When it comes to getting your words on paper, nothing gets in the way more than a cranky typewriter. For many of us budget minded writers, springing for a fully restored typewriter may seem extravagant. I must admit, I got lucky early in my search with a 1947 Smith Corona Sterling for under a hundred bucks. While it wasn’t a restoration, it behaved with no issues. The rubber platen had some give, the feed rollers gripped the paper, the carriage moved without fuss and all the keys clicked with precision. With a good working machine in hand, my typewriter search was done. But over the years a question lurked: how would a restored typewriter perform? Could it be that much better?
This spring I finally decided to find out. The flowers were blooming, the bees buzzing and the bunnies nibbling. What better time for a fresh look on a typewriter? Without the luxury of a local typewriter shop to take one for a free test drive, I’d have to drop the cash and order online.
Shipping typewriters always fills me with dread. Despite the most thoughtful packing, these are sensitive machines. Sure, in a much publicized PR stunt, Royal once dropped typewriters by parachute to show how well made there were. What wasn’t in the story, however, were reports of Royal ground crews stationed to swoop up those machines that landed on their sides. Typewriters don’t like getting jarred on their corners. If you’re shipping typewriters, be sure to put stickers labelled “This Side Up” on all four sides, plus if you can find them, ones that say, “Delicate Instruments”. Lastly, insist on shipping with FedEx. Their ground rates (Home Delivery) are economical and competitive with UPS or USPS. I’ve had zero issues with FedEx.
Once I got over my shipping hesitation, a seller popped up on my eBay recommended items feed. I’d had others in mind, but something about this guy spoke to me. His name was Don Nichols and he was selling a 1937 Royal Standard Portable “O” model. Not only were the images stunning, but he posted a YouTube video of it in action. Moreover, he offered a 90-day warranty! All the rubber was new, or nearly new. He called his operation, MechaNichol Restorations (eBay seller: nichols2389). Total cost was around $600. Ouch. I hovered over the Buy it Now button for two agonizing days, until I finally downed the martini and clicked it.
Since it shipped FedEx, I was able to re-route the delivery to a local FedEx Office print center for pick-up. Easy! Didn’t need to be home to sign for it and no issues of porch pirates snatching my bounty. I’ll spare you the unboxing video, but will mention that Don is a packing pro. Plenty of bubble in all the right places. And, here’s what separates Don from 99% of other packers, he uses painter’s tape to secure the sheets of bubble. Wrapping bubble in shipping tape creates an unpacking nightmare! Painter’s tape comes off easily, yet secures the wrap.
No worries so far. And enough shipping tips. Time for the test!
With the Royal typewriter unboxed and placed on the desk, a faint glow surrounded it. The birds stopped chirping. The wind died down. And a shaft of sunlight erupted through the window. Don got the black enamel to shine and the silvery metal parts to glisten. Under the hood looked new as well. Don disassembles every machine and does a thorough cleaning. I took pause and admired the look before rolling a sheet of paper under the platen. With the first few keystrokes, I knew this machine would sing. Fluid. Light. Crisp. Normally I’m not fond of carriage shifted typewriters, but this restored Royal lifted with ease. Moreover, the carriage return was free and easy and lacked any resistance. The more I typed, the more joy I felt. If a typewriter can transform your writing, a restored typewriter will transform your soul. It’s like being young again. This typewriter was fresh, spunky and full of spirit. Not like that tired soul whose been punted from estate sale, to resale shop to thrift store, with long bouts locked in a dark closet, its rubber hardening and keys gumming up. Sure it works, and you’ve probably been satisfied just getting unplugged, but if you want to sprout wings and really fly, a restored typewriter will take you on the next leg of your journey. Stop wondering if it’s worth the extra dough, go raid the coin jar, sell extra magazine subscriptions, busk with the ukulele, and get one pronto.
You’re a writer. Invest in yourself. Forgo the MacBook refresh, it’s that restored typewriter that’ll never need replacing.
You can find Don’s shop, MechaNichol Restorations, on eBay.