IBM Selectric typewriter font type balls, $2.

When you consider the superiority that computers have over typewriters in nearly every aspect, it's hard to believe that those 'old fashioned' typewriters are even in use anymore. But the IBM Selectric is one machine that just never seems to go out of use.

You should know that many people out there still buy and use typewriters, and a quick search of eBay's closed auctions for IBM Selectric typewriters will confirm that they're still desirable commodities. But why Selectrics? I guess it's because the Selectric represents pretty much the pinnacle of mechanical typewriter technology before the move to word processors and computers. The IBM Selectric was the de-facto example of the high end office typewriter, and was a fixture on millions of desks in countless offices across the country.

One of the trends I've become familiar with in this business is that as a technology advances and moves away from a particular model, in this case we're talking typewriters versus computers, there are those people who'll hang on to the older technology. Understandably, the best of that old technology is usually the last to disappear (if it ever really does,) since it offers the most bang for the buck. This principal isn't confined to typewriters by any means, because we see it in audio equipment, photography and countless other areas. So nowadays, all those less well-heeled typewriter lovers out there who had to settle for a cheapo Sears electric back in the day, can now easily afford that IBM Selectric that used to cost more than their car.

Now, what about these typewriters? If the font balls sell well, shouldn't the Selectric typewriters also sell well? Of course they do, as long as they're in perfect condition, both operationally and cosmetically.

It's not unusual to find a nice Selectric typewriter at a yard sale for five or ten bucks, only to get it home and discover that the return key doesn't work, the 'Q' key sticks or that the machine has some other problem. Remember, a typewriter must operate flawlessly to be of use to the operator, because any problem will render it essentially worthless. How long can you type without using the letter 'Q' or the space bar?

So, you decide to fix the problem yourself, so you pop open the cover... and you see just why these machines used to cost a fortune. It quickly becomes obvious that you'd need a college degree and a set of watchmaking screwdrivers to fix one. These old Selectrics cost a fortune because they were constructed with the quality and the complexity of the Space Shuttle. When you open the top cover of one of these beasts, you're faced with one of the most intricate and complex arrangement of tiny mechanical parts you've ever seen. There are zillions of tiny parts secured together by screws the size of pinheads, with little wires, rods and springs running all over the place between and among the various pieces.

What now? You call a typewriter repair shop, only to find that they charge $75 just to look at the darned thing, which would effectively eat up any profit you'd possibly make on the deal. Your eBay bidders are aware of all this fact too, and would much rather pay a few dollars more for a machine hat's been inspected. This way, they know they're getting a machine that works properly, which they won't have to repair in the near future. This is why nowadays, the IBM Selectric typewriters that sell for the most money on eBay are usually sold by typewriter repair shops that state in the auction that they've been professionally serviced and/or refurbished.

No, the Selectric machines are not the sweet spots they used to be, but their parts and accessories sure are. So, the font balls appear to be the sweet spot at this point because they're small, light, easy to inspect, a snap to pack up (I forgot to mention what a nightmare it was packing up those 50-pound selectrics!) and although they're no gold mine, they can easily pay for the day's gas!

This lot of 13 IBM Selectric type font balls sold on eBay for $24.

Photo of type balls for IBM Selectric typewriter