Early in September I had an opportunity to visit a country I have always been quite fascinated by. While its colonial past seems relatively peaceful, Singapore became a major flashpoint during the Second World War that had huge implications for the region, including Australia.
It is an island that shares a waterway with the south east-most part of Malaysia, and has has a complex population that is largely of Chinese ancestry, with a substantial amount of British and Malay mixed in.
It is an island city much like Hong Kong, but doesn’t have the same population intensity. While much of Singapore may be populated by ethnic Chinese, culturally they are very different to their ancestors.
There’s a certain elegance to Singapore that you don’t see elsewhere in the region. A beauty that shines through with a very proud population. The city is sophisticated and in most places astonishingly clean. They’re also very respectful of their history and culture. They’re very educated, friendly and welcoming.
So it probably should come as no surprise then that there’s a respect for typewriters that is almost hard to believe. The people of Singapore seem to just ‘get’ what I love about typewriters. The industrial artistry of their construction. The elegance of the art and love that often came off the pages put through these machines.
What I found in Singapore, for the brief time I was there that typewriters are often seen as iconic cultural items and are revered. This was driven home within the first hours of my visit, when I headed to a shopping mall near my hotel looking for pharmacy for some medication (not for me, long story I’ll tell in another post) and a typewriter featured predominantly in much of the Tiong Bahru Plaza’s advertising banners. The same graphic is even on their information kiosks, all over the centre.
The typewriter in the poster also appears to be one of Claire Secritaire’s pieces.
Elsewhere in Singapore, other typewriters – real typewriters, emerged in unexpected locations.
This Olivetti was found in the a mall in the central business district, while the Remington 5 below was found in a bar in Singapore’s Chinatown region.
I almost felt awkward about the Remington in the window. It had some great Art Deco decals, but sadly the machine had seen much better days.I’mg just glad it was the chair that had been turned into a lamp, not the typewriter.
That said, I did go on a brief typewriter safari to an antiques store that was also in the Chinatown district.
China town isn’t typical of Singapore. It’s crammed and cluttered, and feels a lot like Hong Kong. The antiques store held fast to this aesthetic, and made for a challenging hunt to find machines.
A Royal QDL was the first I came across. It was at chest height, and placed precariously on top of a pile of platinum serving platters. The machine was protected by a strip of plastic wrap that prevented uses for attempting to operate the machine. It was, however, complete and looking in reasonable enough condition to operate.
Further down the hallway I saw a hint of a familiar case underneath a pile of rugs and bamboo floor mats. I shifted it aside, only to be rewarded by the sight of one of the blandest machines that Olivetti ever produced.
The Olivetti Dora.
Another machine emerged piled between bits of rubble in the shop. A Brother Deluxe machine that is a very competent typewriter, but of no real interest to me, as it doesn’t suit my collection. It is however in great working condition.
Several metres off the ground I spotted a case that looked like a large portable typewriter. Its lid tapered back like a portable typewriter, but the handle and the locks, along with the pressed metal design of the case didn’t match any other typewriter I had seen before.
The shop attendants were busy with a very pushy customer that wasn’t actually interested in buying anything, but wanted to see everything pulled out from back locations. I left them alone and resolved to return to it later. I did however snap the photo below and put it up on the Facebook Antique Typewriter Collectors group, to get some feedback from everyone, hoping they could identify it. If it was in fact, a typewriter.
The post resulted in several hundred sometimes comedic responses, which are worth a bit of a browse when you have a chance. The post can be found HERE
With the Facebook discussion going crazy, I returned the next day to get some closure. Alas… the typewriter turned out to be a non-typewriter. It was a film projector that folded down tidily. Much like all the other items stacked around it.
I left the store empty-handed, but eager to check out another destination in Singapore.
I’d had the foresight to pack my microphone in my luggage when I headed overseas, and I simply slipped it into my shoulder-bag, along with an iPhone adaptor, and headed over to Katong Plaza. There, a gentleman by the name of Jason Chong ran a small shop/workshop where he sold and repaired typewriters.
I found Jason to be a nice chap, with a great little setup crammed into a small space in an odd little shopping hall that wasn’t all that easy to find.
Packed tight with typewriters, many on the floor as well as the display shelves, there was just enough room for me to be able to shift around his workbench, where he had a collection of tools laid out. Many of the tools he had manufactured himself, while others were common modern items that had been re-purposed for typewriter repair.
Jason was anxious about the interview at first, but eventually agreed – much to my joy. So we sat down and talked about his tools and experiences, and the stock in his shop.
If you haven’t already, the address to the podcast is in my previous post. Have a listen.
Sadly I was in Singapore far, far to briefly. I know of a few other locations that I would have liked to have headed out to on typewriter safari, but sadly I didn’t get the chance to hunt down any further typewriters.
Coming up: Tales of Malaysia and Singapore.
10 thoughts on “The typewriters of Singapore”
Very neat. Thanks for taking us along on the safari.
“..one of the blandest machines that Olivetti ever produced”. I have an Olivetti Lettera 31, which is practically the same device. Thanks for telling me how bad my typewriter is. 😦
I love those photos. Specially, the one where the Olivetti Studio 46 appears. xD
Mate, you have had band until you’Ve owned a Dora. Come back when you get one and then I’ll tell you what I think of your machine 😉
Then, I assume there are important differences between the Dora and the Lettera 31. I wonder which differences are these ones. xD
I don’t know how you got ‘bad’ out of bland though. The Olivetti Dora types as competently as an L32 or L33. Its a good typewriter to write on. But aesthetically it is the blandest and most feature lacking machine of its era.
Not bad. Just bland.
Oh, I see! Then, you meant “simpleton” instead, due to its lack of important features such as the graduated paper bail or the tabulator keys… I understand. That is the why I replaced the paper bail of my typewriter. I couldn’t center the titles correctly. xD
Well, if you want a degrading word to use, I’d say ‘cheap’.
It was Olivetti’s answer to the highly price competitive Japanese machines that were killing the market at the time. Olivetti produced the Dora for rapid assembly, and a handful less expensive to make non-essential items. The Tabulator is the second most expensive part of the Lettera series due to its ultra-fine manufacturing. The most expensive being the Segment.
Anyway. I’m sure your typewriter gives you much pleasure. That’s the most important thing. It shouldn’t matter to you if I find it bland. Just keep typing!
Now I understand the reason which the technician refused to install the tabulator keys (and gears related). The technician just replaced the paper bail with another one from a L 32. xD
Very interesting. I also enjoyed the podcast aa few days ago. I had to chuckle when you tried out the SG1 you bought and a LOUD CLUNK-CLUNK confirmed the misgivings of your neighbours to an earlier SG1 you recalled owning earlier in the podcast! 😉
Ha ha ha. Ahhhh yes. I’m sure they still remember my SG1 monster.