I love typewriters. Why? I’m not really sure, but I love everything about them (except actually using them–using a typewriter is the absolute worst–more on this later).
I suppose I love all things typewriter because I’d like to fancy myself a writer and because I’m excessively nostalgic. How I’d love to write: a bottle of whiskey for sipping, a pack of cigarettes for chain-smoking, a typewriter for typing. Maybe I’d live in an atelier in Paris. Maybe I’d actually know what the word “atelier” means (is it the same as an attic? a studio? I haven’t a clue, but it sounds classy as hell). How I actually write: facebook open for checking, a glass of water for forgetting about, a bag of potato chips for maintaining my excellent diet, a Macbook Pro to make greasy with my potato chip fingers.
Also, look at the colours!
I own three typewriters: an Underwood no 3 from the early 1900s, an Underwood 378 from the 1970s, and a Brother Webster XL-727 also from the 70s. They make excellent decorations. Do I use them? I do not. Have you ever tried typing on a typewriter? It’s a special kind of hell. Also, I can’t type a sentence without a typo. Before I edited the last sentence, this is what it looked like: Alos, I cant’ typo a senksjNGBIUofkbg kb. (I’m really bad).
I also used to own a 40s-era Royal typewriter, but it was sadly too heavy to make the move from Ontario to Alberta with me six years ago.
In total, my typewriter collection cost me $45 (even including the Royal).
The Underwood No. 3 I found in a junk store in Calgary for $25. It was covered in sawdust. Apparently someone had been keeping it in a barn and not even the owner of the junk store had wanted to clean it. A quick check on ebay tells me that an Underwood No. 3 is selling for anywhere from $227 to $1292.50. Some warm water and paper towel later, and that’s a (some high percentage–I don’t math) profit. Thank you very much, Junk Store That I Forget the Name of That Doesn’t Exist Anymore Probably Because They Sold Antique Typewriters For Only $25.
The Brother Webster Typewriter I found in a junk store in Windsor, Ontario for $20 (this junk store to be exact–if you ever find yourself in Windsor, go here; it’s the best). It’s light so packing it in my suitcase wasn’t a problem.
The 70s-era Underwood was my grandmother’s, which she gave to me a few years ago in perfect condition because she’s the best and keeps everything she’s ever purchased and everything she owns still looks like it was just taken out of the box yesterday. I’ve asked her to teach me her ways, but when she found out I don’t like dusting, she gave up on me.
My dream typewriter collection:
- A super old Underwood (check!)
- A midcentury Royal, preferably bubblegum pink
- An Olivetti, teal would be nice
- A Portable Remington (Purple? Sure why not?)
- A Smith-Corona (let’s go with turquoise)
- And a German Olympia (Pink again? Okay!)
If I had an unlimited budget, I could purchase these right now from ebay and/or etsy. But I don’t. (Just imagine the shipping price for a typewriter that weighs more than a toddler). So I have to be patient and scour garage sales, kijiji (or Craigslist for my American friends), and junk/thrift/vintage stores.
On numerous occasions I’ve been asked by friends for help in the typewriter purchasing department. So I’m here to present to you some tips for acquiring that perfect typewriter.
- Don’t buy online. Sure, ebay and etsy have the typewriters of your dreams for sale and you can buy them with one click while wearing your pyjamas. DON’T. I mean, unless you’re prepared to pay $50-$100 in shipping. On top of an already steep purchase price. Instead buy in person. Put the typewriter in the trunk of your car/ make your significant other carry it all the way to your apartment.
- Thrift/junk/salvage stores are going to be cheaper than antique/vintage stores. This is true for all vintage things. Stores that specialize in selling antiques know their product, know the market value, and know they have a steady stream of consumers looking to purchase that product. Stores like Value Village, The Salvation Army, Good Will, or your other neighbourhood thrift store are generally not in the market of hawking antique typewriters. If you can find a typewriter here, it likely won’t be more than $50.
- Try kijiji or Craigslist. Sometimes people find typewriters in their basements that they didn’t even know they had and they don’t want them and want to get rid of them fast. Example: there is a beautiful, teal Smith-Corona typewriter on the Calgary kjiji site right now for $75 or best offer. Which means the best offer might be $50. Also, a lovely white Olivetti for $40 or best offer. (So basically $30, who are we kidding?)
- Have patience and check often. Most of the time–sadly–thrift stores don’t have typewriters for sale. Garage sales are usually typewriter-free. Kijiji might not have any cheap ones on a given day. Wait. Check next week. Check again the week after that. And the next. If Value Village does get in a super rad typewriter you better bet it will be gone within hours (because I go there often and I will buy it).
- Decide what you’re looking for. Will any typewriter do? Do you want one that works? Do you want manual or electric? Old or new? Black and antique or colourful and modern? Desktop (heavy) or portable (less heavy)? Do you have a brand in mind? Do some research, see what you like. For me, I don’t care about working condition. My grandmother’s hand-me-down works perfectly (because, as I said, she is a sorceress who can keep things from aging). This makes the process simpler and buying cheaper. Obviously, the older the typewriter, the more expensive. Older typewriters with the glass keys are worth much more than the newer ones with the plastic keys, for instance. And the better condition, the more expensive again. But a lot of sellers won’t actually know if it works or not, because they don’t have a ribbon and don’t want to buy one, so if you don’t actually care about working condition, you can get these on the cheap. And if you do care, make sure to ask whether it works. (Rarely can you get a working typewriter for under $100). Buying a new ribbon is no problem, but finding someone who can do repairs is another story.
- You can paint a typewriter. If you find a great one for a great price, but it’s a horrid colour, you can paint it the pastel shade it was meant to be. Here’s a tutorial.