• I Don't Know What to Think

    You know, there are key-choppers and there are key-choppers.

    The first kind is the Opportunist who chops the keys from antique typewriters and sells them willy-nilly on Ebay for jewelry making. The jewelry is a fad, and when the fad is tossed for some new project there may be, oh, five or six usable antique or vintage machines left in the world. These kind of key-choppers make me alternately sad and angry because there are some stunning, usable typewriters out there that don't deserve a rude beheading. Besides, there are typewriter collectors and obsessors out here who feel gut-punched every time we see "Will cut off and send only the keys. Only $5 to ship."

    The second flavor of key-chopper is the one I can't quite hate. These are the Artist Choppers. While they hack and hew and chop along with the best of the Opportunist Fad Choppers, the end product has depth and respect for the old machines. I still ache when considering the surgical procedures necessary to produce the art, but I do find it somehow a little less sadistic. A proper burial for a wrongful death.

    There are those who ride the line by creating gorgeous, wearable art. But all typewriter key jewelry is not art. Sometimes an earring is just an earring.

    Is it the difference between murder and euthanasia? Have I become an arts vs. crafts snob? Am I blinded by Beautiful Things? Would my typewriter morality be intact if machines were already functionally useless? I don't know. I'm just not as angry with the Artist Choppers, even though the end result is the same - one less typewriter.





    Jeremy E Mayer

    Michael Demeng

    Disclaimer: No typewriters were harmed or mutilated for this post.

    14 comments → I Don't Know What to Think

    1. I know what you're saying here. I personally don't even have a problem with people stripping a rusted over or smashed or otherwise unusable machine for its keys.
      It's not all that different from using an old machine for parts to get another machine in your collection working, is it? Or is there an ends v. means conundrum there?

    2. Oh, it's different. If someone sacrifices one machine to repair another, it turns two non-working machines into one (or possibly more) working one. Most of these "artists" are not only eliminating possible repair machines, they're destroying perfectly functional ones too.

      Some are worse than others though. I was familiar with Jeremy Mayer prior to this post, and I know that he gets most of his machines from a keychopper. So, for the most part he's using machines that are already ruined, but it still doesn't make it right. Plus, his sculpture isn't that bad.

      But that Michael deMeng... They need to invent a new level of hell for that guy. Not only is he destroying working, BEAUTIFUL machines (did you guys SEE that Corona he killed??), but his handiwork is just... ugly. Worst of all, he's inspiring a bunch of wanna-be hacks ("Hack" describes these people doubly.) to do the same. I don't have a whole lot of folks on the "People I Hate" list, but this guy just made it on.

      *Grumble...* How I loathe these people...

    3. Hmmm. So is this the "soylent green" of typewriters? See, Duffy, it's not as easy as it sounds at first.

      And Joe, I DID see that Corona. My heart hurts.

      I've threatened to do this before, but I'm getting dcloser and closer to starting that Typewriter Rescue Mission.Maybe save a few machines and put them in the hands of poets.

    4. I agree!! What a shame to destroy a part of history for an art/jewelry project!
      You have a very interesting blog. Love looking at your typing beauties. How many do you have in all?

    5. I like Duffy's suggestion of rescuing machines, cleaning them up, and then finding them new homes with NaNoWriMo participants. Theoretically this is why I keep haunting thrift stores and Freecycle and Craigslist. Theoretically.

      In practice I've been able to donate exactly one such machine, but it's a start. Baby steps, baby steps.

    6. I have quite a few creative writing students who participate in NaNoWriMo. I'm hoping to see a few join the Typewriter Brigade this year, so I'm giving away a functional typewriter at each of our public readings.

      Sadly, NaNoWriMo comes at the worst possible time of year for me and I can never participate. I've always got two conferences in November, as well as Thanksgiving. My paper- grading is also mountainous that time of year.

    7. Consider this: if a typewriter becomes unusable, it is acceptable to use its parts to repair another typewriter, right? I have yet to encounter a machine which fails to function due to some problem with its keytops. Perhaps I've just had good luck?

      I don't have a problem with taking what is basically a 'parts' machine, and using parts (read: keytops) that are not likely to be needed for any other machine, and using them for some artistic endeavour (regardless of our estimation of the merits of that particular artistic endeavour).

      Again, there's more than one point of view, and I'm not so arrogant as to assume mine is the right one. But it seems like the argument often boild down to: parts of a machine can be used for other machines, but the remaining parts (those not used to repair another machine) must never be used for anything else. Perhaps we could build an enormous shrine in which we keep all the unused parts, so they're not accidently used for improper purposes?

