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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Converting an Olivetti Dora Portable Typewriter to a Valentine in Five Easy Steps (while ogling Brigitte Bardot)

This will only be of interest to anyone owning an Olivetti Valentine portable typewriter which has some significant mechanical problems and/or missing parts. It certainly assumes you already own a Valentine and are prepared to take it apart. Unless the need is felt to be truly great, I wouldn't bother with it at all. Indeed, it may even be considered in some quarters to be unwarranted recklessness, irresponsible or downright unethical (depending on what you plan to do with the converted Valentine). However, it's potentially an awful lot cheaper than buying another Valentine! Please also bear in mind the conversion is not just about fixing serious carriage wobble (that is, missing ball bearings) - if that alone is the concern, a simple replacement of just the carriage (Dora to Valentine) and nothing else might prove quicker and easier, especially in skilled hands. But this exercise is for the benefit of someone owning a Valentine with more extensive replacement and/or repair needs.
Just such a person is a 70-year-old former Czech soldier, Josef T of Wollongong, a man with an eye for beauty (it was Josef who found all these images of Brigitte Bardot with a Valentine). Apart from typewriter-related Bardot photos, Josef has a penchant for rare maps, air-cooled Volkswagens 1939-1978, Surrealism, and Marcel Duchamp.
Josef started writing to me at the end of April about his wish to add a Valentine to his typewriter collection. "Foolishly, I believe that if I make the Valentine my last love fling, I can promise myself to stop (or at least slow increasing) my collector's clutter already filling our house with old cameras and vintage Volkswagens and parts thereof," he wrote.
A short while later, Josef announced he had found a Valentine at a Cash Converters store, paying a not unreasonable (given the ridiculously high prices this model has been fetching for many years now) $229. As Josef observed, "For a red baby, this seems a bargain in this country."
Sadly, however, there appeared to be a major carriage ball bearing problem and an empty slot for the tab setting and clearing switch (perhaps it's already a converted Dora???).
Josef asked for advice on removing the mask. He also rightly remarked that "There are horror stories about removing the carriage and not being able to re-insert the ball bearings in the retainers, not to mention the drawband." Josef began to find there were many other shortcomings with his typewriter, including a sluggish typing action. "Normal access to the works from underneath, to wash and perhaps lightly oil, is denied by the design."
At this point I suggested to Josef that his best course of action was probably to buy an Olivetti Dora (or similar model) and completely replace the mechanics of his Valentine. Anyone contemplating this same undertaking should bear in the mind that the Olivetti Dora is also known as the Olivetti Lettera 31, Ventura, Italia '90 and Class, the Underwood 310 and 315, the Montgomery Ward Escort 33, and the Mercedes and Mercedes Super T (probably among many other labels). As well, generally the Dora and its myriad of variations can be found for far lower prices than a Valentine, so financially a conversation such as this can be a quite viable option.
My advice to Josef only seemed to produce further headaches for him. "I am still trying to tinker the Valentine to perfection," he wrote. So I decided to demonstrate the conversion technique. To do so, however, I needed a Dora (or like machine) and there are none left in my dwindling collection. In desperation, I contacted Canberra's only other Typospherian, Jasper Lindell, in the slim hope he might own such a thing. Jasper came straight back saying he not only owned a red Dora, but would be happy to bring it over and allow me to take it apart so I could illustrate this project.
So here is a pictorial essay of the conversion:
Jasper's red Olivetti Dora above, and one of my remaining Valentines below. Some of the more obvious outward differences (mask aside) are the black/red carriage-end covers and the design of the paper plate. The Valentine also has a button on the left side carriage knob to free roll the platen, as well as a red right-side tab key and a left-side tab setting and clearing switch, all of which this Dora lacks (it has an empty slot for the left-side switch). Such Dora variations as the Underwood 315, the Ventura, the Mercedes Super T and the Olivetti Class have the red tab key and the tab setting-clearing switch, if you feel these things are essential, but most lack the button on the left side knob. Free rolling the platen is achieved on all machines by setting the line spacer switch to "0". Both of the typewriters illustrated here have the "return indent" key at the top left of the keyboard, but the keyboard configurations differ.
Below, unmasked - practically the same machine, but very different prices:
The most significant differences seen in these two images are the tabulation mechanism (left on top photo) and tab setting-clearing switch mechanism (right on top photo).
1. Remove the mask from the Valentine. Start with the front piece protecting the spacebar while the machine is in its case (using long-nosed pillars to undo the nuts), then unscrew the main section, slipping it off gently by placing the typewriter on its back section (case handle flat) and holding down the top bank of keys.
 The front piece is held on to its metal arms by nuts which attach here.
Below, the back section (top of case) is held on to the typewriter by two nuts (each side) and two screws (centre), each covered by small, very brittle caps. Take great care when removing the caps, as they can split or break easily if not manoeuvred off gently.
2. Below, this is how the side nuts attach. The threaded metal pieces on to which the nuts wind represent the ONLY significant difference between the back plate of the Valentine's innards and of those of the Dora.
The two images below show the threaded metal piece on the Valentine (top) and the nut on the Dora. There are two ways of going about this part of the conversion - one is to replace the entire back plate from the Valentine's innards, the other is to deal with just a replacement of this piece from one machine to the other.
Below, I am using toothpicks here to illustrate how the Valentine's back section would screw on to the Dora. The second image shows the screw holes on the Valentine.
Below, the Valentine on top, the circles showing the differences between the two (the tabulation rack on the Valentine can also be clearly seen):
3. Below, the metal arms for the front guard bar screw on to the Valentine's innards here. Happily, the Dora's innards have the screw holes already available to attach the front guard arms to them:
(Oops: Sorry, my right side circle is one slot too far to the left!)
4. If you plan to use the Dora's mechanics with a Valentine mask, naturally you will have to remove the bottom metal plate from the Dora innards:
5. Replacing the carriage end covers and the paper plate should also be straightforward. Happily, on most 60s Olivettis, this process is simple, if time consuming. Screw off the platen knobs, unscrew the end covers, remove the platen, then transfer the paper plate and end covers from one machine to the other:


Jasper Lindell said...

Excellent to see it's worked!

And perhaps Josef's Valentine is a Valentine S, which came without tab?

Ted said...

yepper, one of the really neat things about the entire Olivetti portable line after the 32 was introduced is the incredible ease of swapping the shells between machines. Super-cool since it means you can drop a silky early 32 into just about any of those neat later-model shells that normally have a cheap, flimsy power plant in 'em. (:

Nice job!

Richard P said...

I bet this will be useful to quite a few readers.

notagain said...

I've never been that big a Valentine fan, but I do like Bardot.

The Typewriter Man said...

When you put those red plastic caps back, they need a spot of contact adhesive or they will eventually work loose and fall out. If you examine your machine closely, you will see that the factory applied contact adhesive when the machine was assembled. I did once see a Lettera 32 that had been made out of a dropped Valentine ! A real 'cut and paste' job, it still had the red carriage cheeks, and SOME of the Valentine's keytops !!

john sutherland said...

Outstanding - my favourite model! I'm lost for words, as it appears was she.