‘World’s Greatest’ Typewriter Collection on Exhibit with ‘Alabama Types’

  • October 29th, 2018

The “world’s greatest” collection of typewriters formerly owned by famous writers, actors, playwrights, musicians and others will be displayed at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center from Nov. 2 to Dec. 7.

Tennessee Williams working at his typewriter in 1946. Photo credit: Alamy

The exhibit, titled “Alabama Types,” will be free and open to the public.

The collection is on loan from Los Angeles Police Department Commission President Steve Soboroff and is part of the Southern Literary Trail tour that started this year at Mississippi State University and comes to The University of Alabama in its final stop thanks to the combined efforts of UA’s department of theatre and dance, the College of Arts and Sciences, the department of English and the Alabama Humanities Foundation.

Harper Lee (Special Collections, The University of Alabama)

“We’re excited it’s coming this way,” said William Gantt, music rights manager in the department of theatre and dance and chairman of the board of the Southern Literary Trail. “The Huffington Post in reporting on the exhibit called it the ‘world’s greatest typewriter collection.’

“Through working on the Literary Trail project, which celebrates Southern writers, we learned of the typewriter exhibit,” said Gantt. “Soboroff has been a collector of typewriters since getting the typewriter of the Unabomber at a police auction after that trial. He then got the typewriter of Jack Kevorkian, the doctor made infamous for assisting people who wanted to die. Because he’s a big supporter of writers and journalism, he began collecting typewriters of famous people in general.”

Soboroff’s collection has about 50 typewriters of famous people, including Tom Hanks, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Maya Angelou, James Haskins, John Lennon, Ernest Hemingway and George Bernard Shaw.

“It turns out that Tom Hanks himself is a typewriter collector, but Soboroff has his typewriter,” Gantt said.

On Nov. 8 from 1-3 p.m., Soboroff will attend the gallery to speak about his collection.

About a third of his typewriters will be on loan to UA, but in addition to his collection, Harper Lee’s estate is allowing her typewriter to be on display with the exhibit as a UA-only exclusive. Lee’s book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was voted America’s best-loved novel.

Demopolis native James Haskins
Photo Credit: James S. Haskins Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

“It will then go back to her estate after it leaves the exhibit,” Gantt said. “Because she and Truman Capote were good friends, we’ll be displaying their typewriters side by side.”

Other UA exclusives the exhibit will display include:

  • The University’s collection of antique books and memorabilia that have association with the original owners of the typewriters.
  • Information about connections the original owners had to Alabama.
  • An oil painting by Tennessee Williams that has never been seen before publicly. It will hang above his typewriter.

“Another example of a UA exclusive is that John Lennon performed at an Elton John concert in Madison Square Garden in September of 1974, and he was backed by the Muscle Shoals Horns, a band out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama,” Gantt said. “We found a single record of that performance, which is very hard to come by. That will be displayed.”

The exhibit is an official part of Alabama’s Bicentennial celebration and is supported by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission and with a $6,000 grant from the Alabama Humanities Foundation.

Cultural events and programs will be held throughout November in conjunction with the exhibit. Those events can be found on the Alabama Types Facebook page.

“This exhibit is not about the machines themselves, but about the artistry,” Gantt said. “Some of the typewriters have brought people to tears because this is the closest a lot of people will get to these artists.

“So if you’re a big fan, this is a celebration of the people who actually touched and used these machines.”

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.