Clockwork typewriters

Readers of my novel The Spyders of Burslem may remember that there was a very casual passing mention of “clockwork typewriters”. In the novel these were spotted by the hero on a brief visit to the office of The Burslem Cosmograph newspaper. My thanks to Steve Sneyd, who has mentioned this “clockwork typewriter” notion to a typewriter collector contact of his in the United States. He had a lengthy reply on the topic, from which the following…

the only typewriter on the market at that time [1869] was the Mailing-Hansen “typing ball” which resembled clockwork, in that it was made of brass and had a mainspring and an escapement.

[If what was] meant by “clockwork” [was] that a typewriter was automatic, that was actually done. It was cumbersome and I don’t think it was widely used, but there was a device on the market — made by Hoover, I think, that generated punched paper tape, and this [tape] could then be used in an automatic typewriter to type the same letter as many times as needed.


Above: the Mailing-Hansen typewriter. Hansen’s first model was built in 1865, and many hundreds were sold.

The novel is of course, set in an “alternate” semi-steampunk 1869. The hero has only a very brief and flustered look inside the offices of The Burslem Cosmograph, and is anyway recounting past events from a distance of over 40 years afterwards. Which might account for his vaguely remembering the office’s typewriters as being of a generally “clockwork” design.

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