Crushes and Crushed Lettera

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?).

Joe Van Cleave's Adobe Rose Royal QDL

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. business card

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.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - Olivetti Victoria Elite 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.

Olivetti Lettera 22 with original spools and spool nuts

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.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - aluminum brush case with Olivetti branding

I took the typewriter to the work bench and popped the hood:

Olivetti Lettera 22 on the work bench

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:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - melted foot

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:

Olivetti Lettera 22 trip screw - incorrect position against tongue of universal bar

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.

Olivetti Lettera 22 trip screw - correct position against tongue of universal bar

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.

Olivetti Lettera 22 types again

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.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - using an air compressor to blow out dust

I scrubbed the type with a brash brush and mineral spirits.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - scrubbing type with mineral spirits and a brass bristle brush

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:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - typeface is 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.

Olivetti Lettera 22 - melted and disintegrating feet

I made two new feet by gluing together three rubber washers of varying size:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - replacement feet made from rubber washers of various sizes

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:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - screw is counter-sunk in rubber foot

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:

Olivetti Lettera 22 - cleaned nylon zippered case with Scrubbing Bubbles

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:




High Quality Analog Leisure – The Return of the Olivetti Lettera

Last week I got a desperate “help needed” text message from J.  As you might recall from a previous post, J. is a typewriter enthusiast who lives in Northern Virginia.  She teaches 4th grade art and has begun integrating typewriters into her classroom.  I had fixed up a rusty Underwood-Olivetti Lettera 22 for her and she has been using it for journalling.  It has become her most favored typewriter because of its touch and light weight. Unfortunately, the drawstring snapped last week and she was devastated.

I have been out of touch with the typosphere for the last few months – busy with work and family and projects and the holidaze, and very distracted by all sorts of digital junk.  I gave up Twitter last week, and my brain is already clearing and functioning better.  I’m not much into Facebook or Instagram, but Twitter clicked with me.   It’s so good and so bad.  Though it fed my craving for constant news and smart unwholesome comedy (especially important in these anxious times), I had the uneasy feeling that my brain and soul were rotting. I was on the way to developing “internet brain”.  I need to think and process thoughts in chunks larger than a few characters, so I stopped visiting Twitter.

I’m generally kind of “meh” on minimalism,  but I recently listened to a podcast about digital minimalism and some of it makes sense. I’m a little turned off by judgy people and scolds, BUT when I really thought about it, I found that my compulsive digital habits were crowding out “high quality analog leisure activities” like typewriter fun and writing and deep thought.

J.’s distress signal about the Lettera’s broken drawstring came at the perfect time.

This past weekend, I headed out to the woods where J. lives.  I brought my little repair kit with replacement drawstring, scissors, bamboo skewers, etc.

Ordinarily, a drawstring repair is very straightforward and takes about 10 minutes. Robert Messenger has a very good description of drawstring/drawband replacement.  However, J.’s Lettera had a frozen carriage as well.

After the drawstring had snapped, J. had continued to use the typewriter and typed almost another entire page by pulling the carriage to the left (she really does love this typewriter so much).  The carriage jammed after that.

My first thought was that the other broken end of the drawstring had migrated into the guts of the machine and was impeding the passage of the carriage.

I took the bottom cover off and looked around with a flashlight.  No drawstring remnants. I really wanted to remove the top shell, but with the carriage frozen, there was no way to access one of screws holding it on.

I took a closer look at the frozen carriage.  Let’s zoom in, shall we?

The type guide is sitting way outside the furthest left margin. A metal piece from the margin release mechanism was sitting outside the carriage.

I was able to get the piece from the margin release mechanism to scoot under the carriage a bit by depressing the margin release button, but once there, the carriage hit a wall and wouldn’t budge. It felt like a hard, metal barrier, not squishy like a drawstring remnant.

I regretfully I told J. I would have to bring the Lettera back to my home workshop and ponder this situation.

Back home I turned to the typosphere for guidance and was not disappointed.  I downloaded the Lettera 22 user manual from Richard Polt’s archive to refamiliarize myself with the Lettera’s unlabeled keys.  I don’t use a Lettera very often and the mysterious unlabeled keys always throw me.

