What follows below is the story of New York artist Kyle Void and his quest to obtain a working IBM Selectric Composer. This quest was a long, arduous and expensive journey for Kyle, fraught with disappointment and dead ends. His perseverance and willingness to throw absurd amounts of cash at the problem won through in the end, and now he’s the happy owner of one of the rarest and most complexly interesting typing machines on the planet. Here’s the story in his own words, which I’ve only edited to break a 1,752-word paragraph into multiple chunks for easier reading:
It was when I first breached the mystical barrier between the magic of the off-set white, special font, parchment paper of published books and the thought to attempt it myself, that I lead to the route of using an IBM Selectric Composer.
Growing up I loved books; (and still do) the smell and officiality of them that nursed the story or text to my brain. A favorite poet and author of mine, Richard Hell, had an old zine he did in 1970 with David Giannini called Genesis:Grasp. These zines struck to me that barrier bonding the mysticism of publishing to that of self-produced. I researched more into it and realized he used an IBM Selectric Composer to achieve his publishing and font selection.
After researching more into it I realized a lot of 1970’s publishing used a similar font that I’d later learn the name of called Journal Roman. This rough look that an analog electric typesetter gave was exactly what I was looking for to create the proper framing to my books. So I started searching online for one for sale.
Not too long after I realized they were near impossible to come by and even find any info. So I went to my local typewriter store in NYC in Gramercy and spoke with them about it. They had to let it digest for a minute… then almost hick up’ed in thought from not seeing or hearing of one since they were new. They told me good luck, but it’s no longer in circulation. But they suggested an IBM Selectric II for me to use instead which I thought with high expectation to do the job. About a month of having it I realized it didn’t have anywhere near the fonts that I wanted and I tried so hard to find a font that would mimic, at the time, my view of Times New Roman. But none were close or the right size I wanted.
So I went on the hunt again for a composer with determination but head full of doubt. I went through the the image results on Google looking through, which introduced me to Ted and his machine ‘Mothra‘ much before I’d meet him. I found one for sale!!! But but in shock it was listed in 2008. I took a chance and sent an email.
Two nights later I got an email in a daze when I got home at 2 am after a night of heavy drinking from ‘Hubert’, a man who had an Electronic Composer, he still had it for sale! So I called him right then at 2 am drunk. I was so excited it probably kept me coherent enough to hold a conversation. He was very friendly but a little hard to understand from his thick Canadian accident (probably no worse than my drunken slurs). For my fortune, he still had it and said he needed to make a box to ship it.
We went back in forth between phone calls and emails for about two weeks talking about our lives and romanticism we had for the machine and writing. Well, finally enough he dug out 55 font balls, manuals, an IBM pica ruler, 28 ribbons, and hand made polka-dot dust cover his ex-girlfriend made for him in 1985 which clearly brought back memories to him. He mailed it out and I was incredibly eager to get it; having my guys at Gramercy anticipating it to work on it when it arrives. Unfortunately when it got here it was all banged up. Keys were broken and what I assume the insides matched. He explained to me before I got it it was missing a belt. But I was in high hopes that Gramercy was going to be able to find one.
Anyway I took the machine down to Gramercy and the owner (Paul) took one look at it shaking his head saying “nah, this thing can’t be fixed.” I instantly felt my heart drop. He said you can throw it in the alley, someone will pick it up there. I was in complete disbelief. After all that, this was the outcome, a composer in a desolate NYC alley. His son Jay, who I was mostly speaking with, said hold on let’s hold onto it hear and see what we can do. So they did. He called me back after a few days confirming it was in pretty bad shape and no one could really fix it.
But I was determined. Even though at first I wanted to give up he pushed me to call around. He gave me the repair list of every shop in the US and I went through it with a fine comb. At the same time I read Ted’s post on reviving his. So I messaged him in on his comment section. Shortly after he emailed back saying if he were to sell his it “would be for a lot of dead presidents.” But I was persistent, so he said look, here’s a list of repair manuals and things you need to know in fixing the one I had. Also brought up the trade market between us with font balls, that we still do. I was trading fonts for a machine I never used and still researching how to fix the one I had.
Finally I found a guy in Hudson that said he could fix it. I was ecstatic! At the same time I found another IBM Selectric Composer (the dial operated one). I was in love with its style, simplicity, and beauty. So I researched who its owner was and figured out it belonged to a guy named Nick. So I found his email and emailed him. He responded back saying he ironically gave it up to Ted. So I emailed Ted back asking him about it. He said he indeed had it and could ship it to me for the price of shipping, but it needs some work. So he did, and I called the guy at Hudson back saying now I have two and wanted the original IBM Selectric Composer fixed more ideally. He said it maybe more challenging and he couldn’t guarantee it but he would try.
A few days later Ted sent me an email of a list of people who had composers they were trying to sell on his blog. So I emailed all of them and one responded, a woman from Minnesota. She said her neighbor used to run a print shop in the 70’s that went out of business and he still had it stored in his office. I was guessing it was another ‘Electronic Composer’ because they seemed more common at this point. But when she sent me a picture, sure enough there was the beautiful colored dial and tan shell. I told her I’d take it.
It was another two week process talking back in forth with each other and becoming very familiar with each other’s stories. Then finally it was time to send the money to the old man that had it. I had to Western Union it because he was unfamiliar with any other method. I was worried about his packing job so I found the UPS store he was shipping from to call them letting them know about my situation and when he arrives to double box it and I’d pay for it.. so they did.
Sure enough it came a week later in great shape, no damage. I called Hudson and told them we had two now and I was figuring out how to get them to him. I didn’t have a driver’s license but my girlfriend did. So we found how to rent a car and got a Bmw suv (no extra charge) to drive up to Hudson. It was a beautiful drive in the beginning of fall. The shop looked like something out of a movie. Very quiet and strange like a large shack dressed like a home on the outside.
We dropped them off and I waited another two weeks. They finally called me back saying the motor was broken but they replaced it with the one that Ted gave me. I also brought the ‘Electronic Composer’ but at this point gave up on it and gave it to him. He did a “cleaning” and switched the motor. After another few days he said the tab feature was giving issues and he couldn’t figure it out. At this point Ted was addressing that Professor C was showing interest in fixing my machine. So I told Hudson to cease any further work on it and I’d come pick it back up. So we rented another car and drove back up to pick it up. I paid him to switch the motor and later to realize cause more work.
I was beginning to get real frustrated and almost give up a handful of times. The process was completely consuming me in every avenue. So I emailed Professor C, he gave me his address, and I shipped it to him.(the ‘Minnesota IBM Selectric Composer with replaced motor). Another week passed and I was getting worried he didn’t receive it. So I looked up the address, it was a bed and bath and I began to panic. Did I ship it to the wrong address??? I double checked and it was right so I called. A woman answered and said Clark was out of town ’til the next day, I was relieved they knew who he was! When he got back he began work on it and another 2 weeks passed. I was completely unsure the direction the machine was going.
Finally he emailed back saying it was just about fixed and that everything was working he was just running rendered tests. He sent me a video of it justifying and my jaw sunk to the floor. I was blown away. He shipped it back and sure enough it was running great! Finally I had a working composer! I was in complete disbelief. I called him and thanked him profusely. I now have a complete printing press in my apt here in the East Village an I am in current work of publication of a few books of poetry and a magazine. If it wasn’t for Ted most of this wouldn’t of been possible for me. Thanks Ted, and thank you Lena for all your help, it wouldn’t of been possible without you either. But high praise to the genius engineer, Professor C.