If you’ve never felt the pressure of heavy keys under your fingertips and heard the constant “tap-tap” as words magically appear before you on physical paper, you are definitely missing out. Though typewriters were largely replaced by computers in the 1980s, they were the main tool for nearly all writing purposes for over a hundred years. Their importance cannot be highlighted enough, and even today, they are still indispensable pieces of equipment in many parts of the world.
Whether you’re an experienced collector or just diving in, these vintage typewriters will surely make you swoon and want to type out anything that comes to mind — not to mention that they’d look really, really cool hanging out on a shelf in your living room.
In 1867, Christopher Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel Soule designed a typewriter that introduced the QWERTY system, which we still use today on the modern computer keyboard. E. Remington and Sons, an arms manufacturer looking to diversify its business, acquired the design and placed the typewriter on the market in 1874. It was received unenthusiastically for a number of reasons, one of which was that the Remington No. 1 could only print upper case letters. If you ever come across this model, get ready to empty your life savings; Remington No. 1 typewriters can go for upward of $18,000.
Blickensderfer typewriters were known for their portability and simplified design, containing only 250 parts compared to 2,500 parts comprising a standard typewriter. The Blickensderfer also differed from other typewriters in that it used a cylindrical wheel with letters embossed on it, rather than letters on the end of individual bars connected to the keys. This made it easy for users to change the typeface by just changing the tape cylinder.
Introduced in 1893, these vintage typewriters were the first successful production model and came with the DHIATENSOR keyboard as standard. This keyboard was designed to minimize extraneous hand movement by making the home row of keys the most commonly used letters. However, buyers could request a QWERTY keyboard as well. Blickensderfer 5 typewriters come in at a much more affordable $100-$400.
In 1961, IBM introduced the IBM Selectric typewriter. Improving upon Blickensderfer typewriters from nearly 70 years prior, the Selectric also had a type element, known as a typeball, which pivoted to the correct direction before striking. Selectrics also allowed users to easily change the type element to print different fonts in the same document. Original Selectrics and their various descendants, including correcting and data storage models, were so popular that they eventually took over the majority of the US market for electric typewriters used in businesses. Thus, there are quite a few out there, and usually cost no more than $250.
The Oliver No. 1, manufactured by the Oliver Typewriter Company between 1894-1896, is known as the first “visible print” typewriter. Before this, typists could not see text as they were typing. The Oliver No. 1 changed this by using a down strike method, meaning the typebars would strike the roller from above, allowing the typist to see the full page at all times. Only around 5,000 Oliver No. 1 typewriters were produced, making it extremely rare. If one pops up, assume it will cost a very pretty penny. However, there are later model Oliver typewriters available for affordable prices between $100-$500.
Introduced in 1914, the Royal 10 was manufactured by the Royal Typewriter Company for decades without any major changes. With glass panels on either side of the typewriter and the first of the company’s models to utilize the upright design, it was known as one of the sturdiest and strongest around. To prove this, George Edward Smith, president of Royal, bought a plane that dropped 200 typewriters in crates with parachutes on its first flight. Out of an eventual 11,000 typewriters delivered in this manner, only 10 were damaged. These vintage typewriters are commonly available for under $300.
If you’re looking to purchase a vintage typewriter, be sure to do your research before heading into a pawn shop or antique store or making an offer on eBay or Craigslist. Here’s a quick guide to get you started.
The typewriter’s importance in history is indisputable, and while some models are more coveted than others, there’s a strange satisfaction in handling any typewriter, regardless of worth or condition. Next time you’re given the pleasure of gazing at one of these magnificent machines, let yourself travel back to the past, and remember you’re in the presence of something that completely changed the world as we knew it.
Are you looking to buy a vintage typewriter, or have you already bought one? Which one did you settle on getting?