Ask any of the younger generation what a typewriter is, and often they have no clue, though its keyboard pattern lives on today on modern devices.
My recent research found that antique-to-vintage typewriters are in great demand and are continuing to grow with collectors like Alan Seaver, an avid collector and website owner of Machines of Loving Grace, Rochester.
Seaver is one who is always looking for a unique machine to use as a nostalgic piece of equipment and has found those keys are art pieces.
Actually, there are some people who buy typewriters just for the keys, to make jewelry from.
"A typewriter can be a very personal object, and a person can grow quite attached to one," Seaver said. "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."
Collecting typewriters for over 20 years, Seaver's collection has grown to around 300 typewriters.
"My first typewriter was my grandfather's 1926 Underwood No. 5. After he passed away in the 1980s, I hauled it up from his basement, shiny as the day it was new, and still rich with the sweet scent of typewriter oil. To a collector like me, it's probably worth about $10.
"My second typewriter a Royal FP that I think I paid $15 for at a garage sale and I recently saw this same model at a thrift store for $5. I continue to collect because there are so many variations out there. Each model has its own personality," Seaver said.
But some models' prices reach the thousands of dollars, prices commanded by vintage 1930s machines at well-known auction houses such asSotheby's or Heritage.
"It's because I've heard many people say that they intended to only have one, but then caught 'the typewriter bug,'" Seaver said. "It's a truly addictive hobby. I also enjoy being able to breathe new life into something old. Unlike many collectibles, typewriters are something that you can use. They aren't something that just sits on a shelf that you look at."
What is it worth?
"My oldest now is probably a c.1885 Caligraph No. 2, and I am just guessing the value is around $300," he said. "It's certainly not my most valuable, nor the rarest. Keep in mind as with any other antique or collectible, condition and scarcity are the name of the game."
The normal typewriters that I am seeing and questions ask are: I have a 1960 plus Smith Corona manual typewriter what would you say it is valued at now?
Seaver said: "$10 to $20. There are only a handful of 1960s-onward models that are of much interest to collectors: The Montgomery Ward Escort 55, the Montpi, the Smith-Corona Ghia, and of course the Olivetti Valentine — a beautiful piece of garbage."
What about the electric typewriter? Would you say they are worth anything, or just of value to the right individual who may still love electric and even manual typewriters versus the computer keyboard?
"The majority of post-War electric typewriters have little interest to collectors," Seaver said. "The exceptions are the IBM electrics (Electromatic, Models 01-04, and Models A-D), the Olivetti Praxis series, Varitypers, and the late '50s Smith-Corona Electric portable. Burroughs made an electric model in the early 1930s, but the motor drove only the carriage, making it technically an electric-assist typewriter, not a fully electric typewriter. Electronic typewriters are right out.
"Swintec makes a transparent electronic typewriter for prisons, but that mainly holds novelty value only," he said. "Last year I did get the opportunity to examine the only known surviving Cahill Universal Electric from 1901. And five 1907 Blickensderfer Electrics are known to exist. These very early electric models are of course worth thousands of dollars."
Hunt and pick
Old typewriters can be found at yard sales, attics, antique shops and auctions — those, Seaver said, "Along with eBay, where I find most of my typewriters — a good source if you're looking for something specific, but you'll usually end up paying more, in addition to shipping costs."
Eric Bradley, author of "Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff," lists typewriters as a mantique item and has listed in Minnesota Jim's "Man"tiques in St. Charles as a source for them.
"I have about four typewriters in the shop now," Jim Kieffer said. "Two antique and two vintage. I have had many folks tell me they are actually using these old typewriters again, and wanting them in good working order. I also have folks who do just want the keys to make jewelry and signs, etc.
"Typewriters usually run from about $25 up to $70 apiece, depending on type and condition," Kieffer said. "The vintage ones are popular even with the younger folks who want to learn how to use a typewriter and love the great colors they come in. Aqua seems to be the most popular for me."
• 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 advise on what to keep and what to sell: "Almost anything made between 1872 and 1930 could be considered collectible," Seaver said. "Like most collectibles, failed designs are the scarcest and most valuable."