In last week’s post, I reviewed local options for getting your hands on a typewriter. If none of these panned out, it’s time to mine the motherlode! This is where it can get overwhelming. But with a few buying tips, hopefully you’ll avoid the clunkers and come away with a good deal.
If saving money is not your concern and you just want a working machine, at the end of this post I’ve listed a few dealers who specialize in refurbished typewriters. But expect to spend upwards of $600 or more. This might seem high if you’re a first timer on a typewriter and not even sure you’ll use the thing!
However, some would say you’ll save money in the long-term by spending more money now to get something that’s guaranteed to work.
My advice to first timers: check out eBay or Etsy, set your budget for under $200, find a reputable seller and you might be surprised with a decent machine. It won’t be fully refurbished and might have some issues, but it’ll get the job done.
While eBay has a huge selection, there’s also tons of junk that it’s often difficult to parse a listing description and the photos don’t always give a true picture of the machine. (Heck, sometimes you’ll be lucky to get something that isn’t blurry!) Moreover, the seller may know squat about typewriters and won’t have a clue if it works.
A typewriter with problems creates another source of distractions. Sometimes quirky problems can be OK, as long as they don’t get in the way of writing. A quirky machine may have endearing qualities that overcome its issues.
But your failsafe with eBay is the buyer’s guarantee.
If a seller claims the typewriter “works” or uses language that leads you to believe that you’re buying a “working” typewriter and it ends up not working, you can invoke the eBay buyer’s guarantee and get your money refunded. Including all shipping costs!
This has saved me quite a few times. Send a message to the seller, saying the typewriter doesn’t work, explaining what’s wrong, and according to the eBay buyer’s guarantee, you’d like your money refunded including all shipping costs. When this has happened to me, the sellers have gladly issued a refund, plus they’ve told me to keep the machine. They know they have a lemon and don’t want to spend more money to ship it back, knowing they won’t be able to sell it again unless they fix it.
Work with sellers that have an investment in their reputation. These sellers often have multiple listings and a history of positive reviews. They’re more likely to respond positively to issues and resolve them quickly. They understand the eBay buyer’s guarantee and know that any negative reviews can have a significant impact on their sales. Moreover, eBay offers perks to sellers for maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction.
However, be careful with the buyer’s guarantee, it doesn’t cover a return if the keys are sluggish, the carriage doesn’t move smoothly or the margin bell is hard to hear, or other subtle issues. And it certainly won’t cover a return if you don’t like the feel of the typewriter.
But, if the seller offers a 14-day return, and you don’t mind eating the shipping costs, you can return a typewriter that you don’t like. But the shipping costs may add up to as much as the typewriter! In the end, it’s always good to confirm that it works, and that they’ve tested all the keys. Again, a working typewriter might still have sluggish keys, or sticking keys. But not to worry! This might be an easy fix. More on maintenance later.
How to Sell Your Typewriter
And if you really don’t like it, you can always re-sell it on eBay for what you paid. Keep the original box and you’re good to go! eBay selling is easier than you think. If you’re patient, offer it at a fixed price, that way you’ll get what you put into it. The key to selling are good photos and an honest assessment. Let me stress, GOOD photos. No blurry. No dark. Natural lighting.
Packing and Shipping
Now that you’ve found the typewriter of your dreams, the next step is to communicate with the seller about how they’re going to pack your typewriter. All it usually takes is a friendly question, like, “I’m so excited about receiving my new typewriter! I just want to make sure it arrives undamaged. Can you please describe how you’ll be packing it?”
Use the following instructions to review their methods, if they don’t follow these instructions, send it to to them. It’s a business. They won’t mind. Give your typewriter the best chance for arriving undamaged.
PACKING INSTRUCTIONS for a Portable Typewriter
PACKING INSTRUCTIONS for a Standard Typewriter
(Source: John-Richard Pagan, http://www.liv2btru2u.com/personal-interests/typewriters/resources/)
Buy it Now
eBay has two listing formats, Buy it Now or Auction. If you’re new at buying a typewriter, Buy it Now is usually your best option. In the list of Top 10 Writerly Typewriters, find the price range of the model you want, then limit your search in eBay to Buy it Now listings. Then it’s just a matter of selecting your typewriter based on its images and listing details. Again, go with experienced sellers that indicate a tested and working typewriter. If they don’t include an image of a typed sample, ask for one. This also tells them that they should test it if they haven’t done so already. Plus, it gives you an indication of the type style and size.
If you’d like to snag a machine on the cheap, check out the eBay auctions. eBay encourages sellers to use the auction format. It’s also good for sellers who want a quick sale, especially if they’ve set a low starting bid. Auction listings have a fixed duration, and usually last for 5 or 7 days. At the end of the auction, the item will sell and they’ll get paid.
You can use this to your advantage in finding bargains.
The strategy for nabbing killer deals is called, “sniping.” Add the typewriter to your watch list without entering a bid. You’ll wait until the last seconds are ticking down, then enter a bid for the maximum amount you’d be willing to spend if you found it in a Buy it Now listing. Again, use the Top 10 list price guide to help with your maximum bid.
