Through the ages, composers had to write their music by hand and over time all sorts of machines were invented to print music. One such invention, The Keaton Music Typewriter, did job beautifully and looks nothing like a conventional typewriter.

Robert H Keaton from San Francisco, California first patented his invention in 1936 which had 14 keys and upgraded the machine to 33 keys in with an improved 1953 patent. The machine was a marvel of engineering. The circular keyboard allowed each character to be printed accurately on a staff and show where the next character would be printed,

Keaton created the unique keyboard to separate the two types of characters and explained:  “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 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  lines.”

 

On the left of the keyboard, Keaton added a curved meter called the Scale Shift Handle and Scale Shift Indicator, making it easy to control where the notes and characters fall on the page. Moving the handle up or down a notch adjusts the print 1/24 inch either way and cause the character to fall one musical step either way.

The two keyboards interact differently with the Scale Shift Handle, the large one with the note, scales, sharps and flats moves freely with the handle while the smaller keyboard, containing the bar and ledger lines stay in place since the character are always in the same position on the staff lines. Keaton certainly thought of everything, including making it easier for musicians to see where they were printing the next character by including a long needle next to the printing ribbon as indicator.

It is unknown how many of these typewriters were made and they are indeed rare and sought after by collectors and occasionally one may show up at auction.

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