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Friday, 25 November 2011

Underwood Portable Typewriters 1919-1991: Part Four

 (Antares Domus, Annabella, 1960)
(Olivetti Studio 44, 1961)
(Olivetti Studio 45, 1968)
 (Olivetti Lettera 31 [Dora], 1969)
 (Antares Compact, year unknown)
 (Antares Domus, Annabella, year unknown)
In October 1959, Olivetti purchased 69 per cent of the Underwood Corporation, taking a controlling interest in Underwood’s factories in the US, Canada, Germany and England, with a work force of 10,000. This added to Olivetti’s existing workforce of 24,700, at factories in Italy (two), Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Scotland.
All looked rosy for Olivetti. It was supplying 27 per cent of the total world market for typewriters. That means the remaining 73 per cent was divided between Smith-Corona, Remington, Royal, Underwood in the US, Imperial in England, and Hermes, Olympia and all the other European brands – in other words, there were slim pickings left over for some. Indeed, Royal and Imperial were not, as companies in their own right, much longer for this world.

Antares Annabella, Richard Polt Collection
Little wonder, then, that Olivetti felt confident about surging forward with its investments and internal and international expansion.
This included gaining a substantial interest in two Milan-based typewriter manufacturers, Antares and Everest, though Olivetti allowed these companies to continue to produce typewriters in their own brand names into the early 1960s.
Antares Domus
Yet, for all these advances, Olivetti continued to struggle to gain a foothold in the US, in competition with the major home brands.
Thus the idea behind the Underwood takeover was NOT to produce Underwood typewriters from Olivetti, or even former Underwood, factories. The plan, pure and simple, was to achieve a greater penetration of the US market with Olivetti typewriters.
Antares Domus
Underwood 18
But Olivetti’s ambitions almost immediately struck a major financial snag, one which was both exposed and compounded by the sudden death of Adriano Olivetti (below) on February 27, 1960. A company which, in September 1957, had increased its capital to 10.8 billion lire went right to the brink of bankruptcy.
Underwood’s massive debts had made it vulnerable to Olivetti. In turn, however, the purchase of a controlling interest in Underwood left Olivetti itself open “to an excessive degree”. On top of that, a period of recession in Italy aggravated the situation. The fatal heart attack suffered by the company’s director general (since 1933) and its driving force, Adriano Olivetti, on a train trip from Milan to Lausanne just four months after the Underwood acquisition, left Olivetti both financially stricken and leaderless.
In a complete restructure under a holding company in 1964, which included selling its electronic computers section to General Electric, Olivetti was revitalised with outside capital and management through a rescue package put together by a consortium of Italian banks and industrial concerns (including Fiat and Pirelli). Bruno Visentini took over as president.
Even before that, Olivetti had tried valiantly to trade itself out of debt. In the period immediately after its acquisition of Underwood, Olivetti simply added the name Underwood to the Lettera 22, which had been launched in 1949. It then set about slightly modifying the Studio 44, which had been around since 1951, calling this version the Olivetti Underwood 21.
At the same time, Olivetti made use of its holding in Antares in Milan by having the Antares Domus (aka the Annabella) modified to appear as the Underwood 18.
The Domus had been designed for Antares by Carlo Grassi.
The slight difference in the frames of these two models can be seen here, but the mechanics are identical, as are the cases the typewriters came in (also designed by Grassi). As well, the handbook put out by Antares was, in part, copied for the Underwood 18.

There was also a later Underwood 19 (below) in the same basic design, but not having seen one, I cannot say how it differs from the 18.
Adwoa's Collection
In October 1963, just after the Lettera 22 had morphed into the Lettera 32, Olivetti fully merged Underwood into a new Olivetti-Underwood Corporation. Relabelled Olivettis were now called Olivetti-Underwood.
The Lettera 32 and the Underwood 18 continued to provide the focus of Olivetti’s portable marketing until 1968, when Olivetti modified its heavily-promoted Studio 45 (above, designed by Mario Bellini) to produce the Underwood 450. Will Davis rates this Underwood quite highly.
The following year, Ettore Sottsass designed a fairly orthodox portable which was named after the river the Dora Baltea, which passes through Olivetti’s hometown of Ivrea.
The Dora had a surprisingly long and successful life, and is also known as the Lettera 27, the Lettera 31 (its original name), the Class, the Ventura (in the US) and, to mark Italy hosting the soccer World Cup in 1990, the Italia 90, resplendent in the Italian azure.
As an Underwood, it is known as the 310. As with the Studio 45-Underwood 450, a zero was simply added to Lettera 31 to come up with Underwood 310.
Sottsass had been working on what he called a “people’s typewriter”, one which would be both cheaper to make and to sell. As a development alongside the Dora, he had also conceived the Valentine. But after a disagreement with Olivetti over the Valentine, Sottsass left this project, which was completed by Perry King. The mechanics of the Dora and Valentine are identical.
Sottsass’s Praxis 48 electric, Bellini's Studio 45, the Dora and the Valentine heralded Olivetti’s move away from metal machines to plastic fantastics. As part of this, Olivetti continued to use Antares designs for Underwoods – and thus the Underwood name reappeared on its own.
This was through an Antares portable called the Compact (models 33 and 223, below), markedly similar to Bellini’s Olivetti Lettera 25-35 series.

