The Type Bar at the Gardner: Typewritten Letters & Vintage Stamps

I went to Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum recently in search of peace and quiet and a place in which to plan. What I found was a teeming building (uh-oh, it was Marathon weekend. The city was vibrant with visitors) and to my surprise the space I sought was clicking and clacking with vintage typewriters!

The original museum is a mock Venetian palace built by Gilded Age eccentic Isabella Gardner, or Mrs. Jack, to house her curious collection of art and artifacts. It's a surprising place on any day, especially the covered, interior four-storey courtyard, rich with trailing nasturtiums, ferns, urns, and filtered, slanting light.

Still more surprising is the museum's Renzo Piano-designed glittering glass extension. In it are greenhouses that supply some of the courtyard's splendors, a music venue, a restaurant and ... a living room. The Living Room is a space for artists to play host to visitors, in the same spirit as Mrs. Jack's original 'Salon vision' of sharing her treasures in the setting of a home. It was The Living Room that I came to see.

I love the leisurely layout, sofas, chairs, vibrant 'nasturtium orange' furniture and light fittings, spacious windows looking onto the old museum building, and wall of books to browse. On Friday and weekend afternoons an artist is on hand to show you things they love. There is always a canary called Whistler in residence too.

The Type Bar

The Saturday I visited, I had serendipitously stumbled on the day's artist: typewriter activist and slow communication aficionado Arthur Grau of The Type Bar. Grau had brought his collection of vintage manual typewriters (a charming cherry red Olivetti Valentine, a Remington Rand Streamliner No. 5 of '40s vintage, and three other attractive beauties) And surprisingly, he also supplies stationery and stamps: binders full of unused vintage stamps, all sorted by face value, ready to choose, add up, and arrange to the satisfaction of the sender.

Each typewriter was in use constantly, with many waiting their turn, while Arthur, tall and angular in his brown suit and nasturtium orange polo shirt curiously matching the decor, prowled the room, his pockets stuffed with stamped envelopes ready for him to mail en masse later.

Heads bent together, friends pored over different stamps and continually checked the total of each envelope's running stamp value aloud to equal the domestic or international postal rate. Layouts were carefully considered before finally the stamps were adherred. 

The whole had a timeless air, in contrast to one's impatience with a text that bounces. Expectations slowed down. There was refreshment and fun in the air. Most delightful of all was the response of the many children. I enjoyed watching them figure out these fickle machines, gradually gaining confidence to type, and their delight at the tactile and auditory joy of creating print under their very fingers.

Grau says he first got a vintage typewriter twenty years ago at the suggestion of his father due to lamentable handwriting married with the desire to write to his dad. He usually provides a bank of typists along with the machines and encourages people to dictate their thoughts as they ponder a letter to a loved one. I voiced surprise that vintage stamps can still be used and wondered where to find them. He suggested to google Face Value Vintage Stamps. I also share some links at the end from my investigations.

I never did get my planning done. But I received a lovely vision of infectious enthusiasm for the written word and making the everyday art of communication a deliberate celebration. So I did the only natural thing and resolved to finally go and get a vintage typewriter of my own.

Kudos to the Gardner Museum for providing this wonderful space.

The Type Bar: slow communication brain child of activist Arthur Grau

The Type Bar: slow communication brain child of activist Arthur Grau

Vintage Remington Rand meets mid-century modern and the youth of today

Click on any image to enlarge and view as a slideshow

  • The scene on entering The Living Room
  • The Type Bar supplies travel in vintage suitcase-style
  • A little 3-bank Corona typewriter
  • "How does this work?" 
  • "Here, let me show you."
  • "Look, dad! I did it!"

The satisfaction of choosing supplies

Vintage Postage

The delight with which visitors to The Living Room pored over the freely available stamps tells of the hold of these small beauties.

Where can you find such lovely old stamps of your own? Popular with wedding stylists and calligraphers, these stamps can be found in curated collections through etsy.com. They can be hunted down amid the many lots of paraphenalia on eBay. Or you can contact Mr. Murphy in Texas. A stamp collector who sells his finds at face value, he sounds like a marvel.

And of course, there are plenty of gorgeous current designs to choose from.

How would you feel, receiving a hand typed letter, on lovely paper, paid for with vintage stamps?