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Saturday, 25 February 2012

2012 Manual Portable Typewriter?

I have long been under the impression that manual portable typewriters are still being made in China, that they are still available for purchase, and that of those available, the Olympia Traveller C was far superior to all other models.
I now find I may well be wrong on all three counts.
Based on my searches today, the Olympia Traveller C is no longer in stock anywhere. That also seems to apply to the Olivetti MS 25 Premier Plus. In the case of the Olivetti, that is no bad thing, since it didn’t deserve to be called “premier” in any regard whatsoever and is a definite minus, not a plus, to the reputation of manual portable typewriters.
The unavailability of both the Olympia and Olivetti might indicate production has stopped. But I have no idea whether this applies to all Chinese-made manual portable typewriters: I’d be very interested in find out.
I have owned an Olympia Traveller C for some time, but as I have, until now, only used it for exhibit purposes – taking the line of 1878 to the present day – it has hardly ever been out of the carton it arrived in, let alone its case. Until a few hours ago, the polystyrene packing was still on either side of the carriage.
However, I finally decided today to give it a test. And, oh, was I disappointed. The typing action seemed fine, although a few keys were very stiff – I guess through lack of use all this time. The big shock, however, was to find the design of the platen-turning mechanism is that awful lift and grab device which I date back to the Antares Annabella and Underwood 18. It’s a shocker, and sure enough, it doesn’t turn the platen on the Olympia Traveller C.
Given this is a brand new machine, one can imagine my feelings. I can’t help thinking of the collector in Chicago who bought an Underwood in 1938 and never took it out of the case or used it. Seventy years later it was in my possession and worked like a charm.
I must admit, however, the Olympia Traveller C is still vastly superior to the Olivetti MS 25 Premier Plus, wonky carriage lever or otherwise.
The Olympia Traveller C seems to have been first made in 1995 and was certainly still readily available for sale from various outlets, including Amazon, up until about four or five years ago. Amazon records one buyer feedback of four out of five stars.
Looking at the history of Olympia, and its use of facilities in the former Yugoslavia to make Traveller DeLuxe portable typewriters, I am tempted to believe the design of the “space ageTraveller C is Slovenian in origin.
The closest "swooping", rounded design relation I can find to the Traveller C is a typewriter put together by a group of Italian and Slovenian designers for Mehano in 1999: Marko Piasni, Giudo Pezzolato and Andrej Pisani of Italy and Joze Brezec, Franc Branko Cerkrenik and Andrej Mahnic of Slovenia. This became a Barbie toy typewriter:
The 1999 Slovenia design referenced one by Sergio Gobbo and Dragica Samsa for Mehano in 1994. In turn, the 1994 design took its lead from two typewriters designed by Vid Bratasevec for the same company in the old Yugoslavia in 1988 – one of which also became a Barbie typewriter.
The overarching Chinese company which facilitated the international distribution of these Traveller Cs also deals with Mehano.
Whatever the influences, the Traveller C definitely has the most distinctive look of all the Chinese-made plastic portables.
From memory, the Olympia Traveller C and the Olivetti MS 25 both cost me around $US67 plus shipping – but I have seen prices on the Olympia of up to $150 and the Olivetti at around $105. I bought both on eBay at about the same time.
The cartons looked almost identical, which made me think they came to me via the same route: that is, made in China, shipped to Mexico, on shipped to the US, then sold to me.
The Olivetti packaging indicated the parent company for this product was the Royal Consumer Information Products Inc of Somerset, New Jersey. The handbook also indicated it was a Royal product. The Olympia packaging gives no similar hints.
Given what I have discovered today about these typewriters, I am going to have to consider them in the past tense.
My researches indicate the manufacture of the Olympia Traveller C was the responsibility of the Elite Industrial Group in Hong Kong, which was established in 1978. The actual production, however, was done in Shenzhen, immediately north of Hong Kong, on the Chinese mainland.
This group has at least 10 subsidiary enterprises engaged in, among others things, product development and the manufacture of electronics, optical instruments, precise machines, business machines and high technology. It has dealings with, among others, Motorola, Southwestern Bell, IBM, Siemens, Alcatel, Philips and AT&T. The president of the group is its founder, Liu Yongling (below).
One of the Elite Group’s subsidiaries is Olympia Asia. Elite says that in November 1987 it bought the molding and tooling and development rights for Olympia typewriters from Daimler AG. Olympia Asia uses the Olympic Werke logo with which all typewriters lovers are so familiar, yet so too does an existing German-based company.
There are also Olympia companies in Mexico and the Philippines. Elite’s dealings with Olympia De Mexico SA De CV (Sociedad AnĂ³nima de Capital Variable) of La Paz were handled through the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, established in 1966 as a statutory organisation creating business opportunities for Hong Kong companies.
Elite took control of Olympia Werke AG’s Olympia Office Sales Company Ltd, the brand name, global sales network and production facilities in Mexico City in July 1994.
The Chinese-made manual portable typewriters were then shipped on from the port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico to Houston, Texas, presumably for further distribution. Shipments of manual portable typewriters from Veracruz appear to be dated to as recently as this month. Shipments also include a manual typewriter called Olympia Models 300 and 330. Olympia Asia also advertises a Splendid MD and a Compact DM, as well as Carina semi-portables.
Long before the Olympia typewriter brand went down this Asian-Mexican path, AEG had spent 55 million marks in 1962 to acquire additional shares in Olympia Werke to take over the entire share capital. In 1969 it adapted the Alpina typewriter factory in Kaufbeuren and built in Roffhausen three new manufacturing facilities. It also had plants in Belfast, Mexico City, Santiago (Chile) and Toronto. But soon enough the proliferation of small computers spelled the end of Olympia Werke AG. The parent company, AEG, was taken over by Daimler AG, which in October 1991 decided to close the works.

