Would you Be More Productive using a Vintage Olivetti Typewriter?

In 1911, at Turin’s Universal World Fair, Camillo Olivetti introduced his first typewriter, the M1, to the general public. They must have been impressed because by the end of the fair, Camillo had received his first order for 100 of his Olivetti typewriters.

Having spent two years working as an electrical engineer in the US, he returned home to Milan in 1894. It is thought his love affair with typewriters began with this initial trip to the States. On his return he re-trained as a commercial lawyer and began representing the American ‘Williams Typewriter Company’, before registering his own business in 1908. After another year in the US, this time studying typewriters, he returned to his home town of Ivrea, and began manufacturing his own mechanical typewriters.

Olivetti Valentine Typewriter at Pinakothek der Moderne Museum, Munich

Olivetti – Design and Innovation

It was the beginning of a company that was to become as famous for its efficiency and planning, as for its products reliability and innovation. It seems the Italians have forever been at the forefront of fresh and futuristic design. In any Italian city, fashionable men and women stroll the piazzas, complementing the magnificent old architecture, while smooth Vespa and Lambretta scooters and sleek Ferraris cruise the many viale, going nowhere in particular.

When it comes to design, the Italians have a way of smoothing out the functional, to blend with the ornate. The portable Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter, designed by Marcello Nizzoli and produced in 1949/50, was considered by many the best designed product for 100 years. It was followed some 12 years later by the Olivetti Lettera 32. Other Olivetti typewriters which have found themselves in the higher echelons of design excellence include the 1930s M40 desktop typewriter, and the bright red Olivetti Valentine of the 1960s. The Olivetti Company’s design influence didn’t stop at mechanical typewriters, but included company advertising posters and office interiors.

Although Olivetti embraced technology and began marketing early word processors, computers and smartphones, it had little success in the new digital age. Cut priced aggressive competition, and cheap labour in Asia, took their toll. While Olivetti typewriter production ceased in 1994, the company still has a presence in 83 countries as a subsidiary of Telecom Italia. Today, if you want to follow in the footsteps of other famous writers, you need to start looking for your own vintage typewriter.

Old School – It Still Works

Long after the world went digital and offices filled with word processors and desktop computers; there are still writers of all genres who refuse to give up that comforting click, clunk, ping of a rugged traditional typewriter.

In 1963, Cormac McCarthy, author of copious novels including The Road, and All the Pretty Horses, bought an Olivetti 32 for $50. In 2009 it sold at Christie’s for $254,500. To this day McCarthy still bangs them out, on another old Olivetti 32.

Tennessee Williams used a range of typewriters throughout his lifetime, including a number from the Olivetti stable. The prolific author and poet Sylvia Plath produced her work on an Olivetti Lettera 22.

Tom Hanks, actor and director, has been a collector of vintage typewriters since buying his first, a Hermes 2000, in 1978. He now has hundreds in his collection including a number of Olivetti models, and his passion for the machines shows no sign of diminishing.

A Love of the Traditional

The advent of the CD rang the death knell for enjoying modern music as we knew it. Young teens scouring the record shops for the latest chart toppers were going to disappear, along with the 45’s, EPs and LPs they hunted. And so it was, at least for a time. Now many of today’s top DJs hunt high and low for music recorded on vinyl. Traditionalists hunt out old record players from second-hand shops, and enthusiasts scour car boot sales for those long forgotten vinyl gems. And so it is with typewriters.

Many world famous authors, journalists, and as yet unknown writers, use nothing but their trusty typewriters to get their ideas onto paper, and for a whole plethora of reasons.

Frederick Forsyth believes the typewriter to be more conducive to the creative process. The whole typing business is slower and requires greater concentration, causing you to think more. The sound of the keys does it for some, while the frightening thought of losing four chapters in a blur of disintegrating PC pixels when the wrong button is hit, does it for others.

If you feel your writing creativity could do with a boost, begin looking for your own vintage typewriter. You may find, from an inspirational point of view, it’s not quite as vintage as you think.