How to find a manual typewriter, part 5: eBay


Update Well, here I go and say all of these nice things about eBay, and then the margin-set bar falls off this typewriter in a hail of microscopic washers and screws after I used it for 30 minutes.

* * *

It’s odd that I should get around to discussing eBay so late in the How to find a manual typewriter series. I’m sure it’s the top tactic the average typewriting Joe would employ. What’s not to love, right? Cheap, wide selection. If you haven’t already, march right over to eBay, enter “typewriter,” and behold the thousand results. eBay is the magic trap door through which countless attic typewriters find their way back into circulation each day.

However, people who collect typewriters in a serious kind of way issue a number of cautions to the neophyte buyer. Mr. Typewriter and Will Davis warn against various eBay hazards, which include padded shipping costs, inaccurate/inexpert assessment of condition, and poor packing resulting in shipping damage. To that I would like to add, the typewriter will almost always arrive needing to be cleaned and oiled, and will probably not be in top working condition, as you’d expect from a reseller, in which case you may find yourself paying extra to have it refurbished (which could bring the total cost up to that of just buying it from a reseller), or attempting to do it yourself.

I’m not really an eBay person in general, and so probably not the best person to review the pros and cons of going this route, but I did choose to exceed my lifetime cap on typewriters just so I could complete this series with an actual eBay anecdote. As told in the story I just linked to, I was browsing eBay and happened across a typewriter that strangely fascinates me, the orange Olympia Traveller De Luxe. It seemed to embody a certain 70’s aesthetic that I cound not resist, and so I braved the eBay waters, since the seller had a good seller rating, and a lot of prior business.

This particular typewriter was declared to be in excellent condition (and looked it from the photographs), and the buyer promised to abide by the packing instructions suggested on a Will Davis site. Lastly, the shipping cost was reasonable, as was the fixed price (listed in an eBay store, not an auction). And so I decided to take the chance.

The typewriter was shipped from the wilds of Eastern Canada, and thus took two weeks to arrive. However, It was indeed clean and in fine working condition upon receipt. It seems a little sticky – probably needs oil, definitely some dust in there- but seems free of mechanical or aesthetic defects of any kind. It’s almost strangely new-looking.

Pros of buying a typewriter on eBay:

* Price, assuming you are not a chump and don’t overbid or choose an overpriced typewriter

* Selection. Anything you want is probably out there, right now, for sale.

Cons:

Already mentioned most of the cons- it’s going to arrive needing cleaning or oiling. You might get shafted by a lousy seller. It could be broken. It could be in crappy condition. In other words, it’s a crapshoot.

Recommendation:

Assuming you follow the proper precautions and have some sort of plan to deal with cleaning and oiling your machine, why not?

Postscript:

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

11 Comments

  1. wes

    I just bought 3 typewriters on eBay, as part of my sudden transition from the computer to a typewriter. Because I write screenplays, and wanted to type pages in that format (even if I’m going to enter the final product into a screenwriting program on the computer), I had to insist on a 10-pitch machine in each case.

    Here’s what I bought:

    1. Royal Quiet DeLuxe. This one was well-kept, you could tell from the pictures. I asked ahead of time whether it was 10-pitch or 12-pitch. The woman assured me that she had measured and it was 10 characters per inch. (I had told her, by the way, that 10 per inch is what I needed.) Because I had lost a few of these auctions in a row, and because I’m impatient, I wheedled her into a $90 Buy It Now. The typewriter arrived and it was in great shape with a nice tweed case. Only problem was the 12-pitch typeface. AAAARGH! I ranted at her (how do you screw this up?) but like the machine so much — it really was in great shape — that I settled for a $25 refund. That was about what I paid for shipping, but this way I paid out about what I would have if I’d been more patient. And I have a great Quiet De Luxe. And I can still type out screenplay-formatted pages, just with extra space at the right margin for handwritten notes. I wasn’t going to submit typed pages anyway…

    2. 1965 Olympia SM-9. Essentially the same story as above. I explicitly said in my correspondence before bidding that 10 pitch was what I had to have; 11 or 12 pitch was “no good for me.” The seler said that she measured the type and indeed it was 10 characters per inch. I did a $65 Buy It Now. The typewriter came and was in great shape except for a couple of stuck keys. And the 11-pitch typeface! AAAAAAAAAAAARGH! I ranted and raved. She refunded all my money, including shipping, except for $25. Can’t complain about that– I should be able to sell the thing for at least twice that.

