If great literature had a soundtrack, I suspect it would be the tick-tick-swish-ding of a vintage typewriter. I have always romanticized the imagery of an inspired author pouring their heart and story over the keys in a sun-drenched alcove, the wind passing through the open window rustling lace curtains and fluttering the freshly inked pages. My fascination for these literary relics was birthed out of my love of the classics. For years I have wished to own one of history’s witnesses, but never thought it could be possible until my hobby of vintage and antique hunting started a few years ago.
Typewriters have increased in popularity as collectible items and are difficult to track down at a reasonable price, especially if you are looking for a particular model. I found that antique and vintage shops off the beaten path (away from tourist hotspots) were the most promising picking grounds if you prefer to avoid the cutthroat bidding wars on eBay and inflated prices and shipping costs. From my experience, good to excellent condition machines from 1920-35 are priced between $125-$200 in Canada. You lucky Americans seem to have more stock to pick from (without that pesky international shipping) so you can easily acquire one for $50-$150. After much perseverance, I was able to track down a local seller on Craigslist who not only offered me an incredible price for a fully operational 1923 Remington Standard #12, but even cleaned the machine with care. Short version: Don’t feel like you need to settle because you will eventually come across the right seller.
If you are interested in acquiring a typewriter of your own, here are my tips:
- Do your research on which brand, model and year you want. I knew that I wanted a Remington Standard between 1920 and 1929, model #10 or 12. It is easy to get overwhelmed or tempted by a well priced model that isn’t what you are really looking for.
- Compare prices on various sites for the condition of the machine you are considering. I regularly checked Craigslist, thrift and antique stores, garage and estate sales. Important to note that prices on eBay or Etsy tend to be very inflated due to the competitive nature of buying. If they are asking over $200, walk away.
- Consider placement and usage. If your typewriter is purely a decorative or statement piece, then you may not want to pay more for a functioning machine. If you want a functioning machine, ask for a writing sample–most sellers are happy to comply.
- Be wary of vintage typewriters being sold for their rarity. Vintage is different from antique and usually refers to machines from the 50s-70s. The holy grail of vintage typewriters is a pink Royal Quiet Deluxe. I have seen those listed for upwards of $1200 on Etsy. BE CAREFUL. Many coloured typewriters from that era are spray painted and not encased in the original paint. Some of those machines have been purchased for $30 because they were an undesirable colour (brown, olive green, grey) and then sprayed turquoise, pink, yellow, etc to mimic the rarer models. The spray painting, if done well, won’t ruin the aesthetic of the machine, but in now way should you be paying the price for an original.
As far as antiques go, typewriters aren’t “valuable” for monetary purposes unless you have a rare 1880-1910 model. There are particular models that are “collectible” and others (particularly Underwoods) that are too numerous–thanks to their incredibly durable frame–to be worth a lot. But for most typewriter hunters, this isn’t a deciding factor in whether or not to purchase. For us, the value lies in their nostalgia, sentimentality and romanticism, not status or prestige. It’s the story behind where the machine has been, what it has endured, whose soul has been laid bare on its keys.
I am over the moon in love with my Fitz. Yes, I named it and his dashing stature holds up to his era and namesake. Now that I have learned a few tricks, I am already on the hunt for my next typewriter: a black 1920s 4 barrel portable Underwood with white keys or a Royal #10 with bevelled glass sides.