“What is a collectible typewriter that I should purchase on sight?”
If you mean, a typewriter that I can easily sell off for more than I paid for it and which will probably increase in value in the coming years:
The bulbous Swiss typewriter with the minty green keys guarded by Mingus is a 1965 Hermes 3000, an iconic typewriter and favoured by respected writers and collectors like Tom Hanks, Sam Shepard and Larry McMurtry (who thanked his H3K in his Oscar speech for ‘keeping me out of the cold clutches of the computer’). Gorgeous design, precision (Swiss!) mechanics, and loaded with innovative features, this machine is worth buying blind if you can get it for less than 100$. They sell nowadays for anywhere between 200–700$.
Seidel & Naumann Erika M:
This is part of my S&N Erika collection. While the S on the far right is my preferred typer, the M (for ‘Master Class’) on the left is considered the pinnacle of the already astounding Seidel & Naumann range of Erika portables. It has pretty much any feature you might want from a modern machine — keyset margins, keyset tabulator stops – and it has an interesting shift mechanism — in most machines either the whole carriage shifts up (called ‘carriage shift’) or the basket segment with the typebars goes down into the machine (‘basket/segment shift’), but with the Erika M, the carriage remains on the machine, only the paper-carrying platen part is lifted (‘partial/skeleton shift’). Apart from all the features, the machine types like a dream and is aesthetically gorgeous. If you can get one for less than 100$, snap it up, because a clean refurbished M goes for 250–600$.
This East German Cold War typewriter became famous when featured in the 2006 German movie The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), where a dissident author writes on an unregistered Kolibri that’s flat enough to be hidden under the floorboards of his apartment.
You can see it in this trailer of the movie, when it’s delivered under a birthday cake and later typed on and hidden under the threshold.
This is my main ‘in transit’ typewriter, for when I write outside my home. Like here, @ Vapiano Oosterdokseiland while sharing a pizza with my son.
It’s super-flat and fits in most backpacks, plus it’s a snappy typer. These machines are quite rare and will fetch prices around 350–750$. I bought mine for sixty euro and I’m not going to part with it, even though I had offers far exceeding what I paid for mine.
This is the only collectible that I don’t have, nor want. Iconic design typewriter that has become incredibly popular among collectors, but I typed on one and it felt like a toy, not an actual typewriter. And since I’m only interested in machines I can actually type on, I’m not really interested in owning one.
Prices fluctuate, but Valentines can fetch from 200–600$, depending on their condition.
Edited May 12th, 2019:
And here I wrote about the Olivetti Valentine: “This is the only collectible that I don’t have, nor want. […] I’m not really interested in owning one.”
And today, while street-writing @ Nieuwmarkt, an elderly lady complimented me on my 1938 Seidel & Naumann Erika S, and told me she had a red typewriter that had a red box it slipped into. She was looking to sell it only to someone who really appreciated manual typewriters, would I be interested? So, that’s how i became the owner of a Valentine for forty euro.
Below are some typewriters that I think should become collectibles, because they are so, so fine:
Not to be confused with the S&N Erika’s above, the 10 is a post-war German typewriter after Seidel & Naumann had been bankrupted after WWII. Made in the early 60, it is an astoundingly smooth typewriter with beautiful lines.
Until jousted from the prime position by the Groma Kolibri, this Swissa Junior was my favourite ‘in transit’ typewriter. It’s Swiss, like the Hermes, and it types even better than the Kolibri, except that it’s bulkier and won’t fit in a daypack backpack. The type is incredibly straight, like a laser printer, and distinctive. It’s also my son’s favourite machine to write on:
If you want to know more about the Swissa Junior (and some of my other typewriters), you can find my blog article here.
One thing that annoys most current typewriter enthusiasts is the availability of typewriter accessories, or rather, the lack thereof.
Tipp-Ex white-out paper and correction fluid is virtually impossible to find, silk black/red ink ribbons have to ordered at the office supply store (because they rarely stock them), typewriter erasers are thin on the ground, and — of course — typewriter pads have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Typewriter pads serve multiple functions at the same time. They protect your desk, they provide an anti-slip surface so the typewriter doesn’t skid all over your polished desk, and they dampen the vibration (and the noise!) of your typewriter.
