The Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection currently has ten fully working machines.
Keep coming back! I’m adding machines and entries about them all the time!
The 1958 Olympia SM3
This was the very first typewriter I purchased, and for damn good reason!
Widely considered one of the most stalwart and elegant manual typewriters ever produced, this magnificent German portable is renowned for its precise, smooth action and consistent output.
People call it “The Mercedes Benz of Typewriters.” The “SM” stands for Schreibmaschine Mittelgroß … German for “Medium-size Typewriter.”
A bit of history: the Olympia Typewriter factory was originally located in Erfurt, East Germany. In the late 1940s, however, some of Olympia’s engineers fled the Soviet Occupation. In Wilhelmshaven, West Germany, they set up a new factory under the temporary brand name “Orbis.”
While production occured at both locations, legal proceedings commenced to determine which facility had the rights to the “Olympia” name.
That battle was eventually won by the Wilhelmshaven crew.
Eventually, the Erfurt operation was taken over by the “Optima” company; typewriters produced in Erfurt began rolling out under that brand name. Meanwhile, machines produced in Wilhelmshaven dropped the name “Orbis” and returned to their “Olympia” roots.
Each of the Olympia SM3’s keys is leveled via a stiff, dedicated spring. These springs keep the key faces level when they’re depressed, and automatically return each key to an upright position. This creates a remarkable typing experience.
This Olympia SM3 is a carriage shift typewriter, which means the entire platen assembly rises when the SHIFT key is depressed. This makes for a heavier action when typing.
If you live in an urban area and like to write early each morning, this typewriter might not please your downstairs neighbors.
Tab sets are located in back of this machine, which seems like a negative, at first. But the truth is tab sets are mostly set-and-forget. When you start a project (like a play script, say), you set your tab once, then you’re off and running.
1958 was the last year Olympia produced the SM3. From that point forward, production shifted to the newer SM4, which featured the ability to set tabs from the keyboard.
The 1956 Smith-Corona Silent-Super
In my humble opinion, you can’t really have a Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection unless you have a Smith-Corona Silent-Super.
The American classic renowned for being a comfortable workhorse. Shown here in Alpine Blue. This is an example of the justifiably famous 5T series.
Silent-Supers were the full-featured pinnacle of a model arc, which included the Smith-Corona Clipper, Sterling, Silent, and Super. Each machine offered a fluid basket-shift mechanism and four rows of keys. Each unit weighs about 16 pounds.
Of all Smith-Corona portables with the variant “Super-5” chassis, the Silent-Super was the only machine to offer a full keyboard plus an enclosed tab set mechanism available on the console.
Silent-Supers were produced in a variety of colors including Sapphire Gray, Desert Sand, Alpine Blue, Coral Pink, and Seafoam Green. Each Silent-Super features the iconic art decco-style “racing stripes” on the ribbon hatch, plus a crinkle (sometimes called matte) finish.
Bottom line? This is an excellent typewriter. The key action is crisp and precise while maintaining a mechanical amiability that long-haul typers will appreciate.
According to Typewriter Guru, Richard Polt, famous users of the Smith-Corona Silent-Super include Dr. Seuss, novelist Tayari Jones, and the late master of mysteries, Douglas E. Westlake.
I liked the Silent-Super so much, I bought another one. Having two typewriters of the same make and model is great. If you keep them in two locations, you can grab the pages you’re working on and move from place to place. Much easier than lugging machines around.
The Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection’s second Smith-Corona Silent-Super is identical to the first, except that its chassis is painted Desert Sand and its year of manufacture is 1958.
(And it turns out a neighbor recently gave us the old Silent-Super he got as a bar-mitzvah present back in the day. It’s Seafoam Green and it needs a lot of work. But we’ll get around to rehabilitating it just as soon as we can.)
The 1950 Smith-Corona Skyriter
Another fantastic addition to any Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection!
The Skyriter was Smith-Corona’s answer to the “ultraportable” typewriter. This machine’s remarkably compact frame riffs off the Swiss-manufactured Hermes Featherweight and Baby Typewriters from the mid-1930s.
