Paul Smith, the Amazing Typewriter Artist


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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In 1575, Francesco Rampazzetto, an Italian printmaker, invented the ‘scrittura tattile, a machine to impress letters on papers.

Hammond 1B typewriter, invented in 1870s, manufactured 1881.
Hammond 1B typewriter, invented in 1870s, manufactured 1881.

The above is a woodcut print of Hammond model 1B typewriter from 1880s, from a mail-order catalog for library supplies. American journalist James Bartlett Hammond invented in the 1870. It was and manufactured by the Hammond Typewriter Co., New York, starting in 1881-1884.

Besides the curved keyboard, the Hammond machines had other unique features. The typefaces were on two interchangeable semicircular type wheels. This allowed the machine to change to other fonts and languages. Instead of the types striking the paper, a hammer behind the page struck a rubber sheet. This pushed the paper onto the ribbon and typewheel.

The early typewriters were mechanical machines used for writing. The typist pressed buttons on a keyboard to move type elements that struck a cotton ribbon impregnated with coloured ink. This resulted in impressing a facsimile of the character onto paper placed underneath the ribbon.

The typewriters became indispensable tools for all writings other than personal correspondence. They were  used in offices, and for business correspondence in private homes. By the end of the 1980s, personal computers and word processors displaced typewriters in the Western world. But even today the typewriter is still in prominent use in many parts of the world, including India.

Watermill by Paul Smith
Watermill by Paul Smith

Can you believe that an artist used a typewriter to create the above picture of a watermill? This is the creation of Paul Smith, an extraordinary typewriter artist afflicted with severe spastic cerebral palsy.

Paul Smith was born on September 21, 1921, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States.

The spastic cerebral impeded his speech and mobility. The loss of fine motor control of his face and hands made it impossible for him to attend school. He was not able to eat, clothe, or bathe himself. The affliction also made it difficult for him to express himself.

Paul discovered the typewriter early in life. He developed his own technique for using it to create pictures. He used one hand to steady the other to press the desired key. By the age of 15, Paul was creating typewriter art. He persevered in refining his technique.

Since he couldn’t press two keys at the same time, Paul almost always locked the shift key down. He created his pictures using the symbols at the top of the number keys. He based his pictures on these characters:

!      @      #      $      %      ^      &      *      (      )      _      +

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Mona Lisa by Paul Smith
Mona Lisa by Paul Smith

Later on, Paul developed his own techniques to create shadings, colors, and textures to resemble pencil and charcoal drawings.

In the 1940s, Paul’s family moved to Hollywood, Florida.

For seventy years Paul painstakingly created hundreds of incredible works of art using his typewriter. He often gave the originals away. Sometimes, but not always, he kept or received a copy for his own records.

Click on this line to see Paul Smith’s typewriter art.

Paul used to play chess. His incredible skills in visualizing and calculating made him a formidable chess player.

Paul was a humble person with much humility and a charming, self-deprecating sense of humor. He excelled at making the lives of those around him much richer. Paul was a devout Catholic. He believed that his talent was a gift from God.

He never married. In 1967 he entered a retirement facility – the Rose Haven Nursing Center in Roseburg, Oregon, USA. He lived there until his death on June 25, 2007.

Paul Smith the amazing typewriter artist was, and is, an inspiration for all.

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