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Can you create income with a typewriter?

In a fit of insomnia, I just read an interview with Jaron Lanier, author of You are Not a Gadget, who happens to be a personal hero of mine, in that he dares to question the trajectory of the internet and of technology toward the expectation that as individuals we freely produce information from which search aggregators profit, in the case of Google, and that technology can redefine us as consumers of paid-model content of a company’s choosing simply by changing devices and paradigms, as Apple has done with the iPad:

 “The Apple idea is that instead of the personal computer model where people own their own information, and everybody can be a creator as well as a consumer, we’re moving towards this iPad, iPhone model where it’s not as adequate for media creation as the real media creation tools, and even though you can become a seller over the network, you have to pass through Apple’s gate to accept what you do, and your chances of doing well are very small, and it’s not a person to person thing, it’s a business through a hub, through Apple to others, and it doesn’t create a middle class, it creates a new kind of upper class. … Google has done something that might even be more destructive of the middle class, which is they’ve said, “Well, since Moore’s law makes computation really cheap, let’s just give away the computation, but keep the data.” And that’s a disaster.” 

By contrast, I think of the typewriter (of course). It is a device in which you define and create the content, without influence from Royal or Olympia. It provides no options to serve up advertisements or content of Royal’s choosing, or shape in any way the kind of content you choose to consume and at what cost. It’s only job is for you to create writing of your choice, completely outside of the connected network of online expectations about the life of information and its uses. There is no function inherently built into the device compelling you to share your work for free with a click to be monetized by Google search; we have to drag out middleman technology like scanners, cameras, and computers to make that possible, and even scans of typecasts evade the search engine’s current requirement for digital text to parse. These things being the case, does the typewriter, by dint of its independence from this work-for-free system offer us the opportunity to profit from our work, in and of itself (and by means other than selling hardware on eBay, I mean, in the act of creating content itself)? Can you create wealth with a typewriter?

It would be revolutionary for one of us to show that it’s possible. I’m curious to know what your wild theories are about this. Mine is this: there is a certain type of person out there who craves authentic experience, not just ideas but the tactile manifestation of authenticity: a hand-bound book, typed or hand-illustrated information, on paper. Not just nostalgics but people looking to engage their mind and creativity not with online groupthink or aggregated crowds but with the real work and ideas of individuals and artists. If the content and the quality of these publications is sufficiently high, the market may be there.

 If you take zines as a case study of this kind of thinking, the problem of free reappears in the spectre of collectivism. Any group that functions mostly on the goodwill of people can tend toward this line of thinking, that profit is immoral and freedom is benevolence. (The typosphere itself functions on this sort of value system, in fact). The problem with this thinking is that people need to earn money, full stop. It has to come from somewhere. If it can’t come from, as Lanier says, “the products of our hearts and minds,” if the value of those things is agreed to be zero, except by large corporations that can mine it for advertising revenue, from where does the profit come for the creators? Are we not able to create a viable market between ourselves by agreement?  Must we give our work away to the aggregators for profit, but insist that we exchange it between ourselves for nothing?

Putting this to the test, if you had only a typewriter to work with, how would you create an income with it? (Consider this a variant on a common technology interview question, in which one is prompted to come up with a monetization strategy for 1,000 ping pong balls on the spot).

In which the University of Washington renews my faith in bookstores


This is all sharpeners. I mean, a whole *aisle* of just sharpeners. I didn’t even capture the whole aisle in the photo.

Same, but erasers. Amazing.

How to find a manual typewriter, part 6: Antique stores

I read online somewhere awhile back that antique stores were a stupid place to look for typewriters. This source claimed that any typewriter you’d find in an antique store would be overvalued by antique sellers, who earn a handsome living off of drastic, unwarranted markups on dead people’s ex-belongings. So I stayed away. Who wants to go shopping in what is essentially a garage sale staffed by cunning salespeople well-versed in the value of elderly objects?

Someone at work mentioned there were a “few old typewriters” at an antique store in a certain part of my home city, and so, finding myself recently in that part of town last Saturday, I casually suggested to my companions that we stop by after lunch. Knowing that my typewriter limit of three was currently exceeded by one, much eye-rolling ensued, but they accompanied me nonetheless.

I had not before noticed this antique store, as its formerly immediate neighbor was a sordidly-named food stand known as “The Fun Hole,” which always caused me to stop, laugh, and keep walking. The antique store has apparently been around for many years, however, and it contained at least three typewriters, one of them the exact Olympia SM 9 typewriter that I currently own, looking to be in swell condition, and going for drastically less than I bought it from a reseller for a few months ago. In addition to this, there were two older models, and Underwood of some kind (I didn’t look that closely– I’m not really an Underwood kind of gal), and a 1941 Royal Quiet De Luxe.

