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A Guide to Vintage Typewriters

Now that we’ve taken a look at antique pencils and how they changed the history of correspondence, we’re going to fast forward a few years. We’re going to dive into the collectibility and value of another invention that would change the way words would appear on paper forever, the typewriter.

I could spend the next few hours going through the history of the typewriter, but I think I'll let the fine folks over at The New Yorker give you the lowdown. I’m here to highlight a few typewriters that changed the history of writing and maybe a few that could bring a serious payday with collectors.

Hansen Writing Ball

If we’re going to talk about value, let's begin with something many collectors consider to be the holy grail of typewriters: the Hansen Writing Ball. Resembling an oversized pincushion rather than your traditional typewriter, the ergonomic design and ease of use made the Hansen Writing Ball the first commercially successful typing tool. So, what are the odds of you running onto one of these bad boys in a sale? Unfortunately, not very good. Less than 200 produced and legend has it that there are only 4 in the wild, and those are in private collections. However, if you find yourself in possession of a Hansen Writing Ball, you could be in for a payday of over $100,000.00.

Source: History Daily

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Smith Corona

When doing research for these articles, I often run across companies that excelled in many areas outside of the topic I'm writing about, and the Smith Premier Typewriter Company is no exception. While they may have started out as a typewriter manufacturer in 1886, they have since become known for heat transfer labels, paper, and Springfield rifles. Boasting the tagline of “A Key for Every Character,” the SPTC would produce the first double keyboard that would allow users to have upper and lowercase letters. In the mid-1950s, Smith saw a need for on-the-go writing and developed the first portable electric typewriter. These models became popular with authors like L. Frank Baum, Ernest Hemingway, and Dr. Seuss, who wanted to take their work with them. Since there were so many Smith Corona typewriters built, they’re a bit easier to find and won’t bring as high a price tag. A Smith Corona in good shape and working order can be worth upwards of $400.00.

Sources: Smith Corona Mental Floss

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Sholes and Glidden

Christopher Latham Sholes was inspired to create the first commercially successful typewriter after reading about a similar machine built in Britain in 1867. Much like the early versions of most of the inventions in that period, the first typewriter was described as crude. It wasn’t met with very much enthusiasm from consumers. High cost combined with lack of advertising and needing to be trained to use the typewriter, the first models weren’t a success, to say the least. With financial help from an oil tycoon and production prowess from the Remington Company, Sholes would release their finalized product to market on July 1, 1874. Although the first few models missed the mark, Remington spent the next several years improving the product that would eventually set a benchmark for every single typewriter that would follow. As far as value goes, if you’re lucky enough to find one of the earlier models (Remington 1 or 2), you’re looking at a value somewhere between $10-15,000.00.

Source: The Antikey Chop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Fun Fact: Christopher Latham Sholes is also credited with developing the QWERTY keyboard as we know it today.

Underwood Typewriter Company

Starting their legacy as a typewriter ribbon and carbon paper company, the Underwood Typewriter Company would create a typewriter that many enthusiasts consider to be the gold standard. Underwood would release several models, but the No. 5 would be their most popular version by far. Making improvements to the typebars and ribbon inking were just a few reasons the No. 5 was such as success. Another innovation that would set Underwood apart from past typewriter makers was that when using one of their machines, you could actually see what you were typing. One of their predecessors' downfalls was they were “blind writers, " meaning you had to raise the carriage to see what you had just typed. Paying attention to the market needs and making these small improvements would be the driving force behind Underwood selling millions of typewriters and setting the bar for all machines that would follow. Finding a mint condition No. 5 isn’t going to be easy, but it could be upwards of $500.00 if you’re lucky enough to find one.

Sources: My Typewriter 101

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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There were hundreds of typewriter manufacturers at one time so the odds of you finding one at a sale are definitely in your favor. Being able to put a value on what you find can be pretty tricky, however. I found a great guide to help steer you in the right direction when trying to determine how much certain models can bring in. Doing a quick search on the EstateSales.NET Marketplace and adding “typewriters” to your Treasure Tracker will make sure you’re the first to know when one of these pieces of literary history shows up on our site. Happy Hunting!

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