I’ve always been a little nervous of those elevators where you have to manually open the door. They creep me out. But, it was nearly one hundred degrees and Gramercy Typewriter was on four. In the end, I would take the elevator. And, I’d end up with a newly refurbished Olivetti Lettera 22.
In this day and age most people are lining up to buy the latest â€œiâ€ thing. However, there is a growing number of younger people, especially in the United States, who are opting out of the digital age and even out of all things powered. These people are returning to the manual typewriter. But why?
Too young to remember mangled ribbons, correction fluid, or carbon-paper smudges, today’s youth have but vague memories of these all-mechanical machines from their first tour of duty. Given this fact, many people can’t wait to get their hands on one. From aspiring writers, to hipsters, to celebrities, manual typewriters are increasing in demand almost daily. But still we don’t know why. I’m not sure I can offer much of an explanation except to say that many people are looking for a little less complication in their lives. People are trying to escape to another time, another place, to a time when they believe things were indeed simpler. It’s a charming idea. But, sadly, when one arrives in front of a manual typewriter, or a record player, or a 35mm film, reality strikes back. One quickly becomes aware of the convenience, the efficiency, shall we say the simplicity, of modern times. The nostalgia that we felt for these things gets exposed as just that â€“ nostalgia. So it goes. But what’s wrong with being nostalgic?
So, now that we have settled the question of the manual typewriter versus the Mac Book air and which is more efficient or capable, we can move on. Typewriters are for those afflicted with a case of hopeless nostalgia. Period. As I am such a case, I went off in search of one. Now, you can buy typewriters new. Yes, you read correctly, you can still find new manual typewriters by searching major online retailers. However, what you will find is plastic Chinese made machines bearing familiar names. Polaroid still makes a camera too! I won’t say more. So a new machine was out of the question. Next I went to sites like Ebay and Etsy. Of course, these places are an option, but most of the time you will end up with a machine that is in disrepair or has outright been misrepresented. Considering that a manual typewriter has in excess of a thousand mechanical parts, you want to be sure about what you’re buying. Just because it doesn’t plug in doesn’t mean everythingâ€™s ready to roll baby. So what to do? I’ll tell you what to do, go to a reputable typewriter shop and buy a reconditioned model. You’re still getting the quality of a vintage machine and it’s going to be as near to new as you’ll ever find. You might even get a warranty. For me, here in New York City, that was Gramercy Typewriter.
Gramercy Typewriter is one of those old school New York City shops a few floors above street level. It’s owned by a father and son team, Paul and Jay Schweitzer, and they know their typewriters. Not only do they know an Olivetti from an Olympia, but they also care about their customers and value people. Quite simply, it’s a charming little store with friendly owners. The shelves are stocked with refurbished models but the inventory moves quickly. If you don’t see what you want today, just return a week later. Of course, if you are in search of some rare stuff like a Groma Kolibri or an Olivetti Valentine, you may have to wait more than a week. But those machines are urban myths. Yes, they do exist but neither of them, in my opinion, are great for someone who actually wants to do some serious typing. Additionally, they are both overpriced. Although if you’re still stuck on them, keep an eye on Ebay for a Valentine. They pop up cheaply every now and then, one just went, as I’m writing this, in near mint condition for $200. As for a Groma, go to Ebay.de, it’s only Americans who value these machines. A little Kolibri in excellent connection just closed for one euro with no bidders. Of course, you’ll need to speak German and have someone willing to ship it over.
I would suggest sticking to a good old solid Olympia SM-4 or perhaps an Olivetti Lettera 22. Then there is also the much sought after Hermes models – the 3000 or the ultra-portable Hermes Rocket. It will take a while to find a Rocket in excellent shape and, when you do, you’ll pay for it. But, there’s good reason â€“ a little Hermes Rocket in good shape will last out your lifetime, the 3000 model your kid’s lifetimes! Here’s to the Swiss. Any of these models should be more or less available through Gramercy Typewriter Company. And, yes they do ship to other states!
Simplicity. Mechanics. Nostalgia. Yes, there is a lot to be said of the fabulous fad of returning to the clack, clack, clacking of the manual typewriter. Whether you’re writing your first novel, a birthday note to grandma, or just the grocery list, get connected to your writing in a physical way. Go on, get yourself over to Gramercy Typewriter and get hammering out something tangible, something other than just a bunch of ones and zeros. The only problem, you’re going to have to take the elevator with the manual door all the way up to four. Ding!
Michael Ernest Sweet is a Canadian educator, writer and photographer. He divides his time between Montreal and New York City. Michael may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @28mmphotos.
Gramercy Typewriter is located at 174 5th Avenue, suite 400, New York, New York. They may also be reached by phone at 212-674-7700.
Owner Paul Schweitzer holding my new Olivetti Lettera 22.