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Buyer's Guide for Purchasing Your First Typewriter: A Fedora Lounge Guide.

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Hemingway Jones

I'll Lock Up
Acton, Massachusetts
Buyer's Guide for Purchasing Your First Typewriter: A Fedora Lounge Guide.
There is something immensely satisfying in the tap-tapping of a manual typewriter, the ring of the bell, the physical act of advancing the carriage return to the next line, of watching the keys strike the page and returning as your sentences print instantly across a real page. It’s easy to get hooked. Also, typewriters are such a rarity in the text-driven world of shortened correspondence that it instantly marks you as someone who has put a little thought and personality into their writing, as someone slightly apart from the crowd.

So you’ve seen a typewriter, perhaps in an old movie or in an antiques shop, and now you want to purchase one for yourself. How do you go about it?

Good, solid, reliable typewriters can be had for around fifty bucks. But how to determine the good from the bad, the minor issue from a broken machine? Which typewriters should you choose and where can you find them?

First off, which typewriter should you choose?

I personally recommend Royal Typewriters because they are amazing machines, they are fun to type on, they were made in the USA, and they were so popular that there are literally thousands of them available. This keeps their prices down.


I would look for a machine made in the mid-40s to the late fifties. The reason for this is that machines made before then tend to have more issues since they are older and those made after have more issues because they were more cheaply made.

If you want a portable, I would search for a Royal Aristocrat, Royal Arrow, Royal Futura, and the ubiquitous Royal Quiet DeLuxe. If you want a bigger machine that will never leave your desk, then it’s hard to go wrong with the Royal KMM.

A Royal KMM, David McCullough uses one of these to write his books.

The Royal Quiet DeLuxe, a wonderful machine that is easy to find, affordable, and its earlier models had glass keys.

With patience any of these machines can be found in very good condition affordably and easily.

Now where to find them?

Yes, they are on eBay, but I do not recommend shopping for a typewriter on eBay. Why? Because most sellers have no idea whether or not a typewriter works. They may say that it is in great shape and it shows up frozen solid with grime. Also, shipping is not good for typewriters. It takes a professional to pack a typewriter properly and I have seen many typewriters self-destruct on their way to a new home. And lastly, the prices on-line for typewriters are ridiculous. Etsy is even worse.

So if eBay is out, what do you do? I recommend two avenues: Craigslist and your local antique mart. Antiques marts will never have rare machines, the owners have already sifted through them, but the good solid typers mentioned above? All day long.

Craigslist has a variety of typewriters. Check it regularly and you will find a machine that works for you. Sure you’ll be trying it out on the flatbed of someone’s pick-up and exchanging cash in a parking lot, but that is part of the charm.

Now that the machine is in front of you, what do you check for?

First, make sure that it takes and holds the paper. Feed a sheet in. Does it roll in smoothly and does it lock in place once you close the roller locking lever? If so, it’s a good sign. Machines that do not take paper usually need major work.


Next, do the keys work? Do they freely snap up to the roller (platen) and back?

IMG_3651.jpg IMG_3192.jpg

Check two things here, key movement and that the carriage advances when a key is struck. If the carriage doesn’t move, check for a carriage lock. It would be a little lever on the side or the back of the carriage. If there is one, move it, see if they carriage moves after. If it doesn’t, find another machine.

Now back to the keys. If you hit a key and nothing happens, find another machine. It means that either the key mechanism is broken or it is so filled with grime that it is frozen. Both of these issues require major servicing. If a key is a little slow, that is not as big of an issue. It still means that it is dirty, but cleaning it is not too terribly difficult and the machine should be re-lubricated before use.

Although, considering that you should be able to find a machine in ready-to-use condition, I would say that if there are any problems with the keys, move on to another machine.

Lastly, check the margins. Older machines had little slide indicators in the back of the carriage that determined the margin. I still prefer machines with this type since it is so simple, there is nothing to break. Other machines, and many of the Royals listed above, have a “Magic Margin.” This is essentially a button that determines the margin. Press the Magic Margin button and adjust the carriage to set the margin. If it works, great, take the machine. Otherwise hold out for one that does.

The margin slides on a Royal Typewriter.

The ribbon? Unless it was recently replaced, throw it away and buy a new one. New ribbons can be had on eBay for around $7 and for any machine.

Clean up your machine a bit, order a new ribbon, put it in, and you will be ready to go. This should be all you need to know to get you started with your first machine.

One last tip. Turtle Wax works great to bring back the shine to a glossy typewriter.

The Royal KHM, the predecessor to the Royal KMM.
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