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The typewriter is dead; long live the typewriter

Business Standard:  February 01, 2008

Mumbai: Even in this age of supercomputers, 12,000 typewriters are being manufactured and sold annually.

Its obituary was written a couple of years ago, and you will generally find the old ones being used in police stations, courts, government offices, or being put up for sale on eBay.

Yet, in this age of computers and supercomputers, 12,000 typewriters are still being manufactured and sold annually in India.

Godrej - one of the only two manufacturers left in the world (the other being Olympia), and the sole manufacturer of typewriters in India - expects manual typewriters to live for another 3-5 years before they fade into history.

The company gets an annual revenue of around Rs 8 crore for the domestic sale and export of manual typewriters. Electric and electronic typewriters died with the advent of printers.

Out of the 12,000 typewriters that Godrej sells, 66 per cent is exported to countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Angola, Mozambique, Morrocco, and the UAE in 16 foreign languages.

The remaining 34 per cent is sold in India in 15 Indian languages - a majority of the typewriters being sold in the North East, East (West Bengal and Bihar).

"It's natural that with computers on the scene, one hardly thinks of typewriters. The sales are dipping for sure. But we believe we will still be selling manual typewriters for another 3-5 years, especially in areas where electricity is a problem. At present, the government, the defence sector, the courts and the police are the major buyers across the world," says Sorab Parekh, senior general manager, Godrej Prima Division.

Godrej recently got an order for 6,000 typewriters from Madagascar. Last year, it got a similar order from the Philippines during the elections.

Made of 1,800 moving parts and priced between Rs 8,000 and Rs 12,000, typewriters were indispensable tools for most part of the 20th century in business offices and for many professional writers. The XO Laptop, in contrast, is available for around Rs 7,500.

The major typewriter manufacturers included companies like Smith-Corona, Olivetti, Remington, Godrej, Adler-Royal, Olympia, Brother, and Nakajima. Today, only Godrej and Olympia are holding fort globally.

However, by the end of the 1980s, word processor applications on personal computers had largely replaced the tasks previously accomplished with typewriters.

Manual typewriters did get a facelift with electric and electronic typewriters which replaced the typeball with a daisy wheel mechanism (a disk with the letters moulded on the outside edge of the "petals"). These relied on integrated circuits and multiple electro-mechanical components.

However, it was always predicted that the mechanical typewriters would outlive electric and electronic typewriters (both of which went out of circulation with the advent of printers). The manual typewriter will, of course, eventually give way to the computer.

So what do you do with your typewriter, if you still have one? Most early typewriters, from the late 1800s and early 1900s, rarely go unsold on eBay. eBay prices range from Rs 350 (excluding shipping) to Rs 2.5 lakh for the unusual ones that attract premium prices.

Outside of eBay, higher prices have been achieved for very early and unusual typewriter models. For example, at Sotheby's, a Merritt typewriter from 1895 went for around Rs 57,000 some years ago, and at Koln in Germany, The Auction Team valued a rare Imperial Typewriter - one of only three known to exist - around Rs 6 lakh.

Disclaimer: This information has been collected through secondary research and IBEF is not responsible for any errors in the same.