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Thursday 16 April 2020

Dem Ol' Olivetti Lettera 22 Portable Typewriter Blues

I’ve been looking into the guts of Olivetti Lettera 22 and 32 portable typewriters for 54 years now. The latest one I've opened up is a 22 which belonged to the son of Australian war correspondent Tom Fairhall (see below), and is now in the loving care of Tom’s grand-daughter. I’m servicing it for her.
       Each time I take a 22 apart to work on it, I’m reminded of certain basic truths about the model. Often the first thing I notice on a grey-blue model such as this one is the taupe paper plate, which is a sure sign that the machine has at some time been serviced by an authorised Olivetti dealer, and the dealer’s offer of a repaint in grey-blue has been taken up, gleefully or otherwise. Personally, if the offer had ever been made to me, I think I'd have stuck with the original colour. In this case, however, there are other tell-tale signs the opportunity of a "new look" was accepted. Underneath the ribbon spool cover and under the main part of the mask one can still make out the original taupe colour, where the overpainting has been fairly light.
       This machine’s serial number is T7764657, which means it was made in 1962, just as Olivetti was gearing up for the introduction of the 32. You may recall my blog post of a few weeks ago about a “crossover” 22 model, painted in the grey-blue and with the 32’s squarish keys, which was made (also in Glasgow) a little after the machine I’m working on now. I’m left wondering whether, as the grey-blue 22s came out just before the switch to the 32, dealers were encouraged by Olivetti to offer the “new” standard company colour on those that were taupe.
        I suspect this particular machine wasn’t handled all that professionally by whoever serviced it at that time. Maybe the dealer gave the job to an apprentice, thinking it wasn’t too demanding. In particular, the reassembly was very poor. Taking the ribbon spool cover off wasn’t as easy as it should be. The indication, straight away, is that the grommets holding it down at the front have disintegrated with age, and the rubber has attached itself to the prongs of the cover. Sure enough, so it proved to be.
       What made things a lot worse, however, was that whoever had done the previous servicing had reassembled the machine by using the screws which hold the top section in place over the mechanics to screw in the bottom plate, and, of course, vice versa. Between the rubber “glue” and the wrong screws having been used, unscrewing the top part was unnecessarily difficult. How anyone could have thought the longer screws went in the bottom plate is beyond me.
       I’ve cleared away the dried and disintegrated old grommets. Happily I’ve still got a small stock left of the grommets Richard Polt sent me from Cincinnati some years ago, and they fitted the holes perfectly. I look forward to a proper reassembly, knowing everything will now fit together again perfectly.
       The owner mentioned a certain sluggish as the carriage moved to the left, about halfway across. I made an exhaustive search for the cause – often such a thing is related to the drawband not being properly positioned. Eventually I discovered the three hinges which hold the bottom of paper plate in place had come loose and were interfering with the carriage movement. Fixing that seemed to make a big difference in the movement. It’s interesting that on these repainted machines the dealers never went to the trouble of taking out the paper plate, yet when reassembling the typewriter they might have given some thought to at least having a look at the way the paper plate was bearing up. Seemingly not.
Eraser rubbings on the bottom plate.
       The owner’s major concern was that the ribbon didn’t reverse once it reached one end, and she thought there was a problem with the vibrator. The reason the ribbon didn’t reverse was that she believed the eyelets were there to attach the ribbon to the spool, not thinking they automatically switched the direction of the ribbon movement once they hit the slot. So she had cut off the ribbon that went beyond the eyelet.
       Here is an image of Tom Fairhall on the Kokoda Track on November 19, 1940. He was born on November 19, 1912, at Raymond Terrrace, New South Wales. After early days as a reporter with several local newspapers, such as in Port Kembla, Fairhall became editor of the Illawarra Evening Star, and then joined the Sydney Daily Telegraph, working as sub-editor, roundsman and war correspondent in South-East Asia. He was wounded by shrapnel in New Guinea during a Japanese bombing raid in 1942 and was commended by US General Douglas MacArthur for his "long and meritorious service". After the war, Fairhall worked with the Sydney Daily Mirror and The Sydney Morning Herald, from which he retired in 1978. He died on April 27, 1990, at Bellevue Hill, New South Wales, aged 77.


Richard P said...

Excellent Sherlocking, Robert. Every typewriter gives us clues to its history.

I'm glad to hear those grommets are still being useful.

Bill M said...

The amazing history of a Lettera 22.
I wonder when these were offered in colors. I see mostly taupe, but I have an Italian with an Italian keyboard that was red that faded to more of a salmon looking color. I had it apart and never found any evidence of a repaint. Round key tops like the taupe ones.

Jeff B. said...

Hi, Bill,
I've found photos showing the L22 available in six colors. The blue and taupe are common in the U.S. In addition, there were salmon, pink, gray, and lime green. I've been told that salmon, pink, and lime green were not sold with a U.S. or English keyboard, not sure about the gray. Not red. Salmon would have been the original color on your machine.

Steve C said...

I have a Lettera 22 with a slightly later serial than this, but it has round keys and I had assumed it was 1950s rather than 60s (square keys seem to happen from about 1960?). I assume dates are from the printed date guides? The Typewriter Database does not have any T serials for Lettera 22s.