Category Archives: Lost Arts

Vanishing Breed: World’s Last Typewriter Factory Closes its Doors

Hold on to your ribbons and keys: The world’s last typewriter factory, located in Mumbai, India, is closing its doors. As late as 2009, the factory, Godrej and Boyce, was still rolling out 10-12, 000 machines a year (down from 50,000 a year in the 90s). But the ubiquitous computer just proved too much for it.

The concept of impressing ink-coated letters onto paper may date to a 1714 English patent held by Henry Mill. The first working typewriter was said to have been built in 1808 by Italian Pellegrino Turri. Our current typewriters (and computer keyboards) owe the most debt to the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, produced in New York, beginning in 1873, from gunmakers E. Remington & Sons. Some of you may still have Remington manual typewriters.

Sholes, a newspaperman from Wisconsin, created the QWERTY keyboard that we still use today. The first one made only capital letters. There is more early typewriter history on this excellent site. This is another great site featuring lots of pictures and information about different models of early typewriters, from American Visible to World.

U.S. typewriter production was dominated by just four brands — Underwood, Royal, Remington and Smith-Corona — from the 1920s until they stopped production. Remington, then Remington-Rand, moved production to Europe in 1961. The last Smith-Corona and Royal typewriters came out in the 1970s. Underwood merged with Olivetti in 1963 and began diversifying. The last Olivetti portable typewriter was produced in Spain in the 1980s.

Though I typed a “novel” on a manual typewriter in 6th grade ( a tome in which terrible fates befell the fictional denizens of an elementary school, truth be told), and learned manual typing from typing teacher Stella Staley to prepare for high school, for most of high school I typed papers on a series of lovely IBM Selectrics. These were probably the slightly outdated castoffs from my parents’ ad agency office, but still — they were quite sleek, in lovely colors (robins egg blue or gunmetal gray), and they had fascinating metal balls that spun around to find the designated letter. Best? You could change the font by changing out the ball. (I also remember the change-over from white-out to type-out correction paper.) It turns out IBMs had been somewhat stylish (and electric) since the 1930s.

Now, of course, there is a collectors’ market for typewriter ribbons and other accessories, not to mention the typewriters themselves. And while news of this last typewriter rolling off the factory belt may hit some of us with an odd sense of surprise and nostalgia, I note that the same keyboard from almost 150 years ago is still with us, and that some people (even in high schools today) continue to say “typing” rather than the duller-sounding “keyboarding” or, God forbid, “word processing”.

This wistful change brings both and “end of an era” feeling and the notion that I personally can’t imagine how long-form writers ever typed complete novels without the luxury of inserting, deleting, copying and pasting at will — even if I once tried it myself.

Be sure to see: The typewriter dance number.

This just in: Some typewriters are apparently still being made, in the U.S., for the prison market. So, perhaps more accurately, the world’s second to last typewriter factory closed its doors.

Photos: IBM typewriter ads, top to bottom, Model Year 1954, 1930, 1948, 1948, 1959, 1967. These and many more on etypewriters.com. Early writing ball typewriter, 1903 Remington ad and popular 1920s Underwood 5 manual typewriter on this typewriter history site. Later Underwood 5 typewriter on Wikimedia Commons.

In GPS Era, Map Reading Skills a Lost Art

This article relates a tale that is no doubt being played out all over the developed world:

Two college students playing in an out-of-town hockey tournament went out to eat with their parents after a late game, but the restaurant they picked had just closed its kitchen.

“There’s another place just a few blocks away,” the hostess said helpfully. “Take a left out of the parking lot, go two blocks, turn right and go one block.”

The parents and the players retreated to their separate cars. When the players sat in the parking lot for a couple of minutes without moving, one of the parents walked over to see if there was a problem with the car.

“Not at all,” they said. “We’re just programming the directions into the GPS.’ ”

Is that where we’ve ended up, with a younger generation that can’t go three blocks without being told by a electronic voice where to turn?

Like the author, I found this story dismaying. I know GPS (Global Positioning System) and similar devices are helpful, but they can also be a crutch and, ultimately, a detriment.

According to the British Cartographic Society, high-tech maps get the user from Point A to Point B but leave off traditional features like geographic and built landmarks, and this could lead to a loss of cultural and geographic literacy.

