Selling Old Typewriters On eBay

Selling Old Typewriters On eBay
By Avril Harper

Typewriters are popular collectibles, especially very early models, and typewriters with past famous owners or a particularly interesting pedigree, which often fetch very high prices on eBay.

Because they're bulky, often dirty, need lots of careful cleaning and sometimes repairs, most typewriters, old and modern, are overlooked and fetched low prices at local offline auction houses.

Despite this, anyone prepared to spend time cleaning, researching, repairing and eventually packing a typewriter, will find ready bidders on eBay in both the UK and USA, and no doubt other country sites, too.

Typewriters don't always fetch fabulous prices, but most early typewriters, from the late 1800s and early 1900s rarely go unsold on eBay so you're almost always going to make money.

Recent eBay prices range from £73 for an early Empire Typewriter from 1892, to £380 for a Salter Standard Victorian Typewriter in original tin carry case. More unusual typewriter types attract premium prices, such as a Braille typewriter that went for £142 and an early double keyboard model that fetched £127.

Outside of eBay some far higher prices have been achieved for very early and unusual typewriter models which are worth remembering at buying expeditions. For example, at Sotheby's a Merritt typewriter from 1895 went for £715 some years ago, and at Koln in Germany The Auction Team valued a rare Imperial Typewriter, one of only three known to exist, at between £7,000 and £8,000.

Since the first successful commercial typewriters were introduced in the late 1860s many unusual designs have emerged, some plain and simple, others intricate and stunningly detailed. One of the simplest and earliest designs had a wheel with letters round the edge which was turned manually until the required letter appeared in front of the paper and was pushed to form an impression.

More complicated typewriters had double keyboards, one for lower case, the other for capitals, and were created in brass and mother of pearl hand painted with glorious gilded leaves and flowers. These are the kind of unusual models to watch out for at non-specialist auctions and they're almost certain to attract high prices on eBay.

These early models sometimes crop up at specialist typewriter auctions where they invariably fetch a high price. Not the place to buy in expectation of high resell fees on eBay but worth visiting for research and experience.

Like most collectibles, value depends mainly on rarity, not just age. For example, one of the earliest serviceable typewriters, the Underwood, created from 1900 to 1932 was made in the millions and can still be found in working condition, consequently they are worth very little.


* There are no catalogues or price guides for old typewriters such as those you'll find updated annually for postcards and stamps, coins and ceramics. There simply aren't enough collectors, or typewriters, to warrant special listings. Value, like many low volume collectibles is best determined at auction, and is the point where the price someone is willing to pay matches what the current owner will accept. By far the highest prices are paid for typewriters in good, clean, working condition, with or without restoration work.

* You should clean typewriters carefully, getting right into the tiniest of grooves without causing damage to keys which were often long and spindly and unexpectedly delicate. I found the most comprehensive guide to cleaning old typewriters at:

Here's just a tiny few of their suggestions:

'A toothbrush and a nail brush can be helpful.

For a gentler initial cleaning on a basically clean machine, try Endust or Pledge (be cautious around decals (transfers), as occasionally these products can harm them).

For an even gentler and safer cleaning, simply use a few drops of dishwashing liquid dissolved in water.

Q-tips (similar to cotton buds) are very nice for cleaning hard-to-reach areas.

For initial dust removal, the vacuum-cleaner hose attachment kits sold in computer and computer supply stores and catalogues work very well!'

* Best places to buy are at general auction or from long established office equipment stores, but rarely will you get a bargain from antiques and second-hand dealers who invariably think old means valuable, for most items, and often they are wrong.

* This is one of those collectibles you really need to study and learn what makes one older item worthless and a more modern type quite valuable. Web sites and books listed later provide much useful information. Choose one or both of those books mentioned later, they're packed with pictures, and keep them close by on buying days.

* Don't expect to make more than fifty pounds or so on most early typewriters, but remember you can pick them up very cheaply indeed, I've seen them fetch less than a tenner at local auction. The trick to making money is to buy typewriters in good condition, but dirty, and spend time cleaning them up and taking several great photographs to display them from all angles for listing on eBay.

* Be careful about delivery costs. These early models are extremely heavy and may cost way more to have delivered than they themselves are worth. Where possible, look for local buyers or others willing to collect.

Avril Harper is a triple eBay PowerSeller and editor of eBay Confidential and webmaster of She has produced a free guide - 103 POWERSELLER TIPS - which you can download with other freely distributable reports and ebooks at

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