Resources for the Typewriter Collector
by Richard Polt
Typist's Companion for the 21st Century
A page in honor of Percy Smock, who was collecting typewriters
back when only eccentrics would do such a thing.
"Percy Smock of Redwood City, California, with a few Antiques
from his Large Collection"
From Bruce Bliven's The Wonderful Writing Machine
To learn more about Mr. Smock, read
this post by Robert Messenger.
Peter Weil shares this urban legend with me which illustrates
how the general public views us (I've seen this story about
An avid typewriter collector had just
driven eighty miles after work to pick up a rare Royal Grand
that he had finally found after years of searching. As he drove
home with his prize, it was dark and he was becoming sleepy. He
decided to pull off the interstate to get some coffee. He had
barely tasted his first sip, when, much to his horror, he
realized that he had left the Grand exposed on the back seat of
his unlocked car. He jumped up and ran into the parking lot to
his car, but saw he was too late. The back window had been
smashed...and there were two more typewriters beside his prize!
Typewriter collectors are relatively few, and tend to be men.
Most are considered incurably weird by their significant others.
As you might expect, many of us are professionally involved with
writing or technology. In the U.S. there are several hundred
collectors, but nine out of ten are casual collectors who own only
a few old machines. The hobby is a bit more popular in Europe,
Since this site first went online, in late 1995, interest in
typewriters has grown. That's partly because they have almost
become obsolete. Many children have never even seen a typewriter.
This gives these machines the allure of the archaic. Recently, our
hobby has gotten a good amount of press -- partly thanks to this
Web site, I'm happy to say. We can only expect that interest will
continue to grow. (Well-known typewriter lovers include Tom
Hanks and Lady
Gaga.) My book The
Typewriter Revolution documents the new popularity of
typewriters in the 21st century.
Good information about typewriters can be hard to find, but
digging it up is part of the fun--and in recent years a number of
helpful books have been published. The listing below is by no
means exhaustive, but I try to cover all the most important
Books in print
- Allan, Tony. Typewriter: The History, The Machines, The
Writers. Shelter Harbor Press, 2015. A short but colorful
introduction to the typewriter world.
- Blickensderfer, Robert and Paul Robert. The
Secretary. Virtual Typewriter Museum, 2003. A handsome
book all about the great Blickensderfer, written in part by a
descendant of its inventor. Follow the link to order the book.
- Casillo, Anthony. Typewriters: Iconic Machines from the
Golden Age of Mechanical Writing. Chronicle Books, 2017.
Casillo takes a close look at many models, from the Sholes &
Glidden to the Valentine. Preface by Tom Hanks.
- Collector's Guide to Antique Typewriters. Reprint of
The Typewriter Topics Encyclopedia of Typewriters (1923),
published by the Post Group. This was long the bible for
English-speaking typewriter collectors; it lists all major and
most minor typewriters made up to 1923, and describes them in an
entertaining if verbose manner. This reprint includes many
reproductions of advertisements. Available from Office
Machine Americana for $12.95. Also reprinted by Dover,
edited by Victor Linoff (see below).
- Current, Richard N. The Typewriter and the Men Who Made
It. Reprint by the Post Group of a 1950s study of the
invention of the Sholes & Glidden. Good reading. Available
from Office Machine Americana for $17.95.
- Dale, Rodney and Rebecca Weaver. Machines in the Office.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. A short, popular book
that covers typewriters, telegraphs, telephones, dictation
machines, computers, and more. Gives you a sense of the context
in which typewriters were invented. Entertaining, and includes
many good illustrations. Information on typewriters is not very
- James, Duncan. Old Typewriters. London: Shire
Publications, 1993. Shire Album #293. $7.25. A small pamphlet
that attractively presents the essentials of typewriter
mechanisms and has some nice black-and-white photographs.
- Linoff, Victor (ed). The
Typewriter: An Illustrated History. New York: Dover
Publications, 2000. A reprint of the 1923 Typewriter Topics
Encyclopedia of Typewriters. An important early source
that includes lots of usually-reliable data. The same book is
available in a smaller format with reproductions of early
advertisements, under the name Collector's Guide to Antique
Typewriters (see above).
