vintage typewriter on shelf

How to Decorate With Antique Typewriters

Swoosh, ding, clickety-clack! Doesn’t everyone love the sound of a vintage typewriter? Well, maybe not, but I certainly do. I’ve been collecting old typewriters for many, many years now. When I was growing up in a farmhouse in Ohio, my father, a newspaper journalist and writer, had an old black typewriter that I learned to type on. I remember the smell of the ink on the ribbon and the smooth feel of the keys as I pressed down hard to get my letters printed. It’s hard for me to believe how far we’ve come with word processing over the years and equally hard to fathom that people used those clunky, heavy typewriters to write entire novels on – they must have had some strong finger muscles.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to talk about decorating with these old machines today. So, let’s get into it, shall we?


Typewriter history and lore

Christopher Latham Sholes was inspired by an article in Scientific American in 1867 about a letter printing machine that someone in Britain had recently invented. An inventor at heart, Sholes decided to rework a page numbering machine he’d invented into a letter printing machine, which then became the world’s first practical typewriter. On June 23, 1868, he patented his second model, which wrote at a speed far exceeding a pen. It was a crude machine, but Sholes improved it over the next few years, and he contracted with E. Remington and Sons, gunsmiths in Ilion, New York. The first typewriters were introduced in 1874 and were renamed Remingtons shortly afterward.

Typewriter Trivia: Mark Twain became the first author to submit a typewritten manuscript using a Remington typewriter.

-Encyclopedia Brittanica

Typewriters then became streamlined and, over the course of a few decades, converted to electric style, and sadly, were eventually replaced by word processing devices and computers.

vintage typewriter

Collecting vintage typewriters

Creative displays of typewriters have grown in popularity with the resurgence of flea market and farmhouse decor. While the original steel models are heavy and cumbersome, the ornate detail on these types of vintage typewriters makes them showstoppers when it comes to decorating.

Vintage typewriters typically cost $50-$300, depending on the condition, brand, and often, pure luck. Pieces in mint condition have been known to fetch up into the thousands of dollars, but I’ve lucked out with my small collection: I scored a couple on Freecycle and a couple of other ones via the online auctions I wrote about a few weeks ago. Underwood, Royal, Remington, and Smith Corona are among the most popular brands. Sometimes, you can find a good working model at flea markets, estate sales, antique shops, Esty, and eBay. I have a few that work and some that are purely for decoration.

Tips on styling

Vintage typewriters fit nicely on a desk, in a vignette on a shelf or console table, or even on a small bedside table. The color and size of these machines give displays a level of gravitas.

Adding memorabilia to your vintage typewriter can give it even more personality. At the book store I used to own, we displayed an old Remington and placed a sheet of orange paper in it, which our customers would use to type sayings or words of wisdom. Once the page was complete, we’d turn it out and hang it on the wall above the typewriter. You can do this in your home! We used to keep a typewriter on a table in our family room/library. Some days I’d walk by and glance at something my kids or their friends had typed on it. It was always a sweet surprise. I highly recommend putting at least one working typewriter out with a piece of paper in it for your kids, their friends, or really just anyone who visits and wants to try it out. Yes, you risk the typewriter breaking (word of caution: these things are incredibly delicate and unfortunately break easily), but I typically only put the less expensive of our collection out for people to use (and sometimes abuse).

child typing on vintage typewriter

You can also decorate the typewriter with other bits and bobs you may have around the house. Just tuck these items right into the keys or place them on the typewriter itself as if it were a shelf. Here are some suggestions on things you could use:

  • Vintage postcards, greeting cards, or letter bundles.
  • Valentine cards from the 50s or 60s.
  • Kids’ artwork
  • Tiny ornaments: animals, trees, thimbles, baubles, flowers

What are some of your favorite ways to decorate or display typewriters around your home? Share in the comments section below :).

1 thought on “How to Decorate With Antique Typewriters”

  1. Sue Hatfield-Green

    I, too, love old typewriters. At my age (79!), I can confess that I learned to type on a manual typewriter in high school in St. Louis. I still work as a freelance copy editor, and my home office is adorned with pictures, greeting cards, and small objects resembling “real” typewriters. I am just drawn to anything “old typewriter,” so this article really sparked my love for them all over again. Thanks to the writer of this interesting article about her old typewriter collection. It made my day . . .

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