularly the various Antique Typewriter groups on Facebook), but I am not sure that I really have the ability to contribute very much. I don’t even consider myself a typewriter collector, although I have accumulated a number of machines. I use them to write, so I am primarily interested in them as a tool to achieve this. While I can appreciate a beautiful design in a typewriter, its ability to function for me is far more important. That being said, I do continue to pick up new machines to try out their differences with the ones I am familiar with.
As I pondered whether I had a place in the Typoshere I engaged in one of my other favorite technical interests: I drank a beer. A very good one, in fact! And gradually one of the side-effects of consuming alcohol kicked in, and I began to feel more confident, if not more qualified. My particular differentiation in the Blogopshere (or, if you will, my gimmick) came to me, as well – I could write about my experience in beer as well as my experience with typewriters, combining two of my great interests!
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
With that introduction, out of the way, on to my first two subjects…
The Hermes Baby
I thought I would start my voyage into the Typosphere with the typewriter that I think I’ve had the great personal connection with; a Hermes Baby. By the time I acquired this little typer, my first Hermes, my interest in typewriters was well on its way. I had read much about this famous brand of typewriters and I knew they were desirable not only to collectors for their interesting designs, but also to writers, who appreciated their quality construction, durability, and performance as writing machines.
While I knew of them, I’d never seen one in person. Mind you, at this point I wasn’t going out of my way to seek out typewriters, either. We just happened to be in an antique mall in Cookstown, Ontario, where I came across this one. It was tucked away, not easy to find, and the price tag was a little more than I wanted to pay for a typewriter. So I left it there, and went on my way.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it, though. It was such a cool-looking, neat, compact little machine, with its metal case lid and strong handle. The next day I went back and purchased it.
When I bought it I knew that it needed a little work. It didn’t type very well, the type bars got stuck a lot, the bell didn’t work. But the carriage return lever did turn the platen, so I knew all was not lost. And this brings me to one of the main reasons I loved this typewriter: It was the first one that I pulled apart and worked on. For that reason alone, it has a special place in my heart.
The good news was that the Baby was complete. Initially I thought something was really wrong with the bell (or perhaps it was missing), but it turned out that there were just some serious dust bunnies that were preventing the bell from ringing. In fact, the work it required was mostly cleaning or straightening bent pieces. Richard Polt’s book was a really valuable resource as I went through this process, it not only helped inform me but it gave me courage, as well!
I didn’t end up replacing anything aside from the ancient ribbon that had come with it. The cleaning was a lot of work, however, as it was filled with dirt, hair, and dead bugs. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t purchase a machine (or certainly pay so much for one) in that condition again. It was very fortunate that there was so little else wrong with it.
Once it was tuned up, the Hermes Baby was a surprisingly good typer. I loved the snappy, responsive feel, and the keystrokes didn’t feel as long as on my other typewriters. Uppercase type was just slightly out of alignment, but it was so minor that I didn’t even both to adjust it. It didn’t bother me. With a fresh ribbon (and cleaned type bars) it made great looking type.
As I understand it, Hermes really heavily influenced the development and design of truly “portable” typewriters with their introduction of the Featherweight in the 1930’s. The Featherweight became the Baby, and then the Rocket, and was later joined by larger portables in the 1950’s, including more famous model like the 2000 and 3000. These are sough-after machines now, but the Hermes brand was finished before the end of the 1970’s.
My Hermes Baby was made by E. Paillard & Co. in Switzerland. The Serial Number 325913 places it as a 1944 model, according to the Typewriter Database (http://typewriterdatabase.com). The small size, durable construction, and metal lid made these things popular tools for correspondents during the second World War. They truly do feel bullet-proof! I have heard that there are similar machines with tripod mounts on the case, for field use.
As I said earlier, I loved the physical act of typing on this type writer, and I used it to write a number of short stories. There were a couple of drawbacks for me, however.
The first, and most commonly mentioned shortfall was the very short return lever. This was corrected with later models, however. It wouldn’t be enough to turn me off of this typewriter on its own, because it works, but it really is a miss-step on an otherwise really well-designed device.
Second, this model didn’t have full double-spacing capability. I think the maximum is 1.5 spacing? For someone like myself, writing fiction, the spacing of this typewriter didn’t leave enough space for me to make notes between lines.
Finally, as you can see in the photos, while this was a QWERTY typewriter, it wasn’t until after I’d brought it home that I realized it was a Turkish model. This wouldn’t have been an issue for me, except that there were no double-quotations in the typeface! Much like the spacing issue mentioned above, if I were using this to write a diary, or letters, it probably wouldn’t be an issue. But most of my writing is fictional, so this became a nuisance.
As much as I hated to let it go, I did sell my very first Hermes Baby. I hope it is being used (and kept clean!) by its new owner, and that they enjoy it as much as I did.
La Trappe Tripel
What do you pair with a classic typewriter like the Hermes Baby? A classic beer, like La Trappe’s Tripel, of course!
When I think of Trappist beer, I think of beers like this one. Made by Koningshoeven Brewery, it is permitted to carry the Trappist name because has been brewed in a Trappist monastery under the supervision of the monastery’s monks. The history of this brewery goes back to the 1880’s (even older than the Hermes typewriter legacy!) when the monastery used funds raised through their production of beer to help pay for the abbey that was eventually built before the close of the 19th century. While it all sounds very old, the beer that I tasted here was really formally introduced in 1980, after they’d started using the moniker “La Trappe.”
My taste in beer generally leans toward ales, and typically big, bold, strong ales. Dark, heavy beers, or vibrantly hoppy, bitter beers, those are my favorites. This Tripel is very much in the strong ale category, and suits me just fine!
While it’s quite light in colour, it has full body and bursts with a complex combination of flavours. It has an aroma with hints of fruit, and this translates into some sweetness on the tongue, which is similar to other belgian-style beers. The hops offset this to a point, offseting the sweetness and fruity overtones with a well-balanced bitterness.
I love the way this beer feels when it rolls over my tongue. The carbonation is very moderate, and the initial sweetness and the malty flavours finish off more bitterly. It has a bit of a bite in its finish, but is very drinkable and doesn’t feel as strong as its alcohol content would suggest. There’s a reason this beer is available everywhere, and it’s not marketing – it is great!
In short, a wonderful beer to complement a wonderful typewriter! Thank you for reading, and for your patience if you’ve made it this far.