The vintage typewriter is making a comeback after gathering dust in the attic for a couple of generations. Why the revived interest?
Some attribute it to digital burnout. From Albuquerque, N.M., to Boston, public “type-ins” are held in restaurants and public squares.
“We collectors somewhat tongue-in-cheek refer to the occasional surge in typewriter interest as ‘The Hanks Effect,'” said local collector Alan Seaver, who owns the website Machines of Loving Grace. (www.machinesoflovinggrace.com)
“Right now, in addition to his book, Tom Hanks is featured in a documentary about typewriter collecting called ‘California Typewriter.’ Sam Shepard is also featured in the film, and his recent passing also helped draw attention to it, though in an unfortunate way,” Seaver said.
Carol Thouin, another avid collector, from Spring Valley, said, “I have been collecting antiques that include typewriters for several years. My typewriters are my treasured pieces, with many from my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents. I love the fact that I can display them in my home and that they really have a history.
“In my collection I have the ones that have old company logos on them,” Thouin said. “When I first see a typewriter, I look at the keys and then start plunking down on them and I wonder whose fingers ran across those keys before mine. To me, those keys are art pieces. I also have a small collection of vintage tin toy typewriters and the turn a dial to select the characters. They are typically a lot more expensive than an actual full-sized typewriter. “
Marlin Miner, until recently the owner of Coffee Street Peddler Antiques & Collectibles, Lanesboro, said, “The trouble today with old typewriters are people are removing the old key buttons to make jewelry, so the machine has no keys, people are always asking for them for that very reason.” (Brooke and Joel Pfeffer are the shop’s new owners, as of Oct. 27.)
According to Seaver, “A typewriter can be a very personal object, and a person can grow quite attached to one. I want people to realize that ‘old’ does not equal ‘obsolete,’ and that typewriters are still good for something besides hacking the keys off of for trinkets.”
So why hack up a good vintage typewriter valued at $300 or more, when 2017-2018 craft catalogs are selling antique gold finish metal typewriter key charms that can be used to make charm bracelets or whatever for around $7.47 a dozen.
Finding a typewriter
Old typewriter can be found at yard sales, antique shops and auctions.
“E-Bay is where I find most of my typewriters, a good source if you’re looking for something specific,” Seaver said. “But you’ll usually end up paying more, in addition to shipping costs.”
I personally like to see, feel and get the touch of a machine when I purchase a typewriter or any item, so I don’t always recommend buying on Internet auction sites or eBay.
Seaver feels the same way. “I always prefer to buy typewriters that I can see and try out vs ordering online,” he said. “Part of it is the thrill of the hunt. If I’m looking for something specific, I can almost always find it online, but when you’re out perusing thrift shops, estate sales, flea markets, and antique shops, you just never know what you might find. Almost all of my best finds have been within driving distance, and they were pure serendipity. That’s much more fun than clicking a button on the computer screen.”
Thouin says that, to her, auctions are the best places to find antique typewriters at a reasonable price.
Melissa Placzek, a Red Wing writer, said, “The typewriter that I have is a L.C. Smith & Corona Typewriter Inc. and is just a decoration, but I believe it would work again with a little TLC. I found it at antique store, and paid $65 for it.”
Old typewriters — the one-of-a-kind prototypes and rarities like the Hansen ball — can easily demand thousands of dollars at a best auction. And a Sholes & Glidden can sell for up to $5,000.
Beware of typewriters that have been painted.
Sometimes finding the age of the machine can be difficult. If the serial number appears on the machine, it can be a clue to age to find the value.
The best advice on what to keep and what to sell, according to Seaver: “Almost anything made between 1872 and 1930 could be considered collectible. Like most collectibles, failed designs are the scarcest and most valuable.”
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