Tilman Elster Collection, ex Will Davis website
It was marketed as the Underwood 16.
The Underwood 16 was, unsurprisingly, a commercial failure. Under the Olivetti-Antares arrangement, a plastic Mercedes was also produced. All of these machines, including the Domus-Annabella-Underwood 18, had two telling faults – a ribbon selector up near the right ribbon spool and the carriage lever activating a lifting clasp to turn the platen. These both had the potential to cause major problems, and too often they did.
Eventually Olivetti-Antares went back to the Domus-Annabella-Underwood 18 design for the plastic Underwood 10 (above), except it had a colour selector at the top of the keyboard and a fast spacer.
The Underwood 10 sits marginally higher than the Domus-Annabella-Underwood 18 because its base is part of a tight, rigid plastic case, similar to later Grassi designs but more commonly seen with Brother and other Japanese portables.
Which brings us to the fifth and final part of this series. Neither the Underwood 16 nor the Underwood 10 come with any sign of a country of origin. But the suspicion that the Underwood 10, at least, is Japanese-made is unavoidable.
The last in the line of Underwood portable typewriters are unquestionably Japanese, in both design and manufacture.
TOMORROW: The Japanese Underwoods, which are not part of my collection, and the Underwoods I don’t own any longer.


Bill M said...

Very nice article and post! Nice machines. I grew up knowing one brand of typewriter -- Underwood. In High School typing class I learned there were other brands. By the time I graduated I wanted an Ollivetti since they had just built a fantastic factory, one of the neatest designed buildings, and a factory at that, that I had ever seen just out side of Harrisburg, PA. The building is still there. It has been through several owners and occupants. At one time it was even the home of Earthlink. How fitting. It was futuristic when built about 1970 and served as a typewriter factory, jet engine parts factory, internet center, and I'll try to find out who and what is presently there.

notagain said...

This is a very interesting period. I think the name badges are a clue to ...what? I have a 22 badged Underwood-Olivetti and a 32, Olivetti-Underwood, and studio 44's in both badges. I suspect it crosses 1964/65? I also have an Underwood (only) 21, where all the others I've seen say Olivetti-Underwood as yours does. It seems to me that changing the nameplates is enough of a headache that it wouldn't happen so often without purpose. Have you found anything on that?

notagain said...

I was also surprised at the differences between Letteras 22 and 32.

Richard P said...

Can't say I love any of these machines, but thank you for documenting them!

Anonymous said...

I've just got an Underwood 16 on eBay for £2.50. It's exactly like the one in the picture in your blog but it's branded "Gracia de Luxe", it doesn't have any other brand name nor country of manufacture. It came with an instruction leaflet in Dutch (the typewriter has a Dutch keyboard layout). The model seems to be ES48. The leaflet was printed by "Keurkoop Postorders Rotterdam" ("preferred mail order sale" according to Google Translate). There's an address but I suppose that it's the address of the post order company: Hilledijk 77 85, Rotterdam. I had never seen any typewriter of this brand and it seems odd that they chose a Spanish name for the Dutch market.

Robert Messenger said...

Hi. Gracia was a brand name used for a range of items sold through Keurkopp BV, a large Dutch postal order company based in Rotterdam. Keurkopp sold many typewriter models, notably Olivettis and Remington plastic portables. The Gracia de Luxe/Underwood 16 is an Antares (Italian) design (the Compact 33 and 223) - Antares was owened by Olivetti at the time these were made. I could email you typewriter ads from Keurkoop, if I have an email address for you.

Stephanie said...

Great article! I just recently acquired an Olivetti Lettera 31 and found this very interesting and insightful. Thank you for posting.

Joyce Chilvers said...

I found an antares compact 223 when cleaning out my grandparents' attic. It's still working fine, but would need a new ribbon.
Can you point me in the right direction? I'd love to type on this thing again. ^_^

Aleksandar Andric said...

Good evening gentlemen,

I have recently found an typewriter Underwood 71 but I am not able to find any additional information about it e.g the date of manufacturing, information about reliability, hints for maintenance etc. The typewriter is in the solid condition. Except the ribbon, the rest is fine. Do you have any particular comments about Underwood 71?
As a pupil I used my dad's typewriter Swedish FACIT, for paper work but my father took care about typewriter.

Warm regards