Collecting Antique Typewriters

Early Typing Machines Underscore Noteworthy Collections

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It probably won’t surprise you to learn there’s an interesting version of a manual typewriter on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., one that would be quite valuable if you could find a similar example for sale. This Corona teaching model has colorful animals printed on round keys and corresponding animal rings to fit on each finger. This mechanical version of the "concentration" game would be welcome in most any typewriter collection.

 

Samuel Clemens, usually referenced by his pen name Mark Twain, probably didn’t worry about matters such as these when he purchased one of the earliest typewriters made by Remington. He went on to write the first book manuscript to be produced on a "new-fangled writing-machine." Twain was more concerned with keeping quiet about owning one, so he wouldn’t have to use the machine to pen letters answering questions from friends and fans curious about his new writing tool.

It's also interesting to note (no pun intended) that Tom Hanks is among the celebrity collectors known to fancy old typewriters. He reportedly keeps one on hand to pen quick notes rather than hand writing them. One of these Hanks-owned machines stars in the Soboroff Typewriter Collection -- a touring troupe of more than 25 typewriters previously owned by both famous and infamous individuals that has been displayed to raise money for various charities.

For a donation, fans can use a typewriter once owned by Orson Welles or John Lennon to jot off a few lines of their own. 

The historical tidbit above about Mark Twain was gleaned while browsing a site called myTypewriter.com, which offers a broad range of typewriters for purchase along with information about them.

The site also shared that in the late 1870s, Remington came out with a No. 2 model that was much improved over the first version. But they weren’t the only company making typewriters back then.

Popular Manufacturers and Styles

From 1880 through 1910, manufacturers like Caligraph, Hall, and Blickensderfer introduced a number of interesting typewriter models collectors relish owning today. But none of these makers seriously challenged Remington’s market share until Underwood entered the field.

By 1898 Underwood was producing 200 typing machines per week. That's a good number in the days when mass production was in its infancy. MyTypewriter.com states, "In 1901, Underwood introduced its legendary No. 5 model selling millions over a more than 30 years production life."

The No. 5 included a ribbon selector, a back spacer, and a tabular, along with other improvements over the years making upgrades from earlier models desirable to consumers. In fact, the No. 5 set the standard for the entire typewriter industry allowing Underwood to replace Remington as the top typewriter manufacturer in the world.

When it comes to collecting these typing machines, they’re divided into two categories: the index machine and the keyboard machine.

Kovel’s Antiques & Collectibles Price List notes that an index machine is quite a bit different with a pointer and dial for letter selection. A keyboard machine refers to the type simply known as a typewriter with the well known "QWERTY" lettering on the keys.

Values Vary for Antique Typewriters

In general, models made for a short period of time with unusual features or those by a more obscure manufacturer will hold more value over common models. You’ll have to embark on a little research to see if your own antique typewriter is valuable. To do so, take a look at Antique Typewriters and Office Collectibles by Dale Rehr (Collector Books), which is now out of print but available through used booksellers online. 

Another option is simply searching on eBay.com or RubyLane.com to see what folks are asking for models similar to yours.

Drilling down to actual sold prices, which give an even better indicator of value, will require doing a completed item search on eBay, or looking at the end of the search results on RubyLane. 

And don’t forget that go-with items like typewriter ribbon tins and user manuals are also go-with collectible. In fact, some ribbon tins can sell for several hundred apiece, which can easily amount to more than the typewriters they originally serviced. That bit of information might come in very handy if you’re ever assigned the task of cleaning out granny’s old desk.