Typewriters. Once the pistons of prose for writers everywhere, these anvil-sized hunks of iron hearken back to an age when reporters “hammered out a story,” and writing itself was a form of manual labor.

But when old-timers wax nostalgic about their trusty Royals, Remingtons, and Underwoods, it’s the sound they talk about. The metallic clatter of keys. The optimistic, almost joyful “ding” each time the carriage reaches the end of a line. The aggressive swat of the return lever that sends the carriage flying across the gears with the sound of a metal zipper.

In the first exhibit of its kind, “Celebrity Type” gathered 14 vintage typewriters owned by visionary writers, celebrities, and newsmakers of the 20th century, including Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, John Lennon, Joe DiMaggio, and Theodore Kaczynski (aka the “Unabomber”).

The exhibit—which was on display at Northeastern’s Gallery 360—was made possible by California civic and business leader Steve Soboroff, a longtime collector of celebrity typewriters and father of Leah Soboroff, AMD’17. 

Steve Soboroff (second from left) plays a few notes on Hemingway’s typewriter.
A special reception on Sept. 5 featured the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, eight musicians who use an assortment of manual typewriters to pound out their own whimsical brand of percussion: keys clattering, bells ringing, carriage protectors clanking. During the performance, Soboroff made a guest appearance, playing a few well-placed notes on Hemingway’s 1929 Underwood Standard, the same machine the Nobel Prize winner used to tap out letters from Cuba.

“I think he would’ve gotten a kick out of that,” Soboroff says.

The Soboroff Collection

Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway wrote descriptive pages in longhand, but dialogue on typewriters—including this 1929 Underwood Standard—because the speed of typing made it easier to capture the natural rhythms of speech.

Before John Lennon was a Beatle, he was a high-school student living with his Aunt Mimi in Liverpool, England, where he used this 1951 Imperial Good Companion Model T to peck out early song lyrics.

After an 18-year manhunt for the notorious Unabomber, the FBI confiscated two typewriters on the raid of Kaczynski’s tiny Montana cabin. One was this Montgomery Ward Signature.

Renowned opera tenor Andrea Bocelli, the best-selling classical musician of all time, used this Standard Perkins Brailler during his studies, and to write opera verse featured in his memoir.