I found a Ted Munk post about  a repaired Lettera 22.  In the comments, someone asked for advice about a jammed carriage, and Ted wisely suggested that she look at the pins on her tabulator rack as they could be impeding travel.

Ah yes! The Jammed Carriage Tabulator-Related Impedance Disorder.  I have seen this before in an LC Smith No. 5, a Smith-Corona Super Something, and an Olivetti Praxis 48.

I didn’t even visually examine the tab rack, I just went ahead and cleared all the tabs per the instructions in the Lettera 22 user manual:


Hurray! The carriage moved! I examined the tab rack with a flashlight and saw a few strands of drawstring – perhaps that was enough to lodge a tab pin in a bad situation. I cleaned all the stringy bits out.

Now that the carriage was moving, I removed the shell and looked for additional pieces of broken drawstring.  I didn’t see anything else, so I set about replacing the drawstring with some heavy duty waxed thread, about 13″ long.

My first attempt at threading the drawstring through the machine went badly.  It followed too high a path and interfered with the tabbing mechanism.  The correct path is lower so that it almost sits in the groove by the mainspring.

The Lettera was back to typing.  I tested and found that there was some letter piling with shifting.

I gave the mainspring another rotation in case it was a tension-related issue.  It seemed a little better, but not perfect.  The uppercase “Q” and the “+” character – both furthest out on the segment were piling with shifting.

I took the bottom plate off and lubricated the rails and tiny hole behind which the toothed escapement wheel hides.

I tested the shifted “Q” and “+” and all was well.  I replaced the bottom plate – and the letter piling problem returned for those two keys. I took the bottom plate off, and again all was well.

The Lettera 22 is a flatty, low-slung creature, so I guessed that the mechanics were rubbing against the bottom plate while in the shifted position. It’s a segment shift typewriter, so everything goes down on shift. The quarters are tight and clearances are small. I had some thin rubber washers, so I added them to the feet to prevent the bottom plate from being over-tightened and pressing into the mechanical guts.

Perfect. No more letter piling on shift.

I have a lot of affection for this beat-up specimen with its jaunty burping lid.  I am thrilled that it has become a most favored, beloved typewriter for someone.

Chewy says, “GGWWWRGHH” in deep appreciation.

J. was very excited to hear that the Lettera was back in typing condition. She rushed over after work to retrieve it. I do love it when things work out like this and weird little mysteries like jammed carriages are solved neatly.

I now return to the high quality leisure activity of slowly reading through all the posts that I have missed in my distracted state over the past few months. Though not technically an analog activity, it’s close enough for me.  Now I am reading, and funnily enough, a post by Type the Clouds in January describes a digital addiction similar to mine.  Wow, I am a little late to the Cal Newport party because here’s another post about Digital Minimalism… and here’s another typospherian who is paring down digital habits…



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.

Old Lettera, New Lettera

I returned to Virginia with an hankering for a broken typewriter to clean and fix. Cleaning my sisters’ Quiet-Riter and Royal Administrator had whetted my appetite.  I have a type: the junkier and more dysfunctional the typewriter, the better.  They provide me with hours of fun (and gentle, comic frustration). Hey, there’s a meme for my taste in typewriters – albeit one that played out in 2017:

I started cruising Craigslist and local eBay for a likely candidate and spotted this:

Its jaunty burping ribbon cover sold me.

I already have a 1950 or 1954 Lettera 22 that I picked up from Moe’s before she closed her San Mateo shop. Its serial number is S623827, so it’s either 1950 or 1954. Made in Italy.

Just look at that classy embossed Olivetti logo!

And what about that great typeface (which I think is Olivetti Elite Victoria)?

This typeface reminds me of Oliver Printype

This Lettera 22 is in very clean typing condition with the original case and manual; however, it has an intermittent lowercase alignment after shifting issue that I will address in a future post:

Anyhoo, I figured that I could use this working Lettera 22 to aid in the recovery of the Craigslist Lettera.

In preparation of picking up the broken Lettera, I watched Joe Van Cleave’s video comparing two Lettera 22s

I also carefully read through Ted Munk’s post Off the workbench: 1959 Olivetti Lettera 22 and all its comments to familiarize myself with what might be wrong with the Lettera that I was picking up.

