The Shannon L. Johnson Typewriter Collection, a tribute to typewriters and their makers.

Now That It's Keytops!

- Rev. Billy Awesome

23 May 2003

A recent discussion among friends of the potential peril and impropriety (or dare I say it, blasphemy and scandal) of dismantling a perfectly good (or almost perfectly good) typewriter with the dubious/nefarious intent of selling the newly liberated component parts as jewelry, adornment, and other such gew-gaws stoked a fire within that I hadn't suspected was burning, smoldering, or even dry, tin dry, and spark-prone. What is the proper path, anyway? Is there any sin in chopping up something someone else might love?

I would suppose the trouble would lie right around the same place trouble comes up for anything that doesn't necessarily have a value of its own, and has suddenly been proffered one by a group of people, the vagaries of whom dictate its value in a baffling spiral of want/don't want, is such a thing/is barely such a thing/ain't barely such a thing/can't possibly be such a thing fluctuation, especially when said group has been considering such questions long enough to pick up a fairly dense and lengthy lexicon of shop talk, and especially when they've scoured their local haunts and treasure-troves with a fine enough pad of Trust Us, We're Experts/Buyer Beware brand steel wool to have more or less exhausted the easy finds. When your stable's full of commons, you pick up an eye for the fancies. Or a fancy for the eyefuls.

Still now, though; Which is more fun:

Buying a dirty-but-all-there-and-all-working-and-pretty-much-mint-except-it-could-use-a-dusting-and-some-oil Bing from some poor soul at a tag sale who doesn't know any better to ask 25 or 30 dollars (and then sweet-talking it into the fold for 15), or paying "market" price for it from the lady or gentleman with the decks and shelves and subterranean reserves of pristine examples of early 20th century writing machinery in orderly rows behind him/her?

Tell the truth, now.

So ok, what's keeping that poor soul, at the end of a long, hot, summer day, when the sun's sinking low, the lemonade's long since run out, and no one with watchful collectors' eyes has shown up, from parting the lovely beastie out, if it's "not even worth haggling down from 25 dollars?"

A fistful of quarters, after all...

The gol'durned thing ain't worth a nickel if you've gotta lug it up three flights of stairs to your new apartment, and you don't know where you'll put it once you catch your breath at the top of 'em.

We might have reached (or might soon be reaching) that point, I posit, where as-close-as-we-can-get amalgamations are the most reasonable thing to hope for, outside occasional spectacular discoveries. There were only so many bought to begin with, after all, and our imaginary tag sale hero can't possibly be the first person to have thought "just getting it out from underfoot is a fair price to me." And I'm fairly well ok with that, for the most part. I'd be happy with something that has the general shape of a Bing, and says "Bing" somewhere on it, in official factory decal font (or heck, unauthorized facsimile, if someone loves the fool things enough to go around forging Bing decals), and is capable of writing an occasional letter (or ideally, a bazillion of them) to my dearest loved ones. I'm fast friends with the cobbler, is what I mean to say.

And I'd probably wear a pair of typewriter-key cufflinks, if I had them, or I'd certainly button a favorite shirt or jacket with keytops, if I had the energy to sew them on (I'd definitely wear a keytop-buttoned shirt or jacket if I found it at the Salvation Army one day).

What gripes me up one side and down the other is the fact that this horrible vicious monster is out there, telling everybody in the WholeWideWorld that everything and anything is worth money, and hey, we'll bring the rubes to you, and just take a cut of the winnings for our trouble, and breeding this mentality that the (preferably Highest, barring that, Reserve Met, or in a pinch, Buy-It-Now) dollar value is the biggest reason why anyone would give a fig (flying or otherwise) about anything. Or, I guess possibly what irks me most is that the miracle of technology has managed to bring the absolute worst part of the flea market to the forefront, the part I blaze by barely looking, right smack into my own home or (when I'm bored and confident the boss ain't lookin', office). The thrift store has gotten a lot less fun since I've started secretly wishing I had a Super Secret Agent Internet Connect Watch that I could use to check the current action of whatever I stumble across, and even less fun since I've started secretly suspecting that other, shrewder folk than I may have been sniffing about with just such a watch on their wrists only minutes before I got there, scabbing up everything I wouldn't have even thought I'd particularly wanted until the concept of high-stakes resale value occurred to me.

It hurts sometimes to know you're helping breed the buzzards, 'cause when they grow up you know they're going to feed.

Here's to all our earrings, cufflinks, doorbell buzzers, and fancy-mailbox-sign inlays coming from lowly Quiet Deluxes, with their platens already cracked, their drawstrings already frayed, and with big dents and scratches down one side to boot.

And the grasshopper action unscathed.

Rev. Billy Awesome is a typewriter collector. This essay came out of a posting to an email group. The origional recieved the red pen treatment from Billy and the result is above.

"Jekh dilo kerel but dile hai but dile keren dilimata."

Text copyright © 2003 Rev. Billy Awesome.


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