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Friday 15 November 2013

Olympia Traveller De Luxe + Hermes Baby = Olivetti Tropical and Roma

While searching for more typewriters to list on Australia eBay (there are two beauties from me there already), I came across this Olivetti Roma and an Olivetti Tropical and quickly realised that mechanically they are identical to the Olivetti Lettera 82 featured in yesterday's farce.  They also have the same keytops, not that that matters much ...
I think it interesting that if one goes to the Italian Wikipedia entry for Olivetti, there is a "complete" list of typewriter models with images, designers (but not mechanical designers), years of introduction and notes. However, the list is only "complete" for the Ivrea-designed machines. It cuts off at the Lettera 40 to 52 of 1980 and does not extend to the Brazilian or Chinese Olivettis - which, like it or lump it, are still Olivetti typewriters. 
Of these latter-day Olivetti-branded portables, the Brazilian bunch - the Lettera 82, Roma and Tropical - are probably the most commonly seen. The Chinese Olivetti has by now, thankfully, disappeared from sight.
One that isn't so well known is the Bambina, a typewriter almost identical to the Lettera 82 but marketed specifically for children. That it is a "toy typewriter" of sorts underlines, I think, just what a cheap and nasty machine the Lettera 82 is. I can't think of another example in which an Olivetti portable typewriter was expressly marketed for children.

 "The typewriter just like your daddy's!"
But to get back to the Roma and the Tropical for the time being. These same-sized models are a combination of the Hermes Baby mechanics (also used in the Lettera 82) and the Olympia Traveller de Luxe mask - the one with the distinctive side trimmings.
Since the mechanics were designed for Paillard by Giuseppe Prezioso in 1935 and the mask by Alfons Boothby and Georges Joseph for Olympia in 1969, it is little wonder Olivetti's Wikipedia entry doesn't include them. As far as Olivetti typewriters go, these Brazilian models are complete frauds. Olivetti had bought the rights to the Hermes Baby mechanical and mask designs, but how it came by the Olympia mask design is not known.
At least with the Roma and the Tropical, making the machines with a metal frame - albeit a very light one - is definitely a seriously redeeming feature. These two models are infinitely superior as typewriters to the Lettera 82 (which of course also appeared as the plastic Hermes Baby).
The Hermes Baby mechanical design was advanced slightly in the 1950s, for one thing to allow easier access to the alignment mechanism at the back. Here we see the 1935 Featherweight design, below it a 1950s Baby design, and below it the Lettera 82. The 50s Hermes design is the one used in the Brazilian Olivetti portables. All these machines are, of course, carriage-shifted.

All jokes aside about my fun with the Lettera 82 yesterday, I did actually "tweak" it quite a bit. There are two small pieces of metal which slot into plastic sleeves on the back plate in order to grip the screws which hold the both back boots and the back plate in place. These were loose and moved about a bit, so I glued them in place to make the back assembly more secure. This also allowed me to glue back together broken bits from the right-side plastic sleeve. As well, I adjusted screws holding the right-side shift mechanism to the inner frame. It was quite evident that the right-side shift mechanism had been moved out of position, which led me to the alignment screws in the first place. The fact this shift mechanism was at an angle, and below it parts of the plastic sleeve were broken, added up to suggest that the typewriter had suffered some damage at this back right corner. But saying this is not meant to defend the Lettera 82 - when a mask is made of plastic, and then mechanics are slotted into a rigid piece of plastic with just four screws holding the whole thing in place, such damage is more likely than not to happen. That's the risk one takes with a plastic-framed typewriter.
Having done all this, the Lettera 82 now types very well indeed. However, all-in-all - and as a plastic machine - I am not inclined to drop it off my list of the "Five Worst Portables Ever Made", maybe just move it down to 3rd or 4th spot from 2nd.
On checking, I was pleased to note yesterday that my "Five Worst" list differed in only one regard from the "Five Most Overrated" portables list in my 2011 book The Magnificent Five.  The IMC Primavera 2000 had replaced the Olivetti Valentine - which is grossly overrated, but not in the same league as the Lettera 82 or the MS25 Premier Plus for out-and-out badness. My book was fulsomely praised by Herman Price at his collectors' gathering in West Virginia last month and was most enthusiastically reviewed in ETCetera by Will Davis when it was published. So I guess I did get a few things right, and I believe my "overrated" list was among them.


Anonymous said...

The nice thing about Wikipedia is that you can fix it and I can't think of anyone better qualified. Of course, finding the time is another matter, but you do like to write...

== M. Höhne

Bill M said...

I never knew Olivetti had typewriters made in China.

Miguel Chávez said...

Those Chinese Olivettis are OK typers, but definitely not memorable. I owned a couple I bought new, but I gave them away.

Miguel Chávez said...

The Olivettis in Olympia costume look very nicely, I must say.

I just discovered something you might find amusing: the Olivetti New Age, in all its funky color combinations, had a keyboard with colored inserts under the white caps. That way, if you look closely, you'll see that the letters and symbols are coded with the colors normally used in those old-fashioned templates used to teach kids to type: "the little finger works with the keys painted blue; the ring finger works with the blue keys; the middle finger works with the red keys..."

Guess that says a lot about the intended users of these machines.

Gray's Monotony said...

This is interesting - I've just bought my wife a second-hand Roma. I'm trying to find some sort of user guide or instructions...any ideas?! Thanks.

Saul Neto said...

In the 80s, Hermes-Precisa in Brazil made an Olympia Traveller de Luxe for Olympia International using the Hermes Baby mechanism with an adapted mask of the Traveller. When Olivetti bought Hermes, it turned that into the Tropical.