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Antique Typewriters Harvested Near Colonial Birthplace

By Neal McChristy

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When they were kids, they used to tear things apart just to see how they worked, like so many in the office-equipment trade. But the two friends - a jeweler and a retail manager, formed a typewriter-collection alliance a few years ago on a trip to Pennsylvania. Chuck

Chuck Dilts and the beginning of his collection, the Williams No. 4. 

The pair has collected typewriters for about 2 years in addition to Rich Cincotta being a craftsman, jeweler and designer; Chuck Dilts is a retail manager.

They took to the road from their home town of Southboro, Mass. and were sidetracked by a consignment shop that had a Williams No. 4 typewriter for sale. That's a typewriter that has a "grasshopper mechanism" that makes it look like the paper is being attacked by a gang of grasshopper legs.

They looked at each other, asked if they should start collecting typewriters together, said "Why not?" and bought it. That was two years ago, and now they're on the road again - to flea markets, antique shops and of course, the thrice annual pilgrimage all Northeast antique-collectors take to Brimfield in central Mass.

They have a museum of about 250 typewriters at their home town between Worcester and Boston (call first, please). They also have a Web page (See 1/index.html, but that isn't their primary way to collect.

"I find the best resource is the oldest one - talking to people," said Cincotta. "That's something you can't get on the Internet."

One of Cincotta's best stories is about a typewriter that is the bane of the serious collector - an Underwood. He said a woman had read their ad and said there was an Underwood No. 5 in impeccable condition from an estate auction.

She insisted he come see it. He did, and the 1918-era Underwood came in the original packing crate. Covering it was a tin lid over the typewriter that gleamed of shiny nickel, with a baseboard. An oil bottle still had oil in it.

"The woman said it looked like it may have only been used once.... even the pinstriping on the machine that is over the screws shows it has never been tampered with," Cincotta said.

"It had a zero rarity value to it," Dilts said, "but it made a 10 on the desirability scale."

"Seeing this machine makes you realize how elegant these machines were," Cincotta said.


Rich Cincotta and the Underwood of the 1918 era. 
The craft of typewriter collecting is in its "teen-age years," Dilts says, but nostalgia isn't what it used to be. Cincotta says the craft has been invaded by the "Barcolounging entrepreneurs who are speculators." It makes rare typewriters harder to find.

Their Web site states they are interested in the pre-1925 typewriters, which was when everyone was trying to "come up with the perfect writing machine, while not infringing on anyone else's patents. This led to all manner of different machines, each one better, for one reason or another, than the last one." Says Dilts: "How did they come up with their ideas?"

"You gain a respect for the mechanics of the machine when you're taking them apart," Cincotta said, "using the best conditions, such as bright lights."

The early machines, from the largest to the smaller, intricately-made parts, were created without bright lights - often in garages and basements. And born with a healthy dose of determination igniting the inventor.

"You realize how they did things back then," Dilts said. "They just did it."

Web sites: Chuck and Rich's Home Page
Xavier College Typewriter of the Month for March 1996: Williams typewriter

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