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Cormac McCarthy's typewriter and its predecessors

December 2, 2009 |  7:08 am

On Friday, Christie's will auction Cormac McCarthy's battered blue Olivetti typewriter, with proceeds going to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit the author supports. "I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not yet published," McCarthy writes in his authentication letter. Of course, that includes "The Road," "All the Pretty Horses," "The Crossing," "Blood Meridian," "No Country for Old Men" and the rest. The typewriter has been tended as gently as if owned by one of his hardbitten Southwestern characters: "[I]t has never been cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station airhose."

McCarthy's isn't the first typewriter to hit the bigtime: It's joining a posse of authors' typewriters that have become collectible. In fact, the Ransom Center in Texas has about a dozen in its collection, including an Olympia owned by "Perry Mason" author Erle Stanley Gardner, poet Edgar Lee Masters' Corona, a gold Royal belonging to Anne Sexton (below) and a few of Isaac Bashevis Singer's. Many of Singer's typewriters, including the one above right, were in Yiddish.


In a 2006 exhibit called “Technologies of Writing,” the Ransom Center displayed not only its typewriters, but works from its collection that related to typewriters (and other writing tools, but we're talking typewriters here). In 1945, while Norman Mailer was at work on "The Naked and the Dead," his first book, his parents offered to buy him a new machine. He wrote back asking for one with "ridged keys and a hard touch and a lot of noise. Somehow I don’t like most of the new models with their slippery keys and noiseless action. When my machine clacks and snaps I know it’s happy, but you can never tell about those quiet ones!" The Ransom Center displayed what it could of that typewriter -- all that was left was a beaten platen.

Another piece on display was a 1941 letter from playwright Tennessee Williams to his agent, Audrey Wood, which can be found in the book "The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, 1945-1957."

My operation occurred on the Via Aurelia between Rome and Genoa in my new Jaguar. I was driving it at 70 miles an hour, fortified by a couple or three stiff martinis, when a capricious truck came out of a side road and I decided to hit a large tree instead. One side of the car was demolished. My portable typewriter flew out of the backseat and crowned me just over the hairline. I have not had a bigger or more excited audience since the opening of "Menagerie." No one could believe the divine bird was still able to flutter! But here, I am, in Paris!

While many authors in the 20th century used portable typewriters, Williams may have had the only one that could fly.

How much the typewriters in the Ransom Center collection are worth is hard to say -- all were part of larger estates, not sold separately. McCarthy's Olivetti, which cost the author $50 in 1958, is expected to bring in $15,000 to $20,000.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Top left: Cormac McCarthy's Olivetti typewriter; credit, Christie's / Associated Press. Top right: Isaac Bashevis Singer's Yiddish typewriter; credit, Pete Smith / Harry Ransom Center. Bottom: Anne Sexton's gold Royal typewriter; credit, Pete Smith / Harry Ransom Center.

RELATED: George Bernard Shaw's typewriter up for sale