Kerouac’s Scrolled Manuscript and Britain’s Last Typewriter

They don’t make ’em like this anymore (or at all).

Today I stared down Jack Kerouac’s 120 foot scrolled manuscript of On the Road, currently on display at the British Library.

Check it out if you have a chance; the scroll’s impressive for a few reasons. First, it was penned uber-fast, in a three-week writing binge in the spring of ’51 (following a load of planning on Kerouac’s part, mind you). Second, it’s the most expensive original manuscript ever, auctioned off for $2.4 million USD in 2001. And three, there’s the simple fact that it’s a whole book written on a single piece of paper.

Seeing it today, however, there were a couple other things that made it special.

This week marked the last time a typewriter will ever be made in the United Kingdom. Brother, the only manufacturer still producing them here, announced it was no longer feasible to make them. Any day now, the machines may disappear completely.

If they do, then even if we have long rolls of paper lying around (not just beside the crapper), what Kerouac did in ’51 will still be impossible. Or at least it won’t have the same impact; clicking PRINT on your MacBook Air isn’t the same thing.

Which is why I’m in favour of the pencil.

Hard to find a single sheet of 120-foot paper these days. Same goes for typewriters, I hear.

And that brings me to this: Recently, a bunch of writers complained the internet was their deadliest distraction. Some went as far as to call it an addiction. I can empathise. Easy to loathe the web when you’re trying to finish a manuscript.

This week, however, I did just that. I finished a manuscript. With a pencil.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice to writers who feel themselves subsiding into internet-addiction: Screw the web-blocking software. Don’t cast about in vain for an old mimeograph. Just get yourself one of these:

The mechanical pencil: Possibly the last time Technology produced something I could really get behind.

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