I, too, find the GPS experience extremely limiting, especially when visual or voice commands tell me (sometimes incorrectly) where to turn just before the turn needs to be made. With a map, preferably one on paper, one can pull out to a bird’s eye view, get a complete picture, plot a route, and have true satisfaction and awareness about ones place within it.

Nothing wrong with having a GPS as a back-up, but I see far too many people who completely depend on them, to the degree that, like the boys in the restaurant parking lot, they’re afraid to travel anywhere, even a few blocks, without one.

One study, from the University of Tokyo, found that people on foot using a GPS device actually made more errors and more stops, and walked farther and more slowly than traditional map users. They also demonstrated a poorer knowledge of the terrain, topography and routes.

GPS, researchers say, encourages people to stare at a screen, rather than looking around at their environment. Also, most GPS screens makes it impossible for a user to take in both their location and their destination at the same time.

Ah, there’s that Big Picture again.

There are additional consequences to over-reliance on GPS devices. I wrote last year about Nature Disconnect in Britain. It seems that a lack of map skills is actually somewhat responsible for keeping a whole generation of children there, and surely elsewhere, homebound, fearful of exploring, playing, and being outside in the unknown. Children’s very sense of adventure is being terribly circumscribed.

Luckily, there are steps being taken to combat this. This list of ideas ranges from walking in ones neighborhood and making friends, to creating neighborhood green spaces and safe pedestrian and bike routes, to educating parents about unfounded fears. And, of course, one can and should learn basic map reading skills.

Interestingly, technology is helping with the latter, as geocaching (group scavenger hunts which use GPS devices) as well as old-school scavenger hunts continue to gain popularity. In addition, the Boy Scouts have responded to the crisis in map reading by upping their universal requirements for using a compass and map. (Girl Scouts also offer geocaching and orienteering badges and programs.)

Debi at Go Explore Nature offers some tips for getting out and geocaching.

Where is the paper map in all this? Some say it’s going the way of the phone booth and the milkman. I’m sure many of you remember family car trips, during which the map was unfolded, dutifully followed with index finger on highway line, and then folded up, yet never in quite the same neat way it had come. (We still honor this practice in our family and begin many adventures with a trip to the California Automobile Association, which stopped producing paper maps a few years ago.) Indeed, maps are on their way to becoming collectors items.

Here’s hoping that you get to enjoy the tactile pleasure of an old-school map, the inner satisfaction of locating your place, the fun of an outdoor scavenger hunt or other adventure, and the gift of knowing which way is up.

Images: Hands on Museum, Built St. Louis, Route 66 Guidebooks, Ferrell Digital

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign

While in New York (site of last week’s Photo Friday), I became completely entranced with “Ghost Signs”, faded advertising signs painted on the sides of brick buildings. Most of these are from decades ago. Some are faded beyond recognition. Many offer goods and services that have seen more popular times: millinery, lithography, shirtwaists, coatfronts, sewing machines, steam heat, furs and skins, paper and twine.

As I walked around Manhattan’s streets, gazing up and peering around corners for ghost signs, I felt like an urban archeologist. Each sign held a clue to past generations. Each felt like a surprise to discover, as well as a fleeting treat. I knew that the next time I might pass this way, the sign could very well be faded completely, lost to memory — or lost to new construction, as glass and steel might completely cover it up, much the way the tearing down of old buildings to make way for new ones may have led to some of these old ghost signs seeing the light of day once more.

I try to photograph ghost signs wherever I go. I have found New York City and Portland, Oregon, to be especially rich places for them, in addition to forgotten main streets and quiet roads where rural barns advertise tobaccos and colas. Look for an upcoming post that will feature more.

In the meantime, keep observing, wandering, and being open to a surprise or two. Last week reader Alice sent a link to this story on Slow Photography, which is more about the joyful process of taking pictures than it is about the finished result. (Thank you Alice. See Alice’s photos on flickr.)

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News: Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

As many of you know, I’ve been riding the hobby horse of free play for some time on this blog, as have many other delightful and like-minded colleagues.

