No one is making vintage typewriters anymore. While there are manufacturers still producing new electric typewriters, and at least one making a manual model, if you’re searching for a vintage typewriter, you’ll have to get a little creative. I’ve been buying, collecting, reconditioning, and selling vintage typewriters for several years, and in that time I’ve learned a lot about where to find these often elusive machines.
Vintage Typewriter Sources
If you’re in the market for a vintage typewriters, be it electric or manual, you’re not going to be able to go to your local department store to find what you want. Though typewriters were the dominant writing machine for about a century, there are few sellers who keep vintage or antique machines in stock.
Finding a vintage typewriter, especially one you like that is in your budget, can take time. If you’re in the market for a specific model you may have to spend even more time. Over the years I’ve found machines through all of the following sources.
Friends and Relatives
One of the best ways to find a vintage typewriters is to ask your friends and family. A lot of people have a forgotten typewriter tucked away in an attic, basement, or closet somewhere. There’s no way to know who has one until you ask, but you’ll often be surprised at the responses. Even if the people you ask don’t have one, asking them to ask their friends and family can be just as productive. Once word gets around, you may find yourself in the midst of a small typewriter windfall.
Garage sales can be a good source for a vintage typewriter, especially if you don’t want to spend a lot of money. The downside with garage sales is that they are very hit and miss. You may visit a dozen sales and not find any machines, but then stumble across four or five at a single sale. Looking through local garage sale listings on Craigslist can help, but if the word “typewriter” appears in the listing, there’s a decent chance someone else has already searched for it and will be at the sale specifically for the machine.
Estate sales, like garage sales, can be a great source for finding vintage typewriters. Estate sales will come in two general types: professional and amateur.
A professional estate sale is run by an estate sale company. These companies get hired by the executor/personal representative of a deceased person’s estate. They charge the estate a fee (typically about 30 percent of the total sales) to hold the sale and get rid of the property the decedent left behind. The company will prepare the home, research the value of items in the estate, and advertise the sale. The sale typically takes place over several days, with prices often reduced on the second or third days. Because the company advertises and often researches the items in the sale, prices at professionally-run estate sales are usually higher than garage sales and amateur estate sales.
Amateur estate sales are run by the family members of a decedent. These sales may not be as well advertised, if they are advertised at all, and the item prices can be whatever the family thinks is fair. Amateur estate sales can be hit and miss like garage sales, but typically offer a better chance to find a typewriter at garage sale prices than professional sales.
Thrift Stores / Flea Markets
Thrift store come in all shapes an sizes, from national chains such as Savers/Value Village to local stores run by mom and pop. Thrift stores sell used, donated, or second-hand products, often for charitable causes, but sometimes not. Thrift stores are constantly stocking shelves with new products, and the inventory they have one day may be significantly different the next say. Thrift store prices can differ significantly, from you fell like you’ve stolen it to more than online auction price.
Flea markets, sometimes called swap and shops, are like garage sales on steroids. They typically have numerous vendors selling used or low-priced products. Depending on the size and location of the market, you may find dozens of typewriters at any time, or none at all. Prices can differ significantly, but are typically garage sale or higher.
Antique Malls / Antique Shops
An antique mall is a retail space with smaller booths or shops contained within it. Antique shops can range from thousands of square feet with hundreds of booth to more modest settings with a dozen or so stalls. Antique malls can be as hit and miss as garage sales, but larger malls will typically have several machines available. Prices vary greatly, but on the high end can exceed online or retail prices.
Antique shops are standalone retail businesses that contain all kinds of antique and vintage items. Some stores are specialized, others are more generalized, and all are a potential source. Prices in antique shops tend to reflect the market in which they are located, with stores in affluent communities charging significantly higher prices than those in lower income areas.
The modern version of classified ads, craigslist can be a great source. Simply go to your local Craigslist and look for typewriters. Prices can be all over the map. Not all listings will have photos, not all photos will be good, and not all machines will be worth buying. But, with time and patience, and depending on the size of your local community Craigslist will usually return results.
If you are in an area where there are several area Craigslist communities, or are willing to travel, searching multiple Craigslist sites at a time can be difficult and time consuming. But, sites such as Searchtempest allow you to use a single search across multiple Craigslist sites, making the search process much easier.
There are a variety of auction options available when you’re looking for a typewriter. Both online and in-person options can be a great source, but there are significant differences between not only the different types of auction options, but differences between auctions and other outlets.
In general, auctions come in two types: online and in-person.
Online Auctions. Online auctions, such as listings you find on eBay or Shopgoodwill, offer the benefit of being searchable at any time. They will often have a lot of available typewriters. The machines will range in quality and price significantly.
As with any online purchase, you’ll have to consider shipping when buying online. An experienced shipper will be able to get you machine to you without difficulty, but an inexperienced seller may not know how to properly package a 30+ pound machine. Beyond the possibility of damage, expect to pay significant shipping costs. Average costs of shipping a typewriter can exceed $30.
In-Person Auctions. An in-person auction can be a great source for a typewriter. While you do have to show up in person and may have to wait a long time for the item to come up for bidding, an in-person auction allows you to inspect the product before you buy. (With online auctions you don’t have this option.) If you’r the only bidder on a typewriter, you can expect to find a machine for a song. If someone else is only bidding half-heartedly, you can usually get a good price. But, if there’s another buyer intent on the machine, you may have to pay more than you wanted.
(If you’ve never been to an in-person auction before, the process can be intimidating. I’m planning on writing an auction guide, so stay tuned for more.)
Vintage Typewriters: Price
When you find that vintage or antique typewriter, how do you know what a fair price is? When it comes to any antique, collectible, or vintage item that isn’t being made any more, determining price can be a difficult process. Pricing is one of the most commonly asked questions people have when they are looking for a vintage machine. How much should you pay? What factors should you look for to determine a fair price? What is a fair price? What is an unfair price? How much is a machine worth?
These questions can be complicated as there isn’t any one-size-fits-all answer to them. In my next blog I’ll discuss vintage typewriter prices in depth/