Amherst Magazine

Sealing Wax and Other Fancy Stuff—Like Typewriters

Adam Gerchick ’13

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A late-night lesson in manual typing and quill-pen writing has inspired some students to revive the lost art of old-fashioned letter writing.

Rohan Mazumdar ’12 had not expected to spend his Friday night with a typewriter. But on Sept. 16, 2011, he arrived at Amherst’s first “letter-writing social,” where, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., hundreds of students pressed envelopes with sealing wax and tapped away at classic typewriters. To Mazumdar’s surprise, he is now inspired to continue the practice.

Sponsored by the college’s Student Activities Office, the letter-writing social—first in a series of late-night events—gave students the opportunity to mingle and relax while reviving the nearly lost art of pen-and-paper or typewritten-letter writing.

The brainchild of Crista Reed, assistant director of student activities, the social “was the kind of thing I always wanted to do as an undergrad,” she says. And so she purchased—online—several traditional typewriters. Then, Reed admits (slightly sheepishly), she “figured out how to use them.”

Reed organized two stations, one in which students could operate typewriters and the other for those wishing to delve even deeper into history by using ink and quills. She also purchased envelopes and sealing wax.

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Reed expected attendance to reach 150 to 200. Instead, by her estimate, more than 300 people arrived. “I was very pleasantly surprised,” she said. When students asked her to do it again, she decided to incorporate typewriting and letter writing into a December “craft night.”

The social may be in the past, but several attendees have independently continued the practice of old-fashioned writing. “I actually wrote a letter to a friend in the week following the event,” Mazumdar says. So did Chris Lim ’12: “I was inspired to maintain correspondence with someone who moved out of Amherst through traditional letter writing. In fact, I took extra supplies from the event and wrote letters the next day.”

And thanks to Reed, the Amherst student body might now include a manual typist: Mazumdar heard a rumor that one student went to the typewriter store on North Pleasant Street (yes, there is such a place) asking to rent one.

Photos by Kate Berry ’12