Go old-style with a collectable typewriter
Most of us still use a version of one every day, to text a friend, type an email or even order our shopping. They’ve achieved something of a cult status in recent years and are even revered by Hollywood celebrities: Tom Hanks has been an ardent collector since 1979, with the machines recently inspiring his first short story anthology, Uncommon Type.
Despite early attempts from across the globe, the first commercial typewriter is widely viewed as an American invention, created by Christopher Latham Sholes and his friends Carlos Glidden and Samuel W Soule in Milwaukee in 1868. After a successful patent, it attracted the attention of two entrepreneurs – James Densmore and George W. N. Yost – who eventually sold the plans to Remington in the early 1870s, kickstarting production.
While the name Remington is synonymous with typewriters today, in the 19th century they were better known as a manufacturer of sewing machines. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that Remington’s first model – the Scholes and Glidden typewriter – was reminiscent of a very different machine, featuring a distinctive foot-pedal carriage.
But as the first example of its kind, it included two crucial flaws: it could only print uppercase letters – often viewed as impersonal to its recipients – and was a blind writer. This meant that once the keys had been punched, a typist was unable to see exactly what had made it onto the page.
Despite these flaws,
Remington’s first prototype was still a milestone. It coined the term ‘typewriter’ and produced the world’s very first QWERTY keyboard, still used across the world today. While it may be hard to imagine that the generations before us could ever be without a keyboard, a sluggish economy in the 1870s meant that the first typewriter entered into a very slow market. It wasn’t until the 1880s – in the midst of industrialisation – that the machine found its audience.
Since then, typewriter models have developed extensively, encompassing everything from the Remington 2 – an updated model on the original prototype – to the electric typewriter which, with built-in memory, is still available on the market today. Remington still remains among the most iconic brands, along with Royal, Corona and Olivetti, all of which can be found at regular auctions.
But with a keyboard so readily available on our smartphone, what drives the popularity of this humble machine? According to Christie’s website, a typewriter can easily be compared to a vintage car, with both of them sharing a modern mission to make the practical beautiful. Colourful, solid casings combine with symmetrical, streamlined mechanics, allowing you to watch the machine while it works.
Models from all sorts of eras can still be bought today, and modern examples of the machine are frequently spotted in charity shops and on live auction sites. A number of independent businesses have also been set up, restoring and selling old machines to a good working order. London Typewriters UK is one such example, selling typewriters from the 1900s – a rare Royal Standard, listed for £400 – as well as more contemporary models, including a bright orange 1979 Silver Reed, listed for £150.
The machine’s age, manufacturer and workability all help to decide value, but perhaps the most valuable factor is who the machine might have belonged to in a previous life. As a tool of the trade, typewriters are synonymous with some of literature’s most famous authors. Ian Fleming’s gold-plated typewriter by Royal sold for an astonishing £55,750 at a Christie’s auction in 1995. More recently, Jack Kerouac’s last typewriter, a pale-green Hermes, went for $22,500 in 2010, and Cormac McCarthy’s Olivetti, rumoured to have been originally purchased for $50, was bought for $254,000.
With such high premiums, and a huge stake in our literary history, the click, clack, and ping has never sounded so good.
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