Singapore

Reverting to type

Former sales engineer sells and fixes old-school typewriters to raise awareness of their beauty

You know how to type, but have you ever used a typewriter?

The question may sound silly to those who are of a certain age but it can cause head-scratching among today's younger set.

Like carbon paper and cassette tapes, the typewriter hails from a bygone era.

But like vinyl records and turntables, it is making a comeback.

Just ask typewriter shop owner Jason Chong, 37.

His fascination with the much-loved machine began over, well, love.

About four to five years ago, Mr Chong decided to buy his then-girlfriend and now wife, Ms Claudia Tan, 30, a Royal Fleetwood typewriter from an antique store here.

The model had caught her attention when the couple visited the National Museum during a date.

As he tinkered with the machine before presenting her with it, he found himself fascinated by the assorted parts.

So he decided to ask his 73-year-old uncle, Mr Jon Lim, a retiree who used to work for a typewriter service and repair company, how such machines work.

Mr Lim was the ideal teacher, having worked his way up from an apprentice to become a master typewriter service and repair specialist after more than 20 years.

Mr Chong, who was then a sales engineer, learnt the basics of the trade in about three months.

He wanted to set up a typewriter repair service. But his mum thought the venture was a huge risk and was against the idea.

Mr Chong persisted. He wanted people to be more aware about the beauty of typewriters. Just over a year ago, he quit his job to set up a shop, Vintage Empire, at Katong Plaza to sell and repair typewriters.

He recalled how, in 2014, he had set up a stall at a National University of Singapore (NUS) bazaar.

"All the cleaning aunties came and laughed. But within three to four hours, we sold almost everything," said Mr Chong.

He sold about four to five typewriters, each costing about $150 to 180, over the three days.

Mr Chong declined to reveal where he gets his typewriters, saying "it's a trade secret". All he would reveal was that they are shipped from the US and Germany. The typewriters can cost from $150 to a few thousand dollars, depending on the make and model.

YOUNG AND CREATIVE

He prefers not to sell high-end typewriters to avoid scaring customers who are looking to purchase their very first machine, he added.

His clients are mostly the young and "creative types" who are curious about typewriters and want to use them for art-related work.

"Some companies use them to type out invoices. We have also had several people who work on ships getting typewriters from us to fill up forms," he said.

Mr Chong, who runs Vintage Empire by himself, said fixing a typewriter requires several steps.

The metallic elements such as the rollers, keys and backspace bar can easily corrode on the inside, causing the typewriter to lose its internal alignment. To make them work, he needs to remove the grime, which he does by soaking the various parts in chemicals.

It costs money to get the necessary tools and parts. Each repair would cost about $80 to $150 and take about three to five days to fix.

One of his avid customers is Ms Simmay Low, 29, who owns seven typewriters.

The Chinese tutor even gave a typewriter to her student as a birthday present after he was fascinated at her hand-typed encouragement card.

"The best part of the typewriter is (the fact) that you cannot erase (typos) so you have to be more meticulous with what you ´╗┐type," she said.

"The mentality of people these days is, 'Oh, if I make a mistake, I will just erase it', so... they do not think that carefully before crafting their words."