Typewriter Key Jewelry
Rachel Hannah and Kerry Loeb own a novel business called What’s Your Type?, which turns old typewriter keys into jewelry.
The pair, who are also the firm’s only employees, scour the nation for old typewriters. The business began after Hannah, the more artistic partner, found herself marveling at an old typewriter in 1997. It inspired her to create a collection of handmade earrings, cufflinks, necklaces, rings and bracelets from the keys of old machines, with pieces selling for $12 to $90. The couple are also developing a line of dog collars.
They use only the typewriters’ keys but, with a mission statement of “taking something that’s on its way to trash (and) recycling it into art or donating it to kids,” Hannah and Loeb also concern themselves with the typewriters’ ultimate end. “We really care about the typewriters being recyclable. We send the good ones to Mexico (to villages where there is no electricity), and we send the guts up to this artist in Tahoe,” Loeb explains.
“It’s kind of sappy,” adds Hannah, “but dumping millions of typewriters out there is not a good thing … I have a real problem with creating more garbage for the world.”
Although what’s your type’s product is stuck in the pre-electronic age, the owners themselves have a computer-savvy history.
“We are a success story for online dating,” says Loeb, who has a background in marketing and alternative health and was once a nutritional counselor. He met Hannah – who spent almost 10 years as a recruiter at Pixar Animation Studios – by way of the online classifieds site craigslist.
“We rely on craigslist to find our typewriters and relied on craigslist to find each other,” says Hannah. “If that ain’t a line, huh? We love craigslist!”
While art bridges the gap between old and new for Loeb and Hannah, there are plenty of people out the! re who’ve never seen the “old” part.
“Some of the kids,” says Hannah, “come up and ask, ‘Mom, what’s this?’ They’ve never seen a typewriter. And then there’s just a whole generation of our age who grew up using typewriters … there’s always a sentimental story behind a typewriter.”
Adds Loeb: “There’s definitely a sense of nostalgia. It’s a throwback to another time.”
Then there are the little oddities of the whole project. One memorable customer, relates Hannah, “bought his initials, which were P-M-S, and he wore them proudly.” Hannah has also found some unusual typewriter keys, she says: “‘Shift freedom,’ ‘floating key,’ ‘self-starter’ and of course, I like my ‘back spacer.’ People ask some odd questions, too, Hannah says. “When they ask ‘Where is the delete key?’ I always say, ‘on your computer.’ People also always want exclamation points, but back then, you used an ‘l’ and then backspaced a period.”
The couple’s job satisfaction, though, stems from more than their end-product. “I know I’m strange,” says Hannah,! “but my favorite part is actually cleaning. When I get these typewriters, they are brown, they’re rusted out and gross, and then I turn them into beauty. I think they’re beautiful and just stunning to look at.”
For Loeb the joys are not in the tangibles of the products but in the process. “I love making contact with people,” he says.
“I love the treasure hunt.”
And with the couple’s wide-ranging outlook, art doesn’t stop at the close of the work week. They have family art days – art Sundays – with (Loeb’s) 14-year-old daughter. “It’s our family day to do art,” Hannah says.
“We brought back from our most recent trip to Mexico a whole bunch of pea pods about 3 feet long that we got out of a tree from the house where we stayed. We brought back a huge bunch of these things and painted a whole bunch of designs all over. We’re going to hang them up like a tree.
“We are full of art, there’s no doubt.”