How to find a manual typewriter, part 4: A refurbishing story

In part 1 of the finding a typewriter series, I mentioned that I put out a request on my local Freecycle alias for a manual typewriter. Through that effort, I was offered two machines: the Underwood 319, and a stylish little gray 1961 Royal Signet portable in a mouse-colored vinyl case.

Both were in excellent condition. I think neither one had been much used. However, the Signet was definitely home to some bug husks, dust balls, and gunked-up oil, which caused the typebars to move a little sluggishly. And so, I made my way over to the list of typewriter repair shops created by Richard Polt, one of which happened to be very close to where I work.

It was a tiny little two-room office equipment shop that I eventually found after driving a few circles around a labyrinthine outdoor shopping complex. I could see from an old hand-painted sign just inside the doorway that once, long ago, the store had concerned itself specifically with typewriters.

A lone gentleman sat at an old desk inside the shop, and confirmed that they did happen to do work on manual typewriters. Next to his desk was a glass case that contained turn-of-the-century machines: several Blicksensderfers, a fantasmic winged Oliver, and two Smith-Corona folding portables. He pointed out that the puck-like typewheel element in the Blicksensderfers predated the IBM Selectric typeball by half a century, and told me a few other typewriter war stories, including one about a lost typewriter of Ernest Hemingway’s. I enjoyed the stories thoroughly.

The Royal was ready two days later. “I think this typewriter was hardly used,” he confirmed. The jewel-like red inset Royal label seemed to glow very slightly in the gray metal top. They just don’t design cool stuff like that anymore.

I took it into the office, and typed out a few sentences. The font (the term is pica, but doesn’t that also mean people who compulsively eat dirt?) had thin, clean lines, and was unusually large. The print ad indicates that the Royal Signet was a student typewriter, that sold for $59.99 back before the Beatles took America.

45 years later, I got it for free.

My recommendation

Well, I realize this has been more of an anecdote than an opinion. Getting a typewriter cleaned and refurbished, including any repairs if needed, isn’t cheap. This is something to consider when balking at the prices of official resellers– the cleaning, repair, and oiling is included in their price (and they are probably likely to start with a good specimen in the first place).

But back to having it refurbished on your own: if you are fortunate enough to live near more than one typewriter repair shop, call around and compare estimates, and use this number to make an educated choice about whether taking a typewriter in to be refurbished makes sense for your budget and your situation. I guess the bottom line is, you have to have it cleaned and tuned somehow, unless you want to do it yourself.

One great bonus of going the repair shop route: you may see someone’s cool old collection of typewriters, or hear a war story or two. People who are in this business obviously don’t do it for the huge profits.

How to find a manual typewriter: the series
* Part 1: Freecycle
* Part 2: Garage sales
* Part 3: The refurb market
* Part 4: A refurbishing story
* Part 5: eBay
* Part 6: Antique stores
* Part 7: Blue Moon Camera & Machine

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