Posts by Dr. Boli



A well-used machine ready to be well-used for another 75 years or so.



Wikipedia on G. C. Murphy, the five-and-dime empire based in McKeesport.

Alger Hiss, Richard Nixon, and the Woodstock typewriter.

There is no article on the Woodstock typewriter in Wikipedia. There is an article on Woodstock, Tasmania (population 33), but no article on the Woodstock typewriter. If you are listening, Typosphere, take note. Expert attention is required.


From our occasional Department of Things Everyone Knows:

In the days of typewriters, every American knew that there were two “pitches” of type: Pica and Elite. The “pitch” was the number of characters per inch of typed text. Pica, the standard for most work, was ten characters per inch. Elite, often preferred for correspondence because of its neater appearance single-spaced, was twelve characters per inch.

Like most facts every American knows, this fact is wrong, because it relies on limited American experience. Once you cross the Atlantic, all bets are off, as we can see in this comparison.


Top to bottom: Royal HH (Pica), Olympia SF, Royal Quiet De Luxe (Elite), Olivetti Valentine.

The Olympia is from West Germany; the Olivetti is from Italy. The Olympia writes at about eleven characters per inch; the Olivetti at eleven-and-a-half-ish. Why is this? Clearly it is because Germans and Italians do not use inches. They use foreign satanic Metric incantations to measure length. When you abandon the simple sanity of twelve inches to the foot, sixteen and a half feet to the rod, four rods to the chain, then everything falls apart, and you might as well do what you like.


My verse is free when it’s constrained.
It must be disciplined and trained
To ramble with abandoned glee:
    So true it is that freedom isn’t free.

That thought should take its wings from form
Is no exception, but the norm.
I cannot run without my feet
    (Which is a pun that’s really rather neat).

Through scribbling poems at last I’ve found
That freedom’s freest when it’s bound;
And what is true in poems is true
    Superlatively when I’m bound to you.

I’m only free to be the me
I think I really ought to be
If I am yours and you are mine.
    So—hem—well—will you be my valentine?


Dear Dr. Boli: What is the difference between a “milk shake” and a “thick shake”? —Sincerely, A Woman at the Drive-Through Window of the Burger Yurt with a Bunch of Cars Honking Behind Her.

Dear Madam: In most of the United States, a “milk shake” is a kind of semi-beverage made with milk, ice cream, and flavorings. In New England, it used to be that a “milk shake” was milk and flavorings, shaken, and if you wanted ice cream you would specify a frappe; but New England seems to have gradually conformed to the more general usage.

A “thick shake,” on the other hand, is largely made of thick, with occasional added ingredients such as brown or pink, or in extreme cases green.


The picture is titled “Emancipation,” from a history of the typewriter published for the machine’s fiftieth anniversary in 1923. It depicts Christopher Sholes, inventor of the practical modern typewriter, with his invention in front of him, dreaming of the myriads of women who will one day be set free by his creation.

“I feel that I have done something for the women who have always had to work so hard. This will enable them more easily to earn a living.” —Statement of Christopher Latham Sholes, inventor of the typewriter.

Say what you like about the drudgery of the modern office: it is nothing like the drudgery of nineteenth-century factory work, which was the usual choice for a woman who had to earn a living before the typewriter came along and opened up a world of comparatively dignified clerical positions.

The movement that we know by the name of “feminism” is undoubtedly the most significant and important social evolution of our time. The aims and aspirations behind this great movement need not detain us. Suffice it is to say that, like all great social movements, its cause and its aim have been primarily economic. What is known as “sex-emancipation” might almost be translated to read “economic emancipation”; at any rate it could only be attained through one means, namely, equal economic opportunity, and such opportunity could never have been won by mere statute or enactment. Before the aims of “feminism” could be achieved it was necessary that women should find and make this opportunity, and they found it in the writing machine.

Story of the Typewriter.

If anyone knows the name of the artist, Dr. Boli would be grateful to be enlightened. The half-tone reproduction in the book makes the signature illegible.


Who needs a Tesla when you can have this beautiful Ohio Electric?

Readers more familiar with the back alleys of science-fiction subgenres will doubtless be able to tell Dr. Boli the answer to this question, but he suspects he already knows it: Is there a genre of “electropunk” alternate-history fiction in which electric vehicles like this elegant machine won out over their gasoline-powered competitors, and we built a world of quiet and fume-free streets and occasional catastrophic spills of battery acid?





Compare the keyboard on the Monarch Pioneer (top) to the more standard keyboard on the Remington Portable.


The missing keys are reflected in missing typebars. The Pioneer (top) looks like a typewriter with some of its teeth knocked out.





Our frequent commenter “Martin the Mess” suggests a very reasonable use for typewriters with script faces:

When writing a novel or other fictional form where part of the text consists of letters written from one character to another (such as some of your own works), one might use a standard typeface for the non-epistolary parts and a script typeface for the letters when trying to show that the letter is (in-story) handwritten rather than typed. Or would your editor prefer you just include some sort of notation that the final published work should change fonts?

The answer to his question is that, in the days when most manuscripts were submitted typewritten, the editor would probably have preferred standard type with some sort of notation. And then the editor would have felt free to ignore the notation.

As a rule, the more books you sell, the more license you have for typographic vanity. A writer who has never been published before can expect the publisher to dictate how her words appear on the page. A writer whose previous book was at the top of the bestseller list for six months can submit a PDF in Comic Sans, with instructions that it is to be printed without alteration. Somewhere in the middle is the established moderately successful writer, whose suggestion of a different type for certain parts of the book will be taken into serious consideration and perhaps implemented if the designer does not threaten to resign.

But the editor would still have preferred standard type. In many establishments, even “Elite” type (twelve characters per inch, for readers who grew up after the typewriter age) was banned. Ten characters per inch, double-spaced, margins an inch wide—that was the rule. It made the casting-off—that is, the business of counting how many lines and pages a given amount of manuscript would take up—almost automatic. The more an author’s manuscript resembled the ideal manuscript template stamped in the editor’s mind, the more charitably the words in that manuscript would be read.

For a writer who did not have a firmly established relationship with the editor, the danger of using a script face for anything would be that the editor would throw the manuscript out on sight without even reading any comments as to why the script face was used. It would be safer just to type in ordinary Pica type and add a comment in parentheses to the effect that the epistolatory sections might be set in a different type. Then the editor might think for a while and grudgingly admit, “Maybe he can have italics.”