I have some messy hobbies that junk up the house, and one of them is amateur typewriter repair. Some people garden or crochet, but I enjoy the sweet thrill of finding the fix that makes a broken typewriter sing again. I try not to collect typewriters, but a few have worked their way into my heart.
Recently I crushed hard on a local Royal Quiet De Luxe I saw on eBay. Though it was described as typing, it looked like it needed help. It was kind of my beau ideal of typewriters: a type I wanted for some reason or another, in bad shape. Though not in hand, I started imagining a future for us together. The QDL would arrive in terrible condition, but with a gentle hand and warm heart, I would bring it back to life. Ah, the romance of typewriter repair!
Crushes are rooted in fantasy and projection, and I projected my need for a triumph narrative upon this forlorn object.
This eBay QDL looked like a beat-up twin to Joe Van Cleave’s Adobe Rose. I have admired Joe’s typewriter from afar: its beautiful cream and tanny-pink palette, the red accents, the tombstone keys, and the lovely typeface (Herald Elite?).
The eBay QDL attracted no bids. I contacted the seller about price and a local pick up, but never heard back. I was crushed – no QDL for me.
I am always looking for broken or dirty typewriters to tinker with for catch-and-release projects. I had a pretty good system in California. Moe from Mozo’s Antique Search and Rescue shop would call me when they got a typewriter in. I’d clean it up, make repairs, and get to play with it a bit before returning it to the shop. Moe’s shop closed and I moved to Virginia, and now I need to figure out a similar set-up here.
I am going to Herman’s in June, so I printed up business cards. Lots of people at Herman’s have business cards. On mine, I forgot to include my name, and I am sure there’s a typo or two. I can barely read the print on it.
I have recently been haunting “typewriter parts repair” on eBay. After my QDL disappointment, I searched for a nonfunctional typewriter, something small that would travel safely if packed well. I was torn between two non-working, older Lettera 22s. One Lettera in Pennsylvania was described as “This does not work because the carriage does not move.” That sounded pretty good, but maybe it was just an engaged carriage lock.
The other Lettera 22 in Las Vegas sounded more interesting. It was described as “The typewriter is Not Working. the carriage doesn’t move, the tap and the space bar doesn’t work and all Keys stuck. Sold as is for repairs. No expertise on this old typewriter.”
In addition, close-ups of the Las Vegas Lettera’s type appeared to show a lovely typeface.
And—and, the Las Vegas Lettera had both spools and spool nuts, something I couldn’t tell from the pictures of the Pennsylvania Lettera.
I went ahead and did a “Buy It Now” and waited. The typewriter arrived quickly from Las Vegas, very nicely packed. One nice addition: a set of tools in an Olivetti-branded case.
I took the typewriter to the work bench and popped the hood:
True to its description, it had these problems:
- the carriage was very jammed – sitting approximately at center but wiggling half a centimeter in either direction.
- The space bar was meeting an obstruction
- Tabbing was nonfunctional
- Shifting was meeting an obstruction
- The keys, though a little sticky, met the platen but did not advance the carriage
I went through the list of possible causes of the carriage jam:
- Was the carriage lock on? No.
- Were the margins set too close together? No.
- Was the bottom cover plate squishing into the guts and impeding function? That was a real possibility. The feet were melted and flattened:
I took off the bottom plate. Though the carriage was still jammed, it gave me a chance to look around at the guts.
- Was a tab malfunction causing a carriage jam? Probably not. I cleared a few scattered tab stops on the tab tube with my hands and then tried the clear all the stops and move the carriage. No luck.
- Was the escapement function stuck and gummed up? It didn’t look like it.
- Was there a stray chunk of something or a bent piece of metal that prevented the space bar and shift from moving? Hmmmm.
I examined the route of action from the space bar and shift and keys and spotted something that looked weird and made no sense in terms of function:
The trip screw was lodged underneath the little tongue from the universal bar, preventing the universal bar from moving.
I pulled out a dental tool and popped the trip screw back into it correct position to the side of the tongue.
Well, now. That was it. The carriage was freed and the Lettera was typing. I downloaded the Olivetti Lettera 22 repair manual so that I could positively identify the parts involved. I am guessing this won’t be the last dysfunctional Lettera 22 that will come my way.
Its main problem fixed, I went about doing my usual clean. I blew out the dust bunnies with my air compressor. I do that in a plastic tub in case I blow out a loose part.
I scrubbed the type with a brash brush and mineral spirits.
This Lettera has a pleasant blue and red ribbon – though a little faded, I think I’ll keep it. It has that pretty typeface – I think it’s Olivetti Elite Victoria:
I found that I couldn’t test the Lettera 22 without its feet in place. Because it’s so low slung, its belly rubbed on the table, and things like margins and tabs malfunctioned. This particular Lettera might have gotten crushed (how else to explain the weird wedged position of the trip screw?) so it may be sitting very low. I think someone sat on it.
Two of the original feet had melted and I had to pick them off the bottom plate.
I made two new feet by gluing together three rubber washers of varying size:
Note that the largest washer has a larger hole that the screw head can fit through. I made it this way so that the foot screw is counter-sunk into the new foot like this:
I replaced the case / frame grommets as well since the originals had melted into tarry nothingness.
I cleaned the grungy zippered case with Scrubbing Bubbles and it came out looking pretty nice:
We are all done here. Now that her carriage is free, this little bird is flying over to WordPlay Cincy. Before she wings it, she typed out a list of crushes for me: