Typewriter key jewelry

Etsy seller Buster and Boo does a nice line in vintage, moderately priced jewelry and decorative art made from vintage typewriter keys from the 1920s and 1930s.

Buster and Boo


  1. Part of me loves it. Part of me goes “Nooooo! Old manual typewriters must not be dismantled. If they are beyond repair, they need to be turned into steampunk PC keyboards!”

    Oh, I’m so torn by aesthetics.

    1. I agree, I have been looking for one to turn my hp soft touch keyboard into one, but alas have yet to turn one up… *cry*

  2. As someone who grew up in and around Berkeley Typewriter of the 1980’s – with the smell of inked typewriter ribbons in the air – I have to say that: It Is A SIN To Cut The Keys Off A Manual Typewriter!

    Unlike electric and electronic typewriters, old manual typewriters hold their value.

    If you’re clever enough to make custom jewelry, you’re clever enough to fabricate your own typewriter keys.

    Please do so.


    1. old manual typewriters hold their value.

      Do they? I wouldn’t have thought so. Well, I guess they must in the way that Model Ts do, or cotton gins, or magneto crank telephones, or Victrolas, or really any sufficiently obsolete-yet-elegantly-designed doohickey.

      But just as mid-1990s Chevy Caprices have, against all odds, become collectible muscle cars for the indiscriminate youthful enthusiast who can’t afford a single fender from a ’69 Chevelle, so might the humble workhorse Selectrics eventually become as valuable as the historically schmuck-driven Underwoods, given sufficient passage of time and taste.

      But then there are some things that may never again hold even fractional value. Pagers, for instance. Who would ever keep a collection of late-20th-century pagers?

  3. I have that exact same key as in the picture on my SC Silent (s/n 45177918), which was manufactured in 1947. So, I’d take that “from the 1920s and 1930s” statement with a grain of salt.

  4. I saw a stall at a market last weekend selling similar jewellery – it was very cool. It has a really nice heft to it, gives it a very satisfying physical presence. Plus it was made of old typewriter which I think is awesome :)

  5. Ugh.

    Mutilating a often-functional (it’s a rare manual typewriter that isn’t about twenty minutes worth of labor away from being workable), elegantly-designed machine to remove twelve ounces of kitsch-fuel for an etsy shop and then throwing thirty pounds of now-unusable typewriter carcass in the trash is just pathetic, just absolutely pathetic. Not since the “pioneers” stormed the west and shot bison, only to take the pelt and leave the rest of the carcass rotting on the plains, have we had such brilliantly-wretched adaptive “recycling.”

    How ’bout a few shots of wrecked typewriters sitting in dumpsters to counter the cutesy hipster photos of all this “jewelry?”

    A real artist would use the whole thing, assuming a real artist would have the heart to destroy something as well-designed and worthwhile as a manual typewriter. Sheesh.

  6. ditto #8. “No sir, I don’t like it.” as Mr. Horse would say. It’s the mechanical equivalent of a kitten toe necklace. Dumber than the dread useless LP to fruit bowl transformation.

  7. I don’t see you guys running out to rescue old typewriters. If you cared so much maybe you’d do something about it. Better that they get used for something than rust in a garage.

    1. In fact, I do rescue old typewriters, when I can get to them before some “crafter” has gone at them with a pair of cutters to leave them rusting in the landfill.

      When I find broken-down old manual typewriters, I buy ’em, trade for ’em, or pick ’em out of the trash, strip them down, give them a loving clean, lube, and a few mechanical tweaks, and sell or give them (depending on how I think they’ll be used and appreciated) to people who still value them as a fine writing instrument. In fact, most dedicated typewriter enthusiasts put their money where their mouth is, having to compete with keychoppers on ebay to save rare machines, all the time.

      If you don’t see us guys running out to rescue old typewriters, it’s because you didn’t bother to look. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think it’s better for an elegantly-functional piece of machinery to be wrecked rather than to “rust” in a garage. In the garage, at least, there’s a chance someone who will value these machines will find them, as opposed to leaving them rotting in a landfill, where they’re just destroyed forever to produce nothing more than trinkets to adorn hip literary dilettantes.

      What’s saddest, at least with the linked etsy shop, is that there’s no artistry in the end product. There’s no craft, no invention, no reimagination–just amputated keys soldered into cheap rhinestone mountings and slung off dime store ball chains. How very outré.

      While I’m not happy to see a machine killed, at least someone like Jeremy Mayer is making something beautiful out of the bones.

      1. The sculptures are pretty well executed, when he’s not being too cartoony or cute with them, like the dead cat with X keys for eyes or the angry robot face. The reclining female figure was my favorite. (I also like how he specifically states that he is not associated with the steampunk aesthetic.)

        However, he’s still chopping up typrwriters. It’s just a matter of scale: rings out of keys or a life-sized figure made from several typewriters.

  8. These are great. If I wore jewelry, I would get some.

    We don’t know anything about the typewriters these come from. They could be otherwise totally wrecked.

    And there are only so many good homes available to typewriters these days.