To keep the machine svelte, engineers left out features like tabulation and a ribbon select lever. Ah well. Tabs are important for some types of writing. And red ink … well, it’s nice to have. But not essential.
As a further product of miniaturization, the Skyriter’s line spacing mechanism only offers settings for single and double-lined spacing. Not triple. Again: no big deal.
Maybe the biggest downside to this machine is its very small carriage return lever. But this can be replaced with the longer return lever featured on later Skyriter models.
With it’s metal lit clipped into place, the Skyriter becomes a mocha-colored literary briefcase weighing 8 pounds. It fits in backpack or suitcase, or you can hold it by the handle while moving through airports, train and bus stations.
For as small and lightweight as it is, the Skyriter feels solid and serious. But this isn’t the machine you’d probably use for serious typing. More like a good machine for traveling, which is how the CreateX3 Skyriter gets used.
The photo below shows the Skyriter’s low-slung profile next to its larger, more full-featured cousin, the Smith-Corona Silent-Super.
Typewriter enthusiasts: you can download a PDF copy of the Smith-Corona Skyriter’s original owner’s manual by clicking here.
The 1934/35 Torpedo Model 16
The frame is made of heavy cast iron painted a fetching glossy black. Both the paint job and decals on this machine are in remarkable shape considering its age.
The action on this machine is bright and snappy, very appealing and dependable for a model this old. It has full functionality and, as detailed in my article on its restoration, a new rubber platen and feed rollers, courtesy of J.J. Short Associates.
I’m thrilled to have been able to work on this typewriter, and proud to have it in the vintage manual typewriter collection.
Frankly, I’d use it a lot more if the keyboard wasn’t a QWERTZ arrangement (very common in early European typewriters).
Also, the lack of an apostrophe can be frustrating at times. I don’t really have a reason to use keys like “Ö” and “Ä.”
And yes, I sometimes get confused when looking at buttons marked in German.
For anyone interested:
- “FESTSTELLER” apparently means “SHIFT LOCK”
- “UMSCHALTER” is “SHIFT”
- “RANDAUSL.” is “MARGIN RELEASE”
- “RÜCKTASTE” is “BACKSPACE”
The 1954 Olivetti Lettera 22
Go on. Touch it. Type something on it. You know you want to.
And you’d be smart to do so.
This is another one of those machines where I say … “You can’t really have a Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection without … an Olivetti Lettera 22!”
For a long time, Olivetti dominated the European typewriter market. Their best products were known for their sleek architecture, innovative engineering, and dependable mechanics.
The Olivetti Lettera 22 is justifiably prized among serious writers. Its only true competitors are the (slightly heavier) Olivetti Lettera 32 and the much heavier, more traditional desktop Olivetti Studio 44 portable.
The ultra-portable Lettera 22 has every function a portable machine offers: three settings for line spacing , a three-setting ribbon select, and — best of all — full tab capabilities via the ingenious tab set/tab clear lefter to the left of the keyboard.
Frankly, the only thing missing from this machine is a left-margin paper guide. But what the hell. I can let that slide for everything else it offers.
This machine came to me in pretty sad shape. Apparently someone tried to lubricate its works with copious applications of WD-40.
Note to anyone new to typewriters: WD-40 is NOT your friend! It’s far too heavy a lubricant. All it does is turn gummy and attract dust, which is why this Lettera 22 came to me looking like a Chia Pet.
The answer? Once I got the machine’s case off (there was a trick to it), after which I treated the Olivetti to a long and thorough cleaning with plenty of denatured alcohol. Which worked wonders. As did the requisite finishing work.
I love this machine. Absolutely love it.
The 1947 Royal Quiet De Luxe/Arrow “Love Child”
In early August of 2018, Lorna and I were driving through coastal Connecticut on our way to visit friends in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We stopped for gas (and a coffee, for me) in a little town whose name I now forget. There was an antiquarian shop next door the gas station. And one thing led to another.
