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Monday, 16 December 2019

Olivetti DL Portable Typewriter for Christmas 1969

One of the three Olivetti portables I used as work tools way back when was a Lettera DL (DL as in De Luxe; aka the Lettera 33). I was drawn to the unusual look of it. As well, it was the first typewriter I had used that - like another of my Olivettis, a Studio 45 – printed in a Pica sans serif typeface. This passing novelty, it turned out, wasn’t met with the same approval by Linotype operators, who preferred to read copy typed in a traditional serif font. So my DL and Studio 45 were shelved and I again relied entirely on a Lettera 32.
          I had acquired the DL at about the same time that Olivetti Underwood was pushing the model for Christmas 1969 sales. It did so with a couple of full-page colour advertisements in LIFE magazine, in which it offered a 1872-page copy of the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedic College Dictionary (worth $19.95) free with every DL purchase. Perhaps in jest, Olivetti suggested potential buyers should get in early, as “We could run out of dictionaries”. The hidden message there was that Olivetti was more likely to run out of Funk & Wagnalls before it ran out of DLs.
          The DL, for all its good looks, didn’t sell all that well. It was just the 32 in a fleetingly stylish black vinyl and brushed metal mask - mutton dressed as lamb. One doesn’t see many on offer any more, except maybe on British eBay. Just as well Brexit wasn’t around 50 years ago, or there’d be none in Britain at all now (the DLs were initially made in Ivrea and a slightly different version was later made in Barcelona).
          Olivetti’s promotion with the Funk & Wagnalls bonus started with the Lettera 32 in 1968 and switched to the DL in 1969. The DL had been first sold in the United States in early April 1967. Oddly, US advertising referred to both models as “Permanent Portables”, whatever that was supposed to suggest.
          Distinguishing between the two DL variations is easy. The original, made in Italy, has a red Olivetti logo on the front of the ribbon spool cover and the name badge on the paper plate, usually as a DL but sometimes as a Lettera 33. As well, the words “Made in Italy” were also on the badge of early models that simply said “Olivetti” rather than “Olivetti Underwood”.  The keytops were the same as on the Lettera 32, except in black. The Spanish version has the badge “Olivetti Lettera DL” where the logo was on the Italian DL, and the keytops are the same as the Dora. It came in a silver coloured carry case. The DL and Dora first came out together in 1965, both designed by Ettore Sottsass. They were supposed to reflect a complete change of direction by Olivetti from the Letteras 22 and 32, but only the brightly coloured, plastic masked Dora, with a new mechanical design, really did so. Using plastic alone was a big move for Olivetti back then. 
          Still, the DL was viewed as sleek and modernistic enough to be used as the in-car typewriter in the Jensen Protector Director Model when it was launched at the Banking Hall of Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, London, in mid-June 1969. Personal secretary Kate Eccles used the DL in the special “executive’s mobile office” interior designed Jon Bannenberg. Here is newsreel footage of the launch:


Richard P said...

I have mixed feelings about this model. Initially impressive design, but cheap materials. It is not a timeless machine.

Bill M said...

I got to use one of these at last month's type-in. I enjoyed it. I've heard good and bad about these, but then I think that goes with almost every typewriter.

Adam Hunt said...

I got one of these. Just bought it. The ribbon seems to be very lose. Any idea how to make it better?

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to point out that there aren't just two variants – I have a made in Spain Lettera DL with the old red logo and name badge on the paper plate, as well as the older-looking keyboard. The transition was probably a slow one.

In any case, in my opinion the coolest looking typewriter, and having the innards of a 32 is most certainly not a drawback.