I would like to thank Rose Soma of Western Michigan University for these questions concerning my interest and involvement in the Typosphere.
How did you start buying and selling typewriters? Back in college I got a really part-time job at this office machine repair place. They repaired mostly electric typewriters, but would get in a couple of old manual machines a week that they didn’t want to turn away the work. I got the job repairing them and was shown the basics on how to fix them. I had a key to the place and I came and went as I pleased, as long as I got my work done, they didn’t care when I was there. I would usually go late at night when nobody else was around, play the music really loud and sing to myself as I worked. Then when I changed majors from Geology to English I began bring typewriters home from the thrift shops and typing my angst ridden poems on them. When I graduated college I had six portables and one standard typewriter.
What kind of typewriters are you the most familiar with? Since I only work on manual typewriters, I’m familiar with a lot of makes and models. They all work on the same basic mechanical systems, just like cars. I would say I have repaired Royal, Smith Corona and Remington typewriters the most. They were all made in the United States and are the most common brands. Next would be Underwood and then your foreign models from Olympia and Olivetti.
What’s the most common malfunction of a typewriter and how (if possible) does one go about fixing it? Ah, I would say problems with the carriage. Most common is the string that attaches the carriage to the return drum coming loose or breaking. Fixing it depends a great deal on the age of the machine you are working on. Old standard typewriters used a woven cloth band which we replace now with a leather lace crimped with metal ends. More modern machines we use a nylon filament line, similar to fishing line. Putting tension back on the return drum is more tricky and depends on the machine. The return drum is a metal spring wound inside a metal casing held on a shaft. If you wind it the spring the wrong way, the spring comes loose and you have to take the casing apart-and that’s where the fun can really start. I would suggest watching some videos online before trying any of this and even then, they show you just enough to get yourself into trouble.
What is the most common way to completely break one- past the point of being fixed? The worst thing that can happen is dropping your typewriter on the floor. Like a unibody car, once the frame is bent, it never goes back together right. A typewriter is a precision machine and any alignment issues are a death nail usually.
What are some of the rarest/most valuable typewriters you’ve carried? What made them special? Typewriters have a long history in the United States. They were originally referred to as ‘writing machines’ and each developer had their own ideas to make them work. Some of these are totally crazy and make them highly valuable to collectors. The rarest machine we have in the shop now is still under restoration. It was the smallest portable typewriter ever made. This model made by the Bennett Company of New York was manufactured in 1911 and featured a spinning head that held the typeface which was made of vulcanized rubber. When fully restored this Bennett Traveler will retail for about $1,100.00. Its size and style make this machine a hit with collectors. The machine is the size of a small ladies handbag and weighs under five pounds.
Why do you think people still value the typewriter today? What’s the appeal, in your opinion, of keeping the typewriter alive while technology seems to be leaving it behind? I have to say I’m a bit of a Luddite, I prefer old technology versus the modern ‘conveniences’ technology has provided. I think the popularity stems from wanting to learn from the past or use it as a time machine to take you back to a simpler time. As a writer it puts me in touch with how writing was done when I began, how writers I celebrate today began and that connection is important to me. The same reason musicians love working with old thrift store guitars and tube amps. The love has always been there, but it now has a popular voice which has brought it to the mainstream-thank you Mr. Hanks.
Do you have any advice for a specific time period or type of typewriter someone should look at? First I would suggest a beginner look at machines from the 50’s and 60’s, they are more user friendly and less expensive. They will give you an idea if the hobby is right for you. There are a couple of great entry level machines which can usually be purchased restored for under $200. One we suggest is the Royal Quiet Deluxe which was made from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. It’s an all metal machine that stands up to the daily use without major malfunctions and best of all uses a universal typewriter ribbon. The second we recommend are two models made in the United States by Smith Corona, the Galaxie and the Sterling. Both models were made from the 50’s into the late 60’s.