      Or is the argument simply that, since we can't be sure the keytops or other parts aren't actually coming from a usable or fixable machine, we shouldn't allow any use of parts at all?

    8. Sign me on for the rescue mission. What is the charter? Any particular machine(s) we are looking to rescue?

      I think I have to come down on the side of not liking to see typewriters destroyed for artistic purposes either.

    9. The problem I have with the art works, I suppose, is that the utility of the thing is sacrificed for something purely cosmetic or decorative. I've no doubt that some jewelry- and art-makers are chopping up perfectly usable machines, and frankly, they're doing it at a tidy profit. A $5 or $10 thrift store machine appears to yield a bounty in earring and necklace findings that sell for far more than the original amount, and are easier to ship. I don't know that I'm quite ready to rampage around Etsy and rage to the folks there.

      What's not being seen is that there's a value and a beauty in the machines themselves. Someone needs to point them at sites like mytypewriter.com to see some serious markup. Even the local Craigslist seems to have gotten into the act -- you should see the prices being asked for grungy Underwood 5's, for example, which I think are generally considered common as dirt, but have the chopper-cherished glass top keys. If enough of us are vocal enough about their utility and innate beauty, we could hope for market forces to make keychopping and machine-gutting financially untenable. I know a few Etsyers, and not a one of them could easily drop $125 on a typer.

      Srikethru: I do think you owe it to us to see if you are close to any of the participating stores covered by http://www.shopgoodwill.com and get cracking on that convention.

    10. Jeremy Mayer said... June 6, 2008 at 10:55 AM

      Great blog!
      I'm Jeremy Mayer, mentioned above. I see words like unfortunate, loathe, and lots of shouldn'ts in the comments for this post, as well as talk about "rightness and wrongness". Some of you haven't thought much about what you're saying.
      Not that I want to satiate you haters out there, but let me break down my process for you, so to speak.
      I disassemble typewriters and then reassemble them into human figures. I don't weld, solder, or glue the parts together; I reassemble. I do not destroy the parts. You could easily take the parts from any of my work and pop them right back into the model of typer they came from. Maybe those of you who loathe me so can buy up my work and do that someday. It would be hypocritical of me to object.
      There are millions of typewriters out there. We all know this. There is no shortage of typers to potential users. How many unused machines do we need? Should we keep every car, sewing machine, computer, boat, and tractor that was ever manufactured?
      The big issue here is nostalgia, and that part of my brain doesn't seem to work. I understand that the nostalgia is there- don't get it. I do understand that there is a great deal of history and influence relating to industrial design and to writing. I've read quite a bit of the literature, I've taken enough typers apart to see the evolution of industrial design (they're pretty inside-out, too!)and experienced the history first-hand by learning to type on an IBM Selectric II in typing class in high school.
      You may be surprised to know that I am a collector as well as a destroyer of typers. I'm particularly fond of late model Olivettis and Hermes. I just got a little Hermes Rocket that I wouldn't dream of disassembling and I have about 15 other models that I will fix, clean, oil, and give to people, as I've been doing the entire 14 years that I've been doing this work.
      Something to think about for you haters: in my travels looking for machines, I met many typewriter repair persons in the last 14 years. You may be surprised to learn that many of them make little objects out of parts because of the obvious resemblance to components and objects in nature- little people, flowers, little dogs- and they have them above the workbench on the wall, or they gave them out as presents. People make things out of other things, not just artists.
      I'm not working any angle, here folks. I don't make any money doing this. It takes me 1,200 hours to make one piece, and when it's all said and done, I make, on average, about $2/hour. Certainly you can tell that I don't have any money by how crappy my website is. There is love for the typewriter in this work, and it shows in the final product. You should try to see one in person sometime!

      I'm not going to stop. Sorry. Neither are the idiot key cutters. Take a deep breath and learn to enjoy the machines you have.

    11. Oh, Jeremy.

      I don't know that we're "haters" so much as vintage typewriter collectors and writers/users. Most of us spend much time and money lovingly buying and refurbishing these old machines, so of course we'd be sad to see one less good one out there.

      As someone who collects and uses them yourself, I'm sure you understand. Especially a man with a Hermes (those are fabulous little typewriters).

      The whole gist of the post and most of the comments reflects the initial "I don't know what to think" of the title, and I believe we came up with more questions than answers on that score. I think it goes back to intent and purpose.

