Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Friday Slide Show: Antique Underwood Portable Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

15 June 2018

We were in the third grade. Don Belli and your editor made a pact to each type up our class projects. We had somehow been assigned the city of Stockton, the largest inland port. We'd written to the Chamber of Commerce for information and just had to type it up.

Stockton. Among the very first words we ever typed. On that brown newsprint used for drafts at the office where our father worked as a journalist.

Mom wanted us to learn how to touch type first. She had the instruction books. But we were in a hurry. Touch typing was an acquired skill, which we did acquire, long before our sophomore year in high school when the Junior Varsity football coach would reveal typing (not Physics, not Latin) was the one thing former grads most wish they had been taught.

Belli and your editor both astonished our third grade teacher with our typewritten reports. The only ones in the class. And we never looked back.

We typed that report on a sleek portable Underwood Mom had bought Dad as a present when they were dating. It's still in her basement.

Sometime in high school, when we worked at the magazine Dad edited, we adopted one of the retired standard Underwoods that had been an office workhorse. Electric typewriters had become the standard by then and an old manual was hardly even a curiosity. A few of them were still stored in the shop, moved only by the vibrations of the offset presses and folders.

That makes our portable nearly 100 years old. It's about time it sat for a portrait.

That makes our portable nearly 100 years old. It's about time it sat for a portrait.

We took it home, graduated from high school, took it to college, wrote some beautiful papers (one of which got us a summer on the Italian Riviera) and shipped it to Hawaii for graduate school.

We never liked electric typewriters. We knew a manual typewriter would last forever (it's still here by the window).

But would our knuckles? Early on we suspected the constant pounding it took to produce words on the page would wear away whatever irreplaceable tissues kept our finger bones from banging into each other.

So we bought a computer with a nice electronic keyboard that let us merely float over the keys to make words. A DEC Rainbow running WordStar under CP/M. Loved it.

But it wasn't portable. So when Mom saw a portable Underwood at a school auction, she jumped on it and gave it to us. Continuing a family tradition, you might say.

We suspect it had been used by missionaries in China to write sermons. But we resurrected it to write poetry. And it's still here, under the drawing table, daring our still-functioning fingers to have a go at it.

It's a tiny thing, thanks to having just three rows of keys. Each metal key has three characters on it. One for just the lowercase letter, one for Figures and one for Caps. An innovation designed by Lee Spear Burridge, who unfortunately did not live to see his design in production.

Burridge, who was born in Paris on Sept. 22, 1861, died in New York City on May 4, 1915. His design was patented Jan. 28, 1919, the application filed by the executor of his estate, his brother Francis.

That makes our portable nearly 100 years old. It's about time it sat for a portrait.

We shot it several ways.

We waited until darkness fell, then detached the Underwood from its case by unscrewing two screws under the keyboard and sliding it forward. We put it on our light table and used the Flexi macro flash to highlight the features we were shooting.

The Flexi didn't have enough oomphf to compete with the fluorescents in the light table but that was part of the fun of composing the shots.

We used the Olympus E-PL1 with the kit lens at first, then switched to the Lensbaby Tilt Composer and added a couple of close-up converters. Beauty, after all, is in the details.

The next day we shot it again with some paper in it under diffused sunlight. Less glamorous, perhaps, but more real. The slide show is a mix of both shoots.

We've clattered through life on many more electronic keyboards than the three Underwoods that got us going, skipping electric typewriters almost completely. And while we've dabbled with dictation on macOS, we actually prefer to bang away (lightly) on the piano, as Dad used to call it.

It's still music to our ears.

BackBack to Photo Corners