- Mares, G.C. History of the Typewriter, Successor to the
Pen. London: Guilbert Pitman, 1909. Reprinted by the Post
Group. An excellent early "buyer's guide" to writing machines.
Available from Office Machine Americana for
- Messenger, Robert. The Magnificent 5 (And 250 Other Great
Things About Portable Typewriters). 2011. A very
entertaining full-color book of trivia and opinions about
portable typewriters. Order from the author (owner of the
Australian Typewriter Museum) at email@example.com.
- Morton, Jett. The Oliver Typewriter Company: Machines and
History. 2011. $19.95 at Lulu.com.
A very clear and informative rundown of Oliver history and
models, well-known and obscure, American and British. Everyone
who owns an Oliver ought to have this book.
- Mullaney, Thomas S. The Chinese Typewriter: A History.
MIT Press, 2017. A close look at Chinese typewriters reveals
interesting facts about the machines, the Chinese language, its
script, and ergonomics.
- Polt, Richard. The Typewriter
Revolution: A Typist's Companion for the 21st Century.
Countryman Press, 2015. My book, unlike the others in this list,
is not primarily a history, but a report on the contemporary
typewriter renaissance and a how-to guide for those wishing to
use a typewriter.
- Robert, Paul. Sexy
and Typewriters. Virtual Typewriter Museum, 2004. "Women
in office-related advertising, humor, glamour, and erotica." A
different sort of book, not for those who disapprove of
"R"-rated material. Follow the link to order the book.
- Robert, Paul and Peter Weil. Typewriter: A Celebration of
the Ultimate Writing Machine. Sterling, 2016. A colorful,
entertaining collection of photos and facts about a variety of
- Russo, Thomas. Mechanical
Typewriters: Their History, Value, and Legacy. Schiffer
Publishing, 2002. Written by a former Remington man who has a
fabulous collection and museum.
Not the best in terms of completeness or accuracy, but notable
for fine photographs of Russo's machines, including some very
unusual items. A separate chapter on Remingtons is probably the
most complete account of that make in print. Value estimates are
reasonable. By the same author: Office Collectibles: 100 Years of Business Technology.
Both books are also available directly from the author: Russo
& Associates, LLC, 1200 Philadelphia Pike, Suite 220,
Wilmington, DE 19809, USA.
- SFO Museum. The Typewriter: An Innovation in Writing.
An attractive catalogue for an exhibit at the San Francisco
Airport Museum. Closeup photos of typewriters owned by famous
people, 19th-century antiques, colorful midcentury machines, and
- Vangool, Janine. The Typewriter: A Graphic History of the
Beloved Machine. UPPERCASE, 2016. A beautifully produced
book focusing on the culture surrounding typewriters, with
reproductions of all sorts of ads and other ephemera. Preview the book and
order it on the author's website.
- Webster, F. S. Company. Typewriters
of All Kinds and Our Galaxy of Stars. This rare 196-page
catalogue published in 1898 by the F. S. Webster Co. describes a
wide variety of machines, services, and office supplies.
Attractive and entertaining. Click on the link to order a
Machine Americana offers the Collector's Guide,
Mares, and Current for only $44 total, postpaid in the US (add 30%
for shipping abroad). Visit their website or e-mail Ernie
Jorgenson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Snail mail address: Ernie Jorgenson, Office Machine Americana,
P.O. Box 1161, Lewiston, ID 83501.
Books out of print
A good place to search for used books online is Bookfinder. Or ask your
friendly local librarian to get these on interlibrary loan.
- Adler, Michael H. The Writing Machine. London: George
Allen & Unwin, 1973. A scrupulously researched book that
features a very thorough investigation of the early history of
typewriter invention, and a long list of "unconventional"
typewriters. This is a keeper.
