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Sunday, 17 February 2013

A Magnificent Seven of Typewriters


Enjoy the theme music while viewing the typewriters of the same name.
David in Zurich stumped me with a comment last night. Stumbling across my post on the Montgomery Ward Escort 33 (Olivetti Dora) from last September, David said, "So it is not just me finding the (Olivetti) Valentine not the top to type?"
I suspect David might have changed his mind about his Valentine since Christmas 2010.
What threw me, though, was when David went on: "Which is in your view the best typewriter in terms of writing comfort? And the worse?"
That got me thinking.
I only went back as far as the five months since I posted on the Escort 33, but in that short time there had been seven manual portable typewriters which have truly astonished me. Astonished more so than necessarily impressed, since I wasn't always expecting such fine typing performances from some of these models. But it's for that very reason that they have left such a lasting impression on me, and why I have singled them out here.
I wouldn't go so far as to say these are the best seven manual portable typewriters in my collection - I'd probably want to do a comparative test type with at least an Alpina, a Torpedo 18, a Series 5 Smith-Corona, a Voss and an Olympia before doing that. As well, there have been some very impressive Remingtons and Underwoods which have joined the collection in the past few weeks, and which I've yet to fully try out. I reckon the latest Remington 5 will probably join the Magnificent 7, nudging out one of those listed below.
In the meantime, here the seven in question:
1. I have yet to post on this Corona Speedline Standard. It arrived on that unforgettable Melbourne Cup Day in November and, though it immediately showed its incredible paces, it was pushed to one side while I dwelt on the Hammond Multiplex and the Orel. I'm itching to get back to it.
2. Another machine I have not posted on yet is this Remington Remette. For once in my life I showed some patient in acquiring a typewriter. I had wanted a Remette for ages, and many came up for sale, here and in the US. But I hung on until the price was right, and the model looked right. Boy, was I lucky! This one turned up in immaculate condition, and types like a demon. I just love it. Some think it ugly. If so, it's the Ugly Duckling of Typewriters.
3. Now for a swan. Given it had been sitting in its case in storage for so long, this Royal Arrow performed beautifully when I finally took it out for a typecast some weeks ago. I have a very high opinion of the Hess-Myers-Dowd designed Royal portables from the 1930s through to the late 40s, and I believe Alan Seaver shares it. Richard Polt was once asked to recommend a model by someone wanting to take a "very dependable" portable on a long yachting voyage. I said, based on my own experience, "Royal", and Richard concurred.  
4. My astonishment with the performance of this Everest Model 90 was based purely on Everest's widely-held (and in most cases fully warranted) reputation for sluggishness. Only last week Will Davis, commenting on Facebook about speed typing, mentioned the Everest as being "at the other end of the scale".  I am taking this Everest to the Type-In in Brisbane next month, not just because it is maroon (Queensland's much-loved colours), but because I would like others to try it out to see what they think.
5. I was so relieved not to be drummed (or, more to the point, laughed) out of the Typosphere after my rave review of this Hispano Olivetti Pluma 22.  I keep going back to it, half-convinced I was dreaming when I first used it, and simply imaging the whole experience. Had I had some MSG in my Chinese takeway the night before? Nope. It still types as well as it did then. Now this was one typewriter that really surprised me!
6. So taken was I by this unprepossessing Underwood Champion Finger Flite that I went ahead and invested in a Universal of the same vintage. I'd sworn never to touch another one after two early disasters (as a result of shipping damage, I hasten to add). I haven't had much use of the Universal yet, but the early signs are that it will prove to be right up there with this truly champion Champion. This was a mistake purchase for which I shall always be grateful. I look forward to posting on the Universal.
7. I had always thought the Invicta-Olivetti portable was a nice enough machine without being overly spectacular. Until, that is, this gleaming green Invicta model turned up. This is a true joy to type with. Light, quick, smooth, and a real looker.
* * * * * *
THE WORST
Unhappily, David also asked about the worst. I'm only going to nominate one: the Olivetti MS Premier 25, which is an absolute disgrace to its name. There have been some others which have crossed my fingers and which in hindsight I'd rather I hadn't used. But it would be difficult to single out just a few. Instead I'm going to muse on the subject of the variations in particular models.
David was commenting on his Olivetti Valentine, and I'd still rank that as one of the worst typewriters I've ever had to use. Peter Weil was telling me a little while back about Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland fame) using a Hammond to write mathematical texts. I mentioned to Peter than a good friend of mine had written two maths text books with a Valentine. Peter was as astounded by this as I was when Frank O'Shea, retired from teaching maths, gave me his Valentine and told me what he'd used it for.
What interested me was Scott Kernaghan's St Valentine's Day post on the transformation of his Valentine, after switching carriages with a Dora. The Valentine is the Dora in the emperor's clothing (or, if Ettore Sottsass was to be believed, in tart's clothing).
Is this David's Christmas 2010 Valentine?
Yet while the Dora is a so-so typer, it is consistently better than the Valentine. I always argued that the difference was the weight imbalance caused by the heavy ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic on the Valentine, especially in the front section. (Why, I'd ask, does the Remie Scout sit so beautifully, with all the weight at the back and no front section?). Sottsass designed the machine to be made of cheap, lightweight plastic, and for the Valentine to be the typewriter equivalent of a disposable Bic biro (no one likes to own up to this fact, but it is a fact!).
Scott Kernaghan's revelation now puts my theory to the test. Is there some other reason for the discernible difference between a Dora and a Valentine?
But my mention of the impressive typewriters above, in regard to the Everest, Pluma 22 and Remette especially, brings into question the obvious disparity between the same models in one line - there are many Everests, obviously, a few Lettera 22s and the odd Remette (and Underwood) which perform badly. Why? In the case of Olivetti, it doesn't come down to the factory where the machine was built (with the exception of China and Brazil, of course. I bagged an Olivetti Lettera 82 the other day, and someone commented that they had found theirs a pretty good typer.).
This is where one has to hand it to the Japanese. Whatever else we might say about Nakajima and Silver-Seiko typewriters, they are super consistent - despite being mass-produced. And I mean mass produced (150,000 a month in 1975, in the case of Najakima. That's a lot of typewriters!). These are not great typewriters, but one would be hard-pressed to find one Nakajima that differs markedly from another. They're all at the same level.
So, the worst? As I said, the Chinese-made Olivetti MS Premier 25, by a country mile. But among the non-Chinese-made machines and the better-known models, still the Valentine, for my money, much worse than any Japanese or Brazilian typewriter. Then again, given the variations in models of the same line, there are bound to good typing Valentines out there somewhere. I've just never come across one. Maybe Frank O'Shea did.

11 comments:

Scott Kernaghan said...

AH!
I wondered when this might come up in discussion somewhere. I was rather surprised by the dramatic change that my Valentine had undertaken - post surgery.

BUT... I'm going to point out, my Valentine is far from my ideal machine. It does, however feel and type better than my two Olivetti L32 machines, and my L22.

So.... What is making the difference, you may ask. I put it down to couple of things. The Dora's carriage array was made in Spain, while the Valentine was made in Italy. Often quality seemed to change between manufacturing plants. Some people swear by their mexican made L32s, while every one I have come across has been a complete disaster.
Another thing that is important to remember, is that I've been experimenting with lubricants in my machines. My Valentine's carriage is now supported by a fresh application of dry Teflon lubrication, which I had found made quite a dramatic improvement in carriage smoothness. While the carriage was out of the machine, I was able to clean all the old muck out, and apply new lubricant with absolute directness in key areas. Areas that are hard to reach while the carriage is in the Valentine's shell.
And thirdly, we're ignoring the 5 or so hours I spent making everything line up nicely. Which is probably 4.5 more hours of care than it would have gotten in a factory.
Or at least, that's my thoughts on why it was so... dramatically different.

Dwayne F. said...

This is a very helpful digest. I've been lusting after a decent Everest since you posted this red beauty. The green machine at the end has a distinctive look.

I've never been near a Valentine. Plastic isn't a forever material and it would be low on my list no matter how interesting it is.

Richard P said...

I followed your instructions and played the song while reading the blog. Very entertaining! You may have started a trend -- blogging with soundtrack.

- a typebarhead said...

Ah, you've arrived at my ultimate quest that landed me to an accidental collector. I have and still am looking for that personal typer that suits my typing perfectly. I've discovered finding the right typewriter is not unlike finding the right guitar. Each model, and even each machine, seems to have its own quirks and personality. Until driven over a period of time, it's hard to tell if I love it.
Thanks for your list, I'll have to keep watch on some of those models. I love the action of the L32 but the space bar is just too thin for me for any long period. My thumb keeps tapping on the bottom of the machine so it doesn't advance. Not a design problem, just not suitable with my movement. This makes me interested in any model where the space bar is atop the bottom bar now.

