Antique typewriters are fetching big bucks at auctions, reports Anna Russell in The Wall Street Journal (2/16/13). “The typewriter is the grandfather of the computer,” says Uwe Breker, of Auction Team Breker, explaining some of the appeal. “That is how it all started.” In May, he will auction “some 100 rare vintage typewriters,” including an “1895 Ford typewriter with a filigree copper grill (estimate $13,000 to $20,000) and an 1879 Crandall with mother-of-pearl inlays, with an estimate of $7,000 to $10,000. An 1894 Edison Mimeograph Typewriter No. 1 starts at $10,000.”
The first commercially successful typewriter was introduced in 1874, and early versions “were marked by intense experimentation with hundreds of devices. For example, the 1894 Crown, offered in Breker’s sale ($11,000 to $15,000), has no keys at all — the user slides an index pointer lever along a rail to choose a raised letter on a type wheel. By the early 1900s, typewriters settled into a more standardized design.” Some machines are of interest purely because of their former owners: Cormac McCarthy’s Olivetti Lettera 32, which he used for a half century, fetched $254,500 at auction.
Martin Howard, a collector, enjoys “restoring typewriters from the 1880s and 1890s, which he calls ‘three-dimensional puzzles’.” However, as much as he cherishes the machines, and the way they sound, he doesn’t use them. “I love my Mac,” he says. Kasbah Mod Typewriters in Manhattan meanwhile turns old machines into “design objects” by giving them “bright paint jobs — from turquoise and pink … to chrome and 24 karat gold models.” Typical customers are in their 20s and 30s. Eric Bradley, a typewriter collector, says “your words count more” on a typewriter, and notes that he’s seen people “carrying a 10-pound [typewriter] to a coffee shop to bang out the next great American novel.”