Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s: Typeys, made with old manual typewriters

Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s Typeys, made with a vintage manual typewriter

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The fascinating new fad that is challenging young and old! How to make “Typeys”

From the Underwood Elliott Fisher Company (1936)

We don’t know who started it… a kindergarten youngster or an experimenting oldster with an imaginative twist to his mental faculties. But someone found out that an Underwood Portable Typewriter could be used for purposes other than typing mere words.

He discovered, if you please, an entirely new medium of expression of “drawing” people and things on typewriters… making Typeys.

Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s Typeys (7)

Peculiar thing about Typeys. Folks who can’t produce a pencil sketch that anyone can call by name do a creditable job of “drawing” on an Underwood Portable.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that in making a Typey, the various elements or forms are already created. The fan simply puts them in place like the well-fitting parts of a jigsaw puzzle.

Perhaps, on the other hand, it’s because people seldom look for perfection in a Typey. They use their imaginations to supply its shortcomings.

Typeys are fun to make and fun to look at. Imagine striking the keys of an Underwood Portable twenty-three times and producing a golfer ready to swat the ball.

Think of using type to produce a flag whipping in the breeze or an elephant looking for all the world as though he were ready to eat peanuts right out of your hand.

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Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s Typeys, made with old manual typewriters (2)

Most Typeys we’ve seen are really typewriter comics. But occasionally a decidedly different kind of Typey comes to our attention … big impressive “drawings” that represent hours and perhaps days of painstaking labor and on which type is used to give the subjects all the degrees of light and shade that a good painting possesses.

These are Typeys of advanced students and while they probably don’t provide half the fun that the simple Typeys offer, they do give a very good idea of the almost limitless possibilities of typewriter “drawings” when imagination, patience and ingenuity go to work.

Vintage golf ascii art

We suggest that you read this little book carefully. Study some of the Typeys that are reproduced on its pages. Note the different characters that have been employed to give life and form to a wide variety of interesting subjects. Then start producing Typeys on your own Underwood Portable if you have one …

There are forty-eight keys on an Underwood Portable. And every one of them can be employed in making Typeys. Dots… dashes… hyphens… numerals… and all the letters of the alphabet are available for any purpose your imagination dictates.

MORE: Like old-fashioned fonts: See dozens of vintage typefaces

Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s Typeys, made with old manual typewriters (3)

Consider the possibilities of the oblique character — /. You’ll find it on the very last key at the base of the keyboard. Why it will form almost anything from the arch of a good Roman nose — / — to a closely cropped lawn — ///// — or driving rain — III

And what a wonderful little help to the Typey artist is the lower case “o”. It’s good for buttons on a vest — o — or used with one of its neighboring characters on the keyboard, the period — , — it helps form a perfect pair of eyes 0 (c) or an imperfect pair of 0 0 as you choose.

But one of the fascinating things about Typeys is that almost every fan finds a way of using these characters that is all his own. And that is just why we’re going to leave to your own good imagination the matter of employing all the other characters on the keyboard.

But before we dismiss the subject entirely we want to draw your attention to the possibilities of the Back Spacer.

Incidentally, only on an Underwood Portable is the Back Spacer located in the same position that it occupies on the big machines of business … on the left-hand side of the keyboard.

ALSO SEE: 25 things most people under 25 have never seen in real life (and probably can’t name)

Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s Typeys (3)

The Typey fan finds the Back Spacer a marvelous little aid in working out tricky little combinations of characters as you’ll see for yourself later when we tell you specifically just how some of the Typeys illustrated in this book were created.

A really fine rendering of a Typey that involved the use of but a single character, the “W”. The original is in two colors and is 8 inches high.

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Another proud peacock created, from gorgeous wide-spread tail to pompous crest, by the use of a single character . . . The original is in two colors, 10-1/2 inches high.

One of the finest renderings of a Typey that has ever come to our attention. The base was created by the repeated use of the “W” key.

The “M” key was used to portray the body of the statue. Miss Liberty’s crown was developed by the judicious use of the character, “H”, while peculiarly enough her blazing torch was done by the sign.