Now anyone who knows anything about typewriters knows the hype around the Royal Quiet De Luxe, the “Hemingway typewriter,” bla bla bla. Anyone who collects typewriters has one of these, in all likelihood, but thus far my modest and already excessive collection generally focused on the 60’s or thereabouts, and anyway, the older typewriters are a little more expensive and seem like Sherman tanks.

Well, as it happens, this Royal was in really great shape. It gleamed. All the logos looked like they had just been painted on. It had a new ribbon in it, and typed like a champ. Somehow I thought that the old pre-war glass-key machines were just for some old corporate codger to display on a shelf in his office, and weren’t really intended for actual use. But this one worked great. It was also small. Very stylish. It even still had the key for the case, and the little cleaning brush, which you just don’t see with used typewriters very much, as far as I can tell. Best part? It was selling for a reasonable, two-digit price. “Number five,” chanted one of my companions, referring to this typewriter’s potential order in my inappropriately growing collection. “Do it!” chided the husband. A third companion shot me a goading, buy-it-now look over the rungs of an old wooden chair. I started to hear the drums of typewriter collecting that one hears faintly when about to click Bid Now! on eBay, and before I knew what happened, I heard myself say, “I’ll take the Royal.”

Here are pictures of typewriter #5, Royal Quiet De Luxe.

Pros of antique store:

* Prices might not be as bad as you think
* They’ll make an attempt to clean it up, maybe
* Probably they are only going to sell typewriters in good condition (but who knows, I am sure this varies widely)
* Can look at kooky old stuff while you shop around
* Could find awesome Royal… you never know.

Cons

* I don’t doubt that typewriters are more marked up here than you might find if you were a very savvy shopper and bought one from a rube
* Very limited selection, if they sell them at all
* Might still need to get machine refurbished/oiled/repaired after purchase

Recommendation:

Definitely consider this option. The more I try other options, the more I realize that reseller prices (as in, internet resellers like mytypewriter.com) are way too expensive.

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

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

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

How to find a manual typewriter, part 3: The refurb market


In parts one and two of the finding a typewriter series, I covered the cheaper end of the typewriter racket: Freecycle and garage sales. Ah, you say, I’m forgetting eBay. Well, I will get to that eventually. But for today’s installment, I am covering stores that sell refurbished typewriters directly.

As of this writing, I am aware of three such retailers: Blue Moon Camera, in Portland Oregon, The St. Louis Wholesale Typewriter Company, a.k.a. Mr. Typewriter, and mytypewriter.com. If there are others, please update me.

Blue Moon is a shop that specializes in, obviously, cameras, but they have a small collection of typewriters for sale at any given time, and if you e-mail them to inquire, they will send you a product list with prices. I asked about one Royal Quiet De Luxe in particular, and they sent me beautiful, professional photographs of the machine from all angles. Their prices are definitely quite reasonable for refurbished typewriters. Check here first, I would strongly advise. They seem to care a lot about their business and their typewriters come with a three month warranty.

On to mytypewriter.com. This is an excellent place to window shop. Their prices are high. I have not contacted or done any business with them, so this is the extent of what I know.

Lastly we have the St. Louis Wholesale Typewriter Company. This company is run by a man named Dan Puls, who has been in the typewriter business for some time. There is a definite sense of the man and his personality on the site; I encourage you to take a look around (but beware of sudden MIDI tunes!). This site is another great place to window shop and learn more about various typewriter models. My sense, and I am sure that this varies by machine, is that the prices are not quite as high here as they are at mytypewriter, but these machines are not cheap. This is of course, for the reason that resellers do a professional job of choosing, cleaning, refurbishing, and packaging machines, and when you get yours, it will be ready to use out of the box. It’s up to the consumer to decide that these extras are worth the cost.

My refurb purchase: a case study

After researching typewriter models for a spell, I decided on the Olympia SM9, which seems to come highly recommended from most every typewriting corner. Now you can find these here and there on eBay, it’s true, for a reasonable cost. However, such a purchase would come of course, with some hazards, and the chore of having the machine refurbished once I received it (assuming it didn’t become broken in transit). I decided that I just wanted a nice, well-maintained model, with some guarantees, and I was willing to put up for that convenience.

And so, I made my purchase. In about a week or so, UPS arrived with my package. The mrtypewriter site amusingly illustrates its packing process, and as you can see from my photographs, the typewriter came well-packed. I’ve never seen a box taped up quite that thoroughly before, and my own dad is known as something of a maniacal package-taper.

