Recently, the UK’s ‘last typewriter’ was manufactured at Brother’s factory in Wrexham, North Wales. This was a sad day for both typewriter and Brother. This ‘last typewriter’ has been donated to the Science Museum in London and is now officially a relic of the past. I have a lot to thank Brother for, in the 1990s one of their typewriters (LW series) helped me through my undergraduate and post-graduate studies. I churned-out countless essays and a dissertation on my trusty Brother, it never let me down. A faithful companion throughout the night when essay deadlines loomed heavy. I miss it.
The typewriter was invented in the United States in 1830 by typographer William Burt (1792-1858). However, the first patent for a ‘writing machine’ was granted to Henry Mill (1683-1771) back in 1714. It wasn’t until the 1870s that typewriters were first mass-produced by the Remington Company, commercial success swiftly followed.
The Underwood Typewriter Company was another important, early manufacturer of machines and accessories, including typewriter ribbons and carbon paper which they also supplied to Remington. The first Underwood typewriter was invented by Franz Xaver Wagner (1837-1907) and produced in 1896. Early Underwood machines are similar in design to those available today.
During World War One, portable typewriters proved invaluable and were used in the trenches to produce typed reports and correspondence.
The Pen Room Museum is located in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. The Pen Room has a wonderful, eclectic range of objects on display, from examples of quill pens to steel nib and fountain pens. Other types of historic writing equipment in the collection include an early Braille-writing machine invented by A. H. Wayne and a large collection of vintage typewriters.
The Pen Room is a member of The Association of Independent Museums (AIM) and is run entirely by a team of passionate and knowledgeable volunteers, many of whom are themselves well-respected collectors of historic writing equipment. The Museum is a reminder of how old-fashioned curation techniques work just as well in 2012 to enhance the visitor experience.
We had a superb time at The Pen Room and I came away buzzing with a thirst for knowledge on the important, but overlooked, subject of the history of writing equipment. Whilst my husband had a go at pressing a pen nib and learning about the science behind the machinery, I took a trip down memory lane and bashed out variations of ‘the cat sat on the mat’ and ‘the rain in spain’ on one of the vintage typewriters set-up for visitors to use.
The Pen Room offers a range of educational activities for visitors including Braille demonstrations every Friday throughout the year by expert Keith Hancox MBE. There are weekly calligraphy classes, for adults only, that take place every Saturday (9.45am-11.15am and 11.30-1pm) and cost £3 per session. However, classes have now stopped for the Christmas period but resume again on 12th January 2013. For more information on activities, CLICK HERE.
Birmingham was once the centre of the world pen trade,providing employment for thousands of people, many of whom were women. ‘Throughout the Victorian age and beyond, Birmingham was at the forefront of the pen making industry. Many of the Pen Makers have been long forgotten as have the workers, without whom Birmingham would have not earned the name ‘The Pen Shop of the World.”‘ (Stanyard, R., 2011, p. 1, The Pen Makers of Birmingham 1818-2011). The Pen Room is ideally located in the former pen factory of W. E. Wiley & Co. Originally, the firm were based at 34 Great Hampton Street (1848-1863) before moving to 29 Graham Street (1863-1876). Graham Street is now known as Frederick Street and the former factory building has been renamed The Argent Centre.
For more information on the history of Birmingham’s pen trade, Professor Carl Chinn MBE has written a good overview which can be found in The Pen Room’s own website. CLICK HERE.
The Pen Room is open Monday to Saturday (11am to 4pm) and on Sunday (1pm to 4pm), entry is free but a small donation would be gratefully received by the Museum. For more information The Pen Room CLICK HERE.