Now the New York Times has chimed in:  The culture of play is vanishing, Hilary Stout writes. It’s an all-too-familiar tale — children’s face-time with electronic screens is growing, their outdoor world and their freedom within it are shrinking. Organized activities have replaced imaginary and child-directed ones. Fear of litigation and/or academic fallout have caused some schools to do away with recess. Some parents hover; some are too busy; some don’t like the mess ..

It has all added up to a culture in which free play is not valued or experienced. The New York Times tells us that the tide may be turning. They cite many groups that are working toward enhanced free play, such as Kaboom and Play for Tomorrow, which created a “play day” in New York’s Central Park last fall, with more than 50,000 attendees!

People, clearly, yearn to play.

The folks at the Rhode Island Children’s Museum would concur. Their Play Power program largely came about because they noticed that children were starting to be conditioned to want to be told the “right way” to play. And parents seemed to be oriented to outcomes, rather than the process of playing.

From the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, comes this resource about the benefits of free play.

Susan Linn, author of The Case for Make Believe, has a lot to say about children’s need for play, including:

A good toy, a toy that nurtures creative play is ninety percent child and only ten percent toy.

From Education.com comes a really good piece about the importance of free play, how it may have been lost and how to get it back.

Last April, I wrote about the trend toward toys that fostered children’s imaginations and led to open-ended play, and included the wonderful story of the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, CA, which built a whole Box City when they realized that kids were happier playing with empty boxes than with some of their installations.

Since then, I came across another delightful tale of box play.

Other great resources and people fostering the free play movement include The Alliance for Childhood, The National Institute for Play, Playborhood, and The Children & Nature Network, among others. (There are more on the Slow Family Resource Page.)

Want to explore more? The U.S. Play Coalition is holding a Conference on the Value of Play, Feb 6-9 at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

Whatever you do, keep playing! And fostering a love of play in your kids.

Related Posts on Slow Family: Babies Learn by Playing

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Stir up (or cook down) some Colonial Apple Butter

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In a world of wonderful jams and butters, apple butter might just be the ultimate slow food. Comprised of just a few natural ingredients, and no sugar, the best apple butter cooks most of the day over a low flame, so that the resulting mixture is wonderfully dense and has a rich, caramel-y taste. I’d been wanting to get in touch with my inner Colonial cook and make some, when a friend happened to bring over a bounty of Fuji apples from her backyard tree, and then another friend further inspired me by making amazing dried apples from her tree. (Lucky me!)

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Apples were indeed plentiful in Colonial America. Alice Morse Earle’s book, Home Life in Colonial America, lists such dishes as apple-slump (baked apples under a cake topping), apple-crowdy (a turnover-like dessert), and something called apple-mose, along with various types of pies. The book quotes a Swedish parson writing home about the Delaware settlement in 1758:

Apple-pie is used throughout the whole year, and when fresh apples are no longer to be had, dried ones are used. It is the evening meal of children. House-pie .. is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it.

I washed the Fuji apples, appreciating their pretty shapes and colors. In Colonial country homes, it was not uncommon to hold an apple-paring, in which friends and neighbors came to help peel the crop of apples for winter’s dried apples, applesauce and apple butter. The ingredients for apple butter were put into large brass kettles, which were then hung in big, open fireplaces. The finished apple butter would be stored in barrels in the house’s basement. Quince and pear butters were made as well.

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My apple butter is extremely easy to make, requiring only the ingredients you see above:

8 cups apples (a cup is approx. 2 small apples)

2 1/2 cups apple cider

1 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. cloves

This recipe yields 2 jars of apple butter and can easily be doubled or tripled. I arrived at it through a combination of various vintage, Amish, and canning books, along with some trial and error.

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1. Wash, peel and chop the apples into small pieces.

2. Place the apples into a large pot and cover with the cider.

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3. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.

4. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

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5. Simmer on low heat, uncovered for 6 or more hours, or until the mixture cooks down to a paste. You may opt for occasional periods of slightly higher heat, if you find that your mixture remains too watery or if you want to caramelize some of the apples at the bottom of the pot.

This is the “inner Colonial” part — the long, slow cooking process and the fantastic way your house will smell and feel as you do it.

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6. Using a wide-mouth funnel, ladle the mixture into jars that have been prepared for canning. (I boil them for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.)

