Typewriter expert offers insight into the instrument’s history and impact
When Ed Tatsch was ten years old, his father insisted he learn to touch type, sending him to a typing tutor every couple weeks so he could practice his new skill on the home electric typewriter. When the family acquired a word processor five years later, in 1985, Tatsch easily and enthusiastically transitioned. “That was the last time I used a typewriter until three years ago,” says Tatsch. Now, thanks in part to a pandemic-magnified twist of fate, he’s become a local authority on the subject.
Between 1985 and 2017, Tatsch was immersed in computers, personally and professionally. A native of Raleigh, he went to Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, to major in chemistry — but only until his first calculus class made clear he was not a chem major. He switched to religion before leaving without a degree and taking a job as the supervisor of a phone center at a telemarketing company. You might say he made a forced entry into IT.
“My boss called me into a meeting with the head of the computer department,” Tatsch recalls. “They had noticed me helping colleagues out when they had computer problems, liked what they saw, and asked me to move to the computer department. I asked what my options were — and they said the computer department or the door. So I’ve been in IT ever since 1995.”
Tatsch worked in corporate firms and contracting companies in Lynchburg, Virginia, and then in WNC, where he and his wife moved in 1999 to be closer to his parents. In 2006, he went out on his own, then launched ETS Networks, Inc. in Arden in 2010. Tatsch’s firm provides managed service on a contract basis, as well as what he calls ‘break-fix’ customers.
“I enjoy making things work for people,” he explains. “The technology can be fun, but making it do something for someone else, helping clients get to a stage where they can run the business or write an article, that’s what gives me a thrill.”
Seeking to bolster his business, he grabbed the opportunity in 2017 to buy an existing printer sales, service, and supplies business: ABC Office Systems. The seller, Robert Taylor, stayed on for a bit after the purchase, introducing him to customers of long standing — so long that some of them were still bringing ABC their typewriters to service.
“Bob asked me what I was going to do about the typewriters, and I told him I didn’t know anything about them and would have to let that part of the business go.”
But a couple of funny things happened on the way to giving typewriters the boot.
First, there was the demand: Tatsch was getting three to five calls a week from people seeking typewriter service. Also that year, actor Tom Hanks — a passionate collector of typewriters — began making the media rounds to promote Uncommon Type, the book of short stories he wrote, each featuring a typewriter in some way.
Taylor was delighted to take up where Tatsch’s typing tutor left off decades before, teaching the new owner of ABC Office Systems the different models of typewriters, electric and manual: how they worked and basic troubleshooting. “Bob got me started, and I’ve learned the rest on my own. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Tatsch also began acquiring old typewriters from estate and yard sales, in thrift stores and via Facebook Marketplace, getting them back in working order — with an assist from his wife, who enjoys the meticulous task of cleaning them — and selling them to budding typewriter enthusiasts.
He says that side of the ABC business picked up, but it was COVID that gave it a major boost. “People were at home, going through their attics and basements, garages and sheds, and finding old typewriters,” he says. They would come to ABC to get them back in shape for whatever pandemic project they might be pondering. “I think there’s a nostalgia for writing the next great American novel on a typewriter.”
The Blue Ridge Center for Lifelong Learning in Flat Rock asked Tatsch to teach a class on typewriters this month and left the material up to him. With slides and narration, he will discuss the evolution of the machine and how typewriters standardized spelling, grammar, and punctuation; changed writing; brought women into the workforce with safe and better-paying office jobs; and even helped solve crimes through typewriter experts’ testimony.
The instrument is tactile, intimate. A typewriter may not be the quickest way to communicate, but its appeal endures.
Tatsch admits he hasn’t converted back to using one for day-to-day work, but he sees a unique opportunity in the revived interest. “If I had the time and money,” he says, “I’d open a typewriter-friendly coffee shop.”
Ed Tatsch (828-687-3929, abcofficesystemswnc.com) presents “Typewriters” — hosted by the Blue Ridge Center for Lifelong Learning via Zoom — on Tuesday, March 30, 10-11:30am. The fee is $15/BRCLL members, $25/nonmembers. Register by March 25 with the mail-in form on the website: brcll.com. For more information, call 828-694-1740.