Before I begin such a retrospective piece, I should first explain what qualifies me to write about the above topic. When I first got into collecting typewriters, I literally could not stop buying them! For about 9 months, I purchased 3-4 typewriters per week from eBay. That is well over 100 in total! Soon enough, my collection reached a limit and I started to wind down on some of the models that perhaps I should not have bought in the first place. I thought that I would point this out so that you’ll see that my experience is not based on one-off or seasonal purchases. I have done this for a while and experienced all kinds of eBay sellers, buyers and everything in between.
When you go to eBay to buy a typewriter, chances are that the seller came across the type machine unintentionally or they are trying to get rid off to save space and earn a buck or two. This often also means that the person is not technically qualified to give an accurate description of the typewriter (and I don’t blame them, typewriters haven’t been consistently present for decades!). It does depend on the type of seller: some extensively write about the condition, how it looks/feels, how old is it etc. along with many, many photos. Others, however, include one blurry photo with a couple of words describing it. Of course, the former would inform the buyer more so you know what you’re purchasing, so the risk of you buying a malfunctioning typewriter is low, unlike the latter example.
“Good Vintage Condition”
If I received a dime for every time I read this phrase in a typewriter description, I would be comfortably sitting on balcony of my Bermuda villa, with a cellar full of typewriters and a glass of French Burgundy in my hand. To me, “good vintage condition” does not mean much. When I purchase a typewriter, I want to know that the seller tested it and found out if it is working or not. If it does, to what extent does it work. The crucial point about the working aspect of it is seeing a photo of typed text from that typewriter. Whenever I see the evidence of the seller’s claims, I can buy with confidence and hence spend more money.
So if you do purchase a typewriter, there is a chance the typewriter might be in a completely different condition as described or as it looked.
From my experience, most eBay typewriter sellers use economy couriers for deliveries. There is no harm in that, it takes slightly longer than traditional postal services but it also saves money for both the eBay buyer and seller. However, by choosing the cheapest option out there, the service would also be not top notch. Of course there are exceptions, but I have used a range of couriers for the past 5 years and usually there is a positive correlation between how much you pay and the chances of the typewriter being delivered undamaged and on time.
Back to my point, from all of the typewriters that I have purchased from eBay, large majority of them were poorly packaged. I remember receiving a 1920’s folding Smith Corona wrapped in one layer of bubble wrap and some wrapping paper. I was shocked! And to no surprise, the box was damaged subsequently with the typewriter. Though some come in boxes filled with shredded paper, bubble wrap and newspaper, sometimes that is not enough. Whenever I use an economy courier, I wrap the typewriter in so much large bubble wrap that there is about 4-5 inches of it on each side of the already boxed typewriter. Some typewriters are old and delicate machines which are not exactly fit to be shipped any distance, unless packed safely and securely.
To sum up, when eBay purchases are shipped, they could be poorly packaged and hence risk getting damaged.
Okay so you ordered the eBay typewriter, it has been delivered safely in your hands. Now what? Additionally you would need to purchase a new ribbon and if it is model specific (rather than brand specific), you could be paying a premium. I took a screenshot of a ribbon that is listed for £7.99 whereas actually if you search for the ribbon code, you will find the exact same ribbon but for £3.50.
There is also the issue of after sale help. It is common that my customers have questions on using the typewriter, certain features and benefits. I usually give them a systematic guide on the basics of typewriters. On the contrary, I have yet to come across such helpfulness from eBay sellers. I recall messaging a couple of users who provided detailed explanations yet they couldn’t answer some of my questions on the functionality of the typewriter. Yes you can google these questions and probably find an adequate answer, although intuitively, you would seek help from the person that sold you the product and in this case, I doubt an eBay seller would be much help.
Upon further review, buying a typewriter from eBay is not all doom and gloom. The ecommerce site can provide rare finds at lower prices. However, there is the increasing risk of purchasing a typewriter is not what you expect, packaged inadequately and no post sale support if you need it.