Groovy 1950s Typewriter Lets You Write Music

The rare but beautiful device is now a collector's item.
Loukia Papadopoulos

The Keaton Music Typewriter is a rare and beautiful machine that lets you write music. It was first patented in 1936 by creator Robert H. Keaton from San Francisco, California as a 14-key typewriter.


It was then changed into a 33-key machine in a 1953 patent. Back then, the device sold for about $255 while today it is a rare collector's item that likely bids for a lot more.

Groovy 1950s Typewriter Lets You Write Music
Source: Live Auctioneers via Music Printing History

Ideal for music writing

The machine is uniquely designed to be ideal for music writing. On the left, it features a curved meter that Keaton called the Scale Shift Handle or Scale Shift Indicator.

This part ensures the notes and characters are written exactly where they are supposed to be. You can also move the handle up or down to adjust to print 1/24 inch in either direction, one musical step away.

Groovy 1950s Typewriter Lets You Write Music
Source: Live Auctioneers via Music Printing History

Keaton included a long needle next to the printing ribbon to ensure musicians could clearly see where they were about to print. He also included two keyboards: a larger one with notes, scales, sharps, and flats and a smaller one with bar and ledger lines.

Groovy 1950s Typewriter Lets You Write Music
Source: Etsy's via Music Printing History

"One keyboard is adapted to type one class of music characters such as bar lines and ledger lines, which, when repeated, always appear in the same relative spaced positions with respect to the [staff] lines… and a second keyboard adapted to type another class of musical characters, such as the notes, rest signs and sharp and flat signs etc., which may, when repeated, appear in various spaced positions with respect to the [staff] lines," Keaton wrote when describing his typewriter.

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Finally, Keaton equipped his music typewriter with three space keys. The left space key was 2 units, the middle space key 3 units, and the right space key was adjustable to 4, 5, or 6 units. Each was appropriate for a certain class of music characters.

It is hard to tell how much of a commercial success the Keaton typewriter would have been in the 1950s, especially considering it was created for a niche target audience interested in writing music. Still, today it makes for quite a collectible item.


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