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Dead medium: The Burroughs Moon-Hopkins Typewriter/Calculator
From: bruces@well.com (Bruce Sterling)
Source(s): *Antique Typewriters & Office Collectibles: Identification and Value Guide* by Darryl Rehr
Collector Books 1997 $19 plus $2 postage available from Darryl Rehr P. O. Box 641824 Los Angeles CA 90064
ISBN 0-89145-757-7

Long-time Necronaut and office-technology expert Darryl Rehr (darryl_rehr@lamg.com) has just published his long-awaited comprehensive guide to antique typewriters. This work is clearly aimed at the collectors' market, and comes from a press specializing in similar guidebooks for dolls, furniture, jewelry, toys, glassware and so forth. ANTIQUE TYPEWRITERS a book meant for toting to flea- markets.

ANTIQUE TYPEWRITERS is a handsomely-produced, 170 page, outsize glossy paperback. The color photography is perfectly adequate to the task, though it does lack the chop-licking backlit technofetishism of, say, AMERICAN JUKEBOX by Vincent Lynch or TELEPHONES: ANTIQUE TO MODERN by Kate E. Dooner. The commentary == and there's a lot of it == is a congenial mix of technical and industrial history with a collector's appreciative savor for the esthetic qualities of the machines themselves. This book, as a guidebook, is arranged in a sensible alphabetical fashion, by name of manufacturer. That's a boon for collectors, though not so good for the student of technical development. Still, like many collectors, Darryl Rehr displays a hearty appreciation for the rarest and most freakish aspects of his chosen field, giving this work a high Cahill Rating. Flipping through ANTIQUE TYPEWRITERS at random floods the mind with insight. The sheer scale of production for the once ubiquitous typewriter is astonishing in itself. This work is an instant Dead Media classic.

Many, many Working Notes might be derived from this comprehensive tome, but serious students of the typewriter and its history should not rest content without owning the book. An excerpt from page 34, describing a particularly freakish 1920s mechanical precursor of the PC, should be proof of this.

page 34

"Burroughs is a name mostly associated with adding machines rather than typewriters. In the 1920s, however, the company marketed its Burroughs Moon-Hopkins, a remarkable combination typewriter and calculator.

"This monstrous machine originally consisted of a caps- only (double-case was offered later) upstrike typewriter with a huge, glass-sided calculating machine mounted on the back. Later sold as the 'Burroughs General Accounting Machine,' is is obvious that this device was intended as a do-all for any office needing to do billing or use figures in its correspondence.

"The calculating module of the machine could be equipped with multiple registers, so that numbers could be calculated and stored for later use == a kind of primitive memory akin to today's computers. The Burroughs Moon- Hopkins was one of a very few direct multiplying machines, meaning it did not multiply by doing successive additions as on most calculators of the kind. It also automated a number of other tasks, including rounding off fractions of a penny to the next highest whole cent.

"The Burroughs machine was successor to the earlier Moon-Hopkins apparently produced by the Moon-Hopkins Billing Machine Co., which was founded in St. Louis in 1911. Burroughs acquired rights to the machine in 1921."

(((bruces remarks: The accompanying photo on page 34 shows an enormous glass-sided office machine with no fewer than six rows of keys. Black, somber, weirdly elongated, and obviously very heavy, the Burroughs Moon-Hopkins resembles a typewriter crossed with a hearse. One can only wonder if family scion William S. Burroughs ever saw or used this device.)))

Bruce Sterling (bruce@well.com)