‘A very primal, engaged sort of writing’
In Brownwood High School senior Mo Goff’s mind, typewriters are relics of the past.
The 16-year-old has developed a business in which he buys and restores old typewriters, then sells them on eBay.
He’s saving the money he makes to buy a truck and also for upcoming college expenses.
Mo’s eBay customers include hobbyists and writers who prefer a typewriter over a word processor. The oldest typewriter now in his possession is from 1912. The most recent is from 1973.
“It’s a very primal, engaged sort of writing that I don’t think you can get anywhere else,” Mo said.
Mo uses a typewriter almost daily. “I like writing short fiction,” Mo said. “I type everything by hand. It takes away all distraction because it’s you and the typewriter. There’s no word processor, no blue light glaring in your eyes, no notifications.“
His business plan isn’t complicated.
“I go to junk stores, antique stores, and if they have typewriters I buy them,” the friendly and personable young businessman explained in the family’s living room.
“Some of them are in good working condition. But some of them are not. Some of them are in particularly bad shape. On average, every minute that you use a typewriter, you engage 200 different mechanisms. And if one of those isn’t working — one of those 200 mechanisms isn’t working — then the typewriter isn’t working as well as it could.”
And sometimes, malfunctioning mechanisms keep the typewriter from working at all.
“The amount of repairs I have to do varies, but everything has to be perfect,” Mo said.
‘I watched a few YouTube videos’
Mo — whose real name is Graham — lives with his parents, Sam and Kylah, and 13-year-old sister, Madeleine, in a south Brownwood neighborhood. A workshop in the family’s back yard back yard is filled with typewriters in various conditions. Some have been cannibalized for parts, some are works in progress and some are ready to sell.
Mo said he started collecting and repairing typewriters two or three years ago, and it started as a hobby after a friend gave the family a typewriter that didn’t work.
“I watched a few YouTube videos, learned how to fix it, and from there I wanted more of a challenge and I kept buying more,” Mo said.
“The collection at one point exceeded 25, 26 typewriters.”
Mo began selling the machines on eBay about two months ago.
Ernest Hemingway used one of these
Some typewriters are easier to sell than others.
“For example, an electric — I can’t ask very much for it, and it’s going to take awhile for it to sell because people just don’t want electrics,” Mo said.
He referred to a 1921-model Corona which occupied a place on a coffee table.
“Something like this, it’s an antique. This is the type that Hemingway used,” Mo said. “I’m asking a considerable amount for it, considering my time I had to spend fixing it and how rare they are, and how much it cost for me to buy it. So those take longer to sell as well.
“The ones that sell like crazy are mid-century models.”
Jammed universal bars and other ailments
Mo explained some of the repairs he’s made on the various typewriters, describing ailments including jammed universal bars, fused segments, inoperable ribbon feeding mechanisms, draw bands that had to be replaced and keys that don’t return.
“There are three brands that are really nice,” Mo said. “You’ve got Olivetti, Olympia and Hermes.”
The rarest typewriter he’s had was made by Empire. “It’s a Canadian knockoff of the famous British Wellington machines, and it’s much different from anything I’ve ever dealt with,” Mos said.
“It’s from the ‘20s but there were only a few thousand ever made. I have no idea how to fix it. I’m still finding out.”
Mo pointed out a 1953 Olympia SM3 typewriter in his collection.
“This is the best typewriter ever made, according to a lot of people,” Mo said. “It’s nice. Everything about it is over-engineered. It’s smooth. The carriage movement is like steel on glass. It’s … perfect. It’s perfect in every possible way.”
Mo’s sister Madeleine, an eighth-grader at Brownwood Middle School, has found a business of her own on eBay — sewing and selling typewriter covers.
Madeleine said figured she could combine her enjoyment of sewing with her brother’s passion for selling typewriters.
“I’ve made eight so far,” Madeleine said. “I do it at my grandma’s house and she helps me out. We get our supplies at Hobby Lobby. I was trying to make money because I’m trying to do an online class this summer. So I was raising money for that.”
Named for places
At Brownwood High School, Mo, a National Honor Society member, plays tennis and competes on the debate. He plans to study political science at Howard Payne University.
Mo explained the origin of his nickname:
“When Mom was pregnant with me, Mom and Dad were missionaries in Mozambique, so in emails home they referred to me as Baby Mo. And it just kind of stuck.”
He was given the name Graham, after the city, because “that’s where Mom’s family’s from,” Mo said. “We were going to name Madeleine Bulgaria but that didn’t really work out.”
‘Collecting parts of history’
While Mo looks to make a profit, he appreciates the history that’s represented.
“For me, the most interesting part of all this is the history because I like history,” Mo said. “I like studying it. I like collecting parts of history, and each one of these is a bit of history in itself.”
Mo noted that the 1921 Corona in his possession is 99 years old.
“And in those 99 years, there’s no telling how many people have used it, what it’s been used for, what letters it’s written, what stories it’s captured,” Mo said.
Repairing and selling the old machines transforms them from antiques into something usable — usable objects that maintain their history, Mo said.
“These typewriters traveled a long way to get here, but a lot have gotten lost along the way,” Mo said. “I can only sell as many typewriters as I get.”
Mo said anyone who wants to get rid of an old typewriter by donating or sell it “to a kid who’s trying to pay for college” is welcome to contact him.“Or even people that have typewriters that are family heirlooms, that they want to be in working condition, I can fix those as well,” Mo said.
Mo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org