A Guide to Vintage Typewriters
Vintage typewriters are beautiful pieces of history, and we love seeing them at our estate sales in Tacoma, Gig Harbor, and Olympia. So, whether you’re looking for a standalone piece or you want to collect, let’s learn a little more about the vintage typewriter.
Some of the First
The first patent for the typewriter was issued in 1714 to Henry Mill, but the first commercially produced typewriter didn’t hit the market in America until 1870.
We have to tip our hats to The Antikey Chop. Check out their website for an incredible directory of typewriters from the past.
Let’s talk about the pioneers of the typewriter.
Hansen Writing Ball: Credited as the first commercially sold typewriter, the Hansen Writing Ball was used in Europe from 1878 until 1909. This version was a success primarily because of the placement of the keys, which put the most frequently used letters were the easiest to reach.
Sholes and Glidden Typewriter: Coined as America's first commercially successful typewriter (and the first to be called “typewriter”), the E. Remington company produced 1,000 typewriters in 1870, its first year. It was the first to feature the now-standard QWERTY keyboard layout, but could only type capital letters.
A redesign in 1878 produced what is known as Standard No. 2. This updated model could type both upper and lowercase letters and became the first commercially successful typewriter.
Throughout the early years, companies worked through the nuances we take for granted today. For example, the Calligraph, released in 1881 had a keyboard that included both upper and lowercase letters. This approach is almost unfathomable today, and we are grateful for the streamlined keyboard we have today!
The Underwood: In 1896, the Underwood typewriter was released, and featured most of the modern layout we know today. It had four rows of keys, and a shift key to make letters uppercase.
Vintage Typewriter Models
We always want to differentiate vintage from antique. Typewriters produced after 1920 are considered vintage. Those older are antiques.
By the 1920s, typewriters were in almost every home and business. Here are some popular and well-known brands you might see at an estate sale.
Woodstock Electrite: This was a well-made and popular brand that sold between 1925 and 1950. Its design ensured the keys hit the paper with the same force, resulting in uniform letters.
Electromatic Model 04: This model Produced by IBM in the early 1940s, is known for its ability to type with proposal spacing between letters. This improvement would influence typewriter design going forward.
Electronic typewriters: In the late 1970s and early 1980s, traditional typewriters had to make way for more modern technology. Electronic typewriters featured electronic memory and displays that allowed typists to correct their errors before they were printed on the page.
Tips for Collecting
As you begin to think about your collection, think about your purpose. As you collect, look for machines that are in working condition. Here are a few more tips
Decals: Look for decals that are intact and readable
Rust: You want to avoid machines with rust. They can weaken parts, making it difficult to enjoy your new-to-you typewriter.
Mechanics: All the mechanics should be in good working order. They should also be originals.
Good Working Order: You should expect to be able to use your typewriter. Especially the keys, the return arm, and the bell.
Vintage typewriters are so much fun to collect! If you’re looking to get started, estate sales are a great place to start. Check out our upcoming estate sales to see if we have any.