Half an hour later, I had liberated a 1947 Royal Arrow, which was dusty and smelled funky but seemed mechanically sound.
I liked the action of the Arrow’s glass-cased keys though I didn’t like that its escapement let characters slip now and then, or the fact that the Arrow (a more basic Royal model) had no tab function or paper guide.
Ah well, I thought. It’s still a good find, and I got it at a good price.
But then something funny happened.
An old family friend from my hometown heard I liked typewriters. (You can probably guess where this is headed.) She had an old machine cluttering up an upstairs closet; said it had once belonged to her brother-in-law. Did I want it?
Uhm … yeah.
The machine was a 1947 Royal Quiet De Luxe, and it was in pretty sad shape. Its works were filthy and funked up with crud (I noted the oxidized goo which experience had taught me was … grrrr! … WD-40). Its carriage strap had snapped. It was missing its right rear foot and one of its platen knobs was cracked. I could tell by the way that it didn’t feed paper its under rollers were basically shot. Its key tension adjuster lever was frozen solid and its cast iron frame showed spots of rust.
Beyond that? The mechanics seemed sound enough. But could it be fixed? I honestly had my doubts … until I brought the machine to the shop and set it right alongside the Arrow.
Long story short, I built one good machine from the massed parts of two.
The new machine’s works came from the Quiet De Luxe. This was a no-brainer since the escapement and spring on the QDL were in much better shape than the Arrow’s mechanisms.
Also, the 1940s QDL was more full-featured than an Arrow. It had tab sets. That was important to me. Tabs come in handy when you’re drafting a play script.
Once I had this base, I pulled the frame and basket lid off the Arrow. They had no rust, they polished up well, and they fit like a glove, as did the feet, key tension works, platen, and platen knob I also ended up pirating. But I kept the QDL’s paper table; it offered the QDL logo and paper guide.
So what do you call a machine like this? The 1947 Royal Quiet De Luxe/Arrow “Love Child.” A great learning experience for someone who still considers himself a novice typewriter mechanic refurbisher.
And a perfect addition to the Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection.
The 1929 LC Smith #8
Every once in a while, it pays to check eBay’s listings for ‘local pickup only.’ That’s how I found this ancient beauty, an LC Smith #8 with a 10 inch carriage.
I’d always wanted to add a working, big, old-fashioned machine to the Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection. Fact is, I’d been searching high and low for an Underwood #5 that was in decent condition and sold for a fair price. But then …
… click, click … click … wait … WHAT?!
There was this lovely monstrosity — being offered for a reasonable price at a location listed just half an hour away from my son’s house. I contacted the seller and made an appointment to examine the machine in person.
The seller turned out to be a kindly man who was probably in his 80s. His daughter was there when I dropped by. Lovely people. They told me the old man (let’s call him Stan) was in the midst of cleaning out his house. He had all sorts of rare items stowed away in there. Real treasures.
Stan told me that, once upon a time, his wife (then deceased) had bought two of these LC Smiths and put them away in some corner of the house. They’d sat there for decades untouched.
“Two machines like this?” I said. Struggling to hide my excitement, of course.
“Yes,” said Stan. But he sighed and told me the last one had been sold a week before on eBay. For … $20. That’s right. $20. Because Stan he that’s all it was worth.
“A machine like that? To me?” he explained. “Nobody uses these things anymore. To me, I thought, that’s worth twenty bucks at most.”
When his daughter got wind of what happened, she insisted on meeting anyone else who came to the house to purchase Stan’s goods. Together, the three of us agreed on a price for the second L.C. Smith. A significantly higher amount that the first guy paid for his. Which I still considered a fair price. But it wasn’t 20 bucks. Oh no.
Overall, the machine was in excellent condition. Yes, it had to be taken apart and cleaned. Yes, its platen is hard and I have yet to send it out (in the meantime, it functions perfectly well). The feed rollers were shot so that was another job for J.J. Short Associates. But they couldn’t do the tiny rubber rollers on the paper fingers. Apparently there equipment is calibrated for larger jobs than this.
