Over twenty years ago, I found, in an antique shop in London, a small handwritten note by Lewis Carroll in which he asked for help in operating his new typewriter. I had known that Carroll had a typewriter, but adding this note to my collection made me eager to learn more. After some research, I wrote an article for a small Lewis Carroll journal titled “Lewis Carroll’s Typewriter” in which I described the Hammond No. 1 typewriter that Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Dodgson) had bought in 1888. At the time, I had no idea that the typewriter still existed, but in 2012 it came up for auction at a small auction house in England and I was lucky enough to be the high bidder. The purchase of this elegant machine caused me to re-visit my research, and to discover, through the wonders of an internet that had not existed in the early 1990s, a lot more information about James Hammond and his remarkable machine. I wrote a long article for an exhibition catalogue, expanding my original research. This time I was able to illustrate the article with pictures of the actual machine. The article is much to long to republish here, but I offer an excerpt which might put this typewriter into some context.
The design of the original Hammond has been compared to that of a piano, and it is certainly a work of art in addition to being a fine piece of engineering. Dodgson’s machine included four separate typefaces, each stored in a compartment on top of the typewriter. The entire machine is enclosed in a wooden cover, inside of which is mounted an instruction label, which Dodgson signed “Rev. C. L. Dodgson Ch. Ch. Oxford.” Presumably this was because he took the machine with him on his summer travels to Eastbourne.
Within a week of receiving his machine, Dodgson, ever the inventor, had devised two improvements. The first involved the loading of the paper. Dodgson’s method was slightly more difficult, but much less likely to result in damaged paper. The second improvement made his typewriter more like a modern word processor, for it produced a justified right margin. He achieved this by counting the number of characters in each line, and adding an appropriate number of spaces between words in order to produce lines of uniform length. Though this process was certainly tedious, Dodgson used it on occasion to produce documents that looked professionally printed. This, along with his references to its function as “printing,” is an indication that he considered his typewriter to be essentially a home printing press, a view that vanished but today again prevails in our expectation of producing professional-quality publications on home computers.
Dodgson used his typewriter for composing correspondence, entertaining his child friends, and, in one instance, producing one of his desk-top publications. He did not, however, rely heavily on the typewriter. The machine always remained something of a novelty to him and was more frequently used for the entertainment of children than for serious writing. Although Dodgson composed tens of thousands of letters in his lifetime, and several thousand of these are still extant, a careful search has brought to light only fifteen typed letters.
When Charles Dodgson died in 1898, his Hammond typewriter was not included in the sale of his effects; it was purchased by his brother Wilfred from the estate for £6. Wilfred used the machine in association with his career as a land agent and was still using it as late as 1908, when he received a letter from Hammond Typewriter on 26 March replying to his letter of the 25th in which he requested some new ribbon. The letter reads, in part: “We are very glad to hear that you find the machine after all these years such a true servant to you that it is still enabled to do the work which you require of it.”
The fully illustrated article that accompanied my first exhibition of the typewriter occupies eight densely packed pages in a now sold-out catalogue, but if you’re interested in knowing more about both the eccentric inventor James Hammond and Lewis Carroll’s use of his typing machine, let me know. It may just be time for a reprint.