The distinctive Keaton Music Typewriter was produced in the 1950s to make it easier for musicians to create legible sheet music.
Just like in many sectors, the music industry has had many innovations aimed at improving how music is printed. But, many artists still prefer the use of pen and paper when composing their songs.
One of those inventions is the Keaton Music Typewriter, and it’s considered the coolest typewriter ever made. It was initially invented in 1936 when it was patented, and there hasn’t been any other typewriter to surpass or meet its standards.
The typewriter was named after its Developer, Robert H. Keaton, who was from San Francisco, California. It’s now a rare collector’s item.
Though this item was meant to have 14 keys initially, it was later upgraded to 33 keys and patented again in 1953. It was mainly marketed in the 1950s, and it garnered a price of $255.
The unique design of this typewriter is its circular keyboard, which was inspired by the desire to have something that could bring the precision of characters.
It allows the printing of characters precisely and also shows where the next character should be located on the sheet, resulting in the utmost accuracy.
The keyboard’s excellent functionality comes from its ability to separate two character types. Music has different kinds of classes, so this keyboard makes it easy to identify each and differentiate them accordingly.
The repetition of a class of music characters such as bar lines and ledger line are indicated in specific positions and according to the lines.
“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.”
This typewriter’s arrangement is intriguing. The engineering part is well taken care of, and Keaton installed a curved meter on the left side, which makes it easy to determine notes and character placement on the sheet.
These controls are called the scale shift indicator and scale shift handle, and they help in organizing the page.
For instance, if you slightly lift the handle upwards or downwards, the typewriter gets adjusted to 1/24 on either side, and a character will fall “one musical step” in either direction.
And to ensure whoever using the typewriter could see where they were about to print, the developer included a long needle next to the ribbon that leaves nothing up to chance.
Interestingly, these two keyboards work in different ways with the Scale Shift Handle.
The smaller keyboard (which contains items like bar lines and ledger lines) stays in place since its characters always appear in the same place as the staff lines.
The larger keyboard with the scales, notes, flats and sharps moves freely in tandem with the Scale Shift Handle.
Watch this short demonstration to see the typewriter in action: