Purchasing a vintage typewriter can be confusing, especially if it’s your first time. With each passing month, more and more shops pop up on Etsy that are reselling these analog treasures, reflections of enduring craftsmanship and manufacturing that are rare to find these days. While many vintage typewriters are still in excellent operational condition, not all of them are, and ALL vintage typewriters need regular maintenance.
When I purchased my first vintage typewriter, I was so excited that I didn’t think to ask any questions. I didn’t know I should ask any questions or even what to ask; I just wanted the typewriter. With delight and glorious visions of typing away later that afternoon with a cup of tea in hand and staring at the Colorado mountains outside of my window, I met the seller at a local coffee shop and then hurried home to live out my imagination, only to discover the keys were terribly sticky. Assuming that oil would solve the problem, I doused the keys in the same oil we used for our bicycle chains. This only made things worse. After some hunting online, a 4-hour round trip drive (twice….to drop off and then back again to pick up) to a typewriter repair person, and $85 to have it cleaned, the typewriter was finally usable. By then my romantic visions of idyllic writing moments and inspiration had dwindled considerably as I approached my little typewriter with a bit more of a humble and apprehensive attitude.
This was our first lesson in typewriter repair and we’d quickly learn there are varying levels of repair and restoration which greatly impact the price and usability. Knowing the difference will save you much heartache in unmet expectations in your own typewriter hunting.
Serviced typewriters are the most common you will find. At Jot & Tittle, we sell mostly serviced typewriters (though with each passing year, Rob becomes more able to do deeper cleans and extended repairs). What this means is that there is some cleaning and minor repairs. One thing you have to keep in mind is that every typewriter repair shop or seller has their own ideas on what it means to service a machine. My advice is to ASK what level of repairs they are able to do and what is done to prepare their typewriters for sale.
Typewriters that are refurbished have been taken apart and cleaned thoroughly with special solutions or chemicals. The type bars have all been individually removed, cleaned, and reassembled. The platen is replaced along with any worn rubber pieces, such as the feet and rollers. Refurbished typewriters will operate as new. You can expect to pay considerably more for a properly refurbished typewriter.
Restored typewriters are the crème de la crème of vintage typewriters. Many clients of restored typewriters are collectors. They are pristine and in perfect working condition. The typewriter has been completely disassembled and rebuilt with machined or new parts. Every inch has been meticulously restored to new. These typewriters have had premium treatment and come with a premium price tag. For all practical purposes, it is a new typewriter is new whereas serviced and refurbished typewriters will contain mostly original parts and finishes. An example of a restoration process can be found on PhillyTypewriter.com
Again, each typewriter shop has its own specifics on how the prepare their machines for sale. Do your due diligence to discover what work has been done on a typewriter before you purchase. Some shops don’t do any cleaning or servicing of their typewriters, so it’s best to be aware. You may still want the typewriter but will need to find a typewriter repair shop near you for some TLC.