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Death keeps the typewriter alive

Even though computers have long since supplanted them as the typing tool of choice, and even though some claim that print is a dying medium, typewriters are still around -- just not where you'd expect.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that typewriters still have a major place in business...the funeral home business, that is.

Swintec, a New Jersey-based typewriter company, stays in business in part because funeral directors need typewriters to fill out death certificates. Many states, like Kentucky and Maine, still require death certificates to be handwritten or filled out using a typewriter, though many funeral home directors find this time-consuming and are pushing back.

A number of government agencies also use typewriters for specific forms, something that made the mainstream media last year when the city of New York ordered almost 1,200 typewriters to replace aging machines used to fill out carbon-copy forms that computers still can't handle.

Still, the day is coming when typewriters won't be seen even in these offices and businesses. For example, the New York State Legislature has amended the laws on death certificates allowing for the creation of an electronic registry by 2015. That will make a real dent in Swintec's business, though the transparent typewriters they manufacture for prisons should continue to be popular.

And of course, typewriters will still have a place with those who enjoy collecting them, or view them as a symbol of the scholarly lifestyle of the writer. There are still many writers who insist on using typewriters, like Harlan Ellison, Larry McMurtry, and John Irving, among many others listed on

And of course there's Tom Hanks, who recently wrote an ode to typewriters and his collection of hundreds for The New York Times. And he makes an interesting point: "a ribbon can be re-inked in the year 3013 and a typed letter could be sent off that very day, provided the typewriter hasn't outlived the production of paper," he writes.

So even if they're no longer useful in the funeral business, keep those typewriters around. If civilization ever collapses, they might be the only way to send a legible letter.

Plus, they just look cool.

Photo: mpclemens