By “sniping” it at the last second, you’ll throw off other bidders who don’t have the guts to bid high and are hoping their low-ball bid will win the day. Don’t be meek. Be bold in your bid and you will be rewarded by getting the typewriter at a low price.
Just because you entered a high bid, doesn’t mean you’ll be buying it at this price. eBay bases the winning bid on the next incremental amount over the last highest accepted bid entered.
How Sniping Works
For example, if the bid increments are at $1.50 and the current highest bid that’s been accepted is $30, when you enter your bid of $100 in the closing seconds and nobody is higher than you, you’ll get the typewriter for $31.50. Those with bids in the system, will get notified they’ve been outbid, and since there’s only seconds remaining, chances are they won’t have the fortitude to go high. They’ll get nervous and bail. And if somebody outbids your $100 and wins the auction, all the better for them, you’ve dodged a bullet and can now look for the next bargain.
Sniping works if somebody hasn’t entered a high bid early and is using eBay’s proxy bidding. Proxy bidding is eBay’s automated system that will bid and counter-bid on your behalf up to your maximum bid amount. When you find a typewriter you’d like to bid on, enter the highest amount you’ll go. eBay’s proxy system will automatically take it from there. Again, you won’t necessarily end up paying your maximum bid. It all depends on the competing bids. Some people like this method because they don’t need to worry about last second sniping. However, by using this method, you’ll alert other interested buyers of your intentions and a bidding war may ensue. This means you’ll probably end up paying more than if you employed sniping.
The downside to sniping is that you need to be connected to eBay when the auction closes. If you have a smartphone, get the eBay app. If you’ve added the typewriter to your watch list, you’ll get an alert on your phone 15 minutes before the auction ends. Then using the same app, enter your bid at the closing seconds. I recommend 10 seconds just to give you some wiggle room, but not enough time for others to counter-bid. Just make sure your cellular data is good or you’re in good WiFi. If I’m at home, I usually ditch the phone and go to the computer to make sure my bid gets entered. Even then I get nervous fingers. It can be a harrowing experience! The thrill of the bid! The ticking time bomb. Are you going to win or lose?
If you don’t like the excitement of the closing seconds, there are sniping services that will do the dirty work for you. Some are free, while others charge a small fee. However, in order to do their job, they’ll need your eBay username and password. I’ve used these services and they work. But I like the control and the excitement of doing it myself. Plus, I’m leery about giving a third-party access to an account that is my responsibility. When I’ve used a sniper service, I’ve established another eBay account under an assumed name, registered to an email account that I don’t use everyday. And it’s definitely not linked to my PayPal account. Even after a successful snipe I change the password. Just call me paranoid. If you decide to setup another eBay account for sniping, make sure it has valid Ship To information in your profile. If the sniper service bids on your behalf and eBay doesn’t have a valid Ship To, the bid will be rejected.
Goodwill runs an eBay-like service called ShopGoodwill. While it looks like some really good deals, in my experience there’s also many non-functioning machines. Great if you know how to fix, not so good otherwise. While I’m sure Goodwill employees are hardworking and honest, they probably don’t have the time or knowledge to test the typewriter. They make no claims otherwise. Just because the picture looks pretty, doesn’t mean the the escapement mechanism is out of whack. Again, it’s an untested machine and they will not test it for you. Caveat Emptor. Not recommended for first time typewriter buyers.
If you don’t like the rough-and-tumble world of eBay or the Goodwill junkyard, Etsy provides a curated experience from sellers who’ve made an investment in their time by setting up a “shop.” This is where I prefer to sell typewriters. It’s more professional and allows sellers to customize their shop and tell their story. [ Visit my shop, The Writer’s Room ]
Most sellers on Etsy appear to know something about the typewriters they’re selling and are probably offering a working machine. But despite the best efforts in testing the machine, it appears Etsy does not offer the same generous buyer’s guarantee as eBay. However, the seller’s I reviewed seemed up-front if the machine had issues.
Many typewriters are sold by vintage shops who deal in lots of items. As such, they may not be versed in the operation of a typewriter. If the listing is short on details, or their credentials aren’t up to snuff, send them the typewriter evaluation checklist. Start a conversation! They might appreciate being educated on how to test their typewriter and will give you an honest assessment.
Etsy also has international sellers. Many “exotic” typewriters can be found in Europe. However, the shipping costs and waiting time might be too high and put them out of your budget. Moreover, many of the German-made machines will have the QWERTZ keyboard layout. While not a show stopper, sometimes the right machine will take a bit of re-programming your fingers. But if you’re new to using a typewriter, stick with the familiar QWERTY. Then once your fancy is tickled, venture abroad and have an affair to remember! Read about my time with Erika.
NEXT WEEK: We’re closing in on the Top Ten! But before we do, I’ll offer a few more thoughts about selecting a typewriter.
I don’t have any experience with purchasing a refurbished typewriter, so unfortunately can’t offer any feedback on their methods, what guarantees they offer or their return policy. However, I would encourage you to ask about how they’ve “reconditioned” the platen and feed rollers. A well oiled machine is nice, but a new platen is even nicer!
- Bremerton Office Machine Company
- Karl Business Machine
- Vintage Typewriter Shoppe