But for me, so far, the most suitable model with my typing is the Royal QdL's, but still trying to get the right machine. One day I may just pay the premium and get a fully reworked one from a reputable seller, but still holding out to find one in the wild.

rn said...

As I've said on other blogs recently, a 1937 Patria is the special one for me right now. Still, you've inspired me to add two things to this week's bucket list:

1. dust off the 50s (I think) Royal QDL I grew up with and start writing with it again.

2. reconsider the Remette I fixed up last year. My impression at the time was that it was bright but brutal. Now I'll give it another go.

I'm embarking on some lengthy writing projects this week and these added machines will make everything more fun. Thanks.

rn said...

I forgot to mention my nomination for 'worst typewriter': the cute but lousy Royalite.

McTaggart said...

In terms of quality and ease of typing I find it very hard to go by any Erica made in the '30's. In fact, nearly all of the German typewriters made during that period up to , say the late 50's represent the pinnacle of typewriter engineering. When I read about how the Olivetti portables differ from one model to another it should be borne in mind that the L32, Dora and the Valentine all share the same mechanics, it just the cover plates that are different. Variations in "touch" may be put down to good or bad service condition. In essence, thay are manufactured to Olivetti's specifications. The quality of the "finish" may differ.
Some thoughts on that tricky subject of "touch", which by the way, is/was the bane of every typewriter technican's life. It just came up so many times on every make and model you could think of and it was very subjective experience for each typist, until electric type writers came along. (And that is a story for another day.) Generally speaking, the typewriters that had the type-bar resting position were tha easiest to type on. I often "improved" the touch of portable typewriters by raising the type-bar rest so that the type-bar's starting position was slightly nearer the platen, believe me, it made a difference.
Quite possibly the worst portable I have had to work on or use was the SCM Empire, it was simply unadulerated rubbish both in design and the materials that it was made of. I once came across a standard office typewriter made in China called the " Flying Fish"! I kid you not. It mostly resembled the Remington SJ model but not half as good and it had a most intractable line-spacing problem. However I would like very much to have one in my collection to-day.

McTaggart said...

Sorry, that should read," a high type-bar resting position", tenth line down.
And to M, yes tha Royalite was areal stinker, I even wonder if Royal actually made them, perhaps, Rob could enlighten us on that.
Typebarhead, please consider any Olympia, Adler or Triumph from the 30's onwards. You will not be disappointed.

rn said...

Amen on the Erika, McT. I have a model 5 from 1940 and I'd say it's the fastest, smoothest, jauntiest machine I've ever used.

David 9.ai said...

Wonderful post ! thanks a lot for sharing this very interesting review ! I am probably not a good reference as I do not type enough (working on that). In my experience much depends also on the conditions of the machine. The valentine I received for xmas 2010 (very nice memory!) is probably not in AAA conditions but the one I bought after (boxed, new in box) that is now in my office is not bad at all :) Interestingly in your honourable mentions I see a familiar name: I have fallen into the temptation and bough a remington 5 from the U.S. recently and I am not sure if it is really more comfortable or less than the valentine.

It is a streamliner in good conditions with new platen etc. but perhaps I need to get used to it. carriage shift perhaps isn't for me but again I do like it.

Perhaps if you write just short 1-2 pages letters you can't be a fair judge so I will leave this to more experienced collectors and typecasters as you !

Taylor Burk said...

I was hoping someone could reply to my question.

However I once owned an Olivetti Valentine,
And I LOVED it!
It was my favorite typewriter, by far, and i've owned quite a few.

Despite not being a carriage shift, it's plastic exterior, and ridiculous case, and having difficulty typing in it perfectly in any, non normal position,
I felt the Valentine had the smoothest typing for me.
I REALLY liked its action, and in so far, I cannot find another typewriter that feels as light, smooth, and clickity as the Valentine was.

After reading all these threads, I feel like there may be a typewriter out there with a similar action to the Valentine, but perhaps with some smarter design features.
From looking at the Lettera 22/32, I don't feel either of them match the same feel of the Valentine, although ultimately i'm not sure.

Does anyone have a recommendation for something similar to the Valentine?