The collector: Martin Howard, Toronto, Canada.
The collection: I collect 19th century typewriters from 1880s and 1890s, which were the first years of global typewriter manufacturing. It was during these years that numerous ingenious and beautiful typewriters were made. The standard ‘modern’ typewriter design appeared in 1896 as the Underwood 1 and within half-a-dozen years, the fundamental age of discovery for the typewriter would be over and all typewriters would ostensibly look the same.
The story behind the collection...
While growing up I watched my dad, who is a research scientist, create all sorts of neat apparatus in his lab, which I thought was fantastic. On the home front, my father use to restore horse drawn carriages and sleighs. In the end, the garden had about eight such objects scattered about. I was drawn in by his fascination with these objects and the pleasure he derived from doing this hands-on work in restoring them.
While inside my parents house the basement was slowly filling up with all sorts of intriguing antique tools, such as medical equipment, farm, and trade tools. I loved the quality of these old tools and the feel and look of them too.
So the seeds were sewn. When I was in my late twenties, I decided that I needed to find something to collect. I set myself the following criteria: the object was not to be too large, it needed to be mechanical, from the 19th century, have great variety in design, and be something that very few others collected. After two years of being alert to this challenge, I found an early typewriter (Caligraph 2, 1885) in a junk shop. It was in terrible condition but very strange and intriguing. I paid $100 without hesitation, took it home and started to take it apart to explore and restore. My search was over.
Do you have a favourite?
My favorite find would be the first ‘top shelf’ early typewriter to come into my collection, the Columbia 2. I had left my calling card at an antique store one hour away from Toronto and received a call from them one evening, asking if I was interested in a Columbia typewriter. Well I was in my car driving to them right away, with my broken muffler making my car sound like a rocket engine. This example of the Columbia 2 is considered to be one of the best examples of this rare and beautiful typewriter in the world.
Is there anything missing from your collection that you would love to add?
I would love to add a Sholes & Glidden typewriter to my collection. The Sholes & Glidden was the first commercially successful typewriter. It was manufactured by The Remington Typewriter Co. (USA) and appeared in 1874. It took a number of years for this expensive machine (at $125, horse drawn carriages cost between $30 and $70) to catch on but towards the end of the 1870s this revolutionary machine was no longer seen as a novelty but as an indispensable machine for business. Competition arrived in 1881 and as I have mentioned, for the next 20 years there was an incredible explosion of strange and wonderful typewriters appearing on the market.
How many do you have?
I am very judicious on the typewriters that become a part of my collection. I seek the earliest and best examples and do not seek multiple examples of the same model. After 20 years of collecting, I have 75 typewriters and add about two typewriters to the collection each year.
Martin was also recently featured on a Toronto TV morning show talking about his collection.
All images © Martin Howard and used with his kind permission.
Finding Typewriter History in Paris - a blog post by Norman Ball who is currently collaborating with Martin on a book about early typewriters and the stories they tell.