The essentials: 20 unmissable typewriters

An object of memory now relegated to the niche of collectors, the typewriter opened up a new way of handling knowledge, accelerating economic growth and the evolution of social relations. Here are the most emblematic models that have marked its evolution in time.

It is often said that the objects that live longer are those capable of reshaping their function, adapting it over time. Unfortunately, this was not the case with the typewriter, an indispensable archetype for all those born in the short century that quickly vanished with the rise of the personal computer.

And yet, in spite of its very short lifespan, the impact of the typewriter on everyday life was unequalled. By standardising writing and making it increasingly accessible and fast thanks to the continuous technical implementation of its models, it structured the organisation of public administration, intensified commercial relations, and opened the door to a new, almost exclusively female, workforce. To accommodate the typewriter, the new offices were designed with large open spaces, where an army of typists typed their texts in unison, defining a hitherto unknown sound dimension around the practice of writing. A mass object par excellence, the typewriter entered the lives of many families, as well as the daily lives of almost all writers, each of whom grew attached to a specific model, transforming it into a secular cult object for all the admirers.

Although widespread throughout the world - and even produced beyond the Iron Curtain or in non-aligned countries, where they were distinguished by curious national peculiarities – their production was reserved above all for American or German companies, with a few notable exceptions - and here we should mention Olivetti - which contributed to differentiating the design, developing both bourgeois and popular models. Many designers took on the challenge of designing such an exquisitely technical object - think of Mario Bellini, George Nelson with the Editor 2, Ettore Sottsass, often accompanied by lesser-known but equally ingenious engineers - giving it an ever-changing identity and vision of its use.

Today, the typewriter appears to us cloaked in a distinctly nostalgic and retro aura, supplanted by the personal computer that inherited the keyboard: a legacy, that of the QWERTY keyboard - whose name derives from the order of the first six letters in the top left-hand row of the keyboard - that has become established everywhere in the western world, with very small national variations (French-speaking countries, for example, have the AZERTY, while the Germans adopt the QWERTZ). Yet, the impossibility of managing the hypertext imposed since the 1990s and of guaranteeing the continuous multitasking that the Internet has brought still makes it attractive, albeit only to a small niche of users. Deaf to the metal noise, triggered by the temptation of social networks and the like, electronic typewriters remain the last bastion of defence of the sacredness of writing, protecting the concentration - and ultimately dedication - that should always accompany it.

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