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Rarity Best Describes Antique Value

By Lynn Audy

It takes a lot more than passing years to classify a piece of office equipment as an antique.

Webster's dictionary defines an antique as an object made in a former period that is generally more than 100 years old. But younger items have also earned the title of "antique."

"In my opinion, an antique is an item of the past that has value relative to its beauty of art and design, its rarity, historical significance, uniqueness of craftsmanship and/or recognized collectible status," says Thor Konwin, co-owner of This Olde Office in Cathedral City, Calif.

"Age alone is very often used to define an antique," Konwin continues. "However, it is totally incorrect and much too superficial to really serve as a definition. Age is important and is required, but one really cannot generalize and simply specify a certain amount of years of age to adequately define an item as being antique."

Antique appraisers Harry Elliott and John Lewis Sr. would agree.

"They don't have to be a hundred years old," explains Elliott, owner of Cherokee Typewriter in Knoxville, Tenn. "We have some made in 1935 and 1940." Elliott says a more appropriate classification of antiques is based on their rarity and dates of circulation.

"If it's 80 years old, it'll be sold as an antique," says Lewis, owner of Business Systems and Machines in Albuquerque, N.M.

Konwin believes obsolescence is also a factor when defining an antique. He says there's a difference between an item that is still in fashion and representative of current technology and an item of equal age that is no longer in fashion and represents obsolete technology. "The first is simply old while the second is antique."

Increasing Value

"The single most important element that affects the value of an antique is supply and demand," according to Konwin. "For example, mission oak furniture (c. 1910-1940s) has recognized value and is collected and appreciated by many people today. Unsigned pieces have a fraction of the value of the same items signed by the maker or carrying the original manufacturer's mark. While there are other reasons the mark adds value, there simply are more unsigned pieces available than there are signed ones."

Historical significance, scarceness and condition of the machines will all

The Oliver No. 7 Typewriter, c. 1912, is essentially worthless in the condition above. The fully restored Oliver No. 7 below is worth about $300. The polishing and reassembly of the carriage took five hours of labor alone, says GiGi Konwin, co-owner of This Olde Office in Cathedral City, California.

increase the value of an antique, says Joe Bodnarchuk, owner of Antique World and Marketplace Inc. in Clarence, N.Y. He adds that restoration "almost never" increases the value.

The opinions on restoration are subjective and varied in the antique business. But most agree that an item should be as close to its original condition as possible. "Totally unrestored items in their full original state therefore represent the highest value," Konwin says. "However, now we have to get practical. How many very old items are in their totally original condition?"

"A lot of machines were decorative," says Elliott, who refurbishes machines in addition to appraising them. "The better the condition, the more it's worth."

Konwin suggests all restoration be clearly conveyed so as not to mislead anyone.

Lewis, who appraises music boxes, phonographs and office equipment, says a machine's rarity and demand contribute to its increasing value also, whether someone famous owns one. He explains that if President Clinton were to announce he bought a particular antique machine, the value of the rest of those machines would instantly go up.

An increase in desirability among collectors will increase an antique's value, says Darryl Rehr, an author on the history of office technology.

Pierce Brosnan bought James Bond series author Ian Fleming's gold-plated typewriter, Rehr says, illustrating his point. Brosnan, who is the most recent actor to play the James Bond character, paid a hefty sum of $85,000.

"Gone With the Wind" author Margaret Mitchell's typewriter was appraised at $50,000, Rehr says, and the typewriter on which Adolph Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf" sold for $40,000.

Today's Valuables

"There are many, many antiques that have value today," says Konwin, whose personal interest is in antique office technologies such as the first typewriters, adding machines and pencil sharpeners. He has seven antique guides on his desk, each one containing over 1,000 pages of listings.

"I have sold rare antique typewriters and adding machines for over $10,000 a piece," Konwin says. "These are not what one might find at a garage sale but are really the first examples of their specific technologies, and they are also quite rare in that there may only be a few examples known to exist."

Elliott owns a Hammonds Multiflex typewriter in mint condition valued at about $400. "A Remington 1894 would be worth a little over $1,000," he notes.

"Typewriters and calculators are the most valuable," according to Lewis.

"Computers are hot!" says Bodnarchuk, "especially the early Macintosh from Japan. Hand calculators are also hot."

Lewis says ribbon tins are becoming very collectible. At one time they were free. Every time you bought a ribbon it was encased in one of these tins. Lewis says he saw one sold at an auction for over $1,500.

Konwin says tobacco-related items, eyeglasses, firearms and anything else that is about to become obsolete technology may be increasing in value.

"Items that are representatives of the original and the very earliest may represent opportunities for value enhancement," Konwin says, "and therefore are achieving collectible value."

Internet addresses:

Reference books:

"Antique Typewriters: From Creed to Qwerty" by Michael Adler
"Antique Typewriters and Office Collectibles" by Darryl Rehr
"Century of the Typewriter" by Wilfred Beeching
"Calculating Machines" by Ernst Martin

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