Writing before computers

At Market Lavington Museum, we change some of our displays each year. A new display for 2019 was about writing before the days of computers and printers.

Typewriters provided the means to produce print, though there were no options to adjust the font or its size. With no printer to run off multiple copies, the typist had two options. For a small number of copies, sheets of carbon paper (see the red pack on the left of the display) were sandwiched between white paper and the pressure of the keys hitting the top sheet would transfer the letter shapes to the pages below. Often thin bank paper was used for the carbon copies, whilst the top copy on thicker paper was the one that would be sent to the addressee.

When more than a few copies were required, the typist would remove the inky ribbon from the machine and cut a stencil. (See the far right of the display.) The stencil would then be fitted onto the office Gestetner machine. Turning a handle allowed ink to pass through the letter shapes cut into the stencil skin and onto multiple sheets of paper, one at a time.

We have several typewriters in the museum. The one on display here is unusual as its keys are arranged in two areas to the left and right, rather than in a semicircle.

The keys will seem familiar to computer users. They are arranged in the same order and give the options of capital or lower case letters and some numbers and symbols.

The typewriter here dates from 1931 and was used by James Welch, who lived at Spring Villa on The Spring in Market Lavington and who was the father of the founder of our museum. Typewriter ribbons were often in red and black so that deficits could be clearly seen in typewritten accounts.

When this display is replaced by a new one, the typewriter will be returned to its large metal carrying case.

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