When Gary Moffat sits down to write a letter, he doesn’t press a power button or pick up a pen.
Instead, he places his fingertips on the white keys of his Cole steel typewriter with a metallic finish, or any number of typewriters in his collection. He thinks deeply about what he wants to say. And when the letters make their mark on the parchment, he knows he has created something special in the digital age.
“When you’re using a typewriter, you’re not interrupted by email or notifications or anything. It’s just you and the machine,” he said. “There’s a zen about it that’s really compelling.”
Moffat has been a typewriter enthusiast since taking his first class in high school more than 50 years ago. Today, the former journalist and former owner of Carpe Vino has organized his first exhibition to share that passion with the Sacramento region.
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The Typewriter Revolution will celebrate the vintage machines with incredible staying power (more than 140 years) at the Auburn State Theatre on Oct. 27.
The five-hour event begins at 4 p.m. with an exhibition of more than 50 manual and electric vintage typewriters, including brands such as Royal, Smith Corona, Underwood, Hermes and IBM. An interview with Richard Polt, author of “The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century,” will follow at 6 p.m., as well as a film screening of “California Typewriter,” a documentary featuring celebrity typists Tom Hanks, John Mayer, David McCullough and Sam Shepard.
It’s a diverse community that is drawn to typewriters, Polt said during a phone interview from his office at Xavier University, where he is a philosophy professor. It ranges from kids and teenagers who become fascinated by them to older folks who never stopped using them, including some who refuse to use computers.
“Mostly it’s just people who are curious and want to explore,” he said.
The event aims to provide any attendees who are on the fence with an opportunity to satiate their curiosity and ponder our modern-day fascination with the old-fashioned machines. There will be time for aficionados to meet up with other typists and add to their collections (a limited number of typewriters will be on sale). Everyone will be able to type and to participate in typing tests and story contests, and with no small reward: refurbished vintage typewriters.
All proceeds will support renovations of Herschel Young Park in old town Auburn.
Polt owns a typewriter repair business in Cincinnati and edits a quarterly enthusiast magazine, ETCetera. But typewriters have always been magical to him, he said, and he started collecting them in 1994. He still has his first: an art-deco style black portable he used when he was 12 years old.
Polt uses a typewriter almost every day, grading papers, writing letters and notes, brainstorming philosophical ideas and blogging. It’s just more fun, he said, and it helps him resist the temptations of distraction.
In his book, Polt has included a manifesto that sums up the problems society faces in a digital world. People don’t just depend on the computer hardware and software and an Internet connection. They learn to depend on what others think of them: “their reactions and thumbs up and hearts,” Polt continued, “and that’s not really healthy.”
There are other impacts, as well, like disintegration: “a scattered mind, multitasking and thumbing through Instagram, having a very short attention span that’s fragmented.”
“Typewriters aren’t the only way … but if you enjoy them, they’re a nice opportunity to explore a different relationship with technology,” he said.
Seeking an escape or some privacy from the digital world can draw some people to typewriters, but the artistic aspect is also alluring.
Poets will sit on park benches and write on the fly for strangers passing by, or use their imagination to create images through the spacing of X’s on the page. The Boston Typewriter Orchestra creates songs from the sounds of typewriters. Typewriters have also been developed that specifically focus on crafting and scrapbooking.
Still, there are others who enjoy the aesthetics of the machines. Ole Kehlet, owner of Kehlet Typewriter, the last shop of its kind in Sacramento, has seen all of this over the last 43 years, since he started picking up, delivering and repairing typewriters in the ‘70s. He’ll be curating The Typewriter Revolution exhibition, bringing some of his own beauties to share.
Kehlet primarily uses the machines to create invoices and file labels, but enjoys the “alien autopsy” moment, in which he diligently works away until he can diagnose a customer’s problem to fix up their typewriter, good as new. He can get a black gloss machine from the ‘30s polished up until the keys shine “like silver.”
“They look like a Harley when they get done,” he added.
Whatever the reasons may be that draw people to the machines, “it has a lot of impact, the typewritten word,” Moffat added. And, in his view, it’s not hard to understand why so many people are still fascinated by them.
“The action, the keyboards, the sounds, just the whole mechanical wonder of the machines,” Moffat added. “At the end of the day they’re just beautiful, complex machines that after all these years still function.”
When: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Oct. 27
Where: Auburn State Theatre, 985 Lincoln Way, Auburn