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Monday, 7 November 2011

Engadine and Primavera portable typewriters: Spring Beauty and The Beast


“How lucky we are who have simple tastes,” declared Rob Bowker the other day, in relation to what, for the vast majority of us, are utterly unattainable items being offered for sale in a Cologne typewriter auction on November 19.
How right Rob is. Still, our simple tastes can sometimes lead to rather expensive blunders. Take my Primavera 2000 for example. Yes, take it, please do. All I wanted was an uplifting Australian spring (primavera) present for myself. What I got was the closest thing I've yet seen to Ettore Sottsass's concept of the typewriter equivalent of a Bic biro: a throwaway.
Still, I couldn’t resist it, especially when it was listed at about 10 euros on eBay Classico, the Italian eBay (http://www.ebay.it/). At the end of the day, however, to have this “typewriter” shipped to Australia from Italy proved a fairly costly folly, based upon the unfounded notion that it just might turn out to be a half-decent typing machine. For anyone else tempted to buy one of these models, be warned: they are a heap of rubbish.
They belong to the family of Italian-Chinese “typewriters” we more commonly know as Rovers, but which incredibly embrace such highly regarded typewriter brand names as Olivetti and Olympia. The Primavera 2000 is even lower down this ladder of late-model “typewriters”: it has no means of adjusting line-spacing, no right-hand margin setter, no ribbon colour switch – and no bell!
Do I hear the name “Ettore Sottsass” ring out? Yes, this Primavera 2000 is surely akin to what Sottsass had in mind when he originally proposed the Valentine to Olivetti, trying to persuade Olivetti to make a “typewriter for the people”.
The Primavera 2000, which can now be bought for under 10 euros ($US13.78, $A13.25), might be described as that, if "the people" want landfill. It types, after a fashion, but I have several cheap plastic toy typewriters which type far better. (Talking of Sottsass and his disillusionment with what the Valentine eventually became: could he possibly have had his hand in the hard-to-find Monpti? I have seen it suggested that he did. Anyone know anything about the Monpti? Maybe it will be my next folly.)
Still, for all that, I have to admit that acquiring the Primavera 2000 was a rather entertaining diversion. I’m not sure how I came across it, not being a regular visitor to eBay Classico (though I have in the past found some treasures there). I think I had probably keyed in a Google word search for “IMC+typewriter”, and up popped “MACCHINA DA SCRIVERE IMC” – “Superb Typewriter IMC model … full-functioning (sic) housing.”
Some cursory research did indicate the company, Industria Meccanica di Chiavenna S.p.A, had continued to exist until being delisted on January 27 last year (2010). And it was obvious that this IMC machine was based on the same design as the 1960s IMC portable, the relatively rare Engadine.
One way or another, I had to have one – if only to check how closely related it was to the Engadine. But there were two problems: the item was only for sale in Italy, and the seller’s English proved to be only marginally better than my Italian. Nonetheless, I appealed for help from my friends Georg Sommeregger in Switzerland and Richard Polt in Cincinnati, and between them they were able to assist me in breaking down the language barrier sufficiently to convince the seller to ship to Australia (not that he seemed to need much convincing; I got the impression he was desperate to offload this item, and understandably so, as it turns out).
Nevertheless the transaction had its scary moments. No sooner had I paid for the Primavera 2000 and postage, and began to feel comfortable that all would be well, than the item was relisted! The seller ignored my demands to know what was going on.
It appears he had more than one of these machines to sell. Indeed, I suspect he might have had a small (leftover?) stock of them. Having bought one, I can now well appreciate that such a stock, no matter how small, would be quite difficult to shift.
Bottom line: the Primavera 2000 is a cheap insult to the names of IMC and Engadine, even inferior - which might seem nigh-on impossible - to the Rover 5000. Outwardly, it is an almost exact plastic replica of the Engadine, but in its workings without any of the Engadine’s  virtues.
So instead of spending any more time on the Primavera 2000, let’s look at the original, the Engadine. The name comes, I believe, from the Romansh Engiadina, meaning garden of the inn. I shall sit back in the spring sunshine and sup of this much finer (and real) typewriter.
Industria Meccanica di Chiavenna S.p.A is something of a mystery typewriter company. Chiavenna, I gather, is a small town in the province of Sondrio in the Italian region of Lombardy, about 60 miles (100km) north of Milan. The area did support some light industry, including IMC’s typewriter manufacturing, but this appears to have needed some propping up from the Italian government in the early 1990s. But by 1993 the end for such industry was in sight, with a media report stating “a number of companies [and many jobs are] already in crisis [including] IMC producing typewriters … "
Long before the end finally came early last year, IMC had, according to Will Davis on his Portable Typewriter Reference Site, “essentially” sold its tooling and designs to Chinese interests – which obviously accounts for the Engadine lookalike Primavera 2000 being a member of the Rover family of “typewriters”.
What isn’t explained anywhere is the continued production of Rover and Olympia typewriters by IMC in Italy, as well as in China - continued, that is, presumably up until the early part of the 21st century. Nor does it reveal why Olivetti wouldn’t have been made there, too. My earlier post on Italian-Chinese machines, http://oztypewriter.blogspot.com/2011/05/china-v-italy-mystery-of-origin-of.html suggested those made [assembled] in Italy were marginally superior to those coming out of China.
Will Davis was able to make the Italian-Chinese link in 2004 through an even more exact Engadine lookalike called a Presentation (below), which was made in Italy (and “a mechanical match” with the Engadine).
Will wrote that it was “very apparently related to both the Chinese-made Rover family and to the older, Italian-made Antares family. It is, mechanically, half-way between the two, including features of both, and obviously between them in age.