As I drove over to pick up the typewriter from the Craigslist seller, I heard a favorite piece of chocolate cake rock on the radio and took that as a good omen:

It was a good omen.  I found the Craigslist seller delightful.  An art teacher, J. has recently started collecting typewriters and she showed me around her collection which included an Underwood 5, a Royal FP, an Olympia SM3, and several others.  She journals in the morning on a Smith-Corona electric.

We wandered out to her car where the Lettera was located and were accosted by deer.

J. opened her car’s trunk and here’s what I found:

This Underwood Olivetti Lettera looks like it’s been camping for the past decade. The back is covered in what looks like bird poop.  It is said that it is good luck to be pooped on by a bird, but this just seems like willful disrespect by a bunch of a pigeons.

There was no case and the inside was rusty and there were clumps of oxidated something (or bird poop?) in the mechanics.  The carriage was not staying put.  It careened to the left and didn’t “catch” when using the carriage release or typing.

I told the seller that I would try to get it typing again and if nothing else it would become a good parts machine for other typospherians.

I brought it home and examined it on the back patio.  Its serial number is 768990, and it is made in Italy. Looks like a 1960 Underwood Olivetti Lettera 22.

I found that I could get the carriage to catch occasionally if I firmly pressed any key.

Hanging out (literally) on the patio

At my garage workbench, I took the bottom plate off (four screws where the feet are).  There are four screws attaching the top cover which I removed.  I was able to remove the cover by setting the margins all the way out and extending the carriage:

It was very rusty and crunchy in the guts:

Krusty Kondition

I carefully blew out the chunks and dirt from the naked Lettera with my DataVac Duster and then began to doctor the stiff parts with mineral spirits. The typebars began to swing.

In the comments for his post Off the workbench: 1959 Olivetti Lettera 22, Ted Munk describes a fix for an errant carriage such as mine:

If you can get the bottom cover off of your L22 and turn it over, underneath the carriage directly in the rear center of the machine is a toothed gear and pawl which you can hit sparingly with a little spray LPS1 or PB Blaster (do not use WD-40 or 3-in-1 oil), which will free up that pawl and cause the carriage to work right again.

I applied PB B’laster, my favorite penetrating catalyst to this area under the machine and yippie – fixed that roaming carriage!

The tabs were sticking and gummy, so I cleaned the tab pins/rack and associated connectors and those started working smoothly. The type slugs were thick with dried ink, so I cleaned them up with a toothbrush and mineral spirits.  Some time in its past, this Lettera was used thoroughly.

Time to test typing, so I stole a red/black ribbon from my daughter’s Voss (it’s a cursive machine and there is bichrome mixing in the descenders which drives me bananas so no red/black ribbon for you, Voss).

I was very glad that the original spools and spool nuts were still with the machine. Looking good, Craigslist Lettera!

I put the top and bottom cover back on my Craigslist Lettera and stepped back to admire my work.  Let’s compare my two Lettera 22s:

The typing feel is remarkably similar – so pleasant for such little machines.  The real difference between the two machines is the noise.  There is a subtle loose clanking, a jangling sound that comes from the 1960 Craigslist Lettera while typing that is absent in the other. The 1950/1954 Lettera has a tight, controlled voice.  I spent about thirty minutes trying to find the source of the soft clanky jangle in the Craigslist Lettera. The platens are about the same in terms of hardness.  I tried to still different parts of the machine with my hands while I typed, but found no source.  I’ll have to take the covers off again and investigate further.

Because its current paint is bubbling and chipping off, the Craigslist Lettera is a candidate for sand blasting and powder coating. I just need to find a DIY space to do that.   I sandblasted and powder coated the Voss typewriter at TechShop.  Sadly, TechShop filed for bankruptcy this year and closed all locations.

A final note: our family’s three year old Microsoft Surface 3 tablet took a catastrophic fall recently and has become electronic waste for recycling. This led to reflections on the declining durability of mass produced writing machines.

Compare and contrast: my new junker Craigslist Lettera is older than I am and will likely be typing long after I am dead and gone. Despite being pooped upon by birds and rained upon and neglected, that thing woke up and types beautifully. Craigslist Lettera wins this round.