- Adler, Michael. Antique
Typewriters, from Creed to QWERTY. Schiffer Publishing,
1997. $39.95. An exploration of early typewriters by the author
of the classic The Writing Machine (see above). 208
pages with lots of color and black-and-white photos. Written in
an entertaining tone with a sense of humor. Lots of information,
but occasionally errors creep in. Includes price suggestions
which are generally reliable, sometimes on the high side. This
book is the most comprehensive typewriter history in English. I
recommend it for any serious collector.
- Beeching, Wilfred A. Century of the Typewriter.
London: Heinemann, 1974. Information in this book is unreliable
but plentiful. Useful lists of serial numbers, and an excellent
selection of photographs. A paperback reprint was produced in
the 1990s, and can probably be found more easily than the
original. In the UK, reprints may be available from Bernard
Williams, 80 Manor Road, Burton-on-Trent, Staffs, DE 159 9SP.
- Bliven, Bruce, Jr. The Wonderful Writing Machine. New
York: Random House, 1954. An entertaining, journalistic book
sponsored by Royal (so, as you'd expect, the Royal typewriter is
presented as the greatest thing since sliced bread). This book
can often be found at used bookshops.
- Herrl, George. Catalog of the Carl P. Dietz Collection of
Typewriters. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1965. A
nice set of photographs (some are reprinted in Beeching).
Information is sometimes unreliable.
- Lippman, Paul. American Typewriters: A Collector's
Encyclopedia. Hoboken, N.J.: Original & Copy, 1992. A
self-published hardback book by a longtime collector -- includes
many illustrations and personal observations about virtually all
American-made typewriters, plus useful information and advice
for the collector.
- Martin, Ernst (pseudonym of Johannes Meyer). Die
Schreibmaschine und ihre Entwicklungsgeschichte. 4th ed:
Pappenheim, Bavaria, 1949. An outstanding, encyclopedic work.
Plentiful illustrations make it worth looking at even if you
don't know a word of German.
- Masi, Frank (ed.). The Typewriter Legend. Secaucus,
N.J.: Matsushita Electric Corporation of America, 1985. This
book put out by Matsushita when they were introducing the
short-lived Panasonic electronic typewriter is very good:
generally accurate, entertaining, and sporting a large number of
interesting black-and-white photos. The author was actually
collector Don Sutherland. Hard to find, but worth looking for.
- Rehr, Darryl. Antique Typewriters & Office
Collectibles. Collector Books, 1997. $19.95. This book by
the former editor of the journal of the Early Typewriter
Collectors Association is an invaluable guide, including
detailed descriptions of hundreds of typewriters, illustrated
with color photos. It is not exhaustive, and the estimates of
value are generally agreed to be too low, but this is a very
good first book for the beginning typewriter collector .
Organizations and Periodicals
- ETCetera, the journal of the Early
Typewriter Collectors Association, is a quarterly color
magazine featuring historical, technical, and human-interest
stories related to typewriters of all eras. Back issues are available as free
PDFs with a two-year delay.
- The German collector's club is the I.F.H.B. (Internationales Forum
Historische Bürowelt), which publishes HBW-Aktuell
(about 20 pages, 11 issues a year, with news about meetings,
etc. and an English translation). Three times a year every
member also gets Historische Bürowelt, a magazine with
historical research into typewriters and adding machines.
Membership dues are 75 euros/year. Contact Wolfgang Mock,
Gemarkenstr. 61, D-45147 Essen, Germany. E-mail: email@example.com.
- The French Association Nationale
des Collectionneurs de Machines à Écrire et à Calculer
Mécaniques publishes its journal, Arts Mécaniques,
about every six months, as well as a bimonthly bulletin, Contact,
mostly dealing with collectors' meetings. ANCMECA membership is
50 euros a year, payable to international bank account FR35 2004
1010 1206 0144 8N03 334, Bank Identifier Code PSSTFRPPSCE.
President François Babillot can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Edmond
Kern, editor of the publications, can be reached at 11, rue
Ravel, F 67310 Wasselonne, phone 00 33 3 88 87 06 91, email@example.com.
- The Italian typewriter collectors' association is Collezionisti Macchine per
Ufficio (COMPU). Membership includes the association's
Publicly Displayed Typewriters
You may want to consult my listing of