Parts of AEG Olympia AG were converted into smaller public companies, and this included the Hong Kong deal.
The rights to use the brand name Olympia in Germany were retained in 1995 by Heinz Prygoda (above), who runs Olympia Business Systems Vertriebs GmbH in Hattingen.
Olympia Philippines Inc (above) is one organisation which imported these Chinese-made Olympias – it advertises the Traveller C as well the Carina 3 semi-portable (including with a wide carriage) and the SG3. But whether these are still available for sale is difficult to tell.
Olympia Philippines was formerly Olympia Business Machines Co Philippines Inc, started in 1966 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Olympia Werke AG and acquired by a group of Filipino investors in 1981. A major online distributor is NBLM Enterprise, a Manila company  operated by Napoleon C. Miranda.
Will Davis at the Portable Typewriter Reference Site says the Olympia Traveller C “is certainly an interesting machine. Its styling is very modernistic, and truly distinctive, with curved depressions in the sides and an overall ‘swoopy’ look. Aside from this, it's a well-made machine whose heritage, design-wise [mechanically], dates back to the mid-1960s and Silver-Seiko machine: carriage-shift, rapid spacebar, touch regulator, three-colour ribbon selector, 44 keys, fixed 10-space tabulator.”


Richard P said...

Impressive research. Surely the end of manual portables made in China is just around the corner if it hasn't already occurred. Now THAT will be a historic landmark.

I agree with Will that the design of the Traveller C shows flair and imagination, unlike nearly ever other typewriter made since 1980.

Wong Wan Ling said...

I may have found a new lead. It seems the Olympia Traveller C designs may have been acquired by a mainland China company. Here's the alibaba like to which one can still purchase in bulk. If you click on the image, you'll see that it's really the Traveller C. Even the new logo "ROVER" is a "Olympia" look-alike.

Dirk Plante said...

I don't know if it is accurate or not, but if you read the final sentences of "End of a Era" on the Wikipedia page of the typewriter, you will notice it mentions that mechanical AND electric typewriters are still being made in Brazil!!

Lost in Florida said...

I just bought my daughter the little pink Barbie Mehano typewriter in a charity shop and I'm looking to replace the ribbon Do you have any ideas where I might find the right one for this model?

Lost in Florida said...

I just bought my daughter the little pink Barbie Mehano typewriter in a charity shop and I'm looking to replace the ribbon Do you have any ideas where I might find the right one for this model?

Robert Messenger said...

I have some of these cartridges stored away. If I saw a photo of the one you want to replace, I could probably send you one. They do sell on eBay from time to time, or you could try the distributor/importer.

Ari Summerland said...

I've got one of these but it is labeled privileg design 1. I was trying to figure out if it is an Olympia or an Olivetti. I can't say how it types as the mainspring seems to have sprung in shipping and I haven't had time to fuss with it yet (sad). Luckily I didn't pay much. Like the swoopy look, though!

Robert Messenger said...

Privileg is normally a German mail order brand - lots of different models, Olivetti, Consul etc etc. These are now being sold as the Royal Scrittore II.