Pros of buying a refurbished typewriter

* Get exactly the typewriter that you want

* Receive a typewriter in guaranteed working condition with cleaned and replaced parts

* Will likely be professionally packed for shipment

* Your typewriter will be waxed to a gleam, and not contain old bug husks and cocoons.

* Can start writing out of the box; probably comes with a new ribbon

* Will likely come with a case and a manual (ask about this).

Cons of the refurb route:

* Not cheap. Except I’d say, Blue Moon is very reasonable (but lacks the huge selection).


Recommendation:

I recommend this method with some reservation, depending on your budget, your desire to avoid hassles, your quality concerns, and how much you specifically want a certain machine. I think you have to decide this for yourself.

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

How to find a manual typewriter, part 2: Garage sales

Part 1 of the finding a typewriter series covered the Freecycle Network. I suggest you start there, because the news on garage sales is not, in my limited opinion, good for those in search of a manual.

In theory, it makes sense: people clearing junk out of their attics, natural habitat of neglected antique writing machines, and charging a pittance for you to take such items out of their lives. And so you get in your car on a summer Saturday morning, and start driving around your local suburbs with high hopes. Probably after a few stops, you’re going to find some great old Royal Quiet De Luxe in remarkably fine condition, on sale for three bucks.

Newsflash: won’t happen. Oh sure, it’s remotely possible. Lottery possible. But as a general observation, after about three weeks of scoping out the weekend garage sale market, I am here to report that out of about 25 sales, I encountered exactly one typewriter, a very boring IBM-selectric-style electric sitting under a tarp in a downpour, that held no cool old typewriting cache whatsoever.

Possible reasons for lack of typewriters at garage sales:

* People can’t seem to get rid of them. Like ghosts, they are intended to haunt attics for an indefinite period of time.

* People overestimate their value. One trip around eBay typewriter listings should dispel any thought that the average attic typewriter can fetch more than ten bucks on the open market, and yet I think people somehow think each one is an undiscovered Antiques Roadshow find.

* Hard-core yard salers buy them before the garage sale even starts… you know, those annoying people who show up 30 minutes early looking for comic books and LPs?

Pros of garage sale method

* If you like Vegas, sweepstakes, and racetracks, it might be the method for you.

* If you are also in the market for yellowing doilies, dusty spice jars with a chicken motif, rusty yard tools, and broken children’s toys, you can kill two birds with one stone.

* You enjoy spending your Saturday mornings doing Y turns in suburban labyrinths

Cons

* You won’t find a typewriter.

Recommendation

Cut out the middle man, and do it for free.

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

How to find a manual typewriter, part 1: Freecycle

As of just today, I have come to possess my first manual typewriter since the legendary Smith-Corona Galaxie Twelve of my youth: an Underwood 319.

The Underwood 319 is an unassuming, dun-colored machine of indistinct vintage (1970’s, perhaps); collectors have never been quoted discussing it online. Although Underwood merged with Olivetti in 1959, the Underwood name apparently continued on for some random period of time, into the plastic-bodied, frumpy typewriter era of the 60’s and beyond, from when this machine likely hails.

But back to story of origin: where did it come from?

As a completely novice typewriter fan, I’ve set out to test a handful of methods by which one can acquire a manual typewriter in Web 2.0 times. My first stop was to try the cheapest way possible: for free.

The Freecycle Network is an environmental “re-gifting” movement whereby people in local-area groups exchange requested or offered items to reduce waste. I asked, and I received the Underwood, in perfect working condition.

Freecycle pros for obtaining manual typewriter
* Well, it’s free.
* Help liberate typewriter from someone’s attic
* It’s fun to see what typewriter might find its way to you
* No shipping!

FreeCycle cons:
* Might get broken typewriter. At the very least, you’ll probably need to clean and recondition it. (Here is a listing of typewriter repair shops, and here is a resource for do-it-yourself).
* You probably aren’t going to find something cool like this.
*You’ll need to locate and buy a new ribbon

My recommendation

Let’s get the following fact out of the way: I am in no position to collect typewriters, and don’t even really like any made before the mid 40’s– too impractical. Any typewriter I get, I’m going to use it to write with. The Freecycle Network would not be a logical or even really an ethical way for a serious collector to hunt for machines. However, if you just want a typewriter or two for actual writing purposes, and like the thought of a typewriter finding you instead of the other way around, I highly recommend this method.

I plan to post again if I decide to have this machine refurbished (it’s in pretty good condition actually) to review the pros and cons of that step, but for now, enjoy my first, badly botched typecast on the Underwood 319, old ribbon and all, as I re-learn how to manually type again while describing my attempts to find a new ribbon at Office Depot today (Warning: it isn’t pretty. I promise fewer typos and bigger text next time).

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 and Machine