The Siren Sound of a Typewriter

Last weekend I used a manual typewriter for the first time in my life — and was hooked.

Sitting at an Olympia typewriter with gold leaf highlights receiving tips from store owner, Tony Valoppi

I learned to type on an IBM Selectric electric typewriter. I hated the class, but in one semester learned touch typing, a valuable skill that served me well through high school, college, and to the present. Only a couple years after my initial typing lesson, all typewriters were removed and replaced with computers and keyboards. Typing classes were renamed, “keyboarding classes.”

IBM Selectric II electric typewriter like the one I learned to type on — you won’t find this or any electric typewriter at Type Space.

Beyond my semester of typing class, my exposure to typewriters was limited to an Adler brand manual typewriter in the home where I grew up. My mom typed the initial manuscript of her book on it, but I never used it.

A high school classmate told me about this store a couple weeks ago. The way she and her father lit up describing the different typewriters captured my imagination and I decided I had to go see it myself. The store is owned by her partner.

Sure enough, last weekend I visited Type Space, a SE Portland business that is manual typewriter showroom, museum, repair shop, and writer’s space rolled into one.

Type Space, 2409 SE 49th St, Portland, OR 97206

Located at SE 49th and Division, Type Space is open Thursday – Monday, 11am – 6pm. People are welcome to come in, look at the vast array of typewriters, and sit down and try them. The typewriters are very affordably priced should you decide you must have one (like I unexpected did).

I was doubtful I could type accustomed as I am to easy to press, fast, and tightly clustered keys of a computer keyboard. But with just a few pointers from the owner, Anthony “Tony” Valoppi, I was off and running.

I started with a German typewriter. The Z and Y keys swapped, which initially threw me off. Additional keys provided the German vowels with umlauts (ä, ö, ü) and the sharp S, “Eszett,” β.

I then moved to a sleek, portable typewriter. At the owner’s invitation, I typed a letter, addressed the envelope on the typewriter, and was provided a stamp. The postal carrier dropped by within the hour and my letter was off on its way.

I spent three hours at Type Space and those hours flew by! I got to see a variety of old and new typewriters, including a Russian typewriter with Cyrillic keys, a Hungarian typewriter, and a Japanese typewriter.

The Japanese typewriter had a grid with over 1900 kanji characters, numbers, letters, and symbols. Using a stylus, you choose the desired character and press a lever, typing one character at a time.

Nippon Type Panwriter Japanese typewriter

Everything in the showroom is available to take down, place on the common table and try out. This is a museum with manual typewriters dating back over a century, but one in which you are invited to touch and try out everything!

A selection of scores of typewriters available to try and to purchase

Valoppi, a professional chef, opened Type Space early in the pandemic. The idea seemed crazy to many, but his business has taken off. It has been featured on a couple local TV broadcasts:

KPTV: ‘Type Space’ lets Portlanders check out fully functional vintage typewriters

KOIN: Kohr Explores: Local shop brings typewriters back into fashion

While I was there, a steady stream of customers came in, picking up recently serviced and tuned-up typewriters, dropping in to browse and try out various models, or bringing in a typewriter for service or just to learn how it worked.

Smith Premier typewriters with separate upper- and lower-case keys. The #4 on the right dates from 1906.

Personally, I came to see the beautiful variety of typewriters, learn about their various designs and mechanisms, and maybe try my hand at a little manual typing. I didn’t expect to enjoy the latter so much!

The Typewriter Mystique

There is something magical and visceral about a typewriter that is lost on a computer keyboard. With computers, deleting a word or phrase or rearranging whole sentences and paragraphs is effortless.

With typewriters, more thought and determination is put into each word choice and turn of phrase. No spellchecker will immediately flag your mistakes — you are left to leave them be or correct them and leave unmistakable artifacts of the evolution of your work.

Varying levels of speed, confidence, and finger strength result in uneven darkness between letters and words. These variances transmit clues to the writer’s emotion and intention invisible on the laser-printed page.

Oliver Typewriter

The spaces inside letters may not be completely clear. Shadows inside an “a” or “o” instill texture, depth, and color to typed letters.

There is also the aural and tactile experience — the satisfying “snap” as each letter strikes the page, the “ding” of the margin warning bell, and the pleasing ratchet and metallic skid of the carriage sliding down its track to make way for a new line of text. These sounds and the physical feedback through the fingers and hands makes typing a much more sensory-rich experience.

I expected to be delighted by what I saw and learned, but I did not expect to be captivated by the typewriters. But I was. I fully plan to pick out and purchase a manual typewriter from Type Space soon.

Whether you are a writer, an avid reader, are into museums, are intrigued by mechanical gadgets, whatever, I highly recommend you pay Type Space a visit. I am pretty sure you will be delighted — and you might get hooked too!

Type Space Website:

Type Space Facebook page:

Type Space Instagram:

Update: On a subsequent visit to the store, I purchased a 1934 Underwood 4-bank typewriter, as well as a typewriter desk!

Opening and closing my cool typewriter desk

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