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Partschins, Italy

Peter Mitterhofer Typewriter Museum

Typewriter museum housing more than 1,500 machines preserves the history of the grandfather of computers. 

Open since 1998, this purpose-built museum in Italy’s Bolzano region holds over 1,500 typewriter models in its permanent collection. The museum was built in honour of Peter Mitterhofer, one of the machine’s many accredited inventors, with the help of typewriter collector Kurt Ryba’s donation “for all times and as an inalienable cultural heritage.”

Spanning 4 floors, the museum displays its most polished examples as part of a vast chronology of key-punching and space bar slapping, complete with theatrical re-stagings for those unable to imagine how things were typed before repetitive strain injury was conceived.

A brief history of the world told through one appliance, highlights include the Malling Hansen, the famous ‘writing ball’ device that looks as if it were developed by Enlightenment physicians, and the world famous German Enigma encryption machines, the deciphering of which were, for some, instrumental in the Allied war effort. Occasional tables are set for viewers to have a go themselves, and punch a few lines into their tickets to take home as a memento.

Mitterhofer was, as might be expected, an eccentric character, who “often argued with priests and policemen”. The first objects that he constructed range from a washing machine, a guitar, an instrument called the Hölzerne Glachter, which produces a laughing sound, to more mundane loudspeakers and picture frames. His first typewriter, produced in 1864 was deemed by Mitterhofer to be a ‘failure’, though in fact, of all the early machines, the shape and key format of his prototype most closely resembles the mass-produced models that prevailed.

A show of interest to the museum’s staff could lead to a visit to the basement or “special showroom”, clad with wall-to-wall shelves that are stacked with the machines that the museum couldn’t quite squeeze in to its displays. Not for the faint-wristed, this archive contains all of the models that evade the typewriter canons: from black glossy proto-surrealist elegance to bright Disney playthings, along with all of the bakelite and melamine - Casio Elite, Smith Corona Deluxe, the IBM Selectric, and many, many more - that took their glimpses in the limelight inbetween.

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