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Collecting Antique Typewriters

Early Typing Machines Underscore Noteworthy Collections


Collecting Antique Typewriters - Animal Keyboard Typewriter in the Smithsonion

Corona animal keyboard typewriter as displayed in the Smithsonian.

-Pamela Wiggins
Quick Tips About Collecting Antique Typewriters

  • Remington produced the first typewriter in the 1870s.
  • Unlike other collectibles, instead of being devoted to more prolific brands, collectors often seek models made by obscure companies.
  • Some of the most costly vintage examples have out of the ordinary shapes or incorporate unusual features.
  • Manual typewriter collecting is one field that has not been heavily hit by reproductions designed to fool unsuspecting buyers.

A Little Typewriter Trivia

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 one for sale. This Corona teaching model has colorful animals printed on round keys and corresponding animal rings to fit on each finger. Seems like yet another version of the "concentration" game. While this example is cute enough, probably dating to the 1940s or so, one can’t help question its functionality. How did children know which letter corresponded with the animals on each row?

Mark Twain probably didn’t worry too much about matters such as these when he purchased one of the earliest typewriters made by Remington and 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 pen letters on it to answer questions from the curious.

This historical tidbit was gleaned while browsing a site called myTypewriter.com. The site also reports 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.

It's also interesting to note that Tom Hanks is among the celebrity collectors known to fancy old typewriters. He reportedly keeps one on hand to jot off notes rather than hand writing them.

Popular Manufacturers and Styles

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

By 1898, Underwood produced 200 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. This model 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 has a pointer and dial for letter selection, while a keyboard machine refers to the type simply referred to as a typewriter.

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).

And don’t forget that go-with items like ribbon tins and user manuals are also 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 handy if you’re ever assigned the task of cleaning out granny’s attic.

Antique Typewriter Price Points

  • Ford with ornate copper decor, 1895 - $13,131
  • Lambert with unusual dial, 1902 - $1,915
  • Hammond one pound experimental, early 1890s - $1,200
  • Fox No. 4 with original case, late 1890s - $385
  • Bennett with cover, 1910 - $290
  • Underwood No. 5, 1917 - $182

(eBay prices realized 11/11)

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