Reader AJ sent me a thoughtful and much-appreciated gift: an Olivetti Lettera 22 in fantastic condition.
Olivetti made some of the best portable typewriters ever produced, and I’ve been on the lookout for a nice Lettera for a while now. Well, considering they’re all at least forty years old now, they don’t come much nicer than this these days:
(Olivetti Lettera 22. She’s-a Italian. Bellissima!)
I know most foreign keyboard layouts, but this one’s a bit of a head-scratcher. It’s a QWERTY, but it’s not Italian, French, or Spanish. It does have inverted question and exclamation marks like a Spanish keyboard, but it’s missing the accented N. (If you want to help solve the mystery, embiggen the above picture and look at the characters on the number row in particular.)
The last Lettera 22 rolled off the assembly line in the early 1960s. This one’s serial number puts it at 1954. It’s in stellar shape mechanically and optically. All I needed to get it working was to wipe it down, blow out the dust from decades of storage, and put in a new ribbon. Even the little leatherette travel case is undamaged–the Lettera cases don’t age as well as the machines do, and 9 out of 10 Letteras found in the wild these days will have missing cases or ones with broken zippers.
If you’ve ever wondered how to get ribbon for a machine that has been out of production for decades, here’s a quick tutorial.
Staples sells this:
(This is what you’re looking for at $BIG_BOX_OFFICE_STORE.)
It’s called “Compatible Printer Ribbon”, Okidata #52100701, but it’s just regular nylon ribbon in the near-universal half-inch size that fits most typewriters made after the Wilson administration.
The problem with fitting old typewriters with a new ribbon is that the original ribbon spools are sometimes missing. The Okidata ribbon tries to be universal, but the holes in the spools don’t fit on all typewriters. (For example, I can put the plastic spools into the Olympia SM-9 just fine, but they won’t fit into the SM-3, which is just eight years younger and from the same company.) If the old machine comes with the original ribbon spools–with or without ancient ribbon still in place–you’re in good shape. Just remove the spools from the machine and unwind any old ribbon into the trash.
(New Okidata plastic spool on the left, old metal Olivetti spool on the right.)
All you have to do is to put on a set of rubber gloves, carefully unwind the new Okidata ribbon from the thinnest spool, and pluck the ribbon end off the spool. Then you take the original ribbon spool and stick your new ribbon onto it. (They’re merely stuck onto a sharp spiky protrusion.) Then you can stick the new spool onto a screwdriver to make it spin freely, and carefully rewind the ribbon onto the old metal spool.
When you’re finished, you stick the other end of the ribbon onto spool #2, and you’re ready to go. Put your newly wound spools back into the machine, and that’s that.
This is my second travel typewriter after the Olympia SF I got from Tom Furrier at Cambridge Typewriter a few months ago. The Lettera isn’t better or worse than the Olympia, just different–same function, different design approaches to achieve it.
Thank you for the lovely gift, AJ. It’s very much appreciated and will be put to good use. In fact, I have some tea brewing right now, and when that’s finished, I’ll grab a cup and drum out another chapter of the Great Big Fantastic Paranormal Detective Story I’m working on at the moment. It kind of lends itself to the typewriter, it does.