Monday, December 30, 2013

Planet Type

This ain't no disco ball. No, but it could be, however I actually like to think of it as "Planet Type" orbiting the celestial Typosphere. In truth, it is an IBM Selectric type ball, spinning on its axis, or more commonly known as an "IBM golf ball", so named as it resembles one in size. The type ball was originally engineered for IBM's Selectric Typewriter in the early 1960s, and offered an interchangeable typewriter font which rotated and tilted into position before striking each letter onto the page. The first monospaced type ball fonts came in a variety of styles and two sizes: 10 or 12 characters-per-inch. These features represented an enormous innovation for IBM at that time, and a rather rudimentary introduction to the world of desktop publishing.

Source: IBM100 | Icons of Progress

This sweet little orbital type ball is actually the first of its kind I've come across. If memory serves, the IBM type balls typically came packaged in their own little clear plastic cases, ready for instant installation, so you could switch fonts with ease. I purchased this miniature "type planet" globe from a dealer who knew less about it than I, but presumed it was never something IBM actually distributed. 
     Soon after discovering the little "Planet Type" several weeks ago, my old friend and typewriter devotee, Alyson Kuhn, coincidentally shared the happy news of a recent endowment to her type ball library of fonts, given to her from typewriter "Repair Saint", Gerry Wallace, in gratitude for her many referrals. 

Not only was I impressed with the news of her kind endowment, but I had to inquire about her lovely personal stationery. She responded in kind with a second decorative envelope filled with various examples of her crested notepads which were designed by Michael Osborne, and letterpress printed onto Crane's papers by Judith Berliner of Full Circle Press. For the full background story read her earlier report on Felt & Wire.

The next handsomely engineered enclosure within this mailing, was Alyson's Alphagram (or Alysongram), with letterpress printed alphabet, vertically arranged to match the line-spacing of her typewriter. Her delightful note was typed in the lovely "Business Script", which I find quite expressive and characteristic of many mid-century script fonts in use at that time, such as Brush Script and Kaufmann. 

The last enclosure was a save-the-date promotional postcard for Ex Postal Facto 2014, an upcoming 3-day conference celebrating mail art, faux philatelics and postal modernism, to be held in San Francisco in mid-February. This could be a type ball for postal art people. 


  1. What a nice trip down memory lane. I thought it was the best invention and life couldn't get any better.

  2. Where oh where did you find this? Such a want.

  3. It was a lucky eBay find. I think I was just looking for some random typewriter ephemera when I found it.

  4. Golf ball typewriters were so cutting-edge, way back when... and yet it took more than just a moment to change the type ball. In 1975, working in a university department, I had to deliver a manuscript to the typing room at Cambridge University Press - where they were using these typewriters for bibliographies, changing to an italic ball for the title of the book or journal in every reference ... then back to roman for the rest of the reference.... A person could quickly get tired of doing that all day!

    1. Great story Margaret!

      Oh, how far we've travelled ; )


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