Lettera Send Off + Lettera Tune Up

The blue 1960 Craigslist Lettera is a pretty happy typewriter now.  It types nicely,  very respectably.  Cosmetically, though, it’s still in rough shape.  I’d like to issue a formal apology to all birds – especially pigeons.  What appeared to be bird poop on the Craigslist Lettera is probably oxidation (Bill M and T. Munk pointed that out in the post comments).  And that stuff does not come off.  The Lettera still looks like this:

What does come off is the paint.  It is peeling and chipping.  This makes me very nervous, as there is a distinct possibility that it’s lead paint.

I got a lead test kit to confirm, and while the intact blue paint doesn’t seem to react, I get a pale gray when I test patchy places where there is exposed metal.  Could it be a reaction to the aluminum?  Or does the primer have lead in it? In the past, I’ve used a different brand of lead test kit, and that brand produces an alarming orange or pink if an item is positive for lead. This lead test kit is kind of meh.

I had kept J. (the Craigslist seller of the Lettera) updated on the progress of the Lettera. She’s a typewriter enthusiast and was very happy to hear that the Lettera had recovered and was typing again.  Last week she texted me, wondering if I wanted to pass the Lettera along to a friend of hers who needed a typewriter. Well, of course. I had had my fun, and it was time to send it out into the world.

I printed out care and feeding instructions and the Lettera 22 manual from Richard Polt’s typewriter manual archive.

I also included the flyer for the DC/MD/VA Typewriter Collectors Meetup August 5.  Sadly, I will miss this one as I will be out of town:

J. the Craigslist Seller came by my house yesterday morning to pick up the Lettera and we talked typewriters and I showed her some of the portables I had brought from California.

I then took J. out to my workbench where the Lettera was waiting.  I told her about my lead paint worries and made sure her friend didn’t have kids in the house.  J. may do another lead paint test with a different brand of kit.  I told her that if her friend is too skeeved out by the machine, I could take it back and seal it with a clear coat or even strip it for her. This typewriter could look really nice stripped to the bare metal à la Robert Messenger’s Naked Lettera.

Goodbye, Lettera 22!  Be good and stay out of the rain!

Return to sender, lead content unknown. J. regains custody of the Lettera 22.

Regarding my other Lettera: I am planning on bringing it on a cross country road trip at the end of July.  I have to deliver a car to California, so my daughter and the 1950 Lettera will share co-piloting duties while I bullet across the United States. The 1950 Lettera will eventually make its way to the loving embrace of another typospherian in Portland.

I took some glamour shots of the 1950 Lettera for Typewriter Database. She’s a natural and the camera loves her.

More pictures of the 1950 Lettera 22 are at Typewriter Database »

The 1950 Lettera came with the original case as well as the user manual and cover:

Here is a pdf of the 1950 Olivetti Lettera 22 user manual »

The 1950 Olivetti Lettera 22 is a beautiful thing but was not without its issues. Before we hit the road, I had to address those issues.

One problem was that the ribbon would stick occasionally  in “up” position, hiding typed text.

Stuck up

I cleaned and lubricated all the points that might be involved in the rise and fall of the ribbon.  I eyed the ribbon vibrator critically.  Could the flimsy metal be bent so that it’s catching on something?

I researched online and found a post at Typewriter Talk from someone who had a similar problem with an Olympia SF Deluxe. He had cleaned without success, but upon adjusting the key tension to the highest setting, it began to work flawlessly.

I did the same. I turned it up to 4 and experienced no more ribbon sticking in the “up” position:

I don’t quite understand why doing that works.  Perhaps the spring attached to touch tuning mechanism is exerting more force on the ribbon vibrator mechanism in the “4” position.  Compare to the “1” position:

It may be that the ribbon vibrator is bent or is still gummy and the higher tension overcomes the problem.

The manual that came with the 1950 Lettera is lovely and elegant but vague on the use of the Personal Touch Tuning mechanism:

I found a newer Lettera 22 user manual at Richard Polt’s typewriter manual archive which explains “Personal Touch Tuning” better:

Personal Touch Tuning
This device enables the user to adjust the key tension to suit his or her touch.  The lever will be found under the detachable top cover on the left side.  There are four positions, 1 the lightest, 4 the heaviest.  The beginner is recommended to start with the tension set at 4.  Later as ease and lightness of touch and speed have been acquired, the adjustments can be brought into play one after the other until the lightest touch is in use at position 1.  Experienced typists who have heavier machines will find it better to follow this method too.

