macchina da scrivere: olivetti lettera 22.

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.


8 thoughts on “macchina da scrivere: olivetti lettera 22.

  1. AJD says:

    I’m glad you like it. I love the comment on the UPS delivery confirmation “Met Customer Man”

    As for the condition, the typewriter may be 57 years old, but it spent 32 of those years stored at my parents’ house, on a shelf away from light, or water.

    It is good to see that it is now in the hands of someone who will use it!

  2. Joe says:

    The amusing thing is that I got a Okidata 82 printer over the competing Epson printer cause I thought cartridge design of the Epson would be a flash in the pan.
    You can still get Epson printer cartridge easier than typewriter ribbons.

  3. Joanna says:

    Sir, you have just saved me a butt-load of money. Vintage typewriter ribbons go for $10+ on eBay and Amazon (although you probably knew that already). Thanks!

  4. John Richard/Texas says:

    I was given an Olivetti-Underwood 21 (a Studio 44) with an international keyboard for graduation in 1973. The keyboard looked a lot like this-a standard QWERTY setup. But I’m pretty certain mine had the tilde for the ‘n’, and the accents were on dead-letter keys. Are these dead-letter? What a beautiful gift!

  5. Your tilde is at lower right–back up and retype. You’ll note it has both pound and dollar keys. You use the O for 0, and there appears to be a diacritical C on the number 6 key. They were trying to cover all the standard Latin alphabets with one portable keyboard.

  6. ceceliafutch says:

    What an incredible gift! Beautiful.

  7. mayagrafix says:

    I have a Studio 44. Is this really a Olivetti-Underwood 21 as per John Richard/Texas? were do you find the serial number? Thanks for the ribbon idea. Great gift, AJD certainly hit the nail on the head by re-purposing inert assets to a useful life.

    • Jeff The Bear says:

      The Studio 44 and Olivetti 21 are different machines. I’ve read that the 21 is the last of the Studio series. I have both and prefer the 21 but that might just be my two machines.

      Jeff The Bear

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