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by Our Polite Society

Typewriters and Their Typefaces

Typewriter typefaces are subject to a number of restrictions which they owe to their machine-host. Most FACIT typewriters were produced for the office space, at a desktop scale, and designed to match the industry standards of paper size and the corresponding, practical type size.

Typewriter typefaces and their imprints were circulated through the machines which carried them. The machine, once purchased, was often moved from one place to another — possible due to its size and weight — and, typically, the printed matter produced on the machines was dispersed either as originals or reproduced again by way of photo-copy, stencil duplicator, or offset press. Typewriter typefaces were thus highly mobile, and in this sense could be compared with digital typefaces, stored on a personal computer and shared through the cloud. However, as much as they were ubiquitous they were also in many ways specialised and exclusive; more often than not they were used for private or internal forms of communication such as letters and reports and were rarely deployed to produce text published and distributed in large editions. [1] Although a typewriter produces printed characters, it isn’t a machine for reproduction in the same sense as a letterpress, offset press, or photocopier — a typewriter produces unique originals.

One of the recurring documents in the FACIT AB archive are the type specimens. These were made for the user to have an overview of the alphabets stored in FACIT machines. Early on in the project we decided to develop a number of digital reconstructions of FACIT typewriter typefaces as part of our research. We did this in the hope of reactivating their shapes as typographic time capsules, and to put them into use again in the context of the book that you’re holding in your hands.

This text gives a brief overview of some of the things we learned. It doesn’t have the pretension of a general survey but stays close to our findings in the archive, to provide some context and perspective in relation to the fonts which you are seeing in this book. There are a number of essays about typewriters and their typefaces which go into more detail, and which were a source of inspiration for us during the project; two examples which we would like to mention are “Type Design for Typewriters: Olivetti” [2] by María Ramos Silva, and “Modernity, Method and Minimal Means” [3] by Sue Walker. These texts contribute to the salvation of a moment in typographic history which is often discarded and marginalised, like much of the printed material through which this history manifests itself.

The design process that brought us to the typefaces used in this book emerged from stored-away-and-forgotten objects. The documents which we consulted and studied were often in the form of letters; most of them part of FACIT’s internal communication and some of them sent out to customers. We also made use of the various type catalogues which FACIT produced for its users to see the different type styles and explain the specific uses for each one. As stated in a type specimen published in the Facit Typewriting Guide from 1970 there are “a number of styles for the production of small labels, tabulations, forms, manuscripts, offset originals, overhead sheets, clear stencils, organigrams etc.” [4] All office-related documents.

In her article “Typewriter / Typeface: The Legacy of the Writing Machine in Type Design” María Ramos Silva writes: “Typewriter sales grew fast and manufacturers offered typefaces for different scripts. Although the assortment of styles for non-Latin fonts was rather small, the typewriter market expanded and the machines were distributed all around the world. It was the democratisation of typesetting and printing. The new technology allowed for the relatively cheap production of printed material.” [5]

This democratisation of the production of printed text, along with the increased mobility of the machines which produced this text, also played a considerable role in globalisation processes which affected and were affected by business and work organisation. The typewriter in this respect is an ambivalent machine: it empowers individual expression as much as it is a tool of corporate modernism. It is rationality embodied: “With only one typeface and size, with uniform inter-line and inter-word spacing and no justification, the typewriter is ... ideal, also because of its cheapness and simplicity of operation and ubiquity.” [6]

In an article published in the internal FACIT magazine Ciceronen from 1958 we can read that FACIT offered “approximately 90 different keyboards for their standard machine – FACIT T1 – and the same for the FACIT Privat”. [7] Furthermore it says that “In stock, there are 1000 different types of combinations and around 20 fonts. However, all combinations are not available in all fonts. In total, if you distinguish between the different fonts, there are about 3,700 types of Latin characters, i.e. those we use in the West, and about 300 different ‘exotic characters’.” [8]

A sign of FACIT’s global influence was its ability to produce machines for so many languages. One of the most specifically designed keyboards that FACIT offered was the Iranian keyboard with the Farsi alphabet. Since the Farsi language is written from right to left the machines were adapted accordingly. Arabic keyboards, used in Iran, Iraq and Egypt among others, needed a specially designed typewriter that — on top of the carriage going ‘backwards’ — had to be engineered for half-step-typing, in order to connect the individual glyphs of the script style. Other machines were supplied with Greek and Hebrew characters, and the FACIT factory in Madras furnished machines with Gjurati, Hindustani and Tamil alphabets for the demands of the Indian market. FACIT even produced machines with Thai alphabets, despite the complexity of the language and the near impossibility of fitting the Thai character set in the type basket.

The article also describes the process of outfitting keyboard layouts: “When the order reaches the factory, the message is sent to the man in the type storage about which keyboard to put together. He picks up the types from a box of 45 trays in order to put them on the segment. From the warehouse the types get soldered into the segments. Soldering is checked in a projector and after nickel plotting, the type arms are re-entered into the segment. This then goes to the assembly department for insertion into the machine.” [9]



1. With few exceptions, such as The American Institute of Physics (AIP) which changed from Monotype to typewriter composition in the 1950s for the composition of scientific papers, as mentioned in Sue Walker’s essay “Modernity, Method and Minimal Means: Typewriters, Typing Manuals and Document Design”. Journal of Design History, Issue 31 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018),
pp. 138-153.
2. María Ramos Silva, “Type Design for Typewriters: Olivetti”. Dissertation, University of Reading, United Kingdom, 2015.
3. Sue Walker, “Modernity, Method and Minimal Means: Typewriters, Typing Manuals and Document Design”. Journal of Design History, Issue 31 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
4. The Facit Typewriting Guide (Facits Skrivguide), 3rd edition, 1970, p. 39.
5. María Ramos Silva, “Typewriter / Typeface: The Legacy of the Writing Machine in Type Design”, https://typographica.org/on-typography/typewriter-typeface-the-legacy-of-the-writing-machine-in-type-design (last visited: 14 March 2019).
6. Alistair McIntosh, quoted in Sue Walker, “Modernity, Method and Minimal Means: Typewriters, Typing Manuals and Document Design”. Journal of Design History, Issue 31 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 138-153.
7. Ciceronen #4, “90 Keyboards for 102 Countries”. Facit, 1958, pp. 28–29.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.