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Only a Few May Still Be Left Today, but There Are Still Music Typewriters from the 1950s

Heywood “Woody” Allen is an American director, writer, actor, and comedian whose career spans more than six decades. He has explicably stated that he has written all of his scripts and pieces on a typewriter. 60 years is no joke but it just worked for him just fine. In fact, typewriters are making a somewhat comeback nowadays. Perhaps one of the most desired typewriters today is the Keaton Music Typewriter. It was produced and designed to put out musical notations not letters or numbers in 1936.

The original design was patent for a 14-key typewriter, which was updated to 33 keys and greatly improved in the patent on 1953. It was sold for about $255 in the 1950s for about $2,415 in today’s money. The Keaton Typewriter has a distinctive look due to it being a circular keyboard that print characters precisely on staff and indicate exactly where the next character would be printed to ensure accuracy.

Photo Credit: Etsy

Keaton wrote: “One keyboard is adapted to type one class of music characters such as bar lines and ledger lines, which, when repeated, always appear in the same relative spaced positions with respect to the [staff] lines… and a second keyboard adapted to type another class of musical characters, such as the notes, rest signs and sharp and flat signs etc., which may, when repeated, appear in various spaced positions with respect to the staff lines.”

Photo Credit: musicprintinghistory

How Keaton Music Typewriter Works

By what Keaton called the Scale Shift Handle and Scale Shift Indicator, users of the device control where the notes and characters fall on the page with the help of the curved meter on the left. By moving the handle up or down a notch, they tell the typewriter how much to adjust, printing 1/24 of an inch in either direction. Moving one notch up or down will cause the character to fall one musical step either way. To make sure that the user could see where they were about to print, Keaton has decided the typewriter to have a long needle next to the ribbon so that it leaves nothing to chance.

Even with the technical limitations of the past, this device still seems to be very intricately designed and very convenient. Its two keyboards works on different ways with Scale Shift Handle. The larger keyboard with the notes, scales, sharps, and flats moves freely in tandem with the Scale Shift Handle. The smaller keyboard (which contains items like bar lines and ledger lines) stays in place since its characters always appear in the same place with respect to the staff lines.

Photo Credit: liveauctioneers

The Typewriter Today

The final product was able to produce publishable quality manuscripts. The typewriter has undoubtedly made it easier for musicians to produce music copies in quantity with a little ease. Meanwhile, composers still preferred to write their music out by hand. It has been a technical marvel back at its time. However, due to its incredibly thin niche, we are still not certain whether it is a commercial success or not. The original design and look has made the Keaton Music Typewriter a desired addition to any avid collector out there. However, there are now only a few of them left in this world. Some may still even be on working condition, you can find some online auctions out there ranging around $6,000-$12,000.

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