Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Typewriter Huggers

Larry McMurtry, where are you when we need you?

That’s the lament of collectors of exquisite Hermes 3000 portable typewriters.

It’s been a year and a half or more since McMurtry publicly praised his Hermes 3000 at the 2006 Golden Globe awards ceremony. McMurtry had won the award for his “Brokeback Mountain” screenplay.

His praise, kicking off his acceptance speech, drove eBay prices of Hermes 3000s into the stratosphere. Prices were stretched out beyond $150. Every coffee table in Castro Valley and the East Village, it seemed, needed a Hermes 3000.

Recently in the typewriter community, we have witnessed the prices plummet back to earth.

But $10? That was the price of one listed over the weekend on our Portland Craig’s List. I happen to know that the price for a pair of Hermes 3000 platen knobs, fragile things often sought by collectors, is at least $25.

So, despite owning three Hermes 3000s already, I called the seller and arranged to see the Hermes at the only mutual time available, 8 a.m. this morning.

I arrived in the mist and drizzle of a Portland morning at a remote northeast Portland neighborhood. I rang the doorbell to a seemingly deserted cottage, waited, waited and waited and was just about to leave when the door opened on the owner, a young East Indian man.

He retrieved the typewriter in its case from the garage and proceeded to try to get the lid off. It wouldn’t budge. He worked away at it, but the slip-on top stuck fast. He had taken a photo of the typewriter that had appeared in the Craig’s List ad, so I knew for certain that there was a Hermes 3000 hidden beneath the lid.

Finally I said I would offer him $5 for the typewriter, giving new meaning to the term “sight unseen.”


Larry McMurtry eat your heart out.

I was within three miles of Ace Typewriter, where owner and friend Matt McCormack knows all things typewriters. I’d have to kill time until he arrived at his shop, but that was easy enough. I prowled the aisles of Fred Meyer and bought a small portable outdoor table that will be the subject of a future post.

It took Matt about two minutes to pry open the lid to the Hermes with a tongue depressor. The typewriter was nearly perfect. These machines are like Swiss watches. Smooth to the touch, but rugged.

That said, the lid remained balky. Matt quickly surmised that the typewriter had been dropped but only the aluminum lid suffered, from a slight bend. Unless a user wanted to carry around a tongue depressor (a curious notion), some solution had to be found. Matt noticed that the entire lid was just a shade askew, but if you grabbed the opposite corners — a kind of hug — while pushing the open lever, the typewriter would pop free.

I wrote Steve Brannon, a fellow collector, who had expressed an interest in a Hermes 3000, and whimsically posed the question: “Have you hugged a Hermes lately?”

He wrote me back an e-mail titled “Typewriter Hugger.”

I plead guilty, and so does he. So do all of us who love these old machines, even if they aren’t worth more than $5 a pop — at least until some celebrity writer gives credit where credit is due.

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