Tuesday, January 21, 2014

You Can Teach Yourself Great Things: Martin Luther King's Typewriter (when he was eleven)

Just Write the Damn Thing, Part 1:

Um. Write the new blog. Oh wait! Gotta verify, verify information again… Dang, they aren’t getting back to me! Well, the first researcher did, and that’s good, but he’s not 100% certain. On the phone, he says,"it’s all caps, reminds me of a Western Union Telegram, and looks like it’s typed on lined loose leaf paper (ask self: were there lined loose leaf papers in 1940?). Still not 100% certain, because the sample is small and fuzzy. Sorry can’t send this to you…” So the search begins, and the deadline January 15th... for posting this incredible stuff has passed! Now my second ‘new’ deadline is today, a day after the national Martin Luther King holiday. Gee, I hope I can make it! 

Thus begins the travails of a very new blogger, who promised everyone she’ll follow up her first post a ‘couple of days later.’ Blogging implies responsibility, a followup of correct information to share with everyone. That’s why it took me four years to arrive at this point. It’s my 2014 New Years resolution to write a blog of sorts; I’m determined to get this wonderful story out, somehow, someway, despite me in the middle of alterations— rather customization of the blog page to make the space my own!

Bear with me a few moments, whilst I try to give you the backstory:

One of the usual New Year’s resolutions is to learn something new, and that turns my attention to writing about teaching typewriters with their colorful keyboards and how children learn from them, for my first typer blog post. 

But before I got started, I was immediately derailed by a thought  (I really should name this blog Unravelled Thoughts, eh? ;)… hmm… January… January events… oh what was Martin Luther King’s birthday, by the way? Naturally, I googled it, and boy was I buried deep in interesting information about his boyhood background and inspirational quotes! The hours flew by, and then I stumbled on a letter that eleven year old Martin wrote to his father, thanking him for his birthday present on January 18, 1940— three days after his birthday, which was January 15th. 

The Stanford MLK Research and Education Institute online archives mentioned the letter was written on a "child’s typewriter.” Oh, wait! A CHILD’S TYPEWRITER?!? Like, the teaching typewriter variety? That’s related to my original theme for beginning this blog! Thus began my quest connecting with the MLK Institute at Stanford, and subsequent phone calls to the MLK Institute at Atlanta, Georgia. MLK birthday came and went… of which Stanford kindly helped me a little bit, but was restricted from sending me a copy of the actual letter because of copyrights held by the Martin Luther King family. 

I quickly got creative and sent my acquaintance, Dave, a picture of the text from my Bantam typewriter on my iPhone. The Bantam is a most definitive child’s typewriter which sold for only one season, that of May to December 1938 (thanks Richard Polt for that information!), so he could tell me if the typefaces was a match. Long sentence that, but methinks you get the gist of it. Well, as luck would have it, he gave me a “I’m not 100% sure, it’s all caps, reminds me of a Western Union Telegram, and looks like loose leaf paper, as our sample is quite small and fuzzy…” with a host of apologies. He knew I would have to get further verification from the MLK Institute in Atlanta, Georgia that has the original for safekeeping/archives. Sadly though, my calls haven’t been returned as yet. But, I felt I had a very good idea which typewriter could’ve been used then: the Bantam, by General Shaver Corporation, a division of Remington Rand!

The Bantam typer was cheaply made from sheet metal, with colorful keys. Interestingly, the keyboard and typeface is in all caps and has some punctuation. The typer lacks numerical keys, and uses the Modern Gothic Large Caps typeface, No. 14, 10 pitch/characters per inch found in the NOMDA Blue Book- Remington Font Styles. (A shout to Reverend Munk, of To Type, Shoot Straight, And Speak the Truth… blog— I never, ever would have found this information out on my own, much less find this incredible NOMDA Blue Book for my archives! He has generously shared all kinds of typefaces for a range of typewriter manufacturers. Here’s the link:   1964 NOMDA Blue Book: Remington Font Styles

The Bantam's typeface is Sans Serif— that is, composed of clean lines that has no ‘hooks’ at the top or end points of the letters, and has very little space between the letters. What’s interesting is that there's larger spaces between the words (!); the spacebar actually inserts equal to the typeface size or larger spaces between finished words. Lastly, the typewriter sold for $10.95, plus $2.00 for the case. Below is a picture of one of my two Bantams that comes with an unusual appliance, that holds the platen in place whilst in the case… It’s a very unusual item to say the least— as I’ve never seen this elsewhere in the wild! The second image shows the appliance removed and placed to the right of the typer:

