The Smith Corona SL470

The late 1980s and early 1990s. Brutalist architecture, synthesisers, the Walkman, VHS, Max Headroom, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Gameboy, the birth of the mobile phone and the last wail of the typewriter generation. Shortly to be swept away into retro vintage obsolescence by the voracious colonisation of the word processor, then the PC.


Enter the Smith Corona SL470 electric typewriter, retrospectively showing off classic 1980s utilitarian industrial NHS grey. Part 2001 A Space Odyssey sci-fi style, part Star Trek kitsch, part Rollerball supercomputer keyboard with Ralph Richardson shouting at it, this is exactly where traditional analogue writing tool meets the aesthetic of new electronica and the dawn of digital. The manual gearbox versus the automatic. The CD versus the audio cassette.

Made in Singapore in the era of the Asian electronics tiger surging towards its double decade of mass production dominance, the style (in hindsight review) is studiously functional. Built only for performance, typewriters by this stage had features now embedded in modern typographic production: triple pitch, sub script, super script, full line correction, word erase (remember Tippex?).

Nevertheless just as with the film camera versus the digital camera, care had to be taken. Aforethought required (as the erase function is not a convincing corrective solution), the SL470 user still had to be able to spell and know their own grammar. Today in our utterly electronic throwaway digital world, that is a forgotten skill.

Fully fuctioning, found on eBay for £19.


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