Oscar winner is one of many people reverting to type for investment
More and more collectors – including Tom Hanks – are rediscovering the beauty of vintage manual typewriters, which, like classic cars and ocean liners, attracted the 20th century’s greatest designers in efforts to make the practical beautiful.
This writer started his journalistic career in the 1970s on a dilapidated Remington – without any cover – watching the keys hammering away while an impatient news editor cried for copy.
The advertising industry back then pitched the qualities of typewriters to a public who thought an apple would always be just a fruit. “As light as a syllable, complete as a sentence,” declared bright, bold Olivetti posters about 60 years ago.
Like other collectables, typewriters often reflect their origins. American firms, such as the gun manufacturer Remington, made them hardy enough to take out West; the French models were as curvaceous as Citroëns. The Italians, on the other hand, introduced elegance: in the 1960s their game-changing Olivetti Lettera 22 – slimline and pastel-coloured – became as much a symbol of La Dolce Vita as a Lambretta or Vespa.
The Design Museum in London recently chose the 1969 Olivetti Valentine as one of its dozen iconic objects. There are typewriters in the collections of the Science Museum in London and the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris. MoMA began showing them in New York in the 1950s. The late actor Sam Shepard and composer Leonard Cohen have praised their simplicity. No wonder Lady Gaga gets lyrical on a vintage Underwood.
Tom Hanks caught the bug in 1979 when he bought a Hermes 2000 and has since built up one of the world’s top typewriter collections.
“There is no reason to own hundreds of old typewriters other than the sin of misguided avarice,” he admitted in a New York Times column. “But the tactile pleasure of typing old-school is incomparable.”
Typewriters continue to astound at auctions. A pimped up Royal that belonged to James Bond creator Ian Fleming sold for £55750 (just over R1million) at Christie’s in 1995. The late Jack Kerouac’s last typewriter – a pale-green Hermes – fetched $22500 (about R315000) in 2010. In 2009, author Cormac McCarthy’s Olivetti, which cost $50 in a Tennessee pawnshop in 1963, fetched $254500. (Source: Christie’s of London)
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