The golfer done in twenty-three strokes by an eight-year-old Typey fan.

A dandy, looking very smug in his new straw hat but positively true to type.

Elephants never forget so the nine-year-old girl who made this one hopes no elephant will ever see it.

Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s Typeys (10)

Sinbad the Sailor presented for the first time as a “Man of Letters”.

The old man of the sea and very definitely the pride of his nine-year-old creator.

JT OST folks like good-humored little Typeys, such as the golfer, that are created with a minimum of keystrokes. And, quite frankly, we like them, too.

We don’t know whether we get a laugh out of them because they are really funny or because we are amused that so much action and realism can be portrayed by type that, after all, was designed for an entirely different purpose.

Let us consider the make-up of the little golfer for a moment. His head was produced at a single stroke of the upper case (capital) letter ” 0 “. His pudgy little body was defined by a brace of parenthesis — ( ); his legs and feet by a pair of capital I’s.

ALSO SEE: These vintage IBM electric typewriters rocked the business scene in the ’50s

Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s Typeys, made with old manual typewriters (1)

As to his mighty club, this was created by striking the oblique key and then back-spacing twice and underscoring, thus^/.

The golf ball, of course, was made by striking the lower case “0” and at the same time adjusting the Variable Line Spacer on the Underwood Portable so that the ball would appear on the same level with the club, this way — q~J.

And as to the golf green itself, it was created by exactly ten strokes of the oblique character that we’ve referred to on a preceding page.

Simple enough, isn’t it? Anyone could make the golfer and get a whole lot of fun out of the task after only a few minutes of trying. Yet think of the joys of producing some of the bigger and more pretentious Typeys after practice has unfolded for you the marvelous possibilities of an Underwood Portable.

Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s Typeys (8)

ALSO SEE: See one of the earliest typewriters ever


Making Typeys is fun, but not all fun.

The art has a very constructive side to it. It provides a means of interesting youngsters in the idea of learning to operate an Underwood Portable at an early age and thus acquiring a knowledge that will stand by them and pay dividends in later life.

Experiments and studies undertaken for the purpose of determining the effect of the portable typewriter on child training prove conclusively that children, even those of kindergarten age, learn faster when they can tap their characters out on a portable typewriter.

Vintage ASCII art from the 1930s Typeys, made with old manual typewriters (4)

Not only does the machine appeal to the spirit of play that is uppermost in the mind of every child but it types the very same characters that appear in the youngster’s primer. There’s no difference between the printing of the word “COW” in a school book and the typing of the word.

But there is a very decided difference when the printed word is compared with the hand-written word. The child mind is never quite able to grasp the reason for this difference during its early formative stages.

Even in the more advanced school grades, an Underwood Portable is an important factor. Neatly typed papers always seem to bring better marks than smudgy hand-written ones and the appeal of the machine itself is unquestionably an incentive to application and study.

Therefore, when a youngster becomes interested in Typeys for the fun of it, he is also laying the foundation stone of better and greater advancement in the years that lie ahead.

MORE: See what antique school supplies & educational materials were like in the olden days

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. The ones that use just the small letter x are called cross-stitch patterns. There are millions of charted ones that you can get for free on the internet.
    It’s well documented that cross-stitch embroidery flourished during the Tang dynasty in China between AD 618-906.
    The earliest printed pattern book was produced in Germany in 1524, but it was many years before pattern books became readily available. So stitchers would record samples of their favorite stitches and patterns on long strips of narrow cloth, hence the name “sampler”. The earliest surviving dated sampler was stitched by an English girl, Jane Bostocke, in 1598.
    Cross stitch as we recognize it today was rediscovered in the sixties when increased leisure time was a factor in the revival of counted cross stitch for pleasure. Once again, stitchers were working from charts, and early kits from this period offered copies of traditional samplers, taking cross stitch back to its roots. Over the last fifty years, the explosion of interest in the craft has seen a flourishing of every conceivable type of design – offering something of interest for all tastes and skills.
    These same cross-stitch patterns can be used for a variety of handwork such as; beading, needlepoint, lace, crochet, etc.

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