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Saturday, 7 March 2020

The Sweet, Sweet Sound of Smooth Typing: My ‘Crossover” Olivetti Lettera 22, a Crispness Gift

My friend George has given me his Glasgow-made Olivetti Lettera 22. George bought it from Hopwood Business Machines on George Street in Launceston, Tasmania, in May 1963. It got a lot of use and travel over the next 22 years, and it still has in it the last ribbon George bought. It’s in tip-top condition and types beautifully.
        The first time I typed with it, I was absolutely thrilled by the sharp crispness of the elite typeface. So gorgeous, so clean, clear and pleasing to the eye! So fresh (for a 57-year-old typewriter)!

          But what had surprised me most when I first saw the typewriter was that it has the squarish dark grey keytops more associated with the Lettera 32. It also came in the blue case I tend to think of as a 32 case. Lettera 22s sold in the United States from September 1953 to June 1961 had the round black keytops and the case with the clip-on flap. Indeed, as far as I can recall all the 22s I have ever owned, or seen first-hand, had the black keytops and the case with clip. So I have labelled this one a “crossover” machine, meaning it was made at the time Olivetti was gearing up for and moving toward the new model, the 32. Sure enough, George’s 22 has the serial number 91103502, meaning it was made in late 1962, just a few months before he bought it. The Lettera 22 with the squarish keytops and blue case started to sell in the US in the middle of 1961, not long after Olivetti’s takeover of Underwood.
The blue 22 first advertised with the changed keytops in late 1961

        George’s gift completes a set for me – a set of bookends, if you like, from the very start of Lettera 22 production in Glasgow to near the end of that line, when the distinctive features of the 32 began to be phased in. A few weeks back I acquired a taupe Olivetti Lettera 22 with the black keytops. Its serial number is a surprise: XS659731. Ted Munk’s serial number database says, “Early Lettera 22 examples have S-Prefix serials”, but I can’t find reference to XS. Whatever it represents, the 659731 figure shows my taupe 22 was one of the earliest ever made. Ted says 22s were numbered up to 904,000 in the model’s first year of production, 1950.

Thanks to this 22 having all its paperwork inside the case, including the instruction booklet and service receipts, I know that it was bought by a Mrs Rollinson at Longs Typewriter Co, 86 Queen Street, London EC4. I can’t find any references to this company online, and I’m wondering if there is any connection with Christopher Long. From London directories on I can see the company was around from at least 1938.

1940 and 1941 London Directories
At the time of Mrs Rollinson’s purchase, Olivetti’s head office and showroom in London was at 10 Berkeley Square W1, it had a sales and service depot at 32-34 Worship Street EC2 and branch showrooms at 117 Kingsway WC2. Glasgow sales and service was at 115/207 Summerlee Street E3. Internationally, Olivetti had associated companies in Argentina, Australia (Sydney), Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Spain and in the US.

First Australian advert for the 22, November 1951
Later Australian advert, June 1954


Bill M said...

Congratulations on the fine typewriter. I also have a blue cover square key top Lettera 22 from 1963. I thought the blue case was the same as the Lettera 32 so I tried to put my Lettera 32 into it. The Lettera 32 did not fit. Up[on closer examination I noticed the Lettera 22 case is just slightly smaller. Most noticeable dimension is the front when sitting beside a Lettera 32 case. My blue square key top Lettera 22 is also much nicer to use than any of the round key top machines I've had or used.

Paolo Dal Chiele said...

Very interesting post. Actually, the Lettera 22 "blue bags" are significantly different from the similar Lettera 32. I have posted some picture of the bags of my Lettera 22 s/n 752481 produced in 1960 here:

The story of the Olivetti Lettera 22 bags is very interesting. The material was produced by Resinflex, a company based in Turin that patented a specific process to produce fabric coated with polyvinyl resin with a silky finishing that was extensively used to cover high-end furniture (it was a favourite material by architects like Gio Ponti), buidings and exclusive cars and motorboats by companies such as Ghia, Vignale and Riva.
Adriano Olivetti made a very refined and expensive decision when he choose Resinflex as the material to produce the Lettera 22 at the beginning of the production, and for the Lettera 32 the company decided to change for something more in line with the necessity to reduce production costs and delocalize the production.
The company still have the original rolls used to produce the fabric supplied to Olivetti, and is also producing small quantities of the fabric for restoring vintage cars, motorboats and furniture.
If somebody is interested...