Which meant I had to get creative.
I’ll write more about how I jerry-rigged the paper finger rollers in a separate blog post. For now, here’s a shot of two shiny black hunks of pre-War writing metal sitting side by side … and just as ready to work now as they were more than 85 years ago.
The 1947 Smith-Corona Clipper
Elegant, sleek, smooth, with a soft voice and a big kick. That’s a Smith-Corona Clipper to me.
I picked up this machine online for about $70. It looked awful — filthy and full of cobwebs. Underneath all that, however, was a fine machine waiting to be reborn.
One thing that might have put some buyers off: the letters on most of the keys had turned upside down. I wasn’t put off by that. This very helpful YouTube video posted by the very talented Dwayne of Phoenix Typewriter shows a simple fix for this problem.
There was also a problem with some of the machine’s underlying springs. But it wasn’t anything a good spring hook and a couple of minutes of futzing couldn’t fix.
The Clipper doesn’t go WHACK-A-DACK-DACK! It’s quieter. Much more reserved. It’s hammers sort of go snick-a-rick-tick.
There are times when this is preferable.
Frankly, this might qualify for my all-time favorite machine in the Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection … if it weren’t for two oversights.
One: there’s no paper guide. And a like a paper guide. It helps me load paper with consistent left hand margins.
Two: there are no rabbit ears, no stays, no apparatus of any kind to hold the paper straight once it rolls through the platen. So the page sort of droops back over the carriage and, on my desk, sometimes gets snagged with the pens and pencils I keep in a coffee cup, or other odds and ends.
Other than that? What are you still doing reading this?
Go get yourself a Clipper!
The 1954 Royal KMG
By now, you’ve noticed that most machines in the Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection are portables or ultra-portables. The LC Smith #8 is a glaring exception, of course.
So is this one.
Weighing in at a backbreaking 35 pounds, this rhino-colored anvil was once the mainstay of offices everywhere.
I’d heard about these machines, of course. According to Machines of Loving Grace, their forerunner model, the KMM, was the first to introduce Royal’s patented Magic Margin system.
Many bloggers tell stories about finding an old KMG in the back of a closet or picking one up a flea market for five bucks. This one cost me $30 (shipping was included).
Yes, it took lots of labor. The body was filthy. The works were caked with grease. The mainspring needed rewinding and the ribbon spools had somehow disengaged from the winding mechanism.
Thankfully, I was able to make use of two very important resources. First: an old WW II repair manual for similar models I found online. Second: my father, a retired engineer who can basically fix anything.
Like the LC Smith, this large desktop model motivates the ribbon wind through the action of the keys. There’s a clip of that happening in the CreateX3 trailer, which also shows the KMG being used:
Oddly enough, while I was in mid-repairs, a penny dropped out of the machine’s guts. Nothing special. An almost unnaturally bright coin dated 1978.
Part of the fun of restoring these old machines is dreaming about the lives they had before they came to work for us.
How did that penny get lodged in there? How did it keep itself so damn bright after all these years? We’ll never know.
When it comes to theories of metaphysics, spirituality, how the world was made, I like to say “I don’t know” a lot. Because that’s the truth. “I don’t know.” And probably I never will.
But if anything ever convinced me to seriously believe in reincarnation, it would be typewriters.
Like cats, they have many lives. I suspect they come back again and again until the words they were fashioned to make are delivered.
And then, perhaps, they move on.
The 1938 Underwood Universal
When it comes to rock’em sock’em action, nothing beats this true American great.
The keys of this monster were made for pounding. The more you whack them, the more you remember why they called them “type HAMMERS.”
The action of the Underwood Universal is as stalwart and precise as a Gattling gun.
From humble beginnings, this specimen cleaned up beautifully. At present, it only has three issues:
- The caps lock won’t hold. I know how to fix this. Just need to find time to break the machine down and file a part with a Dremel.
- The keys have some discoloration. However, I don’t think it’s permanent. Suggestions for how to deal with this on old machines would be most welcome.