    3. Olympia SM-7. This I got for $10.50, plus about $25 shipping. The seller complained that he was only making $3 on the deal because shipping was more expensive than eBay calculated. When the typewriter arrived it looked like a total mess– he hadn’t packed it correctly at all, and the typewriter’s hood was much more scuffed up than his (mysteriously dark) photographs had indicated. Still it was in good mechanical condition, and it was cheap. Plus it was actually in 10 pitch typeface! 1 for 3… that’s terrible.

    I got a good bit of my money back, but I’m seriously thinking that I won’t buy any typewriters off eBay in the future.

    PS. I spent $450 on getting the Quiet De Luxe and the SM-7 overhauled by the famous local typewriter repairman. I don’t know if it was a good deal, but it was worth it. The machines sing now.

  2. wes

    And hey, one source for antique typewriters you haven’t mentioned – typewriter repair stores. If you check Richard Polt’s list of such stores you’ll see that a lot of them (esp. in the L.A. area where I live) sell some typewriters as well as fixing them.

  3. Strikethru

    I hear you about eBay… people are just looking to make money and really have no idea of the nuances of what they are selling (not that it is hard to measure pitch, even I did it, and I don’t know much!). Interesting stories about the three typewriters you bought… I too took my eBay purchase to a typewriter guy and it wasn’t cheap. Which leads to my conundrum about whether it just makes more sense to buy them from refurbish places like mrtypewriter.com and pay the whole cost up front for packing and refurb…

    Hadn’t thought to ask my typewriter guy if he sells models but that makes a lot of sense to check there.

  4. I just purchased the same model and matching color (though with script typeface) from an Ebay purchaser as a Christmas gift for my 13 year old daughter (her request for a typewriter!!). On first inspection, it looks in pristine condition. Any suggestions where I could locate an owner manual for this model? No luck in my Internet searches.

  5. Anonymous

    I am a complete typewriter novice. At 16, they are much before my time and it is not too surprising that I know absolutely nothing about them. So I could do with some help.

    Just after Christmas I was dragged along to a museum by my family and after many hours trawling round, bored to tears, I found myself in a room full of old computers and other electrical stuff, and in the corner were a ton of old typewriters… And I wanted one.

    I’m a writer in a big way, I’m one of the stupid people who loves computers with really crappy old keyboards so they make a satisfying clicking when you tap on their jammed up keys and I’ve always been really into retro and vintage, from music to clothes, and now apparently, technology too.
    so I’m thinking a typewriter is the way to go.

    Anyway I have no idea where to start. My Dad suggested ebay would be a good place to start but I got there and realised I had NO IDEA what I was doing and that I needed some advice or I’d just get ripped off.

    I’m not looking for an amazing vintage collectors item, I’d just like a manual machine that’s NOT too expensive(!!), and that works well enough for me to use.

    Any ideas or advice on what to look for? And also is ebay my best bet?

    Thanks

  6. Hmm, well, first ask yourself if there is a particular sort of typewriter you want (era, size, manufacturer, etc) or would any old typewriter do? Poke through the links at the bottom of this page to get an idea. If you don’t care at all about what you get, try the freecycle network in your area, being sure to ask specifically for a manual (not electric) typewriter known to be in operating condition/not broken. That is how I got two pretty good typewriters myself. If you do care about what you get, you might want to look around at antique stores or Goodwills to see typewriters in person before trying ebay. Ebay is not a bad choice, if the seller has good feedback that (s)he knows how to ship typewriters (they often break in transit). Personally, I wouldn’t pay more than about $30 bucks for an eBay typewriter (and watch the shipping charges). There are tons of old typewriters out there, and so don’t think you have to pay very much to get one, unless you want something rare/vintage/beloved by collectors.

