Slightly Used

It’s now time to introduce on this blog another angle of the typewriter business that was often linked (rightly or wrongly) to the rebuilt typewriter business – the sale of “slightly used” or “second-hand” typewriters.

Understanding the semantics here is vital to understanding this aspect of the business and some of the complaints against it.  To be concise, there were typewriters out there which became available for one reason or another (failure to pay on the part of a company, bankruptcy of a company, returns, or perhaps many other ways) after only having been used for a short time.  Some persons, dealers and even companies that shipped machines nationwide or internationally would deal in such machines as direct sale opportunities.

It’s important too to understand that some of the more upstanding companies early on were actually rebuilding machines and calling them “second hand” because this was felt to be the most honest label that the machines could be given since they had indeed been previously owned.  Still others performed only marginal work (“patching up”) to such machines and sold them, and some must have performed little or none.  Let’s take a look at an ad from the 1904-1905 time period (obtained from a batch of ads of this date range) to see an example.

Rockwell Barnes 1904 1905

The Rockwell-Barnes Company of Chicago was offering, through this advertisement, “Slightly Used Typewriters At Less Than Half Price.”  It’s important to spot the “$10 and up” in the upper left corner.  Also very important to catch is that the ad clearly stated that the machines offered were “in use only long enough to insure smooth running adjustment.”  The price range given was $10 to $55.

No attempt was made in this ad to assure the buyer that the machines had been returned to a brand new condition.  We can’t guess whether or not they were, but we know enough from the trade papers of the day that poor machines under the varied “second hand” or “used” or whatever labels had tarnished the entire business of pre-owned machine sales, whether fully and honestly rebuilt or not.

Because this business angle and proposition made no claim whatsoever toward the qualities expected (and later legally required) of rebuilt / refurbished / remanufactured machines it could avoid claims made against it in terms of quality as were faced by rebuilders, and could also operate cheaply.  For these reasons there were always sellers of such machines around, although often not for long.  In later blog posts we will see some actual mail order sales materials from various “second hand” and “slightly used” typewriter distributors and further examine the operations of those who chose to work under this semantic umbrella.

(Aside:  Typewriter historians should also note that somehow Rockwell-Barnes had obtained 2300 Sholes Visible machines that it was selling at $45.)