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  • Genine Babakian

In a House Full of Retired Objects, a Typewriter Stands Out

It sits halfway up the landing, just past the rotary phone and the vintage sewing machine.

The artifacts. These are the first things I notice about my hosts’ home. The way they are lovingly placed in full view of active living, even if these items have long since been retired. Like the flat iron in the kitchen, or the black stone metate in the sun room, upon which great grandmothers ground their corn into meal.

In a quiet residential corner of San Jose, this house is like a museum. And my hosts, Lilliam and Mauricio, tell me about the family connection to each object. Lilliam talks about her grandmother’s sewing machine, and Mauricio pantomimes how to grind meal on the basalt metate.

And the rotary phone with the hold button, I ask?

“I used to work as a secretary,” Lilliam replies.

I admire each of these items once filled with purpose. But it is the typewriter that captures my attention.

Boxy, its drab grey surface scratched, the carriage release at half-mast. It is not the type of item you might normally find on a staircase.

But this is no ordinary typewriter. It is a Facit: Swedish steel, Swedish design, Swedish precision.

This typewriter was designed, quite literally, by a prince. Sigvard Bernadotte. He may have been born in a castle, but Bernadotte focused on useful objects, establishing himself as an industrial designer. He is recognized for his inspired furniture, kitchenware and flatware designs. His silver coffee service, circa 1939, is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection.

He is also known for typewriters, of course. Intrigued by this Facit I found on a staircase in Central America, I learned all about the Swedish typewriter from the Typewriter Museum in Helsinki, Finland (yes, there is such a thing). Australian blogger Robert Messenger shed even more light on the designer in his Wonderful World of Typewriters blog which, like the typewriter, has a loyal following.

It was Bernadotte’s bona fides—a royal prince of Sweden, great grandson of Queen Victoria, brother to the Danish queen—that prompted the Facit to be marketed as a “princely typewriter.” Ad copy from the 1960s described its “elegant Swedish Modern design” and its “Viking grey color.” The Viking part made me reconsider my original “drab grey” impression.

In short, the Facit is one fine typewriter. But this princely machine has particular meaning in this house.

Decades ago, when Mauricio was preparing to defend his legal dissertation, he had painstakingly typed it out on this machine. I picture him as a two-finger typist, gradually cranking out a few hundred pages. But just days before he had to turn it in, his advisor returned the dissertation with handwritten comments all over his only copy. He could not turn it in without retyping the entire document.

What was Mauricio to do? He was inclined, he told me, to just give up.

But his then girlfriend Lilliam, in an act of love that secured a permanent place in his heart, would not have it.

“Give me three days,” she told him. And in three days, with very little rest and lots and lots of coffee, Lilliam had retyped his dissertation, earning the thanks printed on the inside cover of the bound document:

A mi amada Lilliam: Quien con su ayuda y amor hizo possible la transcripcion y conclusion del presente trabajo.

To my beloved Lilliam, who, with her help and love, made possible the transcription and conclusion of this work.

Who could possibly get rid of a typewriter with that kind of history? It remains, like the other artifacts in Lilliam and Mauricio’s home, both retired and revered.

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