“How is this even possible?’ one may ask. There are so many characters in the Chinese language. Before the time of the computer, you could not select which character you wanted based on the pinyin. Decades ago, if you did not want to write each character, then you had to use one of these.
As you can see in the picture, there is no keyboard, but a rectangular tray full of tiny metal symbols. Each one of those blocks is a character. Another problem – what if you need even more characters? In that case, the design of the machine allowed the trays to be swapped in and out as needed. The most widely used model contains about 2,500 characters. To try and make the process even faster, typists are able to move the tiny metal blocks around to different spots on the tray. These spots could be organized in anyway you choose: frequency of character use, meaning of character, and more. These process sounds very slow and tedious right? Well, it is. Good operators could type as many a 20-30 characters per minute. Remember, they need to find the correct character among 2,500 other ones that are all very tiny. If that was me, I would be sitting there for minutes before finding even one!
How to Use
With your left you hand, you hold onto the knob that is closest to you. This knob is connected to the tray bed and allows the bed to be moved from left to right. This allows for fast movement when you may need to jump around the tray bed quickly. Your right hand is used on the other lever that is closest to the rubber roller. This is for more precise, but slow, movement. This lever also allows you to move left to right, as well as up and down. You then align the type chamber (this is part of the lever) over the desired character. Finally, you push the lever down with your right hand.
The Mechanics of the Getting One Metal Piece to the Paper
Once the type chamber is pushed down onto the metal character (also known as a slug), the character is poked up out of the tray bed and inserted and temporarily locked in the type chamber. This chamber moves up and rubs against an inking spool. Now the character strikes the surface of the paper. Afterwards, the chamber falls back down and lets go of the temporarily locked in piece, which falls back into the exact spot it was taken out of. The amazing thing is, this all happens in one motion.
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