7. Seal the jars and boil them again, for 10 minutes. Let them sit for a day. (If you follow strict canning guidelines, you can store your apple butter for the future. If you do not, then you’ll want to eat the apple butter within a couple of weeks and store it in the refrigerator.) Please refer to the USDA canning guidelines, downloadable Guide 1, for more information on proper home canning.

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Preserves and butters of all kinds make wonderful gifts and spreads, especially one like this, in which there is barely anything to get in the way of the wonderful, fresh, age-old Fall apple taste. Try apple butter on toast or crackers, with cheese, poultry, or even other fruit.

The colonial kitchen above is located at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT. If you are able to get to this museum, I highly recommend it. It’s like no other — approximately 40 buildings on beautiful grounds house collections of folk art, paintings, quilts, dolls, design, and entire detailed re-creations of such staples of the past as apothecaries, blacksmiths, printing shops, train stations, one-room schoolhouses, and homes of many eras. Look for an upcoming post that details more about the one-of-a-kind Shelburne Museum.

In the meantime, enjoy your butter and fall!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

From Treehugger: Frugal Green Living Posters

Canning, victory gardening, carpooling, conserving resources, living frugally — There are a lot of parallels between a whole swath of trends and activities today and those from the 1940s. In both periods, outside forces (war, the economy, the environment) have caused a lot of us to take stock and change some of our homefront habits. In the process, many of us discovered or rediscovered some relatively lost arts on the way to using less.

The always-relevant Treehugger has offered a terrific blog post, Frugal Green Living: Posters for the Movement, which features a collection of 1940s posters that, while making statements urging people to reconsider wasteful habits, are also themselves wonderful examples of message-oriented graphic design at its mid-century zenith.

I love these for their bold graphics and nostalgic style and marvel that they are fairly relevant today – except for the last one, of course. Though Treehugger makes the point that cooking fat is now collected for biodiesel fuel, rather than to make explosives. And that is undoubtedly a good thing.

Posters: Minneapolis Public Library

How to Save Nasturtium and Other Seeds

I love nasturtiums and this summer I had a real cascade of them tumbling over the deck boxes in their bright colors and peppery scents. I went to weed them the other day and noticed that many had gone to seed and still many others had dropped their seeds on the deck. I gathered the seeds excitedly, figuring that since they were intact and recognizable as the nasturtium seeds I’d planted before, I should be able to save these for planting in the future.

I since found a couple of wonderful resources about seed saving.

Mr. Brown Thumb has a lot of great information about collecting nasturtium seeds, complete with a video. He says that larger seeds are best, and that it doesn’t matter if the seeds are brown or green. This is good news because I found plenty of both.

About.com has a lot of great information about seed saving in general, including which other seeds are good candidates for saving:

Methods and Timing for Saving Seeds

Always choose the best quality plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables from which to save seeds. Look for disease resistance, vigor, great flavor and productivity. Next year’s plants will only be as good as this year’s seed. Harvest seeds either:

  • When the seed pods have dried on the plant (flowers, beans, broccoli, lettuce…)Keep an eye on the pods as they start to brown. Most seed pods will open and disperse on their own. You can catch seed by placing small bags over the seed heads when they look ready to pop or by pulling the plant just before completely dry and storing upside down in a paper bag.

Storing Saved Seed

  • Make sure the seed is completely dry, or it will rot or mold in storage
  • Remove as much of the chaff as possible
  • Store in a paper envelope, labeled with the variety and year
  • Place the envelopes into an air tight container, such as a canning jar
  • Store in a cool, dark, dry place
  • Stored seed is best used the following year

What Seeds Can Be Saved?

Open Pollinated or heirloom, self-pollinated plants are the only varieties that will grow true from seed, meaning the seedlings will be exactly like the parents. These are the seeds worth saving.

Self-pollinated plants are the easiest to save and include: Beans, Chicory, Endive, Lettuce, Peas, Tomatoes. You can also save many heirloom flower seeds such as: cleome, foxgloves, hollyhock, nasturtium, sweet pea, and zinnia.

I dried my seeds on this old bulb storage crate from the Netherlands. It’s come in handy for all kinds of drying projects.

I stored my seeds according to the above guidelines. I’ll plant them next year and will let you know how they do.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman