Monday, 14 October 2013

The naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman

I have quite seriously considered writing a children's book named after the title of this post. All I need is to find someone proficient in watercolours to draw me pictures of a hunched, hooded, toothless second hand typewriter salesman rubbing his hands together and chuckling quietly to himself in a dank, dark corner of some picturesque Eastern European castle, while he schemes up his next dishonest transaction... I'll get around to that one day.

The great thing is, however, that the main character in this story is not entirely fiction. Last year before I started this blog and fairly early on in my interest in typewriters, I went to Europe for six weeks. A conference near Copenhagen at the beginning, a conference in Birmingham at the end and the best part of 4 weeks to gallivant about the place as I saw fit. I have a great fondness for England. In Australia, you get a whole bunch of big old loose lettuces in the supermarket. No idea where they're from, you just grab your lettuce and head home, don't think anything more of it. In England you get these dear little lettuces packaged in pairs and they're not just any old lettuces either, they're East Anglian lettuces. I don't know whether the majority of England's lettuce supply happens to come from East Anglia, or if you were in Cumbria say, you'd get Cumbrian lettuces and so forth, but I was in East Anglia and I bought these East Anglian lettuces and these sorts of things warm my heart.

Anyway, I'd been scouring UK ebay for a long time prior, looking for something old, something sparkly and something that would be a great deal cheaper in England than it would be in Australia. Patience paid off and a gorgeous old Corona 3 "pick up only" came up at a very reasonable price within only 15-20 minutes drive of my uncle's house in Sudbury. I contacted the seller saying that if I won it I would collect it around the bank holiday weekend once I was on that side of the world. The price didn't change and with baited breath I stayed up late one night to put in a bid at the last minute. But to my horror, ebay didn't let me bid on account of the seller not offering international postage. At this early stage of my collecting, I simply didn't know ebay worked that way. So I sent an optimistic message to the seller saying how much I'd have liked it and woe is me, etc, and if the sale happened to fall through to let me know.

Enter the naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman......

To my surprise, a reply did come from the seller:

"Such a shame - a time waster in Latvia has won it and emailed me to say he 'will take a courier service' and obviously doesn't understand what collection only means! Will have to wait a week or two for the whole thing to sort out no doubt (frustrating), but will save your email and contact you as soon as it falls through, and it's yours with pleasure!"

What ensued however was a rather harrowing affair for the seller, Gill, a wonderful soul, who kept me updated throughout the saga. It turned out the naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman had set up a fraudulent UK ebay account, using a non-existent postal address in central London and a fake phone number, just in order to be able to bid on "no international postage" items. He had won the auction and then demanded the typewriter be couriered to Latvia despite the listing being a "pick up only". Gill had emailed him saying that it's pick up only and she wouldn't courier and that she would cancel the transaction, but then he refused to accept the cancel and started sending threatening emails and the whole thing sounded rather nasty. I remember sending the money via paypal when she thought it had been sorted, but then she refunded it again, citing further complications and ended up getting out of the sale via an unpaid item dispute as he had not paid within the allocated timeframe. Gill advised me that it appeared the naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman was an antique dealer based in Latvia, dealing mainly in typewriters and that he would buy cheaply from around Europe and on-sell at a significant mark-up. In the end, my dream did come true and couple of weeks later my uncle and I went for a drive in the countryside and came back with a gorgeous old 1921 Corona 3.

Gill was a delightful person, about to be married only a week after I picked up the Corona. She runs a small business selling items for local people via ebay and taking a small percentage of the sale. The naughty Latvian second hand typewriter salesman had also won a bid on an ancient upstrike Remington of some description. Gill was selling and she offered it to me for £15 when I came to pick up the Corona and my goodness if only my suitcase was larger!!

Separately I had also bought a late 20's Corona 4 from Cheshire and organised to have it sent down to my uncle's house in Sudbury. It is delightfully cheap to send typewriters locally around England, but awfully expensive to send them overseas to Australia. So an enjoyable couple of days was spent recuperating from my previous travels in my uncle's house, tinkering away with my new Corona 3 and Corona 4. I have little back-story for either typewriter, except that the Corona 3 was previously owned by an elderly gent named Nick who had bought it himself from an antique or second hand store over 40 years ago. Its condition indicates pretty limited use during that time. Both the Corona 3 and 4 type well and required no mechanical work at all.

My suitcase was enormous and flimsy and had been bought for $4 at a garage sale while typewriter hunting before I left Australia. I left my suitcase at my uncle's while I spent a week visiting and traveling around London, Bath and Brighton and it was only when I was loading the suitcase into Malcolm's car, after I'd put in the two typewriters, some other stuff I'd bought in England and half a kilo of Marmite, that I thought "I've got to get this thing back to Australia". The suitcase as I later found out was 29.6kg and the wheels began to bust as I ambled from the mainline trains to the tube at Liverpool Street station. By the time I was hobbling up and down stairs between the Euston Road tube and the Euston mainline station to catch the train to Birmingham they were completely knackered. Annoyed commuters on the crowded tube got the toothy grin that only a man in possession of two freshly purchased antique typewriters can give. I do hope the sight of a short weedy Australian struggling with an enormous bulging suitcase with busted wheels, sweating profusely in a t-shirt on a cloudy 16 degree day as he hobbled towards the Birmingham train, might have provided at least a little mirth to the crowds at Euston that day. Once in Birmingham it was a simple matter of a taxi from the station to the hotel and another taxi to the international airport four days later after the conference, but I think it'll take me a long time to forget that rather memorable trip from Sudbury to Birmingham that day.


  1. I enjoyed your story behind the acquisition, and the lovely photos too. Glad the seller stuck to her guns with the Latvian secondhand typewriter seller (it sounds like the opening line of a bad joke, hah!).

    1. Ha, agreed! An Englishman an Australian and a Latvian walk into a second hand typewriter shop..... I'll think of the rest later.

  2. That was quite a challenging typewriter journey. Congratulations on the success with your fine new typewriters.

    The lettuce looks like some Boston Bibb I used to grow in Pennsylvania. Here in the States most produce is marked with state or country of origin. We get the loose grab-it-off-the-shelf things as well as nicely bagged double and triple lettuce.

  3. What an interesting story, thanks for sharing.
    You really have to write that children's book!

  4. Ah! I was wondering when you would get around to writing this story up. Good write-up. I often find ebay sales can be a bit of a debacle that can create a good story.

  5. Fantastic background story - pleased that you have your Coronas now in hand and that they work well. (:

  6. Interesting story. Indeed, there are many unscrupulous folks on eBay (buyers AND sellers) ... but that goes for just about any group of people you'd care to name anyway. Thanks for sharing this tale! I like the different take you use in your photos as well.