    Any typewriter you do get is likely to have a dry ribbon, and be dirty or have sticky keys. Here is a site that can help you clean your typewriter up.. There are several places online to order ribbons from, do a search or try Mr. typewriter (above link). I have bought some ribbons from him.

    As for what typewriters are considered “the best” for writing purposes, I think Richard Polt’s site as a link about that… Oh yeah, here it is.

    Re David, I just realized awhile back you asked me about manuals for the Olympia traveller de luxe. Unfortunately, I don’t have one for that model.

  7. Oops, the link I meant to include for looking around at different types of typewriters is: http://mrtypewriter.tripod.com/typewriters.html

  8. Anonymous

    Thank you ever so much for the help, that’s really useful!

    I’m continuing my search a little less clueless now!

    Cheers

  9. What Strikethru says is beginning to ring true…I won an Olympia SM-9 on ebay. It was described as excellent, and the photos seemed to support this claim. I bid on it only because you typewriter fanatics kept calling it was the ultimate “writer’s typewriter” and so on and so forth. Well, it arrived today, very well packed, but with a terribly squeaky platen and cobwebs of dust beneath the keys. I felt confident that I could clean it, but the squeaky platen worried me. Amazingly, I managed to track down Saul Kaufman, one of the world’s greatest typewriter repairmen, former owner of Danford’s, who brought my battered Hermes Baby back to life two years ago. Unfortunately, he will only repair typewriters in the spring and summer seasons, as his wife forbids him to work inside the house, now that he no longer has his workshop. So I am faced with calling the next-nearest guy, A-1 Typewriter Repair, all the way in Montclair, and he is only open from 2-6 PM on weekdays…At least, when I called, the owner waxed lyrical about the Olympia, telling me how he began his career in the 1950’s with this brand, and how virtually indestructable this typewriter is. We’ve made a special drop-off arrangement with his neighbor for the weekend…In short: had I bought a refurbished Olympia SM-9 for a few dollars more, I would now be typing happily away instead of looking looking at a two to three-week delay. Still, I have to admit, this hobby is lots of fun, and I look forward to meeting the owner of A-1, who surely has tons of Olympia lore to share…I will give you all a report in due time.

  10. RB

    Hi there,

    I am finally indulging my passion for manual typewriters by searching for my second one to buy. I came across your blog and love it.I’m encouraged that other people like old, well-made objects, not the the cheap (or not so cheap) disposable technology that we have today.

    In any case, I have my eye on a Hermes Baby on eBay. The seller says it’s in great condition, but he is not an expert.
    I really, really want this machine. However, I have no idea how much it should go for.
    I just got outbid at $80 and would be willing to pay a bit more, but do you have any idea how much these babies go for?
    How does one assess the dollar value of vintage typewriters?
    Thanks very much for your help!

  11. Anonymous

    I got my first a Royal Quiet Deluxe, at the end of the 80’s. Then my next an Olympia Monica, at the start of the 90’s. Both bought from a local free ads paper.

    Since then I have acquired an Erica, and three more Olympia, models one a wide carriage, all four from ebay.

    The cheapest was the Olympia Splendid 33, for 99p (UK ebay) in 2009, and my last (honestly I’m done now). It was complete, the case cracked (7 inches), but the unit despite the ragged appearance (scratched, and filthy), was complete, though with one key (shift lock), substituted for another (but what can’t paint hide), I’m a user not a purist, so cosmetic looks are not as important as what something working can do.

    I found the key is to make sure you get the whole typewriter, or as complete as possible. Don’t feel sorry for a bucket runt, let it go, know your limits for D.I.Y. repair, and renovation, and get a whole one if in any doubt. Also make sure the keyboard and platen are as close to unmarked (you’ll see them every time you type). This way you really only need to tidy them up, add the odd possible missing screw, adjust a few alignments (like the bell ring), lube a few places, though most time consuming is correcting the letters so they all strike the paper lined up and spaced correctly, but worth every effort, if required. Anything after that is cosmetic, or trivial like paper, ribbon spares, or re-inking (acid free ink only), and maintenance up keep.

    My favourites are the Royal Quiet Deluxe (feels incredible to use), and the Olympia Monica (no nonsense performer).