Saturday, November 15, 2014

Top Five Most Commonly Found Typewriters

I'm in a strange twilight period. I'll be done with all of my graduate work by November 25, but with finals imminent, I can't take off a lot of time to do much else besides study.

For those of you who are following my Skyriter escapade, I've got something in the works. I left the machine behind before coming back to Missouri so I wouldn't get distracted. I can fix that typewriter any day, but a Master's degree? I don't have to elaborate on which one is more important to me right now.

My last antiquing trip (which produced a gorgeous Royal FP) got me thinking about collectors and enthusiasts in the States who don't have access to a lot of foreign machines, at least, not in my neck of the woods. Sure, they're out there. I've come across an Erika portable from the 20s, a few late century Olivetti's here and there. But the ratio of American-made machines versus foreign competition is lopsided. This isn't a big deal to me, since I am primarily interested in functional typers with English keyboards, regardless of make or model.

When you're looking for typewriters in the USA, antique stores are the most likely places to find them. People are always cashing in their aunt/grandmother's old machines. Many times, they keys are jammed and they just sit there like a contortionist caught in the middle of his act without music because the last person who tried it out didn't know how to un-jam them.

So, I thought it'd be fun to throw together a list of the Top Five Most Commonly Found Typewriters. This only applies to my experience, which is very limited compared to many distinguished veterans in the Insurgency.

At one point in history, the Big Four (Royal, Underwood, Smith-Corona, and Remington-Rand) produced the vast majority of typewriters for the world market. That changed after World War II, but even in death they dominate the used market.

With that in mind, here are a few models I've seen over and over again. If you're new to the collecting/typing scene, you'll see these many many times.

1. Royal Quiet De Luxe-pattern

A ridiculously over-priced post-war example.

Whether it's a pre-war model with glass keys or a modern variant, the Royal QDL is arguably one of the most iconic and prolific portables every made. It's no secret that this particular line profited from its association with Ernest Hemingway. I use the word pattern because, let's face it, the QDL is very similar to a number of other machines. It doesn't matter if you buy an Arrow, Companion, Senior Companion (not sure what's special about that one, but they do exist), or Aristocrat, you're getting a reliable, time-tested tool.

The price depends on year of construction and model. I bought Vincent, my 1949 QDL, for $75. I recently saw one in Paducah, a post-war model, priced at $100! By and large, pre-war models are worth more, as the glass keys were replaced with plastic ones by 1950, and the machines went from dark black/grey/brown color schemes to a more vibrant selection.

2. Smith-Corona Sterling/Super Series

These have been called "Smith-Corona at their prime," by other bloggers. "The workhorses of the 1950s." Based on my experiences with my Tower President (a close copy of the Super Silent), I have to agree. Like the Royal QDL, I keep seeing these machines everywhere, and it's not that uncommon to find one ready to go out of the box with little more than a ribbon change. The Sterling series includes a variety of machines, like the Super Sterling, the Clipper, and the Super Silent. They come loaded with features and have an outstanding touch to boot! Prices are usually a bit lower for these, not being particularly rare or famous. I'd recommend one to a new user in a heartbeat.

3. Remington Quiet-Riter

I watched this video on Youtube and now I can't get away from Jamie and her friend, the man in the grey suit.

By the time Remington introduced the Quiet-Riter, it was facing stiff competition from the likes of Royal, Olivetti, and just about everyone else. Ironic that the company which introduced the Sholes and Glidden would get elbowed by newcomers. But the Quiet-Riter was a best-seller, and so, you find them all over the place. I've been to every antique store in Cape Girardeau, MO and over half of them had one in stock.

I don't have any experience with these machines yet, but I've heard good things about them. You can find them in working condition for reasonable prices.

4. Underwood 5-pattern

The Model 5 Standard is one of the most reasily-recognized typewriters. Along with the Royal 10, it's made appearances in movies for over a century. I've seen a lot of Underwood 5s, but every Underwood standard after that was inspired by it. They kept the basic frame and design, but added a couple of tweaks as the decades passed.

Most of the derivatives I find don't even have a model name clearly visible. I seem to encounter more Underwood standards than Royals, Smiths, and even Remingtons. My Touchmaster Five is a direct descendent. The trademark feature is a margin bar that sits right up front, above the keyboard, instead of in the back near the paper tray.

Prices vary, but the original Model 5 is the most-coveted among collectors. I've seen many that looked good on the outside, but had broken draw bands or other problems I knew I wouldn't be able to fix.

5. Silver-Seiko/Nakajima

By the 1970s, most of the Big Four and other prominent typewriter companies had been bought out by the Japanese. A stream of models came into the USA bearing names like "Signet," which were a throwback to the original 1930s designs (but, as I recently came to find, the typewriter pictured is really copied from a Brother design.)

I put these two brands together because I'm not an expert at telling the difference. By all accounts, they're good machines. I still like my little Signet. They're the perfect economy typers, common enough to replace if something terrible happens, and reliable enough to crank out lots of paper.

So there you have it! Those are the five most common machines I see on my antiquing trips. If you'd like to nominate something to the list, feel free to leave a comment. I'm curious what others are finding out there!

I'd appreciate it if you keep me in mind over the next week and a half. Comprehensive finals are coming...

Power to the pen!


  1. Royals and Underwoods very thin on the ground down here (sadly) :)

  2. My finds in New England have been all over the brand map.

  3. I find Olympias more than anything else.