Collecting Things

Adler J2 c. 1974
Adler J2 typeface sample

Wednesday Jan 27, 2021

I’ve just collected my 199th typewriter yesterday – a 1974 Adler J2. I am typing on it here, to give it a test and see how I like it. Despite how good many of my typewriters are, I generally go back to the same old ones after a while, because they seem to suit me best. This has a delightful typeface however, which is a bonus. This machine has a plastic shroud, which makes it somewhat less desirable. Metal seems to be preferable for some reason, probably because I associate it with my childhood, an era for which nostalgia rules my heart. The idea of collecting typewriters is wrapped in nostalgia, because of the fact that they are now a thing of the past, and were mostly all made of metal. Only the later models had plastic shells, and though many of those are great, I and others, seem to have this preference for metal. It is illogical, but so is collecting things, unless done for profit, and even then there is not much profit in this when you consider all the time and effort spent to find a typewriter, clean it up, and fix whatever may be wrong with it. Often there are plenty of problems, and the hours spent do not pay well for the cost or price received when selling. But we persist, for the joy of finding typewriters, like birdwatchers scouring the bushes for rare birds, we scour the thrift shops in search of the new and unusual models, yet still glad to find some old favourite thing, even as we decline to buy it, unless it is such a bargain…

I wonder if typewriters were all $5 each, and there were half a dozen in every thrift shop, would anyone bother to collect them? I think not. We tend to value things that are rare and or expensive. If every typewriter was $5, which one would I buy to use? Not some rare old thing, unless it worked so well that I preferred using it over a better made model. When one removes price and rarity from the equation, then we find an entirely different set of values. I think of this as something like a blind test. I find this to be true for guitars, especially.

People will pay thousands of dollars for a guitar that has some label on it that they imagine confers a great value to it, even if in a blind test there is no difference between that and a similar guitar that is practically free by comparison. If I were to offer someone any typewriter in the world, and they had no idea what any of them were worth on the market, I bet they would chose simply by how the machine felt, how good the typed page looked, and last, what the machine looked like. But if I had informed them that the Hermes 3000 was worth ten times the cost of the one they selected, I also wager they might well change their mind fast! This happens to me, I should admit, despite my trying to judge things solely on logical grounds.

I think this is a factor of knowledge versus ignorance. When I was young I had less knowledge, and hence more ignorance. The things that I liked then were selected on my youthful judgment, unclouded by the opinions of others and or what the thing cost. I liked things for what I perceived them to be, not for what others perceived. When judging the worth or something now, I always try to keep that thought in mind, and think like a child, rather than as a fan of this or that because everyone else is.


Filed under Guitars, History, Philosophy, Thrift shop finds, Typewriters, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Collecting Things

  1. Heh, my reasons for choosing typewriters to keep are purely primal. If I like the way it types and how it looks (even if it looks shabby in a way I like) then I keep it. Rare and valuable ones rarely stay long in the corral.

  2. Interesting observations. I feel that the community that exists around the things people collect play an equally large role in the choices of many, maybe even more so, be it typewriters or guitars. From Usenet to online forums, from blogs to Facebook, etc., etc., whatever form or fashion people might choose to use to communicate with one another when it comes to the things that they are interested in, the Internet served to connect like-minded people together like never before.

    All of a sudden, when one realizes that that there are other people out there who own a few typewriters or mort than one guitar, what once might have felt somewhat extreme no longer feels quite so much. The next thing you know, as more like-minded people begin to participate in conversations with one another, the extreme thoughts and actions are pushed even further. Soon, owning a dozen typewriters or a handful of guitars — ideas that likely would have seemed preposterous many decades ago, now take on a sense of normalcy in the eyes of many like-minded individuals who now associate with one another.

    This applies to so many different things that it is mind-boggling as like-minded people will seek each other out no matter what the common point of interest is. It’s human nature and the impact of this can’t be overstated. Years ago I watched a large group of audiophiles, normally drawn to gear more esoteric in nature, become obsessed with a cheap pair of speakers made in china because of the buzz generated on an online forum. Of course a few years later, you read almost nothing about them, but for a while they were all the rage. I myself have been impacted by online communities in a variety of ways pertaining to a number of different things over the past three decades. All of this occurred long before discovering that I had an interest in typewriters. I recently wrote about this in part as it possibly applies to typewriters as well:

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