Buying A Vintage Typewriter: what you can expect to pay

Buying a vintage typewriter soon? I remember the day I decided I wanted one. I had no idea how much they would cost or if they were even around anymore. But my husband worked for a large thrift store chain and said they occasionally would see a vintage typewriter come through their doors. He told me that no one ever wanted them so they were usually marked at a few dollars. I thought it was worth looking into.

I was in for a surprise! It seems that buying a vintage typewriter isn’t as cut and dry as I thought. Sure, I could get a dirty, no ink, probably-not-working typewriter at the second-hand store for cheap, but I didn’t know how to fix it (at the time). So I wondered if anyone had typewriters that worked. That’s when I discovered there was an entire vintage typewriter world out there. That wasn’t the biggest surprise. What took me back the most was the very high price points of the typewriters I found. Granted, I was looking at insanely gorgeous, restored typewriters, but even so, what a sticker shock!!

That was over two years ago and since then the vintage typewriter demand has skyrocketed. As a result, typewriter prices are all over the place with people trying to sell nonworking machines for the price of a restored typewriter.

Uh, I don’t think so.

What SHOULD you pay for a vintage typewriter?

That’s a topic that’s really broad and tough to tackle because there isn’t a standard of measure. Even so, I want to help you get an idea of what you can expect within certain price ranges. Ultimately, the way the free market works, if people are willing to pay what the seller advertises, then it’s the right price.

What I include below is my OPINION. Yet, it’s based on selling around 500 typewriters and watching what prices other sellers are listing for their typewriters. At the end of this post, I’ve created a price recommendation chart.

BUYING A VINTAGE TYPEWRITER IS BASED ON MANY VARIABLES

First, you need to understand that there are dozens of factors that go into the price of a vintage typewriter. Some of them include:

  1. Age
  2. Condition
  3. Where you purchase the typewriter
  4. Brand (Make/Model)
  5. Color
  6. Availability & Demand (is it rare or hard-to-find? Is it a favorite among buyers/collectors?)
  7. Does it come with the manual, cleaning kit, typewriter case, etc.
  8. The cost to acquire the typewriter (aka “typewriter hunting”!)
  9. The level of service or repair done to the finished product. (Read my post, What Is The Difference Between Serviced, Refurbished, & Restored?)
  10. Is it what the buyer wants/has been waiting for

As I quickly go through each factor, there is one takeaway I want to hammer in your head: These suggested price ranges are based on purchasing from a RESELLER. Not a garage sale, thrift store, or auction, or even a reseller that does ZERO work. If you find a reseller who has not done ANY level of service on the typewriter, my best advice is to walk away. Better yet, run. You will be able to find a serviced and repaired machine for the same price (sometimes less). Trust me.

AGE

As a general rule, the older the typewriter, TYPICALLY, the higher the price. Age is a factor but I would list it lower down on the priority ladder of pricing variables. The 1950s – 1970s are probably the most common typewriters and are within a price range of $150-$250 from someone who is a RESELLER. The 1940s has some pretty stellar machines and you’re going to push the $300+ mark with this. When you get into the 1890s – 1920s, you can expect to solidly pay upwards of $350. Again, this does not take into consideration other factors such as condition, restored vs. refurbished vs. repaired.

CONDITION/LEVEL OF SERVICE

I am combining several factors in this section because the condition of the typewriter is SO important – but probably the one that is least considered. Typewriters aren’t simply a tool for writing, they are beautiful works of art. It is so easy to stare at a pink Royal Quiet DeLuxe and your heart screams, “I must have it!!!”. Most sellers are counting on that. But if that beautiful machine isn’t working, you’ve just purchased a very expensive paperweight. Don’t be drawn in by the beauty of a machine, rather, my #1 advice in this entire article is this: make sure it is in good condition (unless you want a paperweight).

  • Do they have a warranty
  • Is there a new ribbon installed?
  • What level of service and repair did they do?
  • Are the keys sticking?
  • Does the paper feed well?
  • Do the tabs, margin set, space bar, backspace, return handle, ribbon reversal all work?

Let’s take that Pink Royal Quiet DeLuxe as an example. Let’s say you found one on Etsy and just have to have it. How does the paint look? Is it the original paint or was it repainted? Is it being sold straight from someone’s attic or was it serviced, refurbished, or restored? I’m going to address color in the next section, but sometimes a repainted machine will increase in value, other times it will decrease – dramatically. A repainted 50s Royal will lose value. The original colors….now we’re talking some serious change.