- Two of the front feet were gone. So I improvised by screwing clear rubber doorstoppers into the front of the machine. Works perfectly and you can barely see them. (Shouldn’t even be looking if you’re busy writing!) I’ll replace them next time I find the right parts.
Two additional notes about the Underwood Universal.
First, it’s a carriage shift machine. This gives it that nice weighty HUNK-ker-CHUNK action each time you shift it. I still prefer basket shifts, I’ll make an exception for the Underwood Universal.
Second: the curious placement of button and levers. For instance, the manual ribbon reverse is this tiny knob positioned low on the machine’s right flank.
This plus the “push-button” margin release (to the left of the keyboard) are a little hard to adjust to after using other machines. Still worth it, however.
Bottom line: the Underwood Universal rocks! I’m proud to have it in the Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection.
The 1946 Remington Rand Deluxe Model 5
When a friend named George calls you out of the blue and says, “Dude. My friend’s got this old typewriter he wants to get rid of …”
You guessed it. My ears perk up. Did yours?
Sometimes calls like this pan out. Just as often, they don’t.
I was pleased that this one did.
By which I mean, the machine George had was in very good condition. No rust, with all keys working and only minor repairs required, which I’ll describe in an upcoming blogpost.
Several features make this machine … well, odd.
First, the size of its ribbon spools. They’re tiny, like you’d expect to find on an ultraportable.
Second, the manual ribbon wind is a clever screw rod running laterally through the machine. It can be adjusted from either side with a quick twist.
Third, this is a carriage-shift machine. But the carriage doesn’t raise during shifting; it tilts backward. Again, exactly like an ultra-portable.
Fourth, the type hammers lie flat in the basket and arch almost 180 degrees when striking the platen. It’s a strange bit of engineering, and one that took getting used to.
Overall, this is a fine machine. For now, it’s also probably the most curious one to be found in the Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection.
The 1964 (estimated) Olivetti Lettera 32 (with Spanish keys)
This is what happens when you fart around with making your own languages.
First, your invented language starts to use diacritics … ä, é, į, ò, û, and so on.
Second, you start wishing you had a typewriter that could produce such curious marks. And not just any old typewriter, but a legend — one you would kill to work on, and a fine addition to your collection.
Third, you see said machine on Etsy.
You can guess what happens next.
Honestly, after working with the Lettera 22 for so long (and loving it), I was hesitant to embrace the 32.
Yes, I’d heard it’s a great machine.
Yes, I knew famous writers like Martin Amis, Noël Coward, and Günter Grass had used it.
Yes, I’d read about Cormac McCarthy auctioning his Lettera 32 for $254,500.
I was still wary.
I’d heard the 32 was a bulkier machine. In particular, I’d heard you should avoid any Olivetti a) manufactured after the company merged with Underwood, and b) wasn’t made at the original Olivetti factory in Ivrea.
This Lettera 32 broke all those rules. The Lettera 32 was designed in 1963, about five years after the Underwood Merger. And this particular 32 was manufactured in Spain. Hence the keyboard.
But I had to have it. Because it had every diacritic I needed for conlanging offered as “dead” keys to the right of the layout. I bought the machine and waited while it was shipped but kept my fingers crossed the whole time…
Long story short, it’s amazing. Simply amazing.
Compared to my solid metal 1952 Lettera 22 (yes, made in Ivrea), this 32 actually feels lighter.
The bottom plate is made of plastic.
The keys are squared, thin, and indented rather than chunky and round. They’re also clearly of a more modern type of plastic rather than Bakelite.
But the feel is unmistakable.
The Italians called the magic sensation of using one of these machines Tocco Olivetti, or the Olivetti Touch. They were right to be proud. There’s nothing else like it. Especially in a machine as perfectly preserved as this one is.
And here’s something else:
Take a look at the Olivetti Lettera 22 and 32 side-by-side. They’re practically the same size.
Indeed, since the 32 came with an original bag (in very good shape), I’ve now solved an additional problem: portability. My 22 fits in the 32’s bag as if the bag had been made for it.
