Wednesday 22 May 2019

Treasures: True to type

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

This red Valentine sold for €52,245 in 2016
This red Valentine sold for €52,245 in 2016
Cartier ruby bracelet

Tom Hanks is a famous typewriter anorak. In 2013, the Oscar-winning actor wrote in the New York Times that there are three reasons for owning a vintage manual typewriter, "and none of them are ease or speed".

The first reason is the sound of typing: "Everything you type on a typewriter sounds grand, the words forming in mini-explosions…. A thank-you note resonates with the same heft as a literary masterpiece."

Hanks sounds like a bit of a fetishist. In the article, he admits to owning hundreds of typewriters and his second reason for using one is the "sheer physical pleasure of typing" which "feels just as good as it sounds."

His third reason is more interesting. Permanence. "No one throws away typewritten letters, because they are pieces of graphic art with a singularity equal to your fingerprints, for no two manual typewriters print precisely the same."

Such is his obsession that last year the actor published Uncommon Type, a generally acclaimed book of short stories in which typewriters are the common theme.

In 2014, the Apple store launched Hanx Writer, an iPad app designed by Hanks. The app simulates a typewriter keypad, along with sound effects and boasts "bold and adventurous typewriters inspired by Tom's personal collection" and "authentic typewriter sounds unique to each machine."

Nobody really needs to use a typewriter now, but people love them in the way that they love vintage cars.

Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, had a golden typewriter. Not solid gold, but gold-plated. It was a gorgeous looking yoke and not the only one if its kind.

The Royal Quiet Deluxe was a portable typewriter, made by the Royal Typewriter Company, New York, from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, and the gold plated model was first produced in 1947, in limited edition.

Fleming ordered his to celebrate finishing Casino Royale and dodged the duty by having a friend smuggle it back to England on the Queen Elizabeth, wrapped up in furs. In 1952, he wrote to his wife: "My love, this is only a tiny letter to try out my new typewriter and to see if it will write golden words since it is made of gold." In 1995, the typewriter sold at Christie's, London, for £56,750.

Vintage typewriters are beautiful pieces of machinery, but they rarely make big money, unless they belonged to someone famous. In 2009, an Olivetti belonging to the best-selling author Cormac McCarthy sold at Christie's, New York, for $254,500 (around €216,527).

It came with a note from the author, stating that he had "typed on this typewriter every book I have written, including three not yet published." Then, in 2011, the Smith Corona typewriter on which Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), had typed his manifesto sold at auction in the US for $22,003 (€19,187). The controversial auction was organised by the US Marshals office and raised a total of $232,246 (€202,513) which, was donated to Kaczynski's victims.

In November 2016, a bright red Valentine portable typewriter went under the hammer in Sotheby's, London (est. €348 to €580). It sold for €52,245. The typewriter came from the collection of David Bowie, a keen collector of the Milan-based Memphis group and Ettore Sottsass, who designed the Valentine typewriter with Perry King.

The model was first produced by Olivetti in 1968 and is now considered a design classic. Sottsass described the machine as being "for use any place except an office, so as not to remind anyone of monotonous working hours but rather to keep amateur poets company on a quiet Sundays in the country."

It was one of the first objects to introduce the notion such machines could be pretty as well as practical, an idea later taken up by Apple.

In 2016, Lady Gaga spoke about her writing process on BBC Radio 1's Breakfast Show, explaining that her single Perfect Illusion was written on a typewriter. She had previously posted images of her vintage Underwood portable.

In general, vintage typewriters are not expensive. They can be bought on eBay for a song, but you may be taking a gamble on quality.

Reconditioned vintage typewriters from the Typewriter Emporium in London range from €150 to €250. Many of them have their own history, like the Remington Noiseless (€250) which, allegedly, was the brand that Winston Churchill insisted on for the War Cabinet rooms. Apparently the British leader liked a quiet working environment.

Closer to home, a visit to the Typewriter Shop on Dublin's Dorset Street is like stepping back in time. It's run by Joe Millar, who worked as a mechanic with Remington Typewriters before setting up his own business in 1984, and his son Joe Millar Jnr.

They still sell and repair functioning typewriters, where they can find the parts, but point out that they not interested in reconditioning machines in poor repair. These are two-a-penny on eBay and may cost a great deal more to get up and running than they do to buy.

But having something mended is part of the charm of typewriters. They remind us of a time when the machines that we depended on could be mechanically fixed.,

In the Salerooms

Victor Mee

Irish whiskey showed its staying power at Victor Mee's auction of pub memorabilia on July 24, when a Mitchell's Cruiskeen Lawn Old Irish whiskey advertising mirror (est. €4,000 to €6,000) sold for €11,500. Happily, the mirror went to an Irish bidder and is going to remain in the country. Another whiskey mirror, this one advertising Cowan's Old Irish Whiskey, Belfast, sold for €4,600 to a bidder based in Dublin.

Of the whiskeys themselves, a 1890s bottle of Mitchell's Cruiskeen Lawn Old Irish whiskey sold for €6,000; a pre-1919 John Jameson & Son Dublin whiskey, bottled by Belfast's Lyle & Kinahan, sold for €1,100; and an early 20th-century bottle of 10-year old John Jameson & Son whiskey fetched €900. An 1890s bottle of Dunville's Old Irish Whiskey brand in its original wrapper sold for €1,500.

The sale also included two glass whiskey dispensers, originally used for holding and dispensing whiskey in 19th-century pubs. A Specially Selected Very Old Irish Whiskey glass whiskey dispenser (est. €600) sold for €8,000 to a London pub; while an Old Irish Whiskey Comber cut glass whiskey dispenser (est. €750) fetched €2,500. See

Antique and vintage fairs

This Sunday, August 19, sees interesting fairs of north and south of the border. Up north, an AVA Antique & Collectors Fair will take place in Manor House Hotel, Enniskillen, with the usual array of furniture, art, jewellery, silver, vintage, porcelain, advertising, lamps, barometers, militaria, and curios.

The fair runs from 11am to 5pm and admission is £2 (children go free). Down south, the South Dublin Antiques, Vintage & Collectables Fair runs at the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, also on Sunday, from 11am to 6pm. Expect around 30 traders from across Ireland and the UK with an eclectic display that includes film, television and music memorabilia, as well as the usual books, coins, collectibles, and jewellery (both antique and vintage). Admission to the fair is €3.50.


Cartier ruby bracelet

Selling jewellery at auction can be intimidating the first time around. Many people find it hard to know where to start, and are unclear what their jewellery may or may not be worth. London-based Bonhams knows more than most - its headline sales this year include a gold stepping stone bracelet by Grima, which sold for €15,420, and a Cartier ruby bracelet, which changed hands for €84,117 (pictured above).

To demystify the process, Bonhams is holding a Jewellery Selling Advice Day on September 6, at the Merchant Hotel Belfast (10am-6pm), hosted by Kieran O'Boyle, Head of Bonhams Ireland. It's followed, on September 11, by a Jewellery Valuation Day, in Bonhams' Dublin office, 31 Molesworth Street, where the valuations will be undertaken by jewellery specialist Nathalie Jordan. Both events are free, by appointment only, and there's no obligation to sell any piece that you've received advice on. To book, contact Marie Lynch on tel: (01) 602 0990, or email

Indo Property

Editors Choice

Also in Life