Sunday, 23 September 2012

In longing for the $15 typewriter

We are all gathered here today to mourn the sad loss of our dear friend – the fifteen dollar typewriter….

I was out today, and every time I go out I’m on the lookout for typewriter to breathe new life into. Today, I saw some – desperate mechanical souls really. They had been sucked into the trap of the vintage dealer. A band of ruthless souls that claim they appreciate the old and antiquated, but are really just there to make a profit. Today, I saw one of their stalls at the Old Bus Depot Markets here in Canberra. Upon a table, nestled amongst printer’s blocks and overpriced paper, was a Hermes Baby. Ladies and Gents, I’ve wanted a Hermes Baby for quite a while, but the ticket prices was $125.00 – completely out of my budget, and far too much as far as I am concerned. What’s more, I knew fairly confidently how much they had bought this typewriter for. It had sold on eBay here in Australia just a few weeks before – at around $30. It was fairly distinct. The case had been ‘embellished’ with an awful folk-style painting.

Vintage dealers are the sort of people that belong in Melbourne, another city in Australia. If I lived in Melbourne, and I was still a teenage typewriter enthusiast, I’d own three typewriters, not twenty, and I would have had to pay around one-hundred for each. Not only that they’d be Japanese, Nakijima junk. Vintage dealers are the sort of people that also, amongst their ‘wares’ sell decapitated typewriter keys, and typewriters with glass keys for the purpose of the barbaric act.

Before I get too carried away, some ‘Vintage Dealers’ are good. They’ve just adopted that name to move with the times, not to become part of this new-age funky-atomic-retro clan that can’t write prices below one-hundred.

I think that eBay has its hand in this as well. It becomes easy for anyone to see what these Vintage dealers have their typewriters  online for, and want similar prices at garage sales and on eBay. It isn’t about getting rid of unwanted stuff anymore – it’s about making a profit on a typewriter that you bought at K-Mart in 1982. Speaking of K-Mart typewriters, I saw one today. There was more rust than paint on the little blue Nakajima, and the price tag read “Early K-Mart Typewriter – $95”. It was a joke. The same dealer had an orange Brother 210 for $165, without a case. For both these typewriters he probably paid twenty dollars.

Once upon a time there were typewriters at very reasonable prices. I don’t own any typewriters that are considered exceptionally rare. The most I paid was for an Olivetti Valentine – knowing full well it typed terribly, but knowing full well that they’re nice to look at. But I paid ten dollars for lots, twenty-five for others, and in a stroke of luck 10 cents for one. Mind you, it didn’t have its ribbon cover and is classified topless. What ever happened to these utter bargains?

I do hope that the supply of typewriters isn’t running out. No, of course they’re not. It’s vintage dealers selling them back and forth amongst themselves.

I cling to the hope that all of this will blow over. I know that bargains are out there to be had, and I don’t give up all hope. I am just disheartened when I see stupidly priced typewriters. A $165 Corona 3? That’s a bit more understandable, but not for Japanese portables. I hope that eventually the mainstream will drift off this ‘vintage atomic retry funky’ business, that they’ll drift away from ‘vintage grunge’, and something else will come up; leaving the true collectors and enthusiasts behind.

I’m not into typewriters for making investments, selling them to people, or making profits. I just like them. They’re business model around typewriters is perfect, despite me not liking it: they’re trying to manipulate my desire for a Hermes Baby, Corona 3, or Lettera 32 (roman typeface).

But in five years, hopefully, the vintage-atomic-retro-funky market will have collapsed. I hope.


  1. YOu need to have a chat to Robert Messenger over at Oz Typewriter.

    Another Australian on the typosphere... Greetings!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with this post. I have seen some ridiculously priced typewriters lately. At least the thrift shops seem to keep it low. In the US we have Goodwill and they sell everything incredibly cheap including typewriters. You just have to get there first because eBay profiteers will buy them and then sell them for $100 there.

    1. Yes, the op shops as we call them have reasonable prices, bargains in fact. The sad thing is they do not get donated to these places anymore because people try to put them on eBay to make some money on them. When this retro bubbles bursts hopefully a new wave will come back through these shops.

    2. Yes, the op shops as we call them have reasonable prices, bargains in fact. The sad thing is they do not get donated to these places anymore because people try to put them on eBay to make some money on them. When this retro bubbles bursts hopefully a new wave will come back through these shops.

  3. I am right there with you! I laugh at these dealers, generally speaking.
    One time, actually it was this past National Typewriter Day, I was at a salvage yard in Philly. Of course, this is in the high end section, full of yuppies. There was a single typewriter, an LC Smith Super Speed. No price on it, and really I wasn't interested. At any rate, one of the shop owners noticed me looking at it and, as it didn't have a tag, told me it was $125, or some such number. I said 'Ok' and walked away.

    Later, from across the shop, I see Tom (father in law) looking at the typewriter. The owner, again, walks over and so do I (to fend him off!). I walk over just as the guy is saying "These are selling really well now. The days are long gone when you could buy one for $25..." To which I interrupted "I have bought three machines just yesterday. Two were $20, and the last was $10. All better than this." Then Tom starts going on and on about my collection, sounding all proud about how cool the Oliver is! HAHA.
    I suppose that was the point he noticed the typewriter patch on my shirt (it WAS National Typewriter Day...), and I told him everything that was utterly wrong with the typewriter he had. Everything. After Tom walked away, the guy leaned in close and actually APOLOGIZED to me for the price, saying he knew absolutely nothing about them, this and that.

    It was, all in all, a good experience.