I now highly recommend both the Olivetti 32 and the 22 for any discriminating writer.
Are you looking for a lightweight, compact, precision-engineered powerhouse ultra-portable with all the functionality of a portable?
Look no further. These machines will suit you perfectly.
The 1948 Dreyfuss-designed Royal Quiet DeLuxe
Henry Dreyfuss is one of my all-time heroes.
This patron saint of creatives began his iconic career as a designer for the theater. But his talent found new worth when he began working in the consumer products sector.
Manufacturers fell all over themselves courting Dreyfuss to redesign their machines. Why? He was like King Midas. Whatever he touched turned to gold.
Dreyfuss had a curious proclivity for improving products. Telephones, train cars, tractors, cameras — and yes, typewriters.
Like Steve Jobs, he believed that using technologies should be an outgrowth of human pleasure. That every time a person touches a machine they want to use, that machine should accommodate their needs organically.
Small wonder that, at the close of World War II, Royal hired Dreyfuss to redesign its iconic Quiet DeLuxe typewriter.
According to Robert Messenger at the outstanding oztypewriter.blogspot.com, Dreyfuss filed the patent for his redesigned QDL in 1945. Messenger’s actually posted a copy of the paperwork. Check it out!
Like every product Dreyfuss touched, the new QDL was redesigned to give the user three things he considered essential to consumer products: self-assurance, efficiency, and satisfaction.
To my mind, he hit the nail right on the head.
I purchased this Dreyfuss Royal on eBay for practically nothing. It arrived in perfect working order and, curiously, with a platen whose rubber is still soft and pliable after more than 70 years.
It’s always fun to speculate on who owned a vintage manual typewriter before you did. Maybe whoever owned this one had the platen changed at some point.
Note this machine’s iconic glass tombstone-shaped keys, it’s boxy but soft Art Deco-inspired design, and its pleasing two-tone color scheme.
Compare its aesthetics to my other portable Royal from that period, the 1947 Royal Quiet De Luxe/Arrow “Love Child.” Or the more staid and ubiquitous Royal QDL which evolved just a few years later in the early 1950s:
The Dreyfuss Royal QDL a joy to type on, efficient as the rain, and a perfect addition to the Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection.
I very much recommend it for the working writer.
The 1935 Corona Four
The Corona Four is a compact, carriage shift machine that gets its name from its four rows of keys. Its predecessor, the Corona Three, had only three rows of keys.
The Corona Typewriter Company began manufacturing the Four in March 1924. One year later, the company merged with L.C. Smith & Bros. to form “L.C. Smith & Corona Typewriter Co.” The front label on machine’s frame changed to reflect this.
In 1927, the price of a Corona Four was $60. In 2020, I purchased mine second (third? fourth? fifth?) hand for $75.
It needed work.
The machine’s rubber feet were shot to hell, which affected the space bar; it didn’t work with the chassis slung low.
The feed rollers were flat and the platen was hard … that happens when you’ve got an 85 year old machine.
Worst of all, it needed a deep chemical cleaning which I was only too happy to provide.
The restoration took me a couple of weeks but was well worth the effort. Steve Dade handled all rubber parts, platen, feet, and feed rollers.
Confession: I’d always wanted a Corona Four. I can’t tell you why. It’s just one of those things.
If reincarnation is real, perhaps I owned and used a machine like this in a prior lifetime.
Maybe I wrote a damn good novel or series of novels on one.
That’s all conjecture, of course. What isn’t conjecture at all is the feel of sitting before this machine.
It’s a steampunk treasure.
The iconic clackety-clack of the keys gives a tactile experience that’s basic, guttural, elegant, and pleasing all at once.
To quote Ben Kenobi: “[This is] your father’s lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster, but an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”
If you’re looking for a bare bones typer that’s lightweight, easy to carry, and packs more charm than a cinema noir film fest, look no further.
Get a Corona Four.
I videotaped the whole restoration process. If you like, you can watch that here.
Check Back Soon, We’re Always Adding More Machines!
Vintage Manual Typewriter Collection