Thursday, April 2, 2009

Style over substance

Smith-Corona Corsair Deluxe I like to think of our little group of retro-nuts as loving conservators of bygone technology, and not, as my wife would put it, junk collectors. I suspect she thinks worse things, too, when I bring home another little suitcase-sized treasure or battered old camera case. I've been pretty good lately, limiting my purchases and staying away from the eeevil temptations of the flea-bay, even passing over some reasonably priced deals within the comfortable-driving-distance of Craigslist. I've been good, really, and in general have made good choices. Look, but don't touch. Thou shalt not covert thy neighbor's typer, and all that.

And then it showed up on the Goodwill site. Not the typewriter pictured, in fact, but a nasty 70's-yellow Royal Charger with very minor cosmetic damage. I told myself I would not bid on it, did not need it, have plenty of Royals anyway, etc.. You know the drill. I bid on it anyway, a reasonable bid that kept to my informal "under $25" rule for impulse buys. I was sniped out of a win, somewhat predictably, and that was that. Lesson learned, no harm, no foul. But no little suitcase to bring home.

Except I wasn't. I was pretty peeved, actually, more than I had a right to be. Something about that awful mustard machine called to me, despite it being well outside the era of machines that I prefer -- by that time, I think only Olympia was really turning out serious portables. And yet the envy burned in my heart. So I allowed myself the consolation bid for this Corsair Deluxe, a.k.a. a very late model Skyriter. This from the time when Smith-Corona was in their last gasps, shifting operations overseas, and then across Asia -- this particular example was made in Singapore, which I think may make it from the mid 1980's.

It's not a great machine, although the Skyriter is not the ideal typing experience to begin with. It's an OK typer, and requires those smallish Skyriter spools, which means inky fingers. But it's curved, and tiny, and aqua, for goodness sake -- a close match to Norma Jean -- and despite all I'd read about this model on the portable typewriters group... I bid anyway. And won. And don't regret the decision, really (it was very inexpensive, even with cross-country shipping.) But now I've opened the door to buying these things purely on style, and not substance. I'm not trying to build a collection or a legacy, I'm just picking up machines as they appeal to me and interest me. But I feel like I've cheated, somehow: I've let down the others.

I think I need to go hug my machines.

4 comments:

Oliver said...

Well, I think a lot depends on how much you're shelling out for a typer based solely on its looks. <$25 isn't too bad for something that--face it--you're going to be looking at more than using. It's not like you're spending $200+ on a Valentine.

FWIW, I bought the Escort at a thrift shop based only on its looks. It wasn't till I got it home that I discovered that it's also cursive. As a typer...well...it's only fair. But I paid only $4 for it. I think if I'd spent $100 on it, I'd be kicking myself for valuing style over substance.

Now, if you ask me, the Hermes 3000 and Corona Speedline are just about the perfect combination of style and substance.

Oliver said...

PS: I thought all of those later Skyriter-based machines were manufactured by SCM's British arm. Learn something new every day.

mpclemens said...

I'd like to say that I was looking at the Charger and this Corsair as possible "banging-around-NaNo" machines. I really liked using the Skyriter last fall, though it was a little snug. My only complaint was that it feels a bit jangly, and transfers that clatter to my fingertips: after 45 minutes of typing, I was ready for a break. Note that I'd like to say that I had a plan, but really, it was all about the purty colors.

Re: Singapore. As near as I can tell, this is built the the same as the English-made Corsairs. Will's site is somewhat unclear on when manufacturing moved, but I see other, earlier Corsairs on the 'net built in Singapore, so it may have happened there for a while.

Monda said...

I have one of those baby blue Corsairs and it was a purely emotional buy. My first typewriter was just like it.

I didn't pay much up front, but the ensuing repairs made up for it. Bless its heart, it was a mess. Yes it's jangly and light and plastic-y, but every time I bang around on it I'm eight years-old again. Worth every penney.