1938 Bantam Typewriter for Children

1938 Bantam Typewriter for Children (with appliance removed)

The Bantam has one of most ‘creative’ user manuals ever! It’s printed on newsprint, consisting of 6 colorful panels, that actually advertises the typer as well. The comic panel encourages parents to consider this model for the well-being of their children. See below:

Bantam Advertising+Manual on Newsprint; General Shaver Corporation, Division of Remington Rand
Page 01
Bantam Advertising+Manual on Newsprint; General Shaver Corporation, Division of Remington Rand
Page 02
Bantam Advertising+Manual on Newsprint; General Shaver Corporation, Division of Remington Rand
Page 03
Bantam Advertising+Manual on Newsprint; General Shaver Corporation, Division of Remington Rand
Page 04 
Bantam Advertising+Manual on Newsprint; General Shaver Corporation, Division of Remington Rand
Page 05
Bantam Advertising+Manual on Newsprint; General Shaver Corporation, Division of Remington Rand
Page 06

In today’s dollars, the value of this typer would be about $174.00, a rather expensive typer for a minister’s son to type on! My hubby came to the rescue, and suggested that this typer could easily be found in at a secondhand shop, as the birthday note to his father was written by MLK two years after introduction of the Bantam typewriter. 

Instead of the usual typecast sample, I thought it would be neat do retype Martin's letter to his dad found in the Stanford 'King Papers Project' transcription, on my Bantam typer:

MLK letter to Dad typed on the Bantam typewriter; Typeface: Modern Gothic Large Caps No. 14 10cpi

On the other hand,  the typer could’ve been owned by the church office, easily accessible to MLK— But… Something bothered me… this wouldn't be a typer the church, much less Martin Luther King, Senior (aka Dad), a minister-- would use for his sermons. Ah! I have it-- but you'll have to find that out tomorrow! ;o)

May your days be cheery and bright!

Warmly, Gigi :o)

Links & Resources:

Richard Polt's "The Classic Typewriter Page" presents "Remington Portables: Bantam"

To Type, Shoot, and Speak The Truth blog: 1964 NOMDA Blue Book: Remington Font Styles

The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford; King Papers Project


  1. Interesting story. I've seen a Bantam once, when you take a close look at the style and simplicity it just screams "great depression". They key-coloring was off though, I don't like the non-symmetry of it.

    I didn't know they were only sold from May till December. That's a very short period! I suddenly feel very lucky to have touched one. Also, that booklet is just wonderful!

  2. Excellent research, Gigi! This is a great story and you went the extra mile to bring something new to the typosphere.

    If you don't mind, I'll post the Bantam user's manual on The Classic Typewriter Page FAQ. (Maybe I should start a separate page for such manuals...)

    That "appliance" is interesting and unique. I have a case for my Bantam but figured the typewriter was just supposed to sit loosely in there.

    1. PS: Nice Vogue-like font you've got here!

    2. Hi Richard!

      It's with such joy that I read your response!

      You have made such an impact on me, in many ways! Your Classic Typewriter Page has been such an incredible resource for me, and actually started me collecting these interesting typers and much more. For that, many, many humble thanks!

      But of course, I'd be delighted to give you the original scans of the Bantam manual if you wish, though the size I placed here in the blog might just be sufficient for your Bantam page. You are more than welcome to share that with others... the whole point of blogging, right? ;)

      Hang on, the second part will be up when the new typer arrives... any day now.

      Though the blog got started a bit slowly, it will pick up steam as time goes on, so be patient, okay? Feel free to connect me with the Typosphere so others know I exist! ;o)

      Thanks for noticing the Royal Vogue-like typeface I found! For ease of reading the actual blog, I have to stick with a bolder sans serif typeface, but will leave the comments in this "Vogue" typeface. It's one of my all time favorites, but as a typographer, it's a bit light. Maybe I can find a bold version... we'll see!

      I only hope no one is offended with my cuss word at the beginning of the MLK story... I tried to 'star' it out, but it looked rather strange. I felt other writers were honest, and I must be also. Apologies to all that might be offended! ;o)

      Have a terrific day! You (and others) have made mine!

      Warmly, Gigi :o)