In 2005 Steve Soboroff wandered into Sotheby’s Auction in New York with no real interest in bidding on anything. He was there to sell a piece of sports memorabilia from his collection, but fate had other plans for the noted Los Angeles business man.
Up for bid was an old Remington typewriter once owned by his favorite writer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Times sports columnist, Jim Murray. Both the Times and the Dodgers organization had sent representatives to bid on the piece, which was obviously not going to go cheap. As so often happens at auction, Soboroff became caught up in a bidding frenzy and by the time the dust settled… he had paid $18,000 for a typewriter.
Returning home he could feel buyer’s remorse setting in, but his doubt turned to joy as he placed his fingers on the keys of the old Remington. The significance of this particular typewriter and the work that it had produced brought him a feeling of satisfaction that validated its cost. The collecting “bug” had bitten, and bitten hard, and his life of collecting typewriters had begun.
Through the years he has collected the typewriters of stars like Greta Garbo, Tom Hanks, Barbara Streisand and the L.C. Smith & Corona once owned by Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. Many of the works of best selling authors Tennessee Williams, Ray Bradbury and Ernest Hemingway were penned on machines in his collection. Two of his favorites in the collection are the typewriter on which John Lennon wrote many of the lyrics to the Beatles’ hit songs and Maya Angelou’s Adler electric, which he bought recently at auction for $5,000.
The Soboroff Collection, to date, consists of 33 typewriters and spends its time either on display at noted museums or touring the country to raise money for charities where, for a donation, fans can use a typewriter from their favorite celebrity to type a few lines of their own.
Typewriters as a category are relatively new as a recognized collectible, but they appear to be growing in popularity. High-end collectors watch for the earliest examples from 1880-1910 when the machine was still in its experimental stages. Ranging in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, these early models are usually available only at specialized/online auctions. From 1910 forward you will find few changes in the machines produced — some of the differences only being implemented to avoid copyright infringement.
In general, models with a short production run, those with unique features and typewriters from obscure manufacturers will be of more value than common models.
One of the least expensive classics is the mid-20th Century Underwood #5 . There were thousands manufactured over its 30 year run, making it a common find, often under $50. By contrast, an Art Deco Remington #5 is currently bringing $1,100-$1,200 due to its rarity.
As you hit the garage sales this season be on the lookout for not only vintage typewriters but also for “go-with” items like spare keys and ribbon tins. These often overlooked accessories are sometimes of more value than the machines they were made to accompany. Until next time . . . Linda
Linda Kennett is a professional liquidator specializing in down-sizing for senior and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or firstname.lastname@example.org