      I'm especially drawn to the art you make and return to it again and again. No hate here. Please stop by again and let us know more about your process and machines. i'd love to know more about your process and personal collection.

    12. Jeremy, if you took offense at any of my posts, I apologize. Obviously you (and Michael!) are putting a lot of time and effort into what you do, and I am very impressed by your methods of cold assembly. I'm still a little grumpy about keychoppers, and reserve the right to be so.

      It's true that there were millions of typewriters made, though I seriously doubt that such a large number of them are still operational. My reaction is certainly a visceral one: most of us who call ourselves "collectors" get very excited when we see a machine sitting in a thrift shop or yard sale, and wild dreams of rescue and recuperation start running through our minds. Why? What sane person needs more than one typewriter in their lives? (Hint: we're not entirely sane, either.)

      The fear, I suppose, is that there are some real gems of engineering out there -- like those in your collection -- and for some reason we feel that the machines would be "happier" living in their cases in our living rooms rather than sitting keyless in a landfill or in parts on a pedestal. Our society has swung so far towards disposability and impermanence that we ship barges of our junk overseas, where children scuffle through the toxic piles, looking for metals to melt over files and sell. A functioning typewriter (to me) is a reminder of a time when things were made to last, and be lifetime companions, and not heaved out each year for a new model. Nostalgia, yes, but also an appreciation of the work effort needed to bring one of these steel beasts to life. I've been turning my own kids and their friends on to these machines, with the realization that with care, they will surely outlive me, and probably them as well. (Visions of grandchildren typing up a biography of their crazed packrat grandfather come to mind...)

      We're not trying to belittle your work, and I'm certainly glad that you posted here so we could get a more complete picture of who you are. Please try to understand that in most of these cases, though, we're seeing this as a death of something we love and appreciate, and are going to go through the stages of grief. Anger is going to come with the territory, though Acceptance should be not too far behind.

      Thanks again for posting. Art is supposed to evoke emotions, and you've certainly done so here. And I must say, your stuff is damn clever.

    13. Thank you, MP. Beautifully said.

    14. I tried to send this email to Jeremy Mayer, but I think it was too long for his site's message submission dealie. I'll post it here and hopefully get a link to him. Or maybe he'll wander back eventually...

      In any case, the rest of you can all see the softer side of Joe...

      Here!:

      Hi there, Jeremy. It's way past my bed-time, but I wanted to drop you a quick line anyways.

      I just found your comment on a post from a couple of weeks ago on the Fresh Ribbon blog. Of all the people you replied to, I was probably the biggest "hater" on there, having used stronger language (like "loathe") than the rest. I thought I had partially excluded you from my angry diatribe, but upon rereading it I realize I was still unduly harsh.

      Let me clarify: I don't loathe you, or even dislike you in the slightest. I think you're a fantastic artist and do some really amazing work.

      You were right in accusing me of not thinking much about what I said; I hadn't. I wrote it right after seeing Michael deMeng's typewriter snuff tutorial, and my blood was simmering. I wrote my comment quickly and angrily, and hadn't considered my words too much. I certainly never imagined that you would ever read what I said (which doesn't make it OK), and I truly apologize if I offended you.

      While I have no intention of ranting much further on the subject, I just wanted to explain why I feel so strongly about the matter. While most typewriter lovers out there certainly rely on a heavy dose of nostalgia to fuel their infatuation, it's simply not a factor for me. I'm (only) 25 years old, and manual typewriters have been mostly out of use before I was even born. While there are several things I love about typewriters, my primary interest has always been with their utility.

      Which is why I get so affected when I see their designated utility taken away from them. My affection doesn't end with typewriters; I hate seeing any tool or machine having their purpose taken away. My frustration is only compounded when the devices being undone are never going to be made again.

      I like assemblage art a lot, and yours is no exception. It's a love/hate relationship though: I really enjoy the art, but I hate seeing items lose their function. Another favorite assemblage artist of mine, Lockwasher, frequently ruins beautiful old tools to make his pieces, but it doesn't keep me from loving his work.

      I really like your sculpture, and could never dream of asking you to stop. It's clear from what I've read about you (including your comment) that you're far more responsible with your work than most, and the fact that you're a collector as well shows that you care about these machines. And seeing that your work can take upwards of 50 days straight, I don't really think you're putting a considerable dent in the ever-decreasing typewriter population.

      I'll stop here. Take care, and keep up the good work. You have my best.

      -Joe-

      I still stand by most of what I said bout Michael deMeng though...

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