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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Lisa30 and Valentine Portable Typewriters: The Antares-Olivetti Missing Link?


It was many years ago now that I first became curious about the suggested link between two Italian typewriter companiesOlivetti of Ivrea and Antares of Milan. My curiosity has never really been sated. Did Olivetti at some point in the 1960s gain a controlling interest in Antares? Surely two close competitors did not cooperate to the extent of one making typewriters for the other, or the two sharing a common typewriter design, without some pecuniary interest being involved?
(Antares, by the way, is pronounced Ant-tear-ez or Ant-tar-ez, and takes its name – as its corporate symbol suggests - from the bright red supergiant star in the Milky Way galaxy.)
Courtesy of Rob Bowker, Typewriter Heaven
Up to the time of the publication of Olivetti’s official history, marking its 50th anniversary in 1958, any tie-in with Antares was not mentioned. Bearing in mind that Olivetti had to be completely restructured after the sudden death of Adriano Olivetti in late February 1960, and its over-capitalisation following the takeover of Underwood, Olivetti hardly seems likely to have been in a position to absorb yet another Italian concern in that early 60s period. So what exactly was the nature of the relationship between the two?
A relationship did exist, that’s for certain: the Underwood 18, which is an Antares design, is ample evidence of it. But it was Will Davis’s inclusion of the Antares Lisa30 on his Portable Typewriter Reference Site that first piqued my interest.
Will wrote, “If one were to ask for better proof that Antares and Olivetti were linked, then the Antares Lisa30 … should do it.  Yes, this machine has the body styling developed for the Olivetti Valentine, but interestingly is not sought out by collectors (and neither is the later, slightly simplified Olivetti Montpi, which is also roughly similar to the Valentine. PS: Thanks, Richard)  Note that the ribbon selector is above and to the right of the typebar segment, and is of the style seen on the very earliest Antares machines.” [PS: A big thank you to Richard Polt for pointing out this should be Monpti. Is the Monpti an Olivetti? Or it is a Valentine rip-off designed by Richard Penney for Sperry-Rand? Or something else altogether? I simply don’t know.]
It may interest some to know that Antares SPA of Milan registered the typewriter trademark for the Antares Lisa in the US on March 31, 1972, indicating this model was marketed around that time.  The trademark expired in 1995. The Valentine, of course, came out in 1969.
The real problem with Will’s reference to the Lisa30-Valentine was that in the image Will used of the Lisa30, one from the late Tilman Elster’s collection, I could see very little likeness to the Valentine (though it was bright red). From the angle the photo was taken, I assumed it was a much higher, almost semi-portable typewriter, something more akin to the Olivetti Studio 45.
Back then Sydney collector Richard Amery told me several times that he had a machine that was identical to the Lisa30, but which was labelled a “Mark I Series”.
This Lisa30, relabelled a Montgomery Ward Model 22, is in Alan Seaver's collection.
I never saw Richard’s model, but I now know that the labelling on it clearly indicates it was imported into Australia by Currie Furniture Manufacturers (CFM) of Melbourne, the same firm which relabelled Japanese- and Chinese-made typewriters as Craftomatics and Pinnocks for distribution in this country. An interesting point here is that up to the early 60s, the Australian franchise for Antares typewriters (and for those of another Italian maker, Everest) was held by a different Melbourne company, Speciality Typewriter Service, which to the best of my knowledge still operates in North Carlton.
Anyway, some weeks ago a “Mark I Seriestypewriter came up for sale on Australia eBay (it looked to be a charcoal colour, but maybe it was just a dark photo). From the one front-on image of it, it looked vaguely familiar. But it had been some time since I last given much thought to the Lisa30, so at the time I didn’t make the connection. If I had done so, yet again I would have assumed from the image that the “Mark I Series/Lisa30” was more of a semi-portable than a low-slung portable like a Valentine, something more like one of the bigger Portuguese ABCs (sold here as Lemairs).
This German keyboard Lisa30 from Poland was for sale on Etsy. It came with the bag described in the advert above.
As things transpired, I didn’t bid on this “Mark I Series”. But as so often happens, a blue Lisa30 came up for sale soon afterwards. This time I did bid, and won the auction. The listing photographs gave me a far better idea of the size of the machine and I could see that, yes, there was a vague similarity to the Valentine. Here at last, I thought, was the chance to compare the two.
I was excited to receive the Lisa30, the same day that Adwoa had posted on an identical blue Lisa30 (above), spotted on her travels in Geneva.
But once I put the Lisa30 beside a Valentine, any ideas of a link in the design disappeared. These are two completely different typewriters, not just to the eye, but in operation.
The Lisa30 has a far better weight distribution and more balance than the Valentine (giving it much less reverberation in typing), but this doesn’t necessary make it a far better typer. Better, but not that much better. Quite aside from the alignment problem on this particular machine, my Lisa30 has inherited what seem to me to be innate Antares fault lines.
Like so many Antares typewriters (including the Underwood 18 and a later model plastic Mercedes) it has a problem with the platen-turning mechanism, and I am far from fond of the colour-selection mechanism described by Will (which is so like some Carl Sundberg-designed, Dutch-made plastic Remingtons of the early 60s).
Antares appears to have taken on board the problems with the “lift, catch and pull” platen-turning mechanism of such models as the Annabella and Domus (and the Underwood 18 and Mercedes) and changed the design. But the more conventional “push” mechanism it has adopted doesn’t work very well, either.
Such a pity, because there is no doubt the Lisa30 is a lovely-looking little typewriter. Yes, I can now, from first-hand experience, see why some might liken it to the Valentine, in size and shape if nothing else. But it is distinctive, and it does type just that little bit better.
By the way, the Lisa30 comes in a very nice vinyl case which is the same design, but slightly larger and more appealing in the materials used, than that used by Olivetti for later model Lettera 32s and for Doras.





