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Musing of a Typewriter Collector

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I have a hobby I recently picked up after watching a biopic on David McCullough, author of best selling books such as John Adams and 1776. In this piece I saw on television Mr. McCullough was typing on a 60 year old Royal Standard typewriter. I found it interesting in this day and age that such a prolific writer such as McCullough would still use a machine that by all accounts time has passed by.

underwood5.jpg I then became interested in the old bangers. They were beautiful and somewhat romantic. It reminds me of a time where fedora hat wearing detectives search for a priceless gem colored bird. Then my wife gave me an Underwood #5 from about 1946. It works well, and after a quick cleaning, it looks nearly new.
This past weekend I picked up 3 more typewriters. A Smith Corona quiet portable from about 1950 or so in somewhat poor shape. Luckily it was a freebie.

I got a 1940s Royal Quiet Deluxe pictured right for $60. After a quick cleaning and turning of the ribbon, I was typing “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country,” like any good typing student.

The other one that I got was the crown jewel of my collection so far. For $10, I am getting a mint Royal Portable Touch Control, circa 1936. bottom right This one came with everything original, including box, instructions, carrying case, and dust cover.

Call me strange. My wife has already threatened to divorce me due to this strange hobby. And it is something strange. But everyone collects things that appeal to him or her. My wife collects Mary Moo Moos; and though I think they are pretty, they aren’t my cup of tea.

There are quite a few typewriter collectors out there. I read somewhere that 90% of them are men and 100% of their wives think they’re crazy. And for those crazy folks are quite a few good sites to visit regarding these “bangers” as we call them. There is Mr. Typewriter, a crazy old coot who tracks down and restores typewriters and sells them. My Typewriter is a favorite among typewriter collectors and the curious. In this day and age of computers and instant messaging, you can still buy a typewriter and supplies rather inexpensively.

A commenter at Design Observer said it well, that the people who seem most enthralled with these throwbacks to the era of Hemingway and Kerouac are people like me and younger who really haven’t had the experience of typing “unplugged”. Sure, my first typing experiences in middle school were on a typewriter, but an electric typewriter with memory and spell check hardly compares to an old Underwood. And that was before I could touch-type and had to rely on the hunt and peck method.

I was taught to type the “proper” way in high school on the school’s brand new IBM 386s. Before windows and clickable interface, these machines were basically typewriters that had TV screens. Nothing compared to what we are all familiar with now, and typing on a manual is totally different than typing on a computer. Computer typing is pressing buttons; manual typing is more like playing the piano. With each model and make having its own personality and flow, you must learn to avoid jamming the machine. You have to learn touch.



There is something esthetically pleasing about banging the keys on an old manual typewriter, even if it’s just for fun. You press the letter, a hinge swings the plate forward, it makes contact with the ribbon and paper, and you have a letter. You are actually creating the words from your own fingers, through might of muscle, instead of creating an electric response inside the transistors of a machine. This is more akin to sculpting, and is probably why so many professional writers and wanna-be professional writers still use manuals today.

So, as I prepare to write the all-American Novel, or at least just practice typing, I add to my collection of these large items. Whole shelves in my office will now be adorned with these antique implements of writing, there to remind me of times gone when people didn’t have auto spell checkers or cut and paste. If I’m luckily they will be my muse, and help me channel Hemingway through my Royals or Kerouac through my Underwood.

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About Tom Bux

  • very cool tom. old typewriters have a certain charm that can’t be replicated.

    and you might be right about the demographic. i also learned on an electric machine in high schooll but i used to own an old underwood.

    where the heck do you go for replacement ribbons?

  • Tom

    I get my replacement ribbons from any office supply store. From underwoods, to royals, to even my piece of junk Kmart 100 use the same basic ribbon and spool for around $5.

    Also that one place I mentioned , mytypewriter, has the good nylon ones for most any make and model. They’ll work the best, but will be a little more expensive-usually around $10 or so.

  • Tom,

    Being the nerdy 11 year old I was in 1961, I asked for and received a Royal portable typewriter for Christmas (which was, by no small coincidence, my birtday, as well; for economic reasons, my gifts had to do double duty).

    I used that little wonder for typing stacks of useless reports and drivel all the way through high school. I also loved the “erasable” typewriter paper since I never took typing but wish I had, to this day. I wish you well in your new hobby.



  • kevin

    i have many antique typewriters for sale that are in good condition. if you are interested in buying one send me and e-mail

  • Carol

    I have a Royal Touch Control with Magic Margin settings with the original stand – in great condition with brushes, bottle in box of Solvene Typewriter Cleaner with applicator, 2 oz. very old. If you’re interested or know someone who is, please send me an email. Thanks!

  • piero tomassini

    like to by old typewriter

  • Macossay

    A friend was cleaning out her mother’s house and gave me a Royal Quiet De Luxe — Hemingway’s favorite typewriter — in perfect condition. I hadn’t typed on a manual in years but the skill came right back. I’d be writing the Great American Novel on it right now, ‘cept it uses 12 pitch Elite instead of 10 pitch Pica.

  • Hi Tom,

    I enjoyed reading about you love of typewriters.

    I love them too and have been collecting them for 20 years.
    Please visit my collection at http://www.antiquetypewriters.com
    You will have a good time!

    Martin Howard

  • cecelia

    My dad was a typewriter mechanic from the 1930’s until his death in the late 1980’s. I don’t have any typewriters but I have his tools. Would anyone be interested in purchasing them?

  • jdvega64

    To Cecelia: I would be interested in those tools if they are still available!