  9. Relax, guys, jewelers can buy reproduction old typewriter keys. I have seen a great deal of jewelry made from old typewriter keys – almost every gem and jewelry show has at least one vendor doing this.

    The 1920’s typewriter in my garage is *not* getting chopped up for jewelry. :-)

  10. We have a salvaged typewriter. Frankly I wish more people were restoring these things. I’d pay good money for a functioning one that I could actually type on.

  11. If you want to pile up junky typewriters in your garage more power to you. I think this is a great way to celebrate the sleek design of classic typewriters by repurposing the keys.

    I just ordered a necklace with my kids initials for my wife. The artist was lovely in our communication and very prompt and accepting of custom orders.

    Move on with your high horses, people. Nothing to see here that you’d appreciate.

  12. It’s not hard to find, for a few bucks if not free, beyhond-repair typewriters with a few salavagable keys. A few bucks more and you can land a beyhond-repair typewriter with a full or near full set of keys in good condition.

    It would be wise to remember that many of the more popular models were produced by the millions for years, and that this happened from near the turn of the century through to the introduction electric typewriter. There are likely tens of millions of unscrapped but otherwise irreparable manual typewriters available for jewelry makers and other artists salvaging hands.

  13. This can be done with old computer keyboards too.

    Maybe not so elegant, but remember all those real clicking keys from the 80’s and 90’s? Not laptop chicklets, but those deep throw spring-fed clacks that only old Desktop Computer keyboards possessed?

    Celebrate them too with jewelry.

  14. I have rings very similar to this one that I bought at the Brooklyn Flea. There is a woman who makes them from old typewriters, computer keyboards, and 60s stick pins. They’re super cheap, too. I think $10 or under. Anyway, she’s there most Saturdays…for those of you who are in Bklyn!

  15. I got these in the form of cufflinks as favours for my groomsmen at my wedding.

    I know it’s a shame to dismantle an old typewriter, but I do really love the cufflinks.

    1. Aw, come on. It’s a typewriter, not a one-of-a-kind objet d’art. Very few of us need to physically type words onto paper anymore, but lots of us need something to hold our cuffs closed! ;^) Don’t fret about it.

      I inherited from a friend an old console radio/turntable rig. Beautiful piece of furniture, but the tuner, amp, turntable and speakers had been completely chewed and beshitted by mice, and very few of the innards were salvageable. So I gutted the thing and turned it into an entertainment center with all-new componentry and gave it to my sister, who used it underneath her TV for a decade or more.

      Someone would have really liked to restore this precious bit of history, but there exist more restorable examples. There’s no need to fetishize old things too much.

      But take my opinions with a grain of salt. My 1970 Cougar gets further from original with every passing year. Since it’s an XR7 convertible, and thus one of fewer than 2,000 made that year, it’s kinda rare, and there are those who think it should be preserved and/or restored rather than modified. But I’ve changed the color, changed engines, switched to electronic ignition, shaved the emblems (and soon the doorhandles) and done further indignities to it that I won’t describe here. But whatever. I’m never going to sell it, so my heirs will be the ones to wonder if I maybe shouldn’t have converted it to biofuel or electric in the 2020s just so I could keep driving it, or if I should have kept it “original” and thus rendered it obsolete and undrivable. And if they don’t like what I’ve done to it, they can kiss my dead ass.

      It’s just a machine.

  16. I don’t see anything wrong with chopping up old typewriters!So many old things just end up in the landfill…at least these are getting salvaged!
    Cute product too.

  17. I’d just have to add that I’m speaking from the perspective of a guy running in typewriter enthusiast circles, and the thing about these “salvaged” typewriters that would have supposedly ended up in the dump is that people seek out typewriters that aren’t going to the dump (i.e. being sold on ebay) and are then chopped, wrecked, and tossed in the trash.

    If I’m bidding on a typewriter against someone who can turn it into forty or fifty little disposable trinkets for $15-20 a pop, how I am supposed to compete? The market is essentially manipulated by the keychoppers, creating a demand and an artificially-elevated price based on rarity that they themselves cause. Typewriters with glass-faced keys aren’t common, and aren’t often threatened with being tossed in the dumpster, either, until someone finds out they can sell them to some crafter and there we go–one less Royal Quiet Deluxe in the world. But hey, they’re everywhere, so what the heck! Capitalism at work, you know.

    Certainly, it’s a niche thing, using and caring about manual typewriters, but there’s such a snide, dismissive thing about people who say things like “If you want to pile up junky typewriters in your garage more power to you” and “I think this is a great way to celebrate the sleek design of classic typewriters” in successive sentences. Are they junky or sleek? Classic or something you “pile up?” I don’t get the distinction. I guess my beautiful Hermes 2000 that’s a virtual twin of the one used to pen Neuromancer is just junk unless I rip its keys off, hot-glue them to cheap settings, and throw the rest away. I mean, seriously, what am I? Some kind of anti-technology luddite? The horror!

    Me? I’m set. I’ve got some great machines that I use every day, and I’m pretty good at servicing and maintaining them so they’ll hold up over time. I’m sorry, though, that the fads and fashions so beloved of artless art lovers will deprive the next generation of the chance to decide for themselves if they’d rather sit in front of a distraction machine or in front of a time-tested, Pulitzer-proven writing tool. Nothing I can do about it, alas.

