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Douglas Stewart, pictured here at work in his study, had a strong impact on Australian literature in the first half of the twentieth century in his role as editor and literary critic. Stewart was editor of the Bulletin’s ‘Red Page’, its literary section, for 20 years. He also worked for Angus and Robertson as an editor and literary adviser, supporting the work of writers and poets like Judith Wright, James McCauley, Francis Webb and David Campbell.
Stewart’s first volume of poetry was Green Lions (1936) and his best-known work was the verse play Ned Kelly (1943). Stewart had 11 volumes of poetry published as well as numerous volumes of literary criticism. He was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) and an Order of Australia (AO) for his contribution to Australian literature.
A display in the AMAZE Gallery about Douglas Stewart was developed for the 2016 Sydney Writers Festival. It included this Remington portable typewriter selected from the broader Stewart family collection of manuscripts, letters, photographs and publications.
Preparing material for display often involves curatorial research and conservation preperation. The portable Remington typewriter owned and used by Stewart was not in good condition and conservator Helen Casey went on a journey to discover the kinds of material in this typewriter and then the appropriate ways to clean each part. The materials include wood, enamel, steel, copper, cotton, paper, and synthetic polymer.
Casey says “The typewriter was in fairly poor condition. The steel construction had significant surface corrosion, the enamel paint was flaking and the imitation leather of the base and cover was delaminating. This type of deterioration indicates that at some point in the typewriters long life it was exposed to high humidity...not unusual for Sydney.
Next a tannic acid mixture was applied to the areas of corrosion; this solution inhibits the corrosion but also helps reduce the orange colour of the corrosive product. The torn and delaminating synthetic cloth of the housing was adhered back to its wood base with a conservation grade adhesive. The result is the typewriter is more stable and also looks a little more visually integrated.
As well as treating the object Helen Casey also found that the number on the typewriter identified the year, month and how many typewriters of this kind were manufactured.
As she says “At the rear under the carriage was an etched serial number, although very corroded it appeared to read NL83744. The Remington serial numbers identify the date and make of the typewriter. We know from this serial number that this typewriter was most likely the 3744th model 1 typewriter made in March of 1928 - Stewart would have been 15 at this time. Remington was mass producing their very popular portable typewriter line but at the same time they were constantly making changes. This typewriter featured new improvements from the early 1920s typewriters as it has a right shift key and the keys, rather than rest on a metal and then felt covered metal curved support, sit slightly suspended in the 1928 model. It was interesting to find the beautiful dove tailing of the wood structure at the corners under the delaminated cloth covering of the case. Most of the functions of the Stewart typewriter still work, however the keys are very stiff. It was fun to discover the carriage chime at the rear of the typewriter still has that familiar ring when activated manually."