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Saturday 28 August 2021

Any Thoughts on this Olivetti Lettera 22's Carriage Movement?

This Olivetti Lettera 22 has a problem which I cannot fathom - and I've tried everything I know. I've taken it completely apart, gone over all the workings, reassembled it, and it still won't type properly. But if you put the slightest bit of pressure on the right side of the carriage, it works fine. Take your finger off the end of the carriage and nothing happens, it jams up. The drawband and mainspring are obviously fine, so it's something else.

No Country For Old Men Without an Olivetti Typewriter

Sunday 22 August 2021

Mastering (well, sort of getting on top of) the Underwood Master Typewriter

Sunny Days Are Here Again, the Lilac Typewriter is Working Well. But There Are Still Dark Clouds About

A string of sunny days in late winter has allowed me to get quite a lot of typewriter work done, including finishing off the British-made (and royally endorsed) Olivetti Linea 88 I bought for $10 in an op-shop in Camden outside Sydney in mid-June. In terms of its unusual colouring, the connection between this particular machine and royalty harks back to a much earlier age (would you believe that time between 330 AD and the mid-15th Century?), which I will explain later in this post. In the meantime, I have spent much time admiring not just the colours but the mechanics and the super smooth operation of this Linea 88. It needed to be thoroughly cleaned, and also to have some missing keytops replaced. Once reassembled, the machine offered an extremely pleasant typing experience, and I suspect I’ll get a lot more use out of it in the coming months.

The Linea 88 was designed by Ettore Sottsass (it’s one of his lesser-known works) and, as was usually the case, brought to reality by Adriano Menicanti of Olivetti’s Typewriter Projects Office. Production started in Ivrea in 1966, and my model (serial number 8002678) was made by British Olivetti in Glasgow that same year. Some models were also made in Don Mills outside Toronto in Canada. The Linea 88 marked the first time Olivetti had used plastic material for the bodywork of a standard model, and featured vertical lines above the keyboard and a mix of colours: the body is lilac, the keytops, platen knobs and side levers are violet and the automatic margin-setting levers are green. The Linea 88 first went on sale in the United States (as an Olivetti Underwood) in June 1969, but the model was not hugely successful, largely because of the lighter but less resistant plastic.

Despite that, they were still being sold in the US and Canada in 1976. And t
he move to plastics had other benefits. It opened the door for Sottsass and Olivetti to explore a world of forty thousand shades of colour. I feel sure I know which way Sottsass wanted to go. He had started out easy, with the dull Dora and the black-grey DL. Soon enough, however, eye-catching red and stunning turquoise emerged. But I wonder whether, at the time Olivetti brought out the Linea 88, it was still hedging its bets between “bright is right” and “keep it subtle”. Long gone were the days of shiny red MP1s. In the post-war era, Olivetti had relied on the more traditional taupe and steel blue – even pistachio and salmon were rather muted.  Plastics offered the chance to go louder, though with the Linea 88 the lilac, perhaps with age, leans more towards a light grey than purple. A hazy shade of thistle, perhaps? Only the violet remains stark, perhaps teasing the eye to see lilac. Was it meant to invite “purple prose”? It was certainly a shift in the right direction (the only other purple typewriter that springs to mind is the mid-70s Nakajima Kmart).

In his forthcoming book The World According to Colour: A Cultural History (due out in October), James Fox traces the route taken by purple from status symbol in ancient Rome to royal exclusivity in Byzantium, where making, buying, wearing or even owning Tyrian purple (also known as Phoenician red, Phoenician purple, royal purple, imperial purple, or imperial dye; the name refers to Tyre, Lebanon.) was a crime punishable by death. Fox then tells us about a young William Henry Perkin (1838-1907), a British chemist and entrepreneur best known for his serendipitous discovery of the first synthetic organic dye, mauveine, made from aniline, an organic compound. Though Perkin failed in trying to synthesise quinine for the treatment of malaria, he became successful in the field of dyes after his first discovery at the age of 18. Fox says Perkin had graduated from playing with chemistry sets to producing, in 1856, the first synthetic purple dye by dissolving a sludgy black sediment from an earlier experiment in methylated spirits, in the process revolutionising the colour industry, bringing purple within the reach of everyone and causing an epidemic of “mauve mania”.

Fox goes into much detail about the ways in which moral qualities have been attributed to colours (for example, scarlet woman, yellow-bellied coward and green-eyed monster). Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his 1810 Zur Farbenlehre (‘Theory of Colours’) maintained lilac was “lively without gladness”. Pre-Raphaelite artists rebelled against dogmatic traditionalists by using synthetic purples and velvet indigoes. Impressionists also loved violet and indigo. Art critic Joris-Karl Huysmans called it “indigomania”. Zionist leader and social critic Max Simon Nordau linked purple to the decline of civilization, saying it had a depressing effect and that the violet pictures of the modernist Édouard Manet and his school were evidence of hysteria, neurasthenia, lassitude and exhaustion. Of that last effect, I now know plenty. Read on McDuff ...