Since she was about 5 years old and noticed one in a brocante, our youngest daughter has mentioned several times how much she would love to have a typewriter. Born in 1995, she has grown up with computers and laptops and thoroughly embraced Apple products, recently persuading her father (it’s the eyes!!) to buy her the latest phone… Thanks to the internet and online auctions, I recently noticed that the famous “Hermes Baby” typewriter was still going strong on the second hand market and yesterday, for a very modest sum (and a fraction of the original 1935 price of CHF 160.- at just 15.-!), a neat little case came into our possession.
These days, nearly-20 year olds are laidback and not always easy to impress. You would have been as amused and amazed as I was to observe the reaction to the new toy! With an enormous grin and shining eyes, she immediately investigated all the keys, how it works and also discovered some things it can’t do which she is used to from a modern keyboard. Thrilled to discover it has a Swiss keyboard (Hermes typewriters are a Swiss product, made by E. Paillard in Yverdon), she found ä, ö and ü and worked out how shift back and forth to make é and è… Some things made me laugh, having learnt to type on an old IBM Golfball, and which she had to discover for herself, but the most glorious moment of all was when she discovered how to make it “ping” – I thought she would explode with delight! Truly, she was as excited about this little vintage machine as if it had been the latest ultrathin laptop. It is all of 10″ square, making it actually smaller than a 13″ Macbook, although it is a couple of inches high! It weighs 3.6 kg, which made it the ideal travel companion for authors and journalists back in the day, being the most compact and light of typewriters, and many famous writers used one for their work, including people like Ernest Hemingway and Max Frisch, Françoise Sagan and, incidentally, Ella Maillart and Annemarie Schwarzenbach, who took one along on their travels. Our model was identifiable thanks to a wonderfully informative site, http://www.typewriters.ch/collection/hermes_baby.html (in German) and is a 1958 model, the last which had the oval logo. As the lady who sold it to me has just retired, it was probably hers all along – she’s emigrating to Rumania! I ought to mention that it is in perfect working order, though the ribbon is old and we will need to source a new one, which seems to be fairly readily available.
What this young lady hadn’t known was that her great grandfather worked for many many years for British Typewriters in West Bromwich and was very handy at fixing things, so was often found bent over someone’s old typewriter, intent on mending something. Even I had only been vaguely aware as a child that Grandad did “something” at “the typewriters”, and on researching the Hermes Baby, I was surprised and pleased to find that British Typewriters had a licence for the Hermes Baby, marketing it as the Baby Empire in Britain!
How nice to have come full circle :)
PS I know you were probably expecting to hear about the “other” new baby, who is now 4 mths old and wonderfully bonny and blue-eyed – yes!! – but that will have to wait for another time! It’s nice to be back…