Historic typewriters can fetch thousands of pounds

This is a real beauty. It is a 'Oliver No 9 model
This is a real beauty. It is a 'Oliver No 9 model
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Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn looks back at a collectable that was once the key item for journalists across the land...

Some topics for collectables seem to fall into your lap, although not literally, I hope, with this week’s weighty subject. As it’s my hard-typing marketing manager’s birthday today, what more fitting collectable could I type (somewhat slower, than her), than typewriters.

As far back as the late 1500s, Italian printmaker Francesco Rampazetto invented a machine to impress letters on paper known as the ‘scittura tattile’.

In 1714, Englishman Henry Mill patented a machine similar to a typewriter, which was never actually manufactured. It wasn’t until 1874 that the first QWERTY typewriter was launched onto the American market by Sholes and Glidden. By about 1910, the ’manual’ typewriter reached a familiar, standardised design.

Although (or perhaps because) typewriters are increasingly relics of a bygone era, serious interest has increased over the last twenty years, similar to vinyl records.

Most specialists seek machines from the 1880s and 90s, but early to mid 20th century increasingly make good investments.

Models can fetch up to £400 and rising, while 1920s black enamel varieties command up to £1,000.

This gorgeous vintage 'Oliver No 9’ model recently clacked into the centre. It is on sale for £45.

Rare makes to look out for include the US Visigraph, Italian Hesperia, and the UK’s British Empire. Working 1980s and 90s electronic machines can be picked up for little cost, but, having usually been discarded, are increasingly rare good investments.

At the top end of the market, an original 1870s Sholes and Glidden decorated with ornate Victorian floral motifs will fetch £20,000.

About 5,000 were made; approximately 500 survive, and one collector alone has 14!

A direct literary connection raises any typewriter’s value considerably. Last year the 1959 Hermes 3000 on which Sylvia Plath wrote “The Bell Jar” in 1961 sold at Bonhams in London for £32,500.

If you have the room, typewriters are a tip that’s hot off the press. You might even find yourself selling to a celebrity: actor Tom Hanks has built a respected collection of several hundred since the late 70s.

So happy birthday Kate, and good typing to you all. Make typewriters a ‘key’ focus and you, like Tom, could make it ‘Big’!