ettore, what have you wrought?
It was on this day (November 3) in 1969 that Ettore Sottsass Jr, of 14 Via Manzoni, 20121 Milan, Italy, filed his US patent for the Olivetti Valentine.
The typewriter had, of course, when launched by Olivetti almost nine months earlier, in Barcelona, Spain, on St Valentine's Day, February 14, 1969.
An application had been made in Italy on May 3.
Sottsass cited four previous designs, three of them from Remington typewriter designer Carl Sundberg, from 1960-63. These were for the Monarch and the Envoy II and Envoy III portables.
He also referred to a typewriter he had seen on June 18, 1963, in a Singer Sewing Centers folder, No NA 4285, for a Singer Graduate T-31 (which looks very much like the Remington Monarch):
As well, Sottsass referred to a suitcase designed by Illinois pair Kendrick T.Parsell and Harold Brickman in 1965.
But what Sottsass really had in mind, it turns out, was something like this:
Sottsass had long since disowned the Valentine. But as Olivetti had gone ahead with producing it in Barcelona, and it was clearly going to be a success, Sottsass thought he should at least put his name to the design. He might have been altruistic in outlook, but he wasn't stupid.
Sottsass told the Los Angeles Weekly arts section in a March 2006 interview ("In the Realm of the Senses") how much he disliked the machine. It was, he said, "too obvious, a bit like a girl wearing a very short skirt and too much make-up". He hated being remembered for it before his other great typewriter designs, such as the Praxis 48.
“I worked 60 years of my life," said Sottsass, "and it seems the only thing I did is this ****ing red machine. And it came out a mistake. It was supposed to be a very inexpensive portable, to sell in the market, like pens. It didn’t have capital letters, it didn’t have a bell. I wanted the case to be inexpensive.
"Then the people at Olivetti said you cannot sell this kind of cheap Chinese thing. So, everything was put back: the capital letters, the bell, even the expensive plastic, which I was thinking would be this horrible, cheap plastic. So, it was a mistake.”
Ettore hugs his 'mistake'
Sottsass, an Olivetti consultant, had come up with an “anti-machine machine” concept, for the typewriter equivalent of the Bic biro, a disposable typewriter. When Olivetti disagreed with the idea, Sottsass walked from the project. Under the supervision of the Canadian Albert Leclerc, it was completed by an English designer, Perry A.King.
Olivetti ensured Sottsass’s name was attached to the design work, to enhance the machine’s desirability. But the company was careful with its choice of wording, preferring “devised”, for example, to “designed”.