Buying Vintage Typewriters Online

how to buy vintage typewriter online

I hope you enjoyed my last article on what to look for when buying a vintage typewriter. When possible, I always suggest buying machines locally. It will save you time and aggravation. Of course, I realize that many of us will also purchase typewriters from online sellers so I thought I’d put together a few tips that may help you avoid some of the pitfalls when buying online.

When possible, buy from sellers who are nearby. The greater the distance a typewriter must travel to reach you, the higher the likelihood of damage occurring to the machine while in transit. If you know much about how packages are handled by the leading shipping companies, you know that they are handled very roughly despite the nice “fragile” sticker that’s on the box. Expect them to be dropped numerous times on their way from the shipper to you, the buyer. The closer a seller is to you, the better your chances that the typewriter will arrive in one piece. Of course, even that is not a guarantee. For example, I think USPS ships all parcel post packages to Pennsylvania from Kentucky and then are routed to their destination (which is one reason I avoid using them). In short, the fewer times the package is handled, the better.

Make sure to check the seller’s feedback. I’ve made it a rule not to buy from someone without at least 99% of positive feedback. It’s better to buy from an honest seller who cares about his/her customer. I’ve dealt with great sellers on eBay and Etsy and I’ve dealt with some real characters. The more you can avoid the unsavory sellers, the better your experience will be.

Pay careful attention to the photos that the seller provided. Check to ensure that every type bar has a type slug. Do any of the type bars look bent?  Are any sticking up?  Look for any corrosion that might be present. Pay attention to the frame of the typewriter and look for any breaks. Don’t be afraid to ask for a type sample from the seller. Type samples can often reveal other problems with the typewriter like skipping, misalignment, broken draw strings, and issues with the feed rollers.

Read the seller’s description of the typewriter thoroughly. Does it come with a case? What kind of condition does the seller say the machine is in? What is the return policy? Will the seller expect the buyer to pay for return shipping charges?

Send the buyer a message and ask if the machine is fully functional. I usually always ask them to pack the machine well and then provide some instructions. They may or may not follow them but I have nothing to lose by sending them along. What most sellers don’t realize is that the machine needs to be packed in a sturdy box in such a way that it cannot move inside the box while in transit.

Avoid purchasing a typewriter from a seller with zero feedback on eBay. It could be that they are brand new to eBay and could be a great seller OR they are a seller who cannot be trusted and may have already been in trouble previously with eBay.

Avoid buying full-size typewriters online.  Desktop machines often don’t fare well when shipped. If portables machines require proper packing techniques by the seller, desktop machines even more so! The sheer weight of a desktop typewriter makes them difficult to ship. When possible, I’d avoid buying them online. That goes for IBM Selectrics too. Only buy them from people who know how to ship them well.

Those are some lessons I’ve learned along the way, many of them by receiving machines that were damaged in transit. Of course, when possible, purchase a machine from your local typewriter shop. Yes, you’ll pay more. Yes, you could save money by buying the machine online. However, remember that it’s your patronage that keeps them in business so that when you need to have a machine repaired, they’ll still be around to help. Do you have other tips that I may have neglected to mention? Share them in the comments.

Lastly, there's this:



  • Bryan

    I agree, Clark and that’s a good point. I see MANY typewriters come into my shop for repair that have been recently purchased on eBay.

  • Clark

    I would also suggest to factor in the cost of having the machine serviced by a typewriter repairer as you are considering your online purchase. A machine that hasn’t been serviced in years no doubt will need some TLC.

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