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Typewriter's last word not written yet

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Paul Schweitzer is one of a dying breed. As owner of Gramercy Typewriter Co in New York City, he repairs machines that many consider obsolete.

Paul Schweitzer works on a typewriter at his shop in New York November 1, 2007. Schweitzer is one of a dying breed. As owner of Gramercy Typewriter Co. in New York City, he repairs machines that many find obsolete. But he's not ready to fold yet. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

“The younger generation says, ‘Who needs typewriters?’” said Schweitzer, 68, who joined his father’s business in 1959. “It’s not true; there are people who still like hitting the keys.”

Some organizations still use typewriters to write labels or fill forms. And there’s always the person who just prefers to type the old fashioned way.

“Some things you can’t do with a computer,” said Steve Primont, owner of TTI Business Systems Inc, a supplier in New York. “We just sold 15 typewriters to a major law firm.”

The typewriter industry may not be dead yet, but it has been in decline since long before the rise of the MySpace generation.

They are “a minuscule part of our business,” said Tom Keirnan, owner of Professional Business Machines, an office equipment service company in New York. “We’ll maybe sell a dozen electric typewriters a year, maybe two dozen.”

At Gramercy, typewriters account for 25 percent of its business, the rest coming from servicing Hewlett Packard laser printers and fax machines.

“That’s what pays the bills, not selling a ribbon for $10,” Schweitzer said,

IBM SELECTRIC

The typewriter was first patented in 1868, and marketed and sold by the Remington gun company in 1874.

They gained popularity in the early 20th Century, with production peaking in the mid 1970s. In the 1980s, word processors -- typewriters with a memory card -- had a relatively brief run until they were eclipsed by personal computers with word-processing software.

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IBM was the giant of the U.S. typewriter market. In 1975, its Selectric typewriter accounted for about 75 percent of the market in the United States. Demand started to wane in the 1980s, and the company produced its last typewriter, the Wheelwriter, in 1993.

Smith Corona, which employed 5,000 people during the early 1970s, struggled to make a profit in the 1990s. The company filed a second Chapter 11 -- the reorganization provision of bankruptcy law -- before it was sold to Pubco Corp, a Cleveland-based printer maker, in 2001. Pubco uses the name to market printer supplies.

The Royal Typewriter Company, founded in 1904, was another leader in the industry. Now the company is called Royal Consumer Information Products Inc, and sells office supplies like printers, faxes and copiers, as well as Royal typewriters manufactured overseas.

Japan’s Brother Industries Ltd still makes typewriters, but sales are steadily decreasing, said Joyce Brittingham, a spokeswoman for the company’s U.S. division in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

CELEBRITY HUNT AND PECK

Though sales on newer machines are declining, antique typewriters have a following among collectors, including actor Tom Hanks who lists “old manual typewriters” as a hobby on his MySpace page.

Chuck Dilts, 43, an editor of “ETCetera, the Journal of the Early Typewriter Collectors’ Association,” estimates there are about 600 serious collectors in the United States.

Dilts and a partner run a typewriter museum in Southboro, Massachusetts, which features about 800 models.

Collectors generally look for typewriters made before 1920, when the machines became more standardized, Dilts said. “For me, chasing them down is a lot more fun than actually getting them,” he said.

There is practically no collector interest in typewriters built after 1956, when they became electric.

For those who still like to punch away at typewriter keys, the machines are available at office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot, where they range between $145 and $615.

“There something about typewriters, where when you’re writing a poem or story and you have the clickety-clack on your fingers,” said Deborah Chapman, a customer at Gramercy Typewriter Co. “I’m a clickety-clack girl.”

MyTypewriter.com (mytypewriter.com/), an online typewriter store, lists 56 authors, living and dead, and their favorite typewriters. John Irving uses an IBM Selectric. John Updike favors a 1940s Olivetti and Joan Didion writes with a Royal

KMM.

Gramercy’s two-room office in Manhattan is cluttered with typewriters, some antique and some electric. Paul Schweitzer’s workbench is piled with inky screwdrivers and other tools. He hires assistants to help him fix printers.

Retirement isn’t an option, he said, because he’s the only one who can repair a typewriter.

“Who’s going to fix the typewriters?” he asked while installing in a new ribbon in a Smith Corona from the mid-‘70s. “I’m going until I drop.”

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eddie Evans

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