Buying a Typewriter
carefully find what you want
For all practical purposes, typewriters are no longer made today. Sure, one company still makes transparent typewriters for prison use. Michael's craft store is selling a craptastic Chinese typewriter called "We R Memory Keepers". You do not want these.
What do you want?
Ready to Write
No vintage typewriter is truly "ready to write" unless it's had some attention. While they are mechanical marvels, capable of functioning after a century or more, at a minimum they need to be cleaned. If you are looking for a typewriter that will work "out of the box", you need to be somewhat picky. If buying online, look for terms like "cleaned", "serviced", "refurbished", or "restored". While these terms have fuzzy definitions, they all at least indicate that some effort has been made to ensure functionality. You should be willing to pay for that effort. If buying in person, be sure to test the machine before taking possession and handing over your money. Be wary of "mint condition" claims, unless the seller details how they restored it.
The best deals are the "as is" typewriters, where the seller hasn't put any effort into the machine and is only interested in cashing out. Most of these will need some level of service in order to function properly. Try to assess the condition based on information provided, conversation with the seller, or hands on inspection. Don't buy a machine that is beyond your ability to fix or would bust your budget to pay for professional service.
Many collectors find that reviving typewriters is half (or more of) the fun. If you want to learn how to service your own typewriters, buying a cheap machine that appeals to you is a great place to start. Then, join a community or start learning.
Roll the Dice
If you don't care about condition, just choose a budget and stick with it. Maybe you only want to display the typewriter, with no intention of using it. Look for cheap options with minimal scratches or paint loss that will shine up nicely. Maybe you're confident in your ability to get most any typewriter running again. Just shop for what interests you and see what happens. Adventure awaits.
If you can find a typewriter you like locally, this is your best option. You won't have to pay for shipping, which can be risky and expensive, but you'll have a chance to try before you buy. Make sure you're comfortable with the meeting place, whether it be the seller's home or not. Avoid remote locations, abandoned warehouses, defunct mental hospitals, and the like. Bring a buddy if you can. Some police departments are offering secure, monitored meeting locations for online purchases. Ask you local officials if one is available.
There are far more typewriters available online than locally. Online, you're drawing from your whole country or even the entire world. That's a LOT more typewriters to choose from! If you are looking for something specific, shopping online greatly increases your chance of finding it. Even if you're flexible on model, there's still more to choose from online. There are disadvantages, though.
It's difficult to assess the condition of a typewriter you find online, since most will be further than comfortable driving range. You have to rely on the seller's description and reputation. Pay careful attention to the photos and description. Look at the seller's ratings, if available, for happy customers who previously bought typewriters from them. Check the photos for a type sample, if you expect the machine to work on arrival. See if the listing includes a serial number, which you can check at The Typewriter Database. If you have questions, contact the seller to ask them before buying. Check out the site's dispute and refund policies, just in case things don't turn out well.
Typewriters are large and heavy. There's no avoiding a significant shipping cost, so factor this into your decision and budget. Some sellers build it into their price, but one way or another, you're paying for shipping. For a portable, expect $30 to $50 depending on distance within the US (2018 rates). Be suspicisous of costs far outside this range. Desktop typewriters are very risky and expensive to ship, so it's best to avoid buying these online unless it's a hard-to-find model that you have your heart set on.
Safely packing a typewriter is an acquired skill. A very nice typewriter an be ruined in shipping due to an inexperienced seller and poor packing. If you are unsure the seller knows what they're doing, it's in your best interest to offer some advice. Feel free to send sellers a link to our shipping tips, and be wary of anybody who tells you it's too much to ask. Be sure the shipment will be insured for your full purchase price.