“It is the statement on the Shanghai Golden Bay Typewriter Company's page concerning the IMC heritage that allows the identification of this machine and its family members.” Will included among these family members Remingtons “quite common in South America”.
We may never know how all this fully fits together. But I think we can safely say my curiosity with Italian-Chinese "typewriters" is now fully, and expensively, sated. No more Rovers, no more Primaveras. They've got no "spring". From now on, Rob, my simple tastes will be more simply met (the Monpti aside).
This Rover 2000 (above and below) offered on eBay is the same model as the Primavera 2000:
Here are some Engadines which apparently sit somewhere between the original Engadine portable and the Primavera 2000:

10 comments:

Richard P said...

Well, I've always kind of liked the wide hips of this family of typewriters. Sorry to hear that they stink!

Adwoa said...

Well, what I'm gathering from this post is to avoid the Primavera at all costs, and to perhaps try an Engadine... which I certainly shall if it is anything like the pink one in the last photo!

Despite being a pain to type on (the qzerty keyboard being the least of its problems in any case) the Primavera seems to have an interesting typeface - technoish...

Sorry to hear about the shipping travails; you are brave to risk shipping to Australia from Europe, as you regularly do! I'm sure it turns out fine in most cases, but I would be on the edge of my seat the entire time.

I shall be in Sondrio around Christmas (not in Chiavenna, but in a nearby town) and I will be sure to look steadfastly away if any Primaveras cross my path!

Rob Bowker said...

You'd have thought they'd have tested a prototype Primavera first. There wasn't much excuse for making a bad typewriter by then. I wonder if they were made to meet a market for people who thought they needed or 'ought' to have a typewriter, but who were unlikely to press them into serious use. Say, if it was on a list of suggested items to purchase before starting college. I vaguely remember a list like that (sans typewriter - art foundation) and rushing out to buy various materials which didn't get much use in the end - cranked painting knife anyone? - but significantly, on my degree course, I DID get a £75 allowance to spend on materials. So, for a pre-computer-age undergraduate, a "cheap" typewriter might have seemed like a good idea.

maschinengeschrieben said...

A typewriter called Engadine... I want one. I like the canton Graubünden where this little valley is, and if there's a typewriter called-so...

shordzi said...

Just received my Monpti in the mail - stunning design! By now, quite a few details have emerged on this hard to find machine. They were sold by the German department stores "Karstadt", and inside it should be a Consul core. I think someone in the portable typewriter forum already made ann excellent photo comparison of the Consul and the Monpti, but I'll check it out in person.

Robert Messenger said...

This is great news, Georg, you've beaten me to it. I really look forward to seeing your post in it.

Bonnie Skepis said...

Hi, I found your blog by accident, because I just found inside my grandmother's couch compartment a 1960's Italian Engadine 44 typewriter and even though it was inside the case, it's been there a while, so the keys are yellow and tried typing things to see if the buttons work, everything works perfectly, but I wanted to take it somewhere to get the rust off it and "revitalize" for personal use. I mean I don't want to use it as I found it, because it hasn't been used in years and I'm afraid I'll break it. Where should I go to do that?

Bonnie Skepis said...

Hi, I found your blog by accident, because I just found inside my grandmother's couch compartment a 1960's Italian Engadine 44 typewriter and even though it was inside the case, it's been there a while, so the keys are yellow and tried typing things to see if the buttons work, everything works perfectly, but I wanted to take it somewhere to get the rust off it and "revitalize" for personal use. I mean I don't want to use it as I found it, because it hasn't been used in years and I'm afraid I'll break it. Where should I go to do that?

Robert Messenger said...

Where you should go very much depends on where you are. That would be a good start.

maurizio said...

hi Robert, today I took home a primavera 2000. It costed me,well, 5 euro, and the owner was really VERY happy to give it away. After having found your comments, I fully understand why. Unfortunately, I found your blog AFTER having bought the machine, so now I can cry for my sin. Jokes apart, I fully agree with your comments. It is few steps below the "acceptable cheap".
Nevertheless, I'm happy to have found an item that will be object of discussions and debates. A last comment, rolled on the machine there was an old, very old, sheet of paper typed with a long exercise full of pen's corrections , surely a student homework revised by the teacher. This can explain the purpose of the machine. A cheap and simple "entry level"tool for students. With my best regards, Maurizio