Jot + Tittle Typewriters

Tips For Buying A Vintage Typewriter, part 1

vintage typewriter with paper

When I started looking to purchase my first vintage typewriter I’ll be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know where to start. I did an internet search and found either old, dirty, broken down typewriters or very expensive (and gorgeous!!) refurbished ones.

Finally, I found one that looked like “the one” while scrolling through Facebook Marketplace. I made the appropriate arrangements and met up in a local coffee shop. I was so excited and eager to get it home I didn’t test it first. Unfortunately, despite the description claiming that it worked – it didn’t. Bummer.

As a result, my husband and I spent several days trying to find someone who could repair it. I had to drive 2 hours, ONE WAY, to pay someone to fix it.

So now that I’ve had a bit of experience buying (and selling) typewriters, here are a few tips in my first post in a series of (hopefully) helpful articles that will make it possible for you to make an educated purchase.

1. CONSIDER HOW OFTEN YOU PLAN TO USE THE TYPEWRITER AND FOR WHAT

There’s a difference between a writer looking for a typewriter that can punch out a first draft quickly versus a writer who is taking their time to think and be creative while composing. The first definitely needs an electric typewriter, while the other can take their time finding a lovely manual one.

ELECTRIC TYPEWRITERS: When you are working quickly or need a strong, clear imprint on your paper, you don’t want the quirks of a manual typewriter to interrupt your mojo or have light and unclear type. Here are my personal observations on electric typewriters:

  • If it’s too noisy, it gets on my nerves after about 10 minutes and interrupts my writing focus.
  • I prefer a manual return versus the power return. The power returns are usually obnoxious and make me jump every time I hit the return button. (Just my opinion)
  • If you are a very fast typist, you will need an electric. Manuals will not be able to keep up.
  • Electrics great for large-scale craft projects. I keep an IBM Selectric handy for creating quote cards or our handcrafted business cards. (But it’s massive and weighs, like, a thousand pounds and I dread having to move it.)

Overall, my favorite electric typewriter for working is the Smith Corona Electric 120 or 110.

MANUAL TYPEWRITERS: Manual vintage typewriters are fabulous for those moments when you want to be creative and uninterrupted. (When I type on a manual typewriter versus my computer, I actually get more writing done! Even though I have to type much slower than on a computer).

I personally use a Royal Signet Portable typewriter, but the Smith Corona Sterling from the 1940s and the Olympia typewriters are a popular choice among writers. If you are going to be doing a lot of writing you will want to look for:

  • If the keys have a light touch.
  • The backspace works.
  • The space bar works well.
  • Portable and with a case if you want to be able to take it with you to a coffee shop or a favorite writing spot.
  • Don’t need to move the typewriter? A nice upright Royal from the 50s is super fun to type on and a neat focal point. This silver Remington Typewriter was one of my favorites in terms of feel and the font. I used it to create many of our price tags (it has since sold).
silver vintage typewriter
1940s Remington Standard

2. FIND OUT IF IT HAS BEEN CLEANED AND/OR SERVICED

With the typewriter craze gaining momentum, we’ve noticed a large surge in folks posting old typewriters without any servicing or cleaning – and asking a premium price! Unless you know how to clean and repair a typewriter, don’t buy one unless it has been serviced and cleaned – or don’t pay much for it. You will spend either a lot of time hunting for YouTube videos on how to clean and repair it or spend quite a bit of money paying someone else.

Also, if it hasn’t been tested – stay away.

Be aware there are various levels of cleaning and servicing. Understanding the difference is extremely important. (I will discuss this in detail in my next post).

  • If the seller hasn’t even bothered to clean the typewriter and put a new ribbon in it, I guarantee you won’t know what you are getting. If they are seriously in the typewriter business, they will take the time to replace the ribbon and, at the very minimum, clean it up. Otherwise, you will end up searching for a hard-to-find typewriter repair person and pay a pretty penny to get it fixed.

3. UNDERSTAND YOU ARE GETTING A REAL, VINTAGE ITEM AND IT WILL HAVE QUIRKS

Typewriters that are in demand right now are, well, old.

This means that you need to expect that they will have their little bumps, scratches, whirs, pings, and hiccups. That’s what makes each typewriter so full of character.

If you set your expectations with that in mind, you’ll be able to embrace your typewriter’s quirks into your own creative process!

4. MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS IN PRICING AND SHIPPING COSTS

You will find a huge discrepancy in pricing based on a wide range of factors. I will cover this in detail in my next post, but do your research and make sure that the price you are paying reflects the condition of the typewriter, it’s popularity, whether or not it has a case and original manuals, and proper shipping.

SHIPPING:  Shipping costs are usually the biggest surprise for first-time buyers. Typewriters are very heavy and in order to pack them in a way to get it to you safely, you can expect to pay a MINIMUM of $50 to have it shipped to you. We find that the average cost to ship a typewriter, including the packaging and insurance, is well over $50. Our average shipping cost for our customers is around $75. (Certain parts of the country are much more expensive).

When ordering a typewriter, be sure to find out:

  • How it will be packed (we’ll cover this in another blog post. Typewriters have to be packed in a certain way).
  • Is there sufficient insurance to cover both the cost of the item and the shipping paid.

5. KNOW WHEN RETURNS AND WARRANTIES SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT BE EXPECTED

Most typewriters are sold AS-IS due to the nature of vintage items.

However, there are some professional typewriter repair people who sell refurbished and restored typewriters for a premium price. These folks do offer warranties on their work because they are either repairing or replacing many of the parts within the typewriter.

Keep in mind, if you want a warranty or to be able to return the typewriter, you will

  1. Pay at least $500 for a typewriter (probably more likely $1000+)
  2. You will have to pay for shipping back and forth – and have it properly packed. (Think $$$$).

This is just a few basic suggestions when you are looking to purchase a new-to-you vintage typewriter. Obviously, there are more tips, so follow along with our blog as I continue to cover topics on typewriters.

Also, feel free to ask us a question on our Facebook page or through our contact form!

 

 

 

4 comments

  1. Speaking as a person who has bought, sold, traded, and rented many typewriters, you really have to be careful as to what you buy. I can’t say emphatically enough to really look one over to see if it can be reasonably fixed. Most all machines I have either used parts off of junkers. I have only gone to a typewriter shop for specific parts not even ten times in the thirty-eight years I’ve had this hobby.

    I have not bought new platens, rollers, or feet, but pulled off of other machines. I’ve even painted a few, but I’m no Earl Scheib. But I am very meticulous about cleaning , oiling and adjusting a machine down to a cat’s whisker. When I repair a typewriter, I want to make sure the touch and print are reasonable enough for it to be used as a daily writer. I’m not a fancy restorer, but then if a typewriter were restored, it would belong more under a glass case where nobody touches it.

    1. Hi John. Thanks for taking the time to read my post! I’m sure we could learn from you it sounds like. Working on typewriters is definitely a labor of love and Rob spends a lot of time learning. He’s come a long way in only a year! I agree about restored typewriters…I’d almost not want to touch it! But they are definitely worth the higher price tag.

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