Paul Schweitzer, owner of Gramercy Typewriter Co., in his New York City office
It’s no secret that vintage typewriters have been rolling back into vogue. Bearing witness to the cultural shift requires only a visit to the Brooklyn Flea, or one of the many Type-In events that are held around the U.S. throughout the year. And certain corners of social-media outlets are teeming with snaps of the old-school desktop devices.
But these quirky, cumbersome machines are not only gaining popularity among hipsters and neo-Luddites. Just ask Paul Schweitzer, owner of Gramercy Typewriter Co., a business that has sold and repaired typewriters of just about every make and model since Paul's father, Abraham, started the business out of a little shop near Gramercy Park in 1932; he was only 18 at the time. Next month, Paul, who began working for his father in 1959 and now runs the operation with his own son, Justin, will mark his 55th anniversary at the company.
“In the last number of years there’s been a big resurgence of sales and repairs,” Mr. Schweitzer, the second-generation proprietor, explained from behind his desk, which was cluttered with papers and typewriter parts. (The office moved into the fourth-floor space, tucked behind a nondescript and dusty facade on Fifth Avenue near 23rd Street, seven years ago, following a long tenancy in the nearby Flatiron Building.) “It seems that the younger generation is now rediscovering typewriters,” he went on. “Even though they have their computers, their iPads, they still would like to type. A lot of younger people want to be writers, and they find working on a manual, portable typewriter is what they want. They tell me they can see the words hit the paper. They like the sound of it. There are no distractions.”
Asked if he has had any renowned patrons during his tenure, Mr. Schweitzer nodded with raised eyebrows and a smile. “We have lots of famous writers [come in] and other [notable] people in different businesses who do their work on a typewriter. But I don’t like to mention anybody,” he said before pulling out a picture of him standing with one of Hollywood’s most famous actors—a photo taken just a few days ago, he said—and making me promise not to disclose the leading man’s name. (Mr. Schweitzer blames his tight lips on an unfortunate situation involving the New York Post's Page Six a little while back.)
It would seem no job is too complex for the Schweitzer men. “We have machines from the early 1900s that come in here—portable [Smith] Corona typewriters, Royal typewriters. Sometimes people even find Oliver typewriters, which we can service and clean…polish ‘em up and make them look real nice,” he said. “These machines from the early 1900s to the early 1920s and 30s—we call them antiques—but in most cases we can restore them and put them into working order.”
The most popular brands nowadays? Royals—“there are so many of them out there!”—and Olympias, made in Germany, along with the iconic pea-green-and-gray Hermes 3000 (a Swiss typewriter maker with no relation to the French fashion label).
All of the typewriters sold at Gramercy, which range in price from $145 to around $600, are thoroughly reconditioned; they clean them inside and out, install new platens (the rolling-rod component), put in new ink ribbons and make any necessary adjustments.
Aside from visiting Gramercy Typewriter Co., those in the market for a good vintage typewriter can find a nearly limitless supply on eBay or through the Brooklyn-based company Type B, which also deals in hard-to-find supplies. And typewriter fans who are not quite ready to trade in their tablets and laptops for a Remington Model 5 can still achieve that one-of-a-kind look digitally by downloading one of the better typewriter fonts, such as Playtype’s Hermes Baby. And just last month, Tom Hanks—yes, that Tom Hanks, a noted fan of that clickity-clack-ding—launched his own typewriter iPad app, Hanx Writer.
Gramercy Typewriter Co., 174 Fifth Ave., Suite 400, New York, NY 10010; 212.674.7700; gramercyhprepairs.com; email@example.com. Open weekdays from 8:30am until 5:00pm and on Saturdays by appointment only.