125 Ways to Make Money with Your Typewriter by David Seltz

The 126th way one can make money with one’s typewriter is, presumably: Write a book about ways one could make money with one’s typewriter.

I bought this book at a rummage sale in part because it was well made and thus physically pleasing: It’s a cloth-bound hardcover (those are rare these days); it’s in good shape for its age; the typography is charmingly old-fashioned. The book was produced in 1939.

I also bought it because I wondered whether the ideas were still relevant more than 70 years later, in an age when there are more personal computers than there ever were typewriters. What’s changed and what hasn’t? See below for examples, as well as when and why I read the book.

What’s changed since 1939?

Some of the job suggestions are fairly obsolete. These days, you don’t generally write something (say, a business letter) with a pen and then have someone else type it up for you, although once or twice I did have other people type up papers I wrote in high school. These days, if it needs to be typed, you’re typing it yourself, start to finish, and pen never even touches paper. On the other hand, medical and legal transcription still exist, so typing as a service isn’t totally dead.

Many of the job suggestions have almost nothing to do with a typewriter in the first place. The job consists of some kind of advertising, marketing, or sales work.

Other job suggestions are related to typing in the sense that typing is writing; obviously we’ve still got writers of plays, cookbooks, instruction manuals and other nonfiction books, magazine articles and serialized fiction, and novels of all kinds. We still have ghost writers, research assistants, critics, editors, and journalists.

Some job roles have been obviated by information that is freely available online; you wouldn’t pay someone to write a re-usable business letter since you could probably just download a template and make a few changes to it.

Some of the suggestions depict a world in which communication was just a lot sparser in general. Would you pay, for example, to subscribe to a service that would send you advertisements for products and services offered by businesses in your area? No, because you already get so many for free that you’d be willing to pay them to stop.

Many of the suggestions were something along the lines of “collect information, duplicate it, and then distribute it (by mail) to people who are interested in that kind of information”. We still have digital and perhaps even print newsletters, but so much of what is billed as salable just seemed like stuff you could easily look up online. Then again, I’m not a fan of (or subscriber to) newsletters in general, so I’m perhaps not the ideal person to judge whether they are more or less relevant than previously.

Some of the ideas are still alive and kicking, albeit in digital form. Haven’t you ever received a spam message offering to list you in a “who’s who” directory? They’re either collecting money from you for the listing or they’re trying to sell you a directory… of all the other people who gave them money.

A cute, fun service is the one where you offer to receive things and re-mail them. The ultimate recipient thinks that the mail came from your relatively exotic location (e.g., New York City) and not from the original sender’s boring one (Anytown, USA).

One of the suggestions was to offer an “important date” reminder service; in other words, to mail a postcard to the client several days in advance of each typically forgotten holiday, anniversary, or birthday. There’s an app for that. Dozens of them, probably—though also some hipster somewhere is probably selling customized, handcrafted snail mail reminders as a bespoke service.

What must 1939 have been like?

I’m a poor historian and I wasn’t alive then, so I can only imagine what the world was like based on what is and is not said in the book itself. Nowhere in the book does the word “freelance” appear, nor even “self-employed”, so I assume these terms are more modern.

The U.S. in 1939 was a world in which a book like this might have been particularly useful; if companies, still reeling from the Great Depression, were not able to offer people salaried jobs, people could use these ideas to employ themselves. Or maybe things were already looking up, because the book describes how these jobs provided “extra” income to people with jobs or housewives whose husbands were working.

The wording in the book sounds awkward in places; the word “housewife” isn’t one I can use unselfconsciously. Other shifts in vocabulary are merely quaint. An industrial business was termed an industrial “concern”. Apparently people said “in behalf of” rather than “on behalf of”. The word “circularize” was used to mean “send a bulletin or notice to someone”. Some phrases, like “cashing in”, were apparently so slangy they had to be used with quotation marks.

Writing and Printing Technologies

Several were mentioned that I wasn’t familiar with.

A stenographer uses stenography to take down spoken words in shorthand by writing in a kind of code or by pressing keys on a stenograph machine.

Planography is a kind of printing using a flat surface (rather than a surface that has carved indentations where no ink goes or raised bits where the ink goes).

Mimeography is a kind of printing where you type a stencil and then you roll the ink through the stencil to the paper in a mimeograph machine.

Mimeographs existed alongside “ditto machines” (aka “spirit duplicators”), which my elementary school teachers would use to produce worksheets that (unlike the photocopies that succeeded them) always came out purple. I don’t think I ever saw the ditto machine itself, which was in some “teachers only” room, but I nevertheless knew that that’s where those purple pages came from.

Photos of pages in 125 Ways to Make Money with Your Typewriter

title page
contents (continues to page vi)
random excerpt

When and Why I Read It

This book was published in 1939. I was curious to see how obsolete the book was now that we have computers and internet.

Genre: nonfiction (career, writing)
Date started / date finished:  07-Dec-16 to 31-Dec-16
Length: 148 pages
ISBN: na (hardcover)
Originally published in: 1939
Amazon link: 125 Ways to Make Money with Your Typewriter