Cormac McCarthy’s old typewriter

I’m a bit of a collector of vintage technology, mainly cine cameras (started off with my grandfather’s lovely-looking Quarz M, which he ceremoniously presented to me just before I started film school, and which has sat on my shelf, unused, ever since), and handheld LCD games (these were a major craze when I was growing up, and all my friends had a selection of them, and I never did, so I’m catching up now). For practical reasons, these are excellent things to collect: the LCD games are still kicking around at the back of draws and in attics, they don’t take up much room, and they offer much variety, rarity, and oddity for really keen collectors. The cameras, meanwhile, are, for the most part, beautifully-engineered objects which really stand the test of time, but have fallen out of use, which means you can pick them up surprisingly cheaply. The cameras and games are in a display cabinet in my office, which means that I’ve become known as a collector of obsolete technology at work, and every once in a while colleagues and students bring in old cine cameras, games consoles, and random old objects like photo cameras and mobile phones. The “vintage objects corner” keeps growing.

Anyway, for a while now I’ve been contemplating branching out into collecting vintage typewriters. Like the cine cameras, these appeal because they are beautifully-engineered objects which facilitated communication, and like the cine cameras, they’ve become obsolete while remaining functional. Unlike the objects I’ve been collecting up til now, typewriters take up quite a lot of space, which is why I’ve been holding back. I do my research on collecting vintage typewriters, I admire gorgeous examples on ebay, I sometimes buy cute typewriter jewellery, but I haven’t yet started an actual collection.

Which is why today’s news that Cormac McCarthy’s old typewriter is up for auction piqued my interest. From Christie’s description:

In the accompanying letter of authentication McCarthy writes that he “typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not yet published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of fifty years…”

He bought it in a Knoxville, Tennessee pawnshop “in the fall of 1958. I paid fifty dollars for it… It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station airhose and by the fall of 2009 it was beginning to show serious signs of wear.” His friend and colleague at the Santa Fe Institute, John Miller, offered to buy him a new one, “which he did. Then he asked what I intended to do with the old one and I said I didn’t know and he said: Why don’t you auction it off and give the proceeds to the Institute? I thought that was a good idea…”

McCarthy's typewriter

The picture is from Gizmodo, whose post about McCarthy’s typewriter closes with words which tap into both my own fascination with old technology, and with TOTeM’s focus on the intrinsic significance of objects:

Despite the lack of maintenance given to the gadget, it’s easy to see that he has a genuine attachment to it, both in his words and in what he’s doing. Then again, I guess we’ve all got some piece of old school tech that we’re sentimental over, don’t we?

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