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The Retrophile Files: Tippy-Tapping on Tricked Out Vintage Typewriters

by DeDe Sullivan (01/10/12).

A pair of pretty-in-pink 1950s Royal flagship portable, fully restored by myTypewriter.com.

Sure you can get a beat up vintage manual typewriter pretty easily. I must have seen hundreds over the last year at various flea markets cheaply priced. But if you want a reconditioned working model that actually types, it will cost you. Recently, I reached out to three businesses that focus on rescuing, restoring and selling these office relics so I could understand why these refurbished writing machines cost more than a basic PC laptop.

One of the top pros in the biz is Charles Gu, the founder of myTypewriter.com, based in Fairfax, Va. Gu’s company is the largest source on the Internet for classic American- and European-made typewriters. Every vintage machine on his site is meticulously restored in appearance and function. But returning these contraptions to their original condition, as Gu explains, is time-consuming and expensive.

“Most people do not realize that manual typewriters are very difficult mechanical devises to repair and restore. There are thousands of parts in each machine. If any pieces are broken or missing, they are impossible to replace unless you “cannibalize” from another machine or you make your own parts. Besides the parts, select machines need to be totally stripped down just so you can access and repair one mechanism. Then, there is the rust you have to deal with. I can go on and on. When customers ask why our typewriters are so expensive, it is because of the labor costs involved to repair each machine. A skilled technician may take up to 20 hours to restore one typewriter.”

[Interested in collecting vintage and antique typewriters? Check out this collector who was bitten by the typewriter bug.]

One of the “work horse” vintage typewriters sold by Brady & Kowalski.

Another reason for the expense is that few people are actually capable of fixing typewriters. Brandi Kowalski—one-half of Brady & Kowalski Writing Machines, based in Brooklyn, N.Y.—states, “. . . the typewriter repairman is of a dying age and won’t be around forever, so if you should have a machine that needs to be fixed, I think you should do it sooner than later.”

However, for those who want to take on the challenge of restoration on their own, Brady & Kowalski posted two articles on their website that originally appeared in a 1977 issue of Reader’s Digest that will help DIYers get a grip on basic cleaning and troubleshooting.

Also based in Brooklyn NY is Kasbah Mod, the biggest retailer of ace-quality vintage typewriters in NYC. It takes restoration and customization to new levels with signature pieces that include their artist series and its blingly metal collection of chrome- and gold-plated machines.

Chase S. Gilbert, chief creative officer for Kasbah Moderne, believes typewriters are timelessly fashionable, and they provide a tactile/analog experience that improves creative focus for writers. When asked what inspired him to get into the restoration business, he explains: “In the same way that Steve Jobs was fascinated by transforming the iDevice from simply being a content-displayer to a content-creator, I believe typewriters have a long creative life ahead of them. And the next generation of 20-somethings—with their affinity for Apple-branded good looks and Apple-engineered simplicity of use—are going to make that happen.”

This is an interesting thought, especially since the cost of a beautifully restored Kasbah Moderne typewriter carries the same price tag as a tricked out iPad. But Gilbert has a unique marketing plan that positions his company as an aspirational brand. Kasbah Modern is available through invitation-only flash sales sites that laser-targets young affluent consumers.

A very glam, gold-plated vintage typewriter by Kasbah Mod.

Interested in learning more or where to shop? Read on:

myTypewriter.com, the classic typewriter store, is only available online. They are the gold standard when it comes to fully restored machines. They also sell ribbon, pads, instruction manuals and vintage keypad jewelry.

• You can peruse Brady & Kowalski’s current inventory on Etsy and weekends at Brooklyn Flea. Restored with writers in mind, function is more important than form with these dealers so you can expect to find “work horse” typewriters.

• You can take a peek at Kasbah Mod’s signature pieces on its website. Once per month, its collection is available for purchase on the invitation-only flash sale site: Fab.com and occasionally on larger deal sites, including Gilt Groupe.

Below is a list of additional sites that sell restored vintage typewriters:

Vintage Typewriter Shoppe
www.vintagetypewritershoppe.com

Brooklyn Retro
www.etsy.com/shop/BrooklynRetro?ref=seller_info

Mr Typewriter
www.mrtypewriter.tripod.com/smithcoronamainsale.htm

DeDe Sullivan is a retrophile with a particular fondness for junktiques; discarded vintage treasures whose aesthetic worth far exceeds its monetary value. Her blog, VintageandFlea.com, documents her junking and antiquing adventures. This includes sharing her favorite places to score unique items, the history behind unusually finds, along with display and upcycling ideas. Have a question or story to tell? Shoot her an e-mail at dede@vintageandflea.com!

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9 Responses to “The Retrophile Files: Tippy-Tapping on Tricked Out Vintage Typewriters”

  1. Maureen says:

    Ace Typewriter in Portland, OR should be noted as one of the last repair shops in the Country as well. It’s been open since 1961 and is owned by Dennis and Matthew McCormack. Matt has been running the repair shop for over 25 years. The work produced by that shop is of extraordinary quality. They are also on ETSY and their shop in North Portland is a must stop on any typewriter roadtrip.

  2. Bill Castle says:

    It’s very hard to find someone willing to pay more than $15 for a vintage typewriter. However, like any other category, there are folks who realize what they’re looking at. A working typewriter is a work of art.

    • DeDe Sullivan DeDe says:

      Bill you might want to check out this article too in New York Times about vintage typewriters..it’s pretty interesting. Have a good night! http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/31/fashion/31Typewriter.html

    • Saroj says:

      I must confess that my first tyrtepiewr was a 1980 s vintage Smith Corona SC-100 electronic, with daisy wheel print, cartridge ribbon and correction tape cartridge. It had great quality text, and the response was very fast. I ended up getting rid of it, years later, in my non-tyrtepiewr era, before I rediscovered manuals.I have this theory (which I must explore in a future blog article) that as computer technology advances, vintage electronic tyrtepiewrs will come to resemble manual tyrtepiewrs more than they will resemble computers. That they’ll become more acceptable as vintage writing tools, like manual typers are now.As for the distinctions between golf-ball vs daisy wheel, the daisy wheel mechanism is much more elegantly simple from an engineering perspective. That’s one of the things I really liked about my SC, its simplicity. Great post, thanks.~Joe

  3. Joan Davis says:

    Interesting article. Thanks. I am fascinated with old typewriters ever since I inherited an antique Hammond. It is a beauty with a wooden cover and ivory space bar. The story goes that my grandfather found it in the family attic where a can of paint had spilled on it. He laboriously took it apart and cleaned it piece by piece. It still works although is quite slow.

  4. If possible, as you gain information, please add to this blog with new information. I have found it extremely useful.

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