Vintage Typewriter Guide
A buyer’s guide to manual communication
By Michael and James Fry, Brown Button Estate Sales
As the use of digital devices, and time spent in “the cloud” continues to increase, ironically so does a subculture intrigued by vintage objects from bygone eras. The function of a record player, typewriter, globe, clock, and camera can all be performed with a single digital device, yet the vintage versions of these items still appeal. Sitting near the top of the list of highly sought-after antiquated items is the vintage typewriter.
First, not all typewriters are created equal. We’ll focus on the factors that will enable you to identify vintage writers worth at least $100: unique design, brand and models, colors, and condition, and how they all affect value. Understanding these differences can help you decide to spend that $100 on a maroon Groma typewriter with a $600 resale potential.
This is one of the easiest qualifiers of valuable typewriters. Most people are fairly familiar with what a standard typewriter looks like. If you find one that looks significantly different, or even weird in its design, investigate further. The earliest forms of typewriters were called index typewriters and they used a dial to choose the letter.
There were no keys and no swinging metal arms. They actually look so different that you might not even recognize them for what they are. These machines were not very efficient when first created, so production was limited. Small production meets the law of supply and demand, giving us a valued collector item. Companies including Victor, Lambert, and Odell produced these machines and current resell can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Brands are another factor to consider when typewriter shopping, but even this area is not as cut and dry as you might think. Some brands made models that are highly sought after, as well as models you can find in any antique store for $30. No brand exemplifies this better than Olivetti, a typewriter manufacturer from Spain. Most of their models sell between $40 and $60, the major exception being the Valentine. Designed by Ettore Sottsass and Perry King in the late 1960s, this traditionally bright red machine is considered an icon of 20th century design and has even been displayed in museums such as MOMA. Resale value on the Valentine with the original case and in good condition ranges from $200-$400.
Other notable brands and models to be on the lookout for include the Royal No. 10, Royal Model O, black or red Underwood Champion, Remington Rand Model 1, and any machines made by either Groma or Hammond. Machines to avoid include most models made by Sears, Montgomery Ward, or Brother—unless they’re ultra colorful, as the next paragraph will explain.
The next time you’re at an antique store, estate or garage sale and see a bright and colorful typewriter —take a closer look. Some of the more sought-after, rare, and highly valued models are prized for their color. Take the Royal Quiet De Lux for example. The normal gray version sells around $20 to $60. Find that same model in red, bright blue, or the coveted bubble gum pink and you’re looking at a value of $200 to $400.
Color of the machine impacts value in two ways. First, these colorful models were produced in much lower quantities than the standard black and gray, thus they are more collectable. The second reason is the aforementioned renewed interest in vintage goods. When a younger person is buying a 65-year-old mode of writing, they want it to really stand out and they are willing to pay more for it. When purchasing for re-sell pay extra attention to really bright colors, especially red, yellow, orange, purple, pink and green. Light blues and teals can be more common to run across.
In the typewriter world, condition is a big deal. Due to the specialty knowledge needed to restore machines and the lack of typewriter ribbons being sold locally, many buyers are leery of machines not fully functional. The potential resale value can differ dramatically for a model depending on if it is “in perfect working condition” or “needs a little TLC.”
Condition can really be broken into three categories—functionality, the ribbon and cosmetics. Our advice would be to stay away from machines with sticking keys or other significant working issues. If the functionality seems sound, but it needs a new ribbon, go for it. Often sellers give a huge discount if a machine doesn’t work and most of the time all it needs is a $12 ribbon.
Online resources like mytypewriter.com and ebay.com make buying a ribbon simple and inexpensive. As far as cosmetics are concerned, look for machines with service grim but that don’t have any rust or corrosion on the body. Service grim is easy to clean and often allows you to pick up a quality machine at a discounted price.
Whether you are crafting the next best-selling American novel, every line lovingly hand typed, or you just want to bank a cool $300 selling a Hermes sea foam 3000 that you got at a garage sale for $3, we hope that this typewriter exploration puts you on the path to success. Happy typing.