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The World's Third Largest Typewriter Museum is in Shanghai

SmSh heads to Yan'an Xi Lu to tour a museum dedicated to Chinese Czech businessman Lu Hanbin's obsession: the typewriter.
2016-08-16 14:44:30
The Polaroid camera, the record turntable and vinyl, cassette tapes, 8-tracks, the fountain pen -- among all the retro products salvaged from oblivion in today's hipster culture, the typewriter is the deepest cut. They're hard to come by in stores. They're clumsy and loud, expensive and impractical to use. Still, typewriters never lack for their defenders, even just as collectables. Whether for decorative aesthetic reasons, the process of deliberation they necessarily bring to writing, or simply because they can't be tracked by the NSA, it would be hard to imagine typewriters disappearing from use or display forever -- especially in Shanghai, home to the world's third largest collection.

There aren't many typewriter museums in the world but Shanghai has one and it's completely free. Thanks to Chinese Czech businessman Lu Hanbin -- also, interestingly enough, the founder of the first Chinese newspaper in Czech -- a tiny typewriter museum was opened inside a small villa on Wuxing Lu in 2010. About four years later, Lu Hanbin's typewriter museum expanded and relocated to Yan'an Xi Lu, where it now occupies the 7th floor of a quiet office building. It's a typewriter museum and cafe, and also regularly hosts workshops, salons, and talks. Mostly about bookish things.

In front of you are the hundreds of typewriters, mostly in excellent condition and with ribbons installed, that took Mr. Lu over 20 years to assemble. The museum claims that they have over 300 typewriters and vintage technology products in 14 languages. A lot of these pieces are legitimate antiques, wrested from obscure markets all over the world. Old models are on display from notable manufacturers such as Corona, Remington, Olympia, Underwood, Blickensderfer, just to name a few, and their histories can be traced back to the late 19th century.

(An evolution of earlier mechanical printing technologies, the basic modern typewriter that would go on to mass production is usually dated to have been invented in the 1860s.)

The museum displays the brief history of how the typewriter evolved, the technology behind the machine, its arrival in China (in Qing Dynasty, apparently), as well as the development of Chinese typewriters in Shanghai. All the information is in Chinese, although you can scan the QR code beside the product to watch a short video of it. As someone who's old enough to recognize the more recent Shanghai brands: Hero (英雄) and Flying Fish (飞鱼), they sure do bring back a lot of school memories.

The museum houses other interesting displays including "typewriters and brands" and "typewriters and celebrities", with the latter featuring anecdotes about American humorist Mark Twain and Chinese linguist Lin Yutang. Note that Mercedes logo in that last photo -- a different enterprise than the one that is emblazoned on luxury automobiles today although both companies were formed around the same time at the start of the 20th century.

There's something calming about being surrounded by so many nostalgic machines. In addition to typewriters, Mr. Lu has also put together quite a few cabinet tube radios and TVs in the museum, albeit quite randomly. There's a big antique wood Huzhao (沪照) camera in a room next to the museum area, which is certainly interesting to look at.

The place has a spacious seating area, with plenty of greenery at the windows. Aside from the cafe, which has a coffee machine that looks like it hasn't been touched for a few months, you can totally bring a book and sit there, free of charge.

The interior and the book selection of this place could be improved -- not sure what the heck Doraemon is doing here, but the place is free to enter and explore, and the receptionists are nice and helpful, so no complaints.


You can spend about an hour here if you'd like to take a good look at all the antique typewriters and chat with the reception ladies about various events they're hosting. The place is open till 9pm, and it takes five minutes to walk from Line 2/ 11's Jiangsu Lu station. More info in our venue listing