Last of the Mohicans: Typewriter Repairman

American Icons, Featured Article, Odd Jobs
on January 4, 2014
Faye Murman

Clack, clack, clack, clack, ding!

Anthony Casillo, 57, types a few words to check for sticking keys on a 1920s Underwood typewriter at TTS Business Products in Garden City South, New York.

Using a small tool of the trade, he removes metal rings from 49 dime-size glass keypads and replaces the faded paper letter inserts before cleaning and polishing the machine’s metal type bars.

For 35 years, Casillo has kept typewriters in letter-perfect condition, servicing, repairing and restoring both manual and electric models, along with their contemporary counterparts — computers — since the 1980s.

“In a perfect world, I could just sit here and fix typewriters,” he says, noting that nowadays he repairs several dozen typewriters a month.

Casillo’s fixation with typewriters began in 1974 when he completed a yearlong International Business Machines (IBM) course and learned how to service the company’s 3,000-part Selectric model, which helped him develop an appreciation for all types of typewriters. Five years later, he opened his own repair shop and began accumulating typewriters and stockpiling parts.

“I went on a buying spree for a couple of decades,” says Casillo, surrounded from floor to ceiling by cabinets and boxes containing millions of bells, belts, clips, springs, spools, pulleys and other parts for antique Remingtons, Royals and other models.

His customers include offices where typewriters still are used to fill out forms and documents that can’t be completed on a computer, and individuals who share his enthusiasm for the old-fashioned machines.

“Writing on a typewriter gives you a snapshot in time,” Casillo says. “If you’re really a writer and want to be the next Hemingway, you’ll want to see that first draft. With computers, the first draft became non-existent.”

For more than 40 years, Janet Collins, 78, a retired music teacher and writer in Jackson Heights, New York, has enjoyed the thwack of the type on her portable Olympia as they leave their marks on paper. When the machine’s margin release lever refused to budge, she worried that her typewriting days were over. Then she found Casillo.

“He replaced a mechanism on the margin, along with the worn feet and cleaned the machine,” Collins says. “I was so happy when I got the machine back; I kissed it.”

Casillo’s customers bring their typewriters into the shop or ship them from across the United States. One upstate New Yorker sent hers by taxi. Among his cherished thank-you notes — typed, of course — is one from Helen Gurley Brown, then editor of “Cosmopolitan” magazine.

“I think you are a genius!” she wrote. “I’m just thrilled that you could make my 40-year-old Royal manual typewriter frisky and fresh.”

At the end of his workday, Casillo heads home to his collection of typewriters, dozens of which are displayed in glass cases in his basement. His 1880s-era Edison and Columbia typewriters have dials for selecting the letters to be typed and a rare 1890s Odell operates with a long sliding bar of type and a pointer for selecting each letter.

His most ornate models sport Greek columns, mother-of-pearl inlay and brass fretwork. A 1930s Corona children’s typewriter has animal figures printed on the keypads, which correspond to animal rings that tykes wore on their fingers while learning to type.

“Every typewriter has a story,” says Casillo, who as a repairman ensures that more stories will be typed on the classic writing machines.