The smart collector: How to figure the value of an old manual typewriter

2013-03-17T00:00:00Z The smart collector: How to figure the value of an old manual typewriterDanielle Arnet Tribune Media Services Arizona Daily Star
March 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Q: We found this Underwood No. 5 typewriter while cleaning out my parents' home. What do you think it's worth? What's the best way to get maximum value? I think a good cleaning would indicate a gem. Best I can tell, it's in great working order.

A: Our reader may be indulging in wishful thinking, so our job is to show her how a smart collector determines possible value. Until she understands how a collector or pro evaluates old typewriters, any observation is just conjecture.

Most youngsters below 10 years of age, when shown a manual typewriter, don't have a clue how it is used. A lot of young adults know the machines only from movies. Remember scenes with secretaries, a cop or a hardboiled newspaper reporter pounding away on a sturdy upright?

Of all brands made, Underwood was the warhorse of the industry. Incorporated in 1895, the company was founded by German immigrant Franz X. Wagner, but an entrepreneur named Underwood later bought the company. The Underwood Typewriter company produced 50 prototypes in 1896. By 1898, production numbers were vast.

Introduced in 1900, Underwood's No. 5 was in production for more than 30 years, in many varieties. Later models were electric and/or modified for tabulation.

Smart collectors know that when a collected item is in production for a long time, it is the earliest and very best-condition issues that collectors crave. Add to that models that introduce significant innovation.

Looking at an image sent, I can tell the reader only that the machine appears at first glance to be complete. But condition can be determined only by handling.

What matters is a serial number on the machine that indicates date of make. It's not that easy to find: Stand so you can see the carriage from above. The serial is at the top right of the unit. You may have to move the carriage to spot it.

To decipher, go to the site http://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters/underwood5.html where a chart matches serials with year made.

Then check sold postings for that model on eBay; we found 103 listings. Compare serials of sold machines with results achieved.

Selling online is how sellers reach the largest pool of motivated buyers. The best way to maximize value is to do your homework thoroughly and then sell smart.

Q: Can you take a look at this grocery sample case? It has been in my family since the 1930s. It measures 13 3/4 long by 9 1/4 high by 6 deep.

A: Our first thought was, "Are those measurements feet or inches?" Then, looking over an image sent, we saw the case on a marble table top and realized that the case is a salesman's sample.

Before the digital age, equipment salesman carried facsimile models of their products. Those miniature cast-iron stoves, plows and other machinery, folding knives, entire kitchens, spark plugs and you name it are now prized by collectors.

Often confused with children's play miniatures, they are a totally different genre. In this case, a cast iron "Sherer" on the back and a front sign reading, "Sherer Display Equipment" clearly ID the golden oak case as a salesman's sample.

Built with seven drawers and one bin, large versions of this case were made for country stores. Six or 7 feet long, the cases had windows in front to display seeds, beans, potatoes or whatever the shopkeeper wanted to show off. Drawers and the large bin opened on the back side, so the vendor could access contents.

Value always depends on how and where any item is sold. The only comparable sale we could find in databases was a circa 1920s sample oak hat rack/bench combo that sold on eBay last year for $275. The more rustic and earlier (plus unusual) case could bring more if sold in the right auction. Properly marketed, it could bring $500 or more.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos will not be returned.

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