If it’s the original paint and it has been serviced well, you’re looking at $450+ for the typewriter. For a refurbished or restored machine, plan on doubling that figure. If it hasn’t been serviced in any way and needs some TLC, you should pay around $150-$200. One in really bad condition that needs a serious overhaul and even repainted? Walk away or pay $50. Leave that for someone who can restore it to its old glory.

COLOR

The color of a machine is a major factor in price. You can find Smith Corona Sterling in beige or black and pay around $250-$300 for one in good condition, but you see it in maroon, green, Alpine Blue, Seafoam Green…your price just went up considerably. That’s because they are in high demand and are not as readily available. To clarify, these are ORIGINAL, MANUFACTURER finishes. A repainted (unless professionally restored to the original color) Smith-Corona Sterling just lost value (unless someone really wants to pay for it).

This brings us the question of should we repaint vintage typewriters into fun colors? There are probably dozens of opinions, some of them strong, and I’ll probably reserve that discussion for another post. My opinion in a nutshell…if it’s a super common typewriter from the 60s, 70s, 80s – go for it. Otherwise, leave it alone (especially the Olympias). But that’s my personal opinion.

BRAND (MAKE/MODEL)

Typewriters are like vehicles. Some are more expensive than others. Some brands make an economy car as well as a luxury car. And they come from a variety of countries. Some even have different options based on the country it is from. Smith-Corona typewriters are everywhere, yet certain models are worth much more; even among the models, there’s a wide price difference. Let’s take the Sterling. The Smith-Corona Sterling is one of the most well-known and recognized typewriters because it spans decades. The older Sterlings are worth more, but the Sterlings from the 40s-50s that are in unique colors are worth even more. The Sterlings from the 60s are less.

Also, some brands are more collectible than others. An Olivetti or Olympia typewriter will fetch a higher price point than a Smith-Corona, Royal, Underwood (which joined Olivetti), Remingtons, etc.

Do your research to see how available is a certain make/model. Then, start considering the other factors such as the condition.

OWNER’S MANUALS & CLEANING KITS

It’s no surprise that many of the owner’s manuals and cleaning kits have disappeared over the last 50 – 100 years for most typewriters. So when a typewriter comes with the original user manual or kit, that can easily add another $25-$40 in value. If you do get one, I suggest making a digital copy and storing the original in a protective cover.

COST TO ACQUIRE

A downside to vintage typewriters is that there is limited availability. You can’t manufacture a vintage or antique item (obviously). When we started our business, our cost to get typewriters was very low and we could easily find them. However, within 6 months of starting Jot & Tittle Typewriters, the demand for typewriters went through the roof. (Seriously). Our cost to acquire more typewriters has increased 500% in many cases. Resellers are scrambling to be the first to find a great deal on a typewriter. As the inventory and cost of typewriters go up, so will the prices. We are constantly having to increase our prices as we are now paying as much as we used to resell them for.

I know I am being ambiguous regarding prices, but that is the nature of purchasing vintage items. It ultimately comes down to if people are willing to pay the price, then that’s the price of the typewriter. That being said, I will leave you will the following table of common typewriters and the price ranges I recommend for one in GOOD, WORKING CONDITION (double the price for refurbished, and triple the price for restored). Again, this is my OPINION.

(This is an active, growing list. Please feel free to email me with your pricing recommendations).

PRICE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COMMON TYPEWRITER BRANDS:

(Compiled August 2020)

NOTE: THESE PRICES ARE BASED ON TYPEWRITERS THAT HAVE SOME LEVEL OF SERVICE. IN OTHER WORDS, THERE’S A NEW RIBBON, IT’S BEEN TESTED, CLEANED, SERVICED, OR REPAIRED IN SOME MANNER.

No servicing or repair: Cut the price by 1/2 – 2/3
Refurbished: Double the price
Restored: At least triple the price

BRAND (in GOOD, WORKING condition)PRICE RANGE
Smith Corona Electrics (1940-50s)$225 -$295
Smith Corona Electrics (1940s-50s), special colors$275-$350
Smith Corona Electrics (1960s-70s)$140-$199
Smith Corona Manuals (1930s – 50s)$250+
Smith Corona Manuals (1960s-70s)$130 – $175
Corona (1900s-1920s)$275 – $450
Royal (1900 – 1920s)$300 – $800
Remington (all dates)$199 – $400
Olympia (all dates)$275 – $550
Olivetti (all dates)$225 – $400
Hermes$300 – $695
Sears (Royal)$125 – $190

Thanks for reading! Be sure to visit our shop to see what we have in stock. New typewriter listings are added every Saturday.

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