Since the original typewriter pads are no longer made and the commercial alternatives are not very cheap (I think 12-24 euro for a single pad is expensive), I experimented with all kinds of pads, from cork placemats from a cooking store (for underneath hot pots) to all kinds of rug runners and anti-slip bath mats. Some didn’t provide enough anti-slip, others were too soft or too thin.
I didn’t try the ‘cutting up a yoga mat’ idea, because good yoga or pilates mats aren’t cheap, but that last suggestion did give me a better idea.
Hardware stores often sell ultralight foam tiles that have jigsaw sides to join together in a large floor mat that you can use as in your garage or tool shed, as a gym mat or even under a washing machine to dampen the vibrations. Sold in packages of six squares, a single tile is often 40×40 centimeters, big enough for an Olympia SG-1 or similar desktop typewriter, so it can also easily support a smaller portable machine like this SM-4.
Every package has strips to cover the jigsaw sides and if the floor mat is too large for your taste, you can easily cut them down to size. They’re often available in a variety of colours (although I’d go with black), they are anti-slip, hard enough to support your typewriter, but soft enough to dampen the vibrations. Plus they’re cheap — a package containing six 40x40cm EVA foam tiles will cost you about 6-10 euro — and since they’re meant for work spaces they can handle an awful lot of abuse, so they will last very, very long. And I think they also look pretty cool/rad/industrial under your typewriter.
Since readers know that I type drafts on manual typewriters, I regularly get questions about what typewriter to get. I enjoy manual (mechanical, non-electric/electronic) typewriters, so I decided to write a post on Quora that I decided to post here as well.
If you don’t own a manual typewriter yet, but want to get into writing on typewriters, don’t go for a pre-war machine like this gorgeous 1938 Erika ‘S’:
“Why not? It’s pulling at my heartstrings!”
Yes, I know. That’s why I collect these machines:
And the thing is, they are marvellous typemachines. Ifthey work. These Erikas do, but they’ve been lovingly maintained by someone who knows how to service and repair these machines. If you don’t know how to replace a drawstring or adjust the carriage or unstick sticky typebars or re-align the type, you’d have to outsource the servicing and repairing and that would be a pain in the ass, because there aren’t many typewriter shops anymore. Even the regular use of these machines can be difficult.
For instance, check the spools on the Erika ‘S’. Beautiful open metal spools. If you buy ribbon, it comes on cheap plastic spools and you’d need to re-spool the ribbon onto these spools, because apart from looking ridiculous on these machines, plastic spools are made for modern machines, not these pre-war machines, because they require heavier, more balanced metal spools.
“So, what should I get?”
Get a segment-shift typewriter, made between 1955–1969, from a brand like Royal, Remington, Smith Corona, Erika, Optima, Olympia or Olivetti.
To print capital letters, you need to shift the type to use the upper part of the slug (the print part that hits the paper). Typewriters basically have two ways* of shifting: by lifting the whole moving carriage up (carriage shift) or by lowering the ‘basket’ with the typebars deeper into the machine (segment or basket shift). The latter is way less strenuous on your pinkie fingers, which — if you touch-type — handle the shift keys.
If you don’t have strong type-fingers yet, go for the segment-shifted 1969 Olympia SM9:
Rather than the carriage-shifted 1959 Olympia SM4, especially one with an extra-wide carriage:
Nice mechanical machines for a beginner, while still being appreciated by professional typists, are Olivetti Lettera (portable) or Studio (desktop), Olympia SM9, Erika 10, pre-1970s Brother, Smith-Corona, Royal, and Remington. Most of these brands have been around since before 1955, so pay attention that you get a segment-shifted model.
Don’t buy a typewriter made after 1970. With the introduction of the personal computer, many typewriter factories tried to compete by using cheaper materials and mass-production, so the quality of typewriters, even those made by renowned brands, deteriorated sharply.
*Most pre-war machines, like the Erika 5 and S above, have carriage shift.The Erika on the picture far left is the Modell M and it has a partial carriage shift in the sense that only the platen (the rubber roll with the paper) is lifted, but that’s unusual.