    I’m a big fan of elephants, too. I think I need to get some ivory jewelry to, you know, show off how much I love those great gentle giants of the wilderness.

    1. I think I need to get some ivory jewelry to, you know, show off how much I love those great gentle giants of the wilderness.

      Recycling pieces of old machines into jewelry is exactly like killing sentient/possibly sapient creatures.

      1. Well, as much as it’s fun to make some kind of sideways Godwinish internet violation out of my analogy, my point isn’t that typewriters are sentient beings, or even animals. My point is that it’s a peculiar thing to display your love of something by wastefully destroying the object of your affection.

        Most people don’t care. Some of us do. Those of us who care have pretty much lost this battle to the crafters and the trinket lovers. It’s too bad. There are no manufacturers of new typewriters anywhere in the world, except for some very low quality, plastic-bodied shadows of the breed coming out of China and India. Every classic typewriter that will ever exist is already out there; there will be no new models ever made, because the factories are gone, the skilled designers are gone, and the market is gone. This isn’t a DIY or Maker moment—building a typewriter from scratch is about as realistic as making your own custom integrated circuits.

        That’s life, pure and simple, but these machines built the world of modern literature as we know it, and the writers who babied little portables along through decades of bestsellers and beloved films or banged away on giant, luxurious standards didn’t stick to their machines out of luddism or stubbornness. As much as people want to equate typing on a typewriter with typing on a computer, it’s not the same. Some people write novels longhand, some people curl up on the sofa with netbooks, some people perch at particle board hutch desks with whirring desktop machines, some people sit at Starbucks, beating out their manuscripts on laptops, and some people roll a sheet of paper into a well-loved typewriter, but only one of these modes of working is in danger of extinction. Is it really so bad to want to put the brakes on that extinction in the stretch where popular tastes make computerized writers sneer at typists as fetishists?

        Is that too dramatic? Probably—for now. Guilty as charged.

        We love it when musicians have a much-loved, well-worn axe with a name or even a dynastic family of guitars, but apparently a keyboard’s just a keyboard. No reason to buy anything but the cheapest computer keyboard you can find, I suppose.

        Oh well—carry on.

        For the record, though, “recycling” means returning something to use or returning it to a cycle of use. Making a USB keyboard out of a typewriter is arguably recycling. Making poorly-crafted jewelry out of keys, on the other hand, is an end-of-life adaptive reuse at best, but it sure isn’t recycling.

    2. Hmm, I own some very lovely machines myself, and with the exception of my olivetti valentine, all of them have glass keys and were found for pretty cheap. They’re all in working order, too. I don’t think I was at any point being driven into a lower bracket by key snippers. Heck, for every working machine or machine that can clearly be repaired, there are dozens being sold by attic cleaners who have no idea that their machine is literally broken forever. And they put their glass-keyed attic typewriter on ebay for $25 and it sells for around that, rust covered, corroded, dented, or whatever, but often with many perfectly reusable keys. Heck, typewriter enthusiats rip up old machines all the time for parts. Big deal.

      And however many times people say it: these typewriters are NOT rare. In good working order? Yes. In existence? No.

    3. Snide and dismissive. Literary dilettantes write in the style they emulate, no? Look, I don’t have a problem with your hobby. But when you can’t let others have theirs, and you get PERSONAL in your disdain for THEM not just what they do, then I have a problem. You’re insulting people over typewriters. Shall we talk about music instead?

  18. Sonascope, most of the typewriters being chopped to bits are pure junk. Rotting, ruined junk. No typewriter collector in their right mind would give them a second look on ebay, a store or a garage sale. You should instead blame time and the original owners’ and inheritors’ lack of bizarre, slavish devotion to the upkeep of something that was once very common and pedestrian. Do not blame the crafters or “makers”.

    In the meantime you should build small shrines of maintenance to everything that you own that might one day be a wholly obsolete design regardless of whether every house in the country has one. You might start with your remote control or an mp3 player. Toaster overs are about due for a paradigm shift, huh?

  19. I like to go to the Met and when nobody is looking chip the toes off statues to make jewelry – beats letting them gather dust!

  20. i think it’s a shame to destroy these beautiful old pieces of history for something that indeed is NOT art. I’m part of the next generation, and i would appreciate it if these pieces of history could stay around for a while longer. i collect typewriters, only 4 so far, and i recently went to an antique shop where i spotted a beautiful corona model three portable with the case and cleaning brushes and promptly bought it for $20. while these typewriters aren’t rare, they’re getting harder to come by, and the guy at the antique shop said that a lady comes in once a week and buys up his typewriters, and said she was coming back in the next day, and guess what she does, makes typewriter key jewelery! so when you say the typewriters that are being used are piles of junk, you are wrong, this one was in near mint and working shape, it’s a shame to see this trend, i can’t stand to see our history being torn apart and hot-glued to a metal band, shame on all you key cutters who claim to be artists.

Comments are closed.