17 comments:

Ken Coghlan said...

A very insightful post. I would have thought, for sure, that these were near identical in every way. I had heard of the Lisa 30 before, but was never interested enough to read up on it.

Really, though, even the Valentine does not interest me, just because I have heard some of the horror stories associated with using one. I want something that types great. If it looks great, too, all the better.

Thanks for doing the research so I didn't have to!

Richard P said...

That Lisa is distinctive, to be sure ...

As for the Monpti (not Montpi, but a contraction of "mon petit"), I understand it was made in Germany, but I'd like to know more about it. A little searching shows that "Monpti" is also the name of a 1957 German movie. Here is Ramón Gracia's Monpti. I like its looks better than either the Valentine or the Lisa30. Here is a wonderful head-on view on Flickr. The same Flickr user shows the Monpti and Valentine side by side and says the Monpti was first.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Ken and Richard.
Richard, thank you for pointing it out: I have corrected the spelling of Monpti, I should have picked it up :)
I have a 1969 patent drawing of a machine assigned by Richard Penney to Sperry Rand which is almost identical to the Monpti. It's something I had been planning to post on one day, but I was hoping to get a Monpti first. I hear they are VERY expensive. A chap in France tried to put me on to one being sold in Spain earlier this year, but it was around $500-$600!

Robert Messenger said...

BTW, thanks for that link. I can't find any confirmation of a design by Professor Stefan Lengyel in 1968, but I'll keep checking. I'll also check out the manufacturer

Robert Messenger said...

Whatever it is, the Monpti is NOT an Olivetti! No luck so far with the manufacturer, Karstadt of Germany. The Lengyel name (as Monpti designer) popped up in an online forum some years ago, someone said they had met him?

Ton S. (I dream lo-tech) said...

A very informative post, many thanks Robert. I learned a lot. I have never heard of the Montpi before, now I am very intrigued!

Adwoa said...

The Monptis are not that expensive if you catch one at the right time; they turn up every few months on eBay Germany. Definitely no relation to Olivetti, and the only story about them I have read is the one that you found on the forums as well. Intriguing!

Anonymous said...

I have just started researching my own typewriter when i came across our blog. I have what looks like an orange antares lisa 30 that looks just like the one you said came from poland and it also came with the denim bag shown in the advert, however mine says esselte lisa 30 on the front, any ideas why? i cant seem to find out anything. thanks sarah

Anonymous said...

I have just started researching my own typewriter when i came across our blog. I have what looks like an orange antares lisa 30 that looks just like the one you said came from poland and it also came with the denim bag shown in the advert, however mine says esselte lisa 30 on the front, any ideas why? i cant seem to find out anything. thanks sarah

Anonymous said...

I have just started researching my own typewriter when i came across our blog. I have what looks like an orange antares lisa 30 that looks just like the one you said came from poland and it also came with the denim bag shown in the advert, however mine says esselte lisa 30 on the front, any ideas why? i cant seem to find out anything. thanks sarah

Anonymous said...

I have just started researching my own typewriter when i came across your blog. I have what looks like an orange antares lisa 30 that looks just like the one you said came from poland and it also came with the denim bag shown in the advert, however mine says esselte lisa 30 on the front, any ideas why? i cant seem to find out anything. thanks sarah

Anonymous said...

I have just started researching my own typewriter when i came across our blog. I have what looks like an orange antares lisa 30 that looks just like the one you said came from poland and it also came with the denim bag shown in the advert, however mine says esselte lisa 30 on the front, any ideas why? i cant seem to find out anything. thanks sarah

Sarah said...

I have just started researching my own typewriter when i came across our blog. I have what looks like an orange antares lisa 30 that looks just like the one you said came from poland and it also came with the denim bag shown in the advert, however mine says esselte lisa 30 on the front, any ideas why? i cant seem to find out anything. thanks sarah

Sarah said...

I have just started researching my own typewriter when i came across our blog. I have what looks like an orange antares lisa 30 that looks just like the one you said came from poland and it also came with the denim bag shown in the advert, however mine says esselte lisa 30 on the front, any ideas why? i cant seem to find out anything. thanks sarah

Sarah said...

I have just started researching my own typewriter when i came across our blog. I have what looks like an orange antares lisa 30 that looks just like the one you said came from poland and it also came with the denim bag shown in the advert, however mine says esselte lisa 30 on the front, any ideas why? i cant seem to find out anything. thanks sarah

Sarah said...

im so sorry about all the posts! im computer went a bit funny :/

shordzi said...

Just got my Lisa!