I am not a gentle typist, so the 4 setting works for me.

The 1950 Lettera had melted rubber grommets as well.  This caused the shell to rattle around and can in some cases cause typebars to hit the ribbon cover.  The melted grommet problem is apparently common in Letteras.  I found this out by reading Ted Munk’s post Off the Workbench – 1959 Lettera 22.

I went to a local independent hardware store:

Which was well-stocked with everything:

And I found my way to the rubber grommet aisle:

I bought four of this size:

I took the grommets home and prepared the Lettera on my workbench.

Make sure you set your margins all the way left and right, or you will have a heck of a time getting that top cover off.

I scraped the melted grommets off and cleaned up the residue with Goo Gone:

I inserted the new grommets into the top cover which took some finagling – I wiggled and pushed the new grommet through the top of the cover with a small screwdriver and then adjusted its position from the underside of the cover:

Now the shell fits snugly. These replacement rubber grommets seem to be very close in size to the originals.

My other issue with the 1950 Lettera was intermittent failure of lowercase return after shifting from uppercase.  Like this:

It was another dirty/gummy problem.  I lubricated all the shifting pivot points I could see from the top and it worked better but not perfectly.  I took off the bottom plate and cleaned/lubricated more visible pivot points and the problem is solved.  No more shifting issues.

This bird is ready for the road.  I expect that I will take pictures of my Typewriters Across America ExperienceTM and type some reflections on each place as I pass through. It won’t be great art where I ponder the significance of journey as metaphor.  My typed musings will be more along the lines of “Great funnel cake at exit XX on Rt 66” and “Antique mall with lots of typewriters at exit XX on I-80” and “Restrooms filthy at exit XX rest stop on I-80” or similar.

14 thoughts on “Lettera Send Off + Lettera Tune Up

  1. Ooh, Typewriters Across America! Just remember to set your typecaster margins for best readability of scanned/photographed type. (3.5″ for Elite, 4″ for Pica)
    Excited! 😀

    Also, thanks for posting the measurements of the Lettera Grommets, I neglected to do that 😛


    • Thank you for the margin tips. I am going to do some typecast testing before I hit the road. I won’t be typing long reflections on the States of America – mostly just one sentence reviews of french fries and rest stops.


  2. Nice post. Personally, I kind of like to leave a bit of the detritus visible, an indication of the machine’s past history. Haven’t heard of lead paint on typewriters being a problem, but I suppose it’s possible. I look forward to your Typewriters Across America tour. Keep us posted!


  3. Congratulations on the repair.

    I really like the stamped logo on the one from the 50s. I’ve only ever seen 2, yours and Robert Messenger’s. It’s nice to have the cover also. The later covers were cheap vinyl that are now all gooey.

    I also had the vibrator problem on one of mine, but I forget the repair. Had the grommet issue too.

    I don’t know that lead pain was ever used on typewriters. The mix of metals to make the aluminum casting might be different though.


    • The Olivetti typewriter cover is so cool – but it is very stiff and crunchy with age. It needs to be handled very carefully so it doesn’t split.

      The results of my first lead test on the 1960 Lettera were inconclusive. The blue paint didn’t seem to react, but the chipped areas turned the tester a pale gray. Hm. If the next owner does a second test, I’ll post the results. I read this interesting post about lead in typewriters being used to reduce noise:


  4. John Cooper says:

    Loving embrace, indeed! I still can’t believe my good fortune. Have a safe and wonderful trip–I look forward to following your progress!


  5. There is something very satisfying about installing fresh new grommets. (I am easily satisfied.)

    “It may be that the ribbon vibrator is bent or is still gummy and the higher tension overcomes the problem.” Agreed.

    Happy travels!


  6. Fearn says:

    ahha! I recently was gifted a lettera 22 in remarkable nick but which needs a bit of gentle maintenance. I’ve been rummaging around the internet and came across your wonderful posts which have solved some mysteries for me. There was some strange perished rubber floating around in the typewriter and no obvious presence of any rubber parts, and the case is a bit weirdly loose even with the screws all the way in. You